Children and Fathers (Ephesians 6:1-4)

As part of our yearly theme, we have been focusing on the concept of being the Temple of God. One of the most important elements of the temple is that it was a dwelling place of God’s Spirit. As christians, we are being built up to be that holy temple in the Lord, a place where God’s Spirit dwells. In (Ephesians 5:18-21) he describes some of what it means to be filled with the Spirit - it includes singing, thankfulness, and submission.

There are three relationships described here in (Ephesians 5:22-6:9) and right at the core is submission out of reverence for Christ. Ezekiel and Jeremiah predicted that God would give his people a new heart and a new Spirit, God’s Spirit is in them and that is what caused them to obey (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:36-37). But that concept of God’s Spirit being in us and dwelling in us is also part of how we become a temple to God that shows his glory.

The relationship I want us to focus on today is of children and parents. What does it look like for us to be filled with God’s Spirit and be a temple for him in regard to our families?


To begin, notice that this section is framed within the Lordship of Jesus and submission to him. The obedience to parents is not because they are your flesh and blood, they’re smarter, or they’re stronger - this obedience is to be done in the Lord. Further, the training process of the parents is “of the Lord” - this is the plan of Lord Jesus for the family, the servant authority being exercised for the good of the family and the ones that make it up.

What we’re given are a principle: honoring father and mother. Then a specific application: obey your parents. When this is being done by children is it is right. This is the way that God made the relationship and it reflects his goodness and wisdom. This is the sacrificial service that children offer to God. When you’re a child and you want to be a priest to God and offer him service and worship, it will be in the submission that you give to your parents. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Obedience then is something that starts with honoring our parents. Obedience isn’t the only way that we honor our parents (Matthew 15:3-9), but it is one of the primary ways that we do. It’s very easy to fall into the mold of the world. It’s easy to speak evil of our parents, to disrespect to them, to gossip against them, to complain, and more. It’s easy to ignore instructions, not do our homework, listen to curfew, do our chores, etc. When we do that, realize that we are dishonoring our parents and rebelling against them. But even more we are departing what is “right” and we are rebelling against God.

This means that at the beginning we need to start with the way that we view ourselves, our parents, and their instruction. Proverbs 22:15 points out that folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Children, listen to me, your heart wants to go off the rails. Your heart wants to have its own way. You heart thinks foolish things are wise. If you follow your heart, you will want to be on the throne and do it your way. At the heart of that is foolishness and that is why your parents are there and what they are to rescue you from. Realize that your heart is the struggle point.

God’s word then is meant to help shape and change our heart. Parent’s instruction is meant to be a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck (Proverbs 1:8-9). When a parent is fully doing their job, they help their children be the best version of theirselves.

Parents are a wonderful blessing and they are a blessing not given to everyone. Despite the failures and flaws a parent may have, they are to be honored regardless. But remember, the instruction here is not based on the worthiness or respectfulness of your parents. It is based on the commands and promises of God. It is based on the worthiness of Jesus.

Consider Proverbs 3:1-12, Solomon goes right back to the heart of the child here and how he views the principles of God and the instruction of parents. Good parenting is about leading the children to the Lord and from the Lord they will receive long life, favor, success, a straight path, healing, and wealth. The instruction then has to be viewed with the right perspective. Notice how the correction of the LORD and the correction of the father are tied together in verses 11-12. These actions are being done because of the love of God and the delight of the father. Don’t despise the Lord’s discipline. Don’t be weary of the reproof. God loves and cares for children and these instructions are meant to address the heart of children and to change it.

This text is picked up in Hebrews 12:5-11 and it shows how we should view our earthly parents and our Father in heaven. Our parents disciplined as what seemed best to them - if they were involved and active like they should. However, God is always working for our favor. We have to be trained by God, but it will yield the fruit of righteousness. The truth is your parents aren’t perfect. They give you the first impression you have of God and it is an imperfect picture. But they are wise and they have instruction that will help you. And even more, their imperfection should drive you to the true source of wisdom and love found in God.

Remember, there is a promise attached to this. This is the first commandment given by God to children and it has a twofold promise - things will go well and you will live long in the earth or in the land. God wants your welfare. God wants it to go well. God wants you to live long. Help those promises of God change the way you view your parents and God as well.


Paul now turns to Fathers. As parents in general, and fathers particularly, we are called to be ambassadors for God to our children. We represent God to our children. We have a calling from God to form a human life - this is a high an enormous calling that God has given. It is a wonderful blessing but it include great responsibilities as part of it.

However, God is not leaving us to our own devices. God is going with us in the process. God gives us grace in the process. God gives us instruction in the process. But, it is only something that we can do. Barring extenuating circumstances, you can be replaced in many areas. You can be replaced on the job, you can be replaced on the board, but not as a parent.

You have a charge from God, but we need to understand our limitations. Parenting is about teaching, training, instruction, discipline, etc. A child is a free moral agent. You do not have absolute control over the child for their entire life. You cannot save your children yourself. Your job is modeling God. Your job is to lead them to God. Your job is to bring them up (same word as nourish in 5:25) to where they do not need you, but they have become independent and have been led to their true Father in heaven.

With that concept in mind, how you go about your work is critical. It’s very easy to become lazy, to be overbearing, to go back and forth between being controlling and permissive, and any other number of mistakes. And that’s what will happen as a parent, you’re going to make mistakes. Paul is saying to stay away from that and bring up your children. He uses two words to describe that discipline - which is about holding children accountable, being involved in their lives and active, and instruction - which is a teaching and transfer of information and counseling them. You have to have both - instruction and consequences, information and application. But it has to be viewed as a process and not an event. You can’t fix everything in a child in one counseling session. You can’t discipline all bad behavior at one time. You have to be shaping your child, bringing them up, molding them.

Going back to Proverbs 22:15, realize that your job is to rescue your children. Your children are growing up in a world that is filled with sin and they have folly bound up in their hearts. Your position has authority that is meant to deal with these foundational heart issues. The way that you train and rescue your children is by modeling the behavior yourself and then using your authority to protect and teach your children. That authority is a self-sacrificial authority that is founded on love. It is a beautiful thing when used properly with love (Proverbs 13:24). The goal of parenting is to bring our children to God, to give them a heart for God, and help them to be shaped into the character of God. Parenting then as much a growing process for you as it is for them. Be patience with the process, know the goal, and bring them up.

However, let’s spend a minute talking about the source of the bad behaviors that are present in parents and how it works out in children.

First, we cannot expect the law to do what only grace can do - Romans 7:12, 8:3-4. As a parent it’s easy to think that there is a technique the will fix everything - a silver bullet. That if we give more laws, if the rules are wiser and more reasonable, then that will fix the problem. So we go back and forth on various parenting advice. We are overly controlling. We are too permissive. We punish our kids too harshly. The story of Israel should teach us that if the solution was law then the law would have worked - Galatians 3:21-22. The solution is deeper than that and it is multi faceted. Some of it is even beyond our control. We need to realize that God’s way is the best way - to raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. We need his laws to expose sin and problems, but there must be a change from the flesh to the Spirit.

Second, we all struggle with idolatry. All of us worship something - parents and children. The orientation of our heart is what drives behavior. The reason more laws don’t work is because we have a fundamental heart issue that all of us are dealing with - sin. That is the desire to be in God’s position, to determine right and wrong for myself, to be like God. And what we do is we look to the things God has created to give us our meaning and significance. That’s why we are so passionate about money, sports, sex, entertainment, comfort, etc. But, one of the most pressing idols can be the family. For children it can be the idol of their parents approval. They will do whatever they can to please their parents, they feel like they’re only valuable if their parents love them and support them, and if they don’t have that they lash out at their parents.

Idolatry and sin are the great risks to our children, but they are also great risks to parents. Sometimes a parent is broken and they’re trying to raise a child. They have as much of an issue with idolatry as their children and one idols that parents struggle with is their children. There is a real danger in putting your children ahead of God. We look to them for our value, joy, and satisfaction and tie up our hearts in our children. Then, when a child disobeys us, hurts us, or insults us, we’re crushed because our children’s approval is our source of value.

Realize that no relationship can handle the burden that only God can bear. When that burden is placed by parents on children, or by children on parents, they will inevitably fail, break, and the relationship will be damaged. Beware of the idols, they are the real source behind the bad behavior that is present in children and parents.

The answer then is the gospel. The relationship of parents and children is a reflection of the greater relationship of all us as God’s children to our Father in heaven. 11 times the word “Father” is used in this book (1 Corinthians has 6 by comparison, 1 John has the most of smaller books at 13). Ephesians focuses on this concept throughout the book. It is a book that starts (1:2-3) and ends (6:23) with God identified as our “Father”.

We were those sons of disobedience that were led away by the Devil and who were following our passions and desires and were children of wrath. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love, saved us. It is through Jesus that we have been adopted as sons (1:5) and we have been given access to the Father in one Spirit. The first three chapters are largely a prayer by Paul where he bows before the Father of every family and wants them to fundamentally understand the unknowable love of Christ, to change us be strengthened by His Spirit, and have Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. Ephesians is a book that has the themes of family, discipline, and instruction - first present in God with us as, then to Fathers with their children.

This then is the most important thing you can do as a parent - you have to rest in the fact that you are a child of God and that God loves you, he gives you grace and mercy over and over again as you grow into the image of Christ and imitate Him. The most important elements that you give to your children are not just rules, techniques, or gifts. It is that you pass on to them the mercy, grace, and love that you have first experienced in the gospel. That’s not to say we don’t need the law, we need it to expose our hearts, to convict us of sin and idolatry, but never with the goal of condemnation or insult. The goal is always repentance and restoration. Be the new person in Christ that (Ephesians 4:17-5:7) describes. Do the good works you were called to do in every part of your life, but especially as parents in the incredibly important work of being ambassadors of God and imitating the gospel.