Disciplining and Discipling Children

As Paul neared the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians, he included instructions concerning the family. His first instructions in chapter six were for children to obey their parents (Eph 6:1). The phrase “in the Lord” is not to be understood as obeying Christian parents only, but children were expected to obey their parents regardless of the parents’’ spiritual standing.  For children without ideal Christian parents, honor for the individual parent may be difficult at times, but Christian children must muster honor for at least the office of a parent at all times.

Paul’s command to obey parents in the Lord adds a deeper spiritual implication to the command. Children must understand that when they obey their parents, they are also obeying the Lord.  Paul viewed this obedience so significantly that he grouped disobedience to parents in a list of sins next to murder, greed, and other unrighteous acts (Rom 1:28-32). One of Paul’s signs that the end of time is nearing is the presence of disobedient children (2 Tim 3:2).

Paul provided no indication that problems existed in the Ephesian church concerning family relationships, but he obviously saw the need to regard family instruction as an appropriate teaching regardless of the circumstances.  For many Christians, the home is often the most difficult environment to line with the attitude of Christ (Phil 2:3-5), but Paul held this environment to be one of the most critical in which to show mutual honor.  Not only did Paul instruct children to obey their parents in the Lord, but he also told this church that obedience is simply the just act for children according to God’s plan for the family.

While the term translated “children” could refer to adult children, Paul probably intended his message for younger children who were still impressionable and prime for spiritual molding.  Paul might have intended his message for teenagers who were not old enough to live on their own but still young enough to receive discipline.  Even though this commandment is meant more towards younger children, honoring parents is a commandment to be kept in some sense throughout a lifetime. As young children grow into adults, the specifics of obedience will change, but the parents’ divine right of honor should never change.# Jesus confronted Pharisees for abandoning this commandment and dishonoring their parents in order to follow the traditions of men (Mark 7:9-13).

While the command for children to obey their parents originated at the fiving of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:12), the New Testament includes this command five times other than this passage (Matt 15:4; 19:19; Mark 7:10; 10:19; Luke 18:20).#God’s original command (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16) instructed children to obey in order to flourish in the land. Paul, speaking to Jew and Gentiles removed from the idea of inheriting land that the original hearers anticipated, changed the ending from “live long in the land” to “live long on the earth” (Eph 6:3). This subtle shift indicates that his audience was not anticipating prospering in a certain geographical location, but they did desire for their lives to prosper in general.# Paul’s intention through this subtle change was to indicate that obedience to parents provides needed structure in the lives of children.

After Paul instructed the manner in which children should obey their parents, he then turned his focus to the role of fathers specifically concerning discipline and instruction (Eph 6:4). Paul’s distinction between obedience and instruction must be noted. He instructed children to obey both their fathers and mothers, but he exhorted solely fathers to instruct their children. While both parents should be involved in a child’s spiritual education, Paul placed the ultimate responsibility upon the fathers (Eph 6:4).

Throughout Scripture, God expected fathers to train their children in the way of the Lord. God’s disgust with Eli the priest was due to his indifferent attitude towards his godless sons (1 Sam 3:13). In God’s plan, a father is responsible for instruction a child, but a child is responsible to obey both a father and a mother.

While fathers are singled out in this passage, Paul looks out for both sons and daughters. Paul’s use of the tern “children” instead of “sons” (Eph 6:4) is also significant since traditionally girls were not educated like boys. While girls were not allowed the same type of societal education as boys, Paul implied that they deserved the same type of spiritual education.God intends for fathers to discipline their children (Prov 13:24), for God himself as a father disciplines his children as indication of his love (Heb 12:6; Prov 3:12; Ps 119:75; Rev 3:19). While discipline is necessary, God intends parental discipline to bring about Christlike character and not angered resentment (Eph 6:4). If fathers discipline too severely, children could respond with rebellion rather than desired obedience. More often than not, “hostile homes produce hostile children.”# Paul urged fathers not to become angry themselves, which reiterated his previous instructions concerning anger (Eph 4:26, 27, 31).

In Paul’s society, the father had no real restriction upon how he should manage his household. While mothers were granted no legal rights, fathers actually had the legal right to drown their weak or disfigured children and even maintained rights over their grandchildren if they were not living in the same home. Fathers were permitted to punish as harshly as they deemed necessary, and fatherhood of the day avoided pampering, playing, or laughing with one’s children. In contrast to the common practice of the time, Paul urged fathers not to discipline too severely or irrationally.

Scripturally, parents are to view children as a gift from God (Ps 127:3). Christian fathers should never merely endure their children, but they are to nurture their children joyfully. Paul desired that healthy fatherly relationship would help stimulate healthy relationships with their father God. Many children will turn away from the Lord, but it is unfortunate when the harshness or the hypocrisy of a child’s father is one cause of their rebellion.

Paul expected fathers to discipline themselves before they discipline their children. When fathers raise their children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4), children should be developing Christlike characteristics. A father’s rational and compassionate discipline should produce a gentle child (2 Cor 10:1). This godly type of instruction is also reminiscent of Paul’s earlier teaching on Christian instruction (Eph 4:20-21). During this time, children were beginning to go to school for formal education, but fathers were still viewed as the primary teacher.

In homes where children are not growing spiritually, one will often unfortunately discover apathetic parents not living up to their God-given responsibilities. Paul desired this church to instruct one another in Christian teaching, but he never saw that task as isolated to the religious institutions. Paul’s instruction is reminiscent of the words in the book of Proverbs which state, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). God expects fathers not only to discipline their children, but they are also to disciple their children. Fathers are to discipline their children according to God’s standards and disciple their children using God’s commandments. For successful biblical parenting to take place, parents must live according to their God-given authority coupled with their God-given responsibility.

> Travis Agnew

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