I was nineteen years old when my father passed away, but in the short time that I had him, we shared some very special times. I was the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family and so when I was old enough, I was the first one permitted to go along on fishing trips with my dad and his friends and relatives. I still remember when I was eighteen we went hunting deer with some of his friends. We were walking back from the bush in the evening and I put my arm around my dad, and we wrestled a little bit. There was a growing camaraderie that I remember as very special.
There are other memories as well - memories of things I learned from my dad. I remember when I was purchasing my second vehicle. He came for a test drive with me and advised that I should probably not buy it. I was so anxious to have wheels that I bought it anyway and later I was sorry because it was a lemon and I had nothing but trouble with it. I learned from that experience to be much more cautious in making purchases and not to be so anxious to get what I wanted. We spent a lot of hours working together when for several summers I worked part time for him in our photo studio. He would expose the negatives on the enlarger and I would move them from tray to tray in the developing chemicals. As we worked in the yellow light of the dark room, it made for lots of talking time and he had a significant influence on my life in all of these times.
I did not have my dad very long and so I do not know much about being a son, but I have sure enjoyed the relationship I have as a father with my children. I have had a longer relationship with them than I had with my dad and each year I enjoy it more. We enjoy recreation together, have good spiritual talks and it is a blessing. I am thankful for what I have experienced.
The relationship between parents and children can be a blessing, but it can also be very difficult. I am so sad when I hear about fathers who are absent from the life of their children and when I hear about fathers who physically, emotionally or verbally abuse their children. Sometimes children rebel against their parents and the relationship is broken in that way. These situations produce a lot of pain and are not what God intends for the parent/child relationship. Today is Father’s day and it provides us a good opportunity to think about God’s plan for the relationship between fathers and children. How can we build families that bring a blessing?
The text which will help us think this through is Ephesians 6:1-4. It is a classic passage on parenting and deals with both sides of the relationship. As we examine this passage, we need to remember the context in which it is written. As you turn to Ephesians 6, please note first of all that the context of the passage begins in Ephesians 5:1 where we are called to be imitators of God. This passage gives us some practical aspects of that imitation. These verses are also in the context of Ephesians 5:21 in which we are called to be subject to one another. Just as the husband/wife relationship is described in the context of mutual submission, that same context pertains to the parent/child relationship. Both need to respect and love each other. So what are the specifics of mutual submission in the relationship between a father and his children? What does it mean to imitate God as Fathers? As children? Let us read and then examine Ephesians 6:1-4.
To begin with, I would like to invite all the children to come to the front. I have a story for you.
Peter and his friends met at the usual place after supper. They were in the same grade in the same school and were best friends. They had met in the empty field many times. It was a great place to play. There was a large grassy area and it was surrounded by trees. Some great adventure always happened when they got together. Sometimes they pretended to be bushmen as they snuck around in the trees at the edge of the field. Sometimes they gathered scraps of wood and made a fort and sometimes they played soccer or baseball in the open area. Ryan was the last one to get there, and so Jim and Kyle and Peter had been sitting in the shade of the tree talking together.
Jim was complaining because he couldn’t play very long. His mother had told him that he had to come home at 7:00 so that he could spend some time studying for the test that he was going to have in school the next day. His mother had insisted that he must come home and study and although he really didn’t want to, he reluctantly knew that he would go home. He would obey his mother, but he would stretch out his play time as long as he possibly could, maybe even arrive home at a few minutes after 7:00.
Kyle also had to study some more for the same test. Although his parents hadn’t told him when he was supposed to be home, he wanted to go and study. It wasn’t that he was a keener or that he cared that much about his grades, in fact, they were just average. The reason he wanted to go and study was because his mother had promised him a new video game if he did well on the test and so he wanted to go and cram as much as possible.
Just then Ryan showed up and caught the end of the conversation. The reason he was late was because he had just heard a big lecture from his father. His last test had not been very good and his father had threatened that if he would not do better, he would be punished. He was supposed to go tell his friends that he couldn’t play and had to go right back home to study. He was angry, but he also didn’t want to be punished more, so he stayed around for a little while and then went back home.
Peter listened to his friends talking about the test and their reasons for obeying their parents. His father had asked him when he was going to study and Peter had told him that he would go out to play for a little while and then come home. Peter was a Christian and wanted to do what was right. He respected his parents and knew that they wanted the best for him. He knew that he needed to do a little more work to prepare for the test but it was good just to get a little fresh air and take his mind off it for awhile. Then, he would return home and study for the rest of the evening.
Did all these boys obey their parents? They did, but their obedience was different wasn’t it. Jim obeyed, but he was reluctant to do so. He didn’t understand his parents rules or why there had to be rules. Willie obeyed, but only because there was something in it for him. He was going to get a video game and that is why he obeyed. Ryan obeyed as well, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was angry and only obeyed because he didn’t want to be punished. Only Peter obeyed because he knew that his parents loved him and wanted the best for him. He obeyed willingly because he knew it was best.
The Bible says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord.” This means that you as children should obey your parents. But it isn’t only important to obey your parents, it is also important why you obey your parents. You need to obey your parents because you are a Christian and because you trust them and know they want what is best for you. Do you think that you can learn to obey like that? I would like to pray that God will help you to do so.
As we examine this text, we come across another word to children. I believe that the call to obedience is written to younger children. The wonderful thing about Christianity is that it includes children. God cares about children and by giving them a word to follow includes them in the household of faith. But when you move out of the house and are an adult, I do not believe that obedience is really the word that pertains in your relationship. But that does not mean that there isn’t a word for adult children. For all children, regardless of age, the word of God is to “Honour your parents.”
What does it mean to honour your parents? The root of the Greek word is “worth,” “evaluation,” “honor,” and “price.” When I was young, I remember well the baseball cards that were printed at that time. I didn’t buy them much because I didn’t care about collecting pictures of all the players. In fact, I remember buying the cards, giving the card away and enjoying the gum. The gum wasn’t that great and so I usually bought other gum. In other words, although these things were available, I placed little value on them. Well, if I had collected them and if I had a box full of baseball cards, I would look at them very differently today. They would probably be worth a lot of money, especially those I could easily have collected in the late 50’s or early 60’s. Perhaps this illustration helps us understand what honor means. When I was a young child, baseball cards were not highly honored, at least not by me. Today, they are highly honored and there is an entire industry built around them, they have great value. Even if we are not collectors, we wouldn’t simply throw a baseball card away, we would value it.
This same attitude is the one that we need to have towards our parents. We need to see them as worth a lot - no matter how old we are or how old they are?
For young children, daddy is often a hero. Children look up to their father. They respect and love their father and honoring their dad means doing what we already talked about, it means obedience. If you truly honor your father, you will obey him.
Somewhere along the line, as children grow up, one day their father will fall off his white horse. A child, often in the teenage years, will discover that dad is not perfect, not the hero he was thought to be. This shocking discovery is often accompanied by a loss of respect. I believe it was Mark Twain who observed that when he was 16 he realized that his father didn’t know much, but by the time he was 21, he was amazed at how much his father had learned. Even though they are not perfect, our fathers and, in fact, our parents, are still worthy of respect and the best respect you can have for your parents is to listen to their wisdom and honor their example and their lifestyle - even though it may not be perfect.
Another potential loss of honor happens when we leave home. Now we are on our own and don’t need the influence of parents any more…or do we? At this time, honor involves appreciating the legacy our fathers have given and recognizing the wisdom that their experience allows them to impart to us.
When parents become very old and can’t appropriately communicate any more and act more like children than like adults, honoring takes on a new dimension. Now we respect who they were and we continue to give them the dignity of persons by caring for them, not talking down to them and loving them.
So honoring parents is important at every age and every stage of life.
There are four reasons to honor our parents found in this text.
First of all, we need to do it as a part of our life as Christians. If you are following the Lord, a part of that following is honoring of parents.
The second reason is because it is simply right. Even though our society doesn’t honor family in the way we think it should, there is still an underlying understanding that you should honor your parents. It is seen as right to varying degrees in every society.
A third reason is that the Bible commands it. Several weeks ago, I spoke about living by principles as opposed to simply living by values. As Christians, we ought to live by the principles of the Word of God. One of those principles is that we ought to honor our parents. This is one of the ten commandments found in Exodus 20, but it is also repeated in many other places in the Bible, including the passage we are looking at today.
The fourth reason to honor parents is because of the promise attached to this command. The promise should not be seen as a guarantee, but rather as the way things work in God’s world. Unless there are other circumstances, if we honor our parents, it will go well with us. We will “live long and prosper.” A life which builds on the wisdom of the previous generation cannot help but be a life that is blessed and experiences good.
That is one half of the family relationship. The text also gives us an opportunity to examine the other side of the relationship and that is how fathers ought to treat their children.
There are two words which are intended for fathers to follow. The first is “do not exasperate your children.” Different translations put this in different ways. That was NIV. RSV says, “do not provoke your children to anger.” The Good News Bible says, “do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry.” The Message says, “don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them.”
What does it mean to exasperate children? I think the best way to describe it is to say that anything we do that causes them to give up hope would fall under this word. Some suggest the idea of pushing them too far. If, for example, we push our children to do well in school, that is encouragement, but if we would demand of them marks that they are not able to get, then we would exasperate our children.
I am not an expert on the psychology of what motivates a parent to exasperate their children, but there is always a reason why fathers might do so.
Perhaps they have never gotten beyond self-centeredness. As human beings, it is not uncommon to live with the understanding that the world revolves around us. Fathers who live with that understanding would enjoy their children when they please them and when their children annoy them, they might become angry with them. Their own happiness is what is most important and their children get a confusing message and become exasperated.
Another root cause is the desire for power. Fathers who want to maintain control are afraid that if they allow too much freedom for their child, they will lose control. They may reason, “when I was a child, my parents made me do what they wanted, now I am going to make my children do what I want.”
There are fathers who fear their children. They are so insecure within themselves that they fear the challenge of another mind and another will.
Another root cause could be when fathers, feeling inadequate about their achievements, seek to live their success out through their children.
These root causes, and others, bring about a whole bunch of behaviours which can provoke children to anger. Children are exasperated when fathers push them beyond what they are capable of at their age, when they don’t respect their individual space and will, when they are inconsistent in punishment, when they don’t follow through on warnings, when they fail to listen to and accept reason and when they are over protective - like the father who warned his child, “do not venture into the water until you have learned to swim.”
The Bible gives some examples of children who behaved badly because their fathers exasperated them. We can think of Jacob who was provoked to lie about who he was in order to receive a blessing because his father favoured his brother Esau. We can also think of Absalom who tried to take over his, father David’s throne because David had neglected him.
We could develop a much longer list but it is important to examine our lives. Because we all fall into these traps from time to time, we need to examine our own fathering patterns. We need to open our hearts and examine the root causes of why we treat our children the way we do and then ask God to change our hearts. God is in the business of changing hearts. Let us respect and honor our children and show them a genuine love.
The other aspect of parental responsibility is the challenge to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
What a wonderful privilege we have as fathers to train our children. How do we train them? Sometimes we think that the day we sit them down and tell them some important truth is the day we teach them. When we take our sons and teach them about how to relate appropriately to women or when we go for a walk and ask them about their relationship to the Lord, we believe that we are fulfilling this command.
These times are important and if we are to be faithful to this text, we need to plan to formalize such occasions. I can recall the day my parents sat me down after I had done something wrong and explained to me what the consequences of my actions would be. I don’t remember enjoying those sessions but I know that they had value in my life. They showed me that my parents cared about me and wanted the best for me. When I became a father, I learned from that example of formal instruction. I remember being glad on one occasion when I needed to travel to some sports event with one of our children and since it was just the two of us, we had a good conversation.
However, as valuable as such times are and as necessary as they are, they are not the primary way in which we will need to train our children. Much more important is the way we live our life. I learned much from the way in which I watched my parents follow God. Although they told us to go to church, it was their commitment which convinced me. My dad loved hunting, but he would go to an evening church meeting and then leave early the next morning, even though leaving in the evening would have been much simpler. By his example, he demonstrated a commitment to the body of believers. I learned the importance of attending a worship service on Sunday because even when we went camping at West Hawk Lake, we always went to the Keswick service at Star Lake. I learned integrity in business dealings because I observed my father faithfully paying his bills. I learned the joy of Christian living when I heard my father whistle or sing while developing pictures in the dark room.
May we as fathers be fully aware that every action of ours is a teaching action. May we choose our actions and our words carefully in order to teach our children well.
If we want to learn to father the way we ought, let us look at how God fathers us. Let us take note of his patience, his love, his welcoming, his instruction and discipline.
Newspaper columnist Abigail Van Buren has composed a “Parent’s Prayer” in which she stresses the practical side of raising children. Says “Dear Abby”:
“Oh, heavenly Father, make me a better parent. Teach me to understand my children, to listen patiently to what they have to say, and to answer all their questions kindly. Keep me from interrupting them or contradicting them. Make me as courteous to them as I would have them be to me. Forbid that I should ever laugh at their mistakes, or resort to shame or ridicule when they displease me. May I never punish them for my own selfish satisfaction or to show my power.
“Let me not tempt my child to lie or steal. And guide me hour by hour that I may demonstrate by all I say and do that honesty produces happiness.
“Reduce, I pray, the meanness in me. And when I am out of sorts, help me, O Lord, to hold my tongue.
“May I ever be mindful that my children are children and I should not expect of them the judgment of adults.
“Let me not rob them of the opportunity to wait on themselves and to make decisions.
“Bless me with the bigness to grant them all their reasonable requests, and the courage to deny them privileges I know will do them harm.
“Make me fair and just and kind. And fit me, Oh Lord, to be loved and respected and imitated by my children. Amen.” - Pastor’s Manual