In his letters, Paul typically moves from theology to application. In Ephesians he deals with the practical Christian life in 4:1-6:20, and in particular deals with the business of being subject to one another in 5:21-6:9. The passage before us, 6:1-4, deals with the mutual submission of children and parents. This section is introduced in 5:21 with the general exhortation, "submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ." The exhortations in 5:21-6:20 are based on the principle that a Christian is not to engage in self-assertive behavior which places another at a disadvantage.
v1. Paul's exhortation is simple and straightforward, children must obey their parents. It is a child's duty to submit to parental authority while in the family home. Once married and in their own home, they are then no longer under parental authority. Such submission is difficult, but is part of the business of mutual submission.
v2-3. To support his exhortation Paul quotes the fifth commandment as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, rather than the version recorded in the book of Exodus, cf. Deut.5:16. He does this to include the phrase "[so that] you will have a long and happy life", CEV. As Paul says, this is "the first commandment with a promise". A literal application of this promise is not warranted, but it is true that life generally works out best for us when we respect our parents.
v4. The exhortation to parents, particularly fathers, is that they apply authority to their children in a way which will not promote resentment. The exercise of authority should not be harsh, overbearing, soul-destroying, dehumanizing. As Paul notes in Colossians 3:21, overbearing authority only disheartens a child. On the contrary, parents should warn their children of life's dangers and admonish them when they wonder from the way.
Modern society has brought with it tremendous benefits for young people, yet children today are faced with problems which parents find difficult to control - dissolution of families, a myriad of external influences, "free expression", early puberty, promiscuity..... Christian parents today need to return to the Biblical patterns of family.
In our passage today Paul reminds parents not to provoke their children, but rather to nurture them. There are three elements to this nurture.
i] Love. Titus.2:4. Provide a positive family life where the child is encouraged to develop physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.
ii] Discipline. The Biblical picture is that of nurturing our children by chastening and admonition. Training and directing them, Prov.22:6, controlling them, 1Tim.3:4, and where necessary, with verbal and physical correction, Prov.13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13. The Bible does not encourage excessive violence, punishment prompted by a bad temper or "Victorian" restrictions, nor does it encourage the suppression of a child's personality.
iii] Instruction. A prime responsibility parents must accept is that they teach their children, Deut.4:9, 6:7, 20, 21:19, 31:13, Prov.22:6, Isa.28:9. The scriptures highlight two particular elements to parental Instruction:
a) The Law of God. Education involved reading, ethics, Prov.31:1, religion, Deut.6:20-25.
b) A trade. Usually the father taught his son the family trade. The best example we have is Jesus himself.
Paul reminds children to obey their parents. Sadly, today, the opposite is often the rule. As one secular writer put it "to be authentically ourselves we must not only declare our independence from whatever is past: we must positively disavow it." There are four elements to the business of respecting our parents.
i] Obey, Prov.1:8, 6:20, Col.3:20, 1Tim.5:4. God established the pattern of family with an obligation upon parents to rule their children and an obligation upon children to obey in "everything". This obligation is upon children until they "leave" their parents to unite in marriage and so form a new family unit, Gen.2:24. The authority of parents over their children ceases at this point.
ii] Honour, Ex.20:12, Lev.19:3, Deut.27:16, Prov.30:17, Matt.15:4, 1Tim.5:4. Always and at all times give respect to parents when respect is due. Parents who dishonor God cannot expect respect from their children. Dishonor toward parents is expressed in lack of loyalty, love, stubbornness, dissension in the home, cursing, striking or mocking parents. Children must honour their parents, especially in their old age.
iii] Beware. To dishonor, or disobey a parent, is to attract God's anger. This is demonstrated in the Old Testament by the punishment meted out for such an offence. eg. hitting or cursing parents is subject to death, Ex.21:15, Lev.20:9. Not obeying a parent is subject to stoning, Deut.21:18-21. In fact, the misbehavior of children is seen as a sign of God's judgement, Isa.3:5, 2Tim.3:2. Of course, a literal application of these laws is unwarranted, but none-the-less, they do serve as a guide to Christian parenting.
iv] Blessed, Deut.5:16, Prov.8:17, 32. Clearly there are social consequences that flow from obedience to God's laws; follow God's plan and it will go well with us. This is the point Paul is making in our passage for study. Paul's point is that obedience promotes social benefit - it's a good law and works well for us in life.
Discuss the issue of discipline in the light of secular laws that are now limiting physical punishment.