I have such an incredible respect for parenthood. Raising a family is one of the most awesome blessings that God gives us as humans. But that blessing comes with responsibility. Because God desires Godly families. Families where mum and dad teach and show and live out for their kids what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Last week, we started our series on Growing Godly Families by looking at how God expects husbands and wives to relate to each other. And this morning, the apostle Paul tells us what effect our faith has on our relationships with parents and children.
As I said last week, when Jesus moves in – anywhere – he redecorates. And that’s so true of our families and our homes. A home where Christians live is meant to stand out in the neighbourhood. And I believe that when we submit our to God’s leading, our neighbours will notice something different. But how often are our homes not the place where we are the least Christian. Where we drop the facade. Where we relax and fall back into being “normal”? Where we allow ourselves to act all grumpy. To get angry and narky. I mean, for example, how many families haven’t had a big fight at home on a Sunday morning, only to be all smiles when you arrive in the church parking lot?
What we’re like at home shows most clearly where our faith is at. That’s why Paul, as he explains what it means to submit to each other out of reverence for Jesus gives a whole bunch of examples from the family home. Because it’s at home that we really live out what it means to follow Jesus.
So today we’re looking at what God expects from children and from parents in a Christian home. And what Paul has to say is so relevant to us. Did you know, just as an aside, that towards the end of the 1st century BC, the Romans actually had their own version of the Baby-bonus running? Because there were so few people having kids. Because kids were a nuisance. Because kids made it difficult for you to live a wild, exciting kind of life. Because kids tied you down. They’re expensive.
But here Paul writes to children. And he writes to them directly – in the same breath as he writes to husbands and wives. Because for Paul, the kids are a part of the church. Paul assumes that children will hear his letter read. Paul expects the whole family to have come to the church to hear what God has to say. Because God doesn’t just speak to adults. God’s word is there for adults and kids alike. And regardless of how old you are, if you belong to Jesus, Jesus wants you to learn to submit to each other.
So what does Paul say to kids? Children, obey your parents. Obey them. They are in charge. What they say, goes. Now I know that that can be a difficult thing to do. Most of us, as kids and adults, like making our own choices. Making our decisions. But part of being a Christian means learning to listen to your mum and dad – and actually doing what they tell you to.
Kids are to obey their parents because it is the right thing to do. In fact, regardless of whether they or you are a Christian, obeying your parents is the right thing to do. It’s part of how God designed families to work. It’s the natural order of things. Which is why it’s pretty much standard no matter where on earth you go. Kids are meant to obey their parents. Because their parents are in charge. Believe it or not, your mum and dad actually know a bit more about life!
So all kids are meant to obey their parents. But I reckon we’ve all come across families where the kids are in charge? Where Tommy and Tuppence don’t listen to mum or dad. That’s not right. Because that’s not the way God intended families to live. Somewhere else, Paul writes that disobedience to parents is one of the signs of a society that God has given up to it’s own godlessness. Disobedient kids are a sign of a family and society where God is missing.
But in a Christian family, kids are meant to obey. Paul says to obey your parents in the Lord. Listening to mum and dad is what Jesus wants you to do. Doing what they say is a way to make Jesus smile. It’s one of the ways that you can tell Jesus you love him – by doing what he says. And God says to obey mum and dad. Jesus himself, when he was a kid, obeyed Mary and Joseph. And he wants kids today to obey their parents.
Now, of course, if your parents tell you to do something which God wouldn’t be happy with, then that’s another matter. But apart from that, obey.
Obedience is what you do. And you do it because you honour your father and mother. You obey them because you love them. You respect them. Kids are called to honour their parents – because God has given parents authority over them. Because parents are God’s workers in the family.
In verses 2 and 3, Paul looks back to what God said in the 10 commandments about honouring parents. He quotes the 5th commandment – “Honour your father and mother – so that it may go well with you, and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” You know, when you look at the 10 commandments, they’re broken down into 2 halves. The first half is about how we relate to God. Things like not having idols and setting aside a day for God. The 2nd half is about how we relate to each other. Things like not murdering and not stealing. A lot of people asume that this 5th commandment belongs in the second list. After all, it’s about dealing with other people – parents.
But actually, honouring mum and dad belongs in the first half of the 10 commandments. Honouring our parents is all about us and God. Honouring our parents is a part of our duty to God. Look at Leveticus 19:1-3: The Lord said to Moses, 2“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. 3“Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God. Respecting our parents is part of being holy like God is holy. It’s a God thing.
And I think this applies to all of us – no matter what age we are. Sure, we grow up and become independent from our parents. And there comes a point when we don’t have to obey them. But I don’t think we can ever grow out of having to honour our parents. Because honouring them is about God – not about who they are.
The other day I was speaking to a friend of mine about respecting parents. This bloke’s dad is not a particularly nice guy – always putting his kids down. Always hurting their feelings. Hardly ever a nice word to say. As a Christian, you might not like your parents. They might have been terrible parents. But we can still honour them. Or at least honour the position in which God has placed them. Because as we’ll see next week, God means for parents to be his diplomatic representatives in our families.
So that’s what Paul has to say to kids. Obey and Honour – respect – your parents. So what about the parents? Obviously, if your kids are meant to obey you, God means for you to be in charge. But that’s not where Paul goes. Paul doesn’t highlight parental authority. He does the opposite. He calls for parents to practise restraint.
He paints a picture of Christian parents as being self-controlled, gentle and patient. He describes godly parents as not only disciplinarians, but also as teachers and instructors on God’s behalf.
And that was such a radical picture in those days. Back then, being a father – a parent – was all about being in charge. Fathers literally held the life and death of their children in their hands. There’s a letter from a Roman father to his wife that has survived from back then. He was away from home, and his wife was about to give birth. Listen to what he writes: If – good luck to you! – you have a child, if it is aboy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out. And that was just the way it was back then. Fathers had absolute authority over their children’s lives. And unlike today, in the Roman world, your dad’s authority would last till he died. You’d never really grow up and become independent. You’d always be under your father’s thumb.
So how would God have Christian parents parent their kids? Paul’s got two messages for us in verse 4. First off, says Paul, don’t provoke your children to anger. Or as the NIV puts it, don’t exasperate your children. It is so easy for parents to misuse their authority. To abuse their God-given role as parent. So easy to make your kids childhood miserable.
That friend of mine I mentioned earlier. I don’t want to give you the whole story – but he is exasperated with his parents. Particularly his father. And notice that Paul does mention Fathers in particular in verse 4. I think it applies to mothers as well, but dads in particular need to hear Paul’s challenge in this. Don’t provoke your kids to anger.
And there are so many ways that we might exasperate our kids. We might exasperate them by wrapping them up in bubble-wrap. I know you love your kids, but smothering them can so often lead to them becoming exasperated with you. Kids need to learn how to walk for themselves. They need to fall sometimes. Need to make mistakes. Kids need to be set free to be their own person.
We can exasperate our kids by showing favouritism. Think of the story of Jacob and Esau. Their Dad – Isaac – preferred Esau. And their mum – Rebekah – preferred Jacob. And the result of that favouritism tore the family apart. Showing favouritism is a definite shortcut to exasperating your kids. Favouritism always means that somebody will be upset – somebody will be provoked to anger.
We can exasperate our kids by what we say. If every thing you say is negative, what sort of self-image are you imposing on your child. If you keep telling them that they’re not good enough, they’ll be provoked to anger. They won’t want to respect you. Or obey you.
We can exasperate our kids by neglecting them. We can provoke our kids to anger by trying to live through them. Trying to fit them into the mould of what we wanted our childhoods to be. We exasperate our kids by trying to make them something that they’re not. By refusing to acknowledge that they are their own person – with their own personality and gifts and skills.
And parents can provoke their kids to anger by being violent and cruel and overbearing. The list just goes on. If you have kids, you gotta know how fragile their psyches are. Says Paul, don’t exasperate your kids. Yes – God would have them obey you. But merely being in charge isn’t enough for a Christian parent. Your job is to see that your kids have every reason to resepct you. To honour you. To love you. As Christian parents, make sure there is no excuse for your kids not wanting to obey you. Don’t exasperate your children.
That doesn’t mean that Paul’s against discipline. Discipline is part of bringing children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Which is the most important job you as a parent have. The heart of Christian parenting is simply this: to bring your child’s heart to that of their Lord and Saviour. The word for “bring them up” literally means “nurture them”. Christian nurture is about teaching your children to be followers of Jesus. That is your role as parents. That’s your God-given responsibility.
And I’m sure you love to teach your kids. Teach them how to walk. How to play football. How to ride a bike. Whatever. And those are good things. Important things. But teaching them about God is even more important. If your a parent, God has assigned you to be a teacher. A trainer. An example. Your job as mum or dad is to show your kids what it looks like to follow Jesus.
What do they see at home. What does being a Christian look like at your house. Have you told your kids about what Jesus means for you. Are you teaching them about what God has done for them? Are you training them to be keen followers of the Lord. Have they got a routine of prayer and Bible-reading.
I don’t want to put you on a guilt trip. But if you’re a Christian, you have a God-given responsibility to your child. You need to teach them. And the church can help. Sunday school can help. But I think what Paul says is that you are the first line. Ultimately it’s up to you. Sending your kids to Sunday school and doing nothing else just won’t cut it. Because following Jesus is more than just a Sunday morning thing.
Let me finish here. You can be the best parent ever, and teach your children about Jesus. But you can’t force them to accept him into their lives. What you can do is encourage them to see God. You can introduce them to God. And sometimes they won’t choose Jesus. Adam and Eve were good parents. They taught their kids about God. They instructed them about the importance of honouring God. Taught them to offer sacrifices. But their first-born child – Cain – ended up a murderer who rebelled against God.
I know that there are people here whose kids – grown up – have rejected Christianity. And that’s tragic. But how much more tragic if they rejected Christianity because you never taught them. Or because they saw that your faith was a Sunday morning thing. What we’re like at home shows where our faith is really at. And your kids see that.