Sermon: "Parents and Children"

Second in the "Becoming Better People" series.
Delivered February 19, 2006 by Rev. George Antonakos.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2

Theme: Four reasons why children are called to obey their parents and four commands for fathers (and by implication mothers) on how to raise children.

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Sermon Text: Ephesians 6:1-4, 5-9

If you were here two weeks ago, you probably remember some information from a survey that I shared with you. Ten thousand people who had filled out a prepared enriched survey, 165-question survey, and we looked at five top martial concerns two weeks ago when we spoke about husbands and wives. The same group did a sampling of over 21,000 couples, so now we are talking about 40,000 some people; asking them in the course of this survey about marriage and family. There were a bunch of questions that talk about the top five parenting concerns and it was interesting what this revealed and the percentage of couples that reported, at least one of them reported a concern in these five areas. Take a look at them. The first one is: having children has reduced our marital satisfaction; notice 84% of the people said that, 40,000 something people, that is pretty significant. And what you are going to see now from 2 to 5 are all subsets of number one. The father is not involved enough with our children; over two- thirds said that. I am dissatisfied with how child rearing is shared; two-thirds. We disagree on discipline and my partner focuses more on the children than on the marriage; all about two-thirds, again of 40,000 people these are very significant findings, which is no surprise to say that even though parenting can be fulfilling and rewarding, it's also very challenging and requires a lot of adapting.

Bill Cosby came at it from another angle. In his book on fatherhood, you've got to hear his voice as I am reading this, but he said this;

"So you decided to have a child. You decided to give up quiet evenings with good books and lazy weekends with good music, intimate meals during which you can finish whole sentences, sweet private times when you savor the thought that just the two of you and your love is all you will ever need. You decided to turn your sofas in to trampolines and to abandon the joys of contemplating reproductions of great art for the joys of frantically coping with reproductions of yourselves." And the he asks, why? He says, "Poets have said the reason to have children is to give yourself immortality. And I must admit I did ask God to give me a son because I wanted someone to carry on the family name. Well God did just that and I now confess that there have been times when I have told my son not to reveal who he is. You make up a name I said, just don't tell anybody who you are. He said, immortality; now that I have had five children, my only hope is that they are all out of the house before I die."

So that's Bill Cosby. It's a hilarious book. I was in tears just reading it in preparation. There is just so much more in there. He also said, "We didn't decide to have children so for the rest of my life I could ask the question, where's my change?" Right.

John Wilmont put it another way; 16th century. You can see this goes way way back and even before. You can read it for yourself.

"When I got married I had six theories about bringing up children, now I have six children and no theory."

There is something about parenting that is very humbling and you realize how much you do need to learn. And I have always thought you know, to be a parent it teaches us how to be servants really and that is where Paul is going in Ephesians, Chapter 6. Because remember last week we talked about; two weeks ago when talking about husbands and wives, we said how everything kind of revolved around the idea of mutual submission, of being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ and that applies even to parents and children.

Now let me put this disclaimer out here. This text is not the end-all of explaining every parent-child situation. I mean what about situations where you know a child is more spiritually mature than a parent; what is that child supposed to do? Or other kind of complex kind of things where you know there is a lot of abuse going on or multigenerational stuff going on. This teaching is teaching for the Christian household and we can't teach people who won't submit to the Lord anything from the bible; really if they are not willing to submit to the Lord, but when they do submit to the Lord and if people will listen to these basic truths about family life, then it leads to whole communities; it leads to deeper relationships and more satisfying relationships really, as well as reaching out to a community that doesn't know the Lord.

You know families are God's primary mission agency and when people see families operating well, then it says an awful lot and Paul was concerned about preaching the gospel everywhere he went. So, he is saying that a strong family will mean further reverence of the gospel in life. So we are going to look at Ephesians 6 and just focus on 1 to 4. We will read 5 to 9. Our sermons on employers and employees got bumped because of the snowstorm, but I will read that text anyway and maybe sometime we will come back to that in the future.

But let's pray first. Lord, we ask that your spirit will guide us, that we would see light in the light of your word and again Father we ask for your Holy Spirit to illuminate us so that we might not just understand what it said, but that we might be led to apply to what is said. Again, we ask this in Christ's name. Amen.

So follow along with me in Ephesians 6, 1 to 9.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."Honor your father and mother"-which is the first commandment with a promise- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him."

It's fascinating really that Paul addresses the weaker members of society at all and again in that culture, the weaker members of that society were wives, children and slaves. But just the very fact that he addresses the weaker members of society elevates them, because prior to that on a more hierarchal society they just said do what you are told, and here he elevates them because he knows that down the road progress and change will happen and every part of the household of God has to be a part of that progress and change. It all comes under the umbrella of be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. That applies to all relationships. The fact that fathers are addressed and masters are addressed again says that they too, there are times when they have to have a subordinate spirit in the whole Christian household.

One commentator put it this way. He said,

"There must a willingness in the Christian fellowship to serve any, to learn from any, to be corrected by any regardless of age, gender, class, race or any other division. We all must be willing to come underneath and support one another regardless of those roles."

So with that in mind we turn to the text and see two sets of four. We will see four reasons why children are called to obey their parents and we are going to see four things that fathers and by implications mothers, are told on how to raise children in the commands there.

And before we even get started with those two sets of four, notice the second word in the text. It's children obey. Now, obey in this passage has the same sense of the word used in another context where soldiers are encouraged to obey just before they hit the front lines. If you have ever been in a battle situation, or you know we have all seen battle movies or war movies, you know how tuned-in soldiers are to the instruction just before engaging in battle and so it's not like "okay I will do it because you said so," it's listening because what we are listening for could be a matter of life or death. And we really can point to examples and illustrations all around us where not coming under and submitting, authority figures or parents or whatever, really does lead to life or death situations. So with that in mind, let's look at the first of the four things that children are told.

We are told to obey because we are all in the Lord; that's number one. We are all in the Lord and as we have already said, in the Lord we are all called to be subordinate to Jesus. Nobody is above another. We are called to come under him. In Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 51, Jesus not only taught this he demonstrated it even when he was a child. He was 12 years old, you know the story, he got misplaced in the caravan, right? And his parents frantically find him and he tells them didn't you know I must be about my father's business. He didn't say, "Hey let me tell you Joe and Mary, who the real boss of me is", okay? He didn't say that. And then, in Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 51 it says that he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. He demonstrated it as a 12 year old and beyond, and it says that Mary treasured all of these things in her heart. So in the Lord we are subordinate to each other, we follow his lead even as a child and that helps us all express conformity to God's plan. There is a fascinating Verse in Leviticus 19, 1 and 2, that connects Godliness and parental respect. Moses is called to charge the assembling and to tell the assembly "Be holy as I am Holy." And the very next verse says, "Respect your mother and father". Now, you wouldn't think that those verses would go together like that, but they do. There is some connection between Godliness and growing in Godliness and parental respect. So that's the first thing; we are in the Lord so that one reason to obey.

Number two; he says for this is right. This is just right. God's ordained the people who are our parents, to be our parents and so it's right to come under their leadership. Whether a person is a believer, a nonbeliever, an atheist, a person of any culture, I don't know maybe they are out there, but I don't know of any parent who would ever think that this wasn't right for kids to come underneath of their guidance and their authority. I don't know of any. It's just right, like Wilford Grimley says in the old oatmeal commercial, "It's just the right thing to do." Right? That's what it says. It just makes sense that a house divided against itself won't stand and if we are going to have stable communities, it's wrong when people rebel against the authorities that God has put over them. That's the second thing.

Third thing; it's a commandment. It's one of the Ten Commandments. That's what is says, honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise. So the third thing that Paul points out is not only we are in the Lord, not only is it right to obey, but it's a commandment from Mt. Sinai. Honor our father and mother. John Calvin stated that every commandment in an unspoken way, lifts up something about our sinful human nature, our proneness not to obey God and his comment on honoring your father and mother was that this commandment reveals our natural tendency to rebel against authority figures. It's just in us all, right? Kids naturally don't want to listen. Now, I know that is the understatement of the morning, but that's part of all and we know if we are adults, I mean we know from when we were kids that that is just kind of the way we are.

One mother who needed no convincing about this truth had a particularly difficult day with her younger son and she said, "Okay Billy, do anything you doggone well please". Now let me see you disobey that, okay? And you know the three ways to get something done, right? Do it yourself. Hire somebody to do it for you, or forbid your kids to do it. That's the other thing. It's just the way we are and apart from God's grace that's just the way we stay. But this whole idea of obeying or honoring our parents, again, Calvin said it was intended to subdue that rebel part when we are called and commanded to honor, which means to esteem and value our parents. Now I know you are sitting there thinking, " Boy you don't know my parents," okay. "You don't know what they are like." They are not worthy of value or esteem, but God has put them as your parents, which is the case, then out of obedience to God you are called to value and esteem them and in so doing can even be part perhaps of creating change in their life.

A couple of family commentators talked about what does this actually look like; this honoring, and let's just move it away from children who are under their parents care because that is what this text is really directed toward, children are still under the roof, still dependent and let's shift it to - we are all children. Remember last week when I said those of you who are married please stand. It would be kind of dumb to ask would all children please stand, right, because everybody would be standing. So all of us have some kind of relationship to our parents and our parents don't even have to be living for our parental relationship to still be effecting us in determining some of the things that we do in our life, but Dennis Raney said here are a few ideas of how to honor; grown children here is how to honor or any children.

  • Recognize what they have done right in your life and tell them.
  • Take the initiative to improve your relationship them.
  • Praise them for the legacy that they are passing on to you.
  • Recognize any sacrifices that have been made.
  • Forgive them as Christ has forgiven you.

That's the way that God calls us to be as children, even though our parents may be very old and then another group of people actually went to parents at a conference and said, "What would it look like for you to be honored by your children?" And some of the answers were, "Well, as a single mom when my children would do chores without being asked or do something additional, that would really make me feel honored." "It honors me when I see my children reaching out to help others who have been less fortunate." So notice how some of these things that honor parents are when we carry values into the next generation that they value. "When I see my daughter seeking after God, I can't think of anything that brings me more honor." "I feel flattered and honored when my daughter asks my advice on struggles and needs in her life;" so that whole thing of confidence. We appreciate the way our children tell us the truth; that's huge; tell us the truth even when it means disagreeing with us or expressing an opinion different from ours. So value and honor, those are a few things.

Listen how the Heidelberg catechism; this is catechism again written centuries ago, but is was common thing during the reformation on the Ten Commandments and it says question 104 - What does God require in the 5th commandment; and here is the answer;

that I show all honor, love and fidelity to my father and mother and all in authority over me.

Notice that connection and submit myself to their good instruction and correction with due obedience; listen to this next part;

and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.

Honoring your parents, another person said, is accompanied by actions that say this;

"You are worthy. You have value. You are the person that God sovereignly placed in my life. You may have failed me, hurt me and disappointed me at times, but I am taking off my judicial robe and releasing you from the courtroom of my mind. I choose to look at you with compassion as people with needs, concerns and scars of your own."

You know you are becoming an adult when you see your parents adult to adult and you understand that they struggle just like anybody else and did perhaps the best that they could with what they had.

If we will get to this place and we will honor them this way then the scripture goes on to say, here's the fourth reason for obedience. It's the first commandment with a promise. It's the first commandment that says that something really incredible will happen and it says it will go with you through life. Now, that's not just a blanket statement that says if you always obey your parents you will never have struggles and difficulties. It's a broad stroke statement that you will find life, you will find blessing. You will find freedom as you learn to come underneath out of reverence for Christ. It's the same kind of thing when you discipline yourself to play a musical instrument. If I walked over to that piano keyboard and I started playing it, you would quickly see that I had no discipline in piano playing, okay? So, therefore I would have no freedom to play. Same thing with a sport and an athlete; those who discipline themselves are free to express and engage in that sport at a level far beyond any of us. It's the same thing with coming under and listening and obeying in life that we experience some freedom and wholeness in life. It's like the Proverb; "understanding is a tree of life for those who have it." There is something fundamental about the richness of life when we connect with this whole idea of obedience.

We use to say to our kids, especially in the whole area of, and believe me I am not an expert parent by any stretch of the imagination. We made a lot of mistakes, but one of the things we would say to our children as they were growing, especially in the whole area as we talked about the importance of sexual expression before marriage and to refrain from that; we would say that if you went to an orange grove and you saw orange blossoms all over these trees before oranges you know were born, and you wanted to just pick the blossom because you thought it was pretty, you thought it smelled good or whatever, you would rob yourself of something far better, something far greater and so we would always use the term delayed gratification. My daughter said after the 10 o'clock service, "I don't remember you saying that about delayed gratification" and she said, "Maybe back then I did,", but I remember times around the table where they would say, "Yeah, yeah, we know, delayed gratification" and we would talk about it until we were blue in the face. What the scripture is trying to say is that life will come when we align ourselves to this submissive spirit towards those in authority over us and if we had time we would go in to the whole thing of employers and employees; about how we align ourselves under those who are in authority over us at work also brings life and freedom. We chafe when we don't do that; even those who are difficult.

Now, just to wrap up let me give you four quick commands; the fathers, by implications, the mothers, again the reason why I think it just says the father is because they were the complete authority in that culture, but also it reminds fathers to have a servant spirit, because they were in greater authority and there is a sense too that men generally are carried away by anger when they get frustrated generally more than women. So he starts out and he says, fathers do no exasperate your children. That literally means do not provoke them to wrath and the idea behind this is "fathers you are not the boss in a vacuum. You have been given a God delegated task and so you are to steward your authority well under God's hand. In stewarding that authority don't exasperate, don't provoke to anger your children."

You say, "Well, how do fathers do that." Well, there is tons of ways that we can do that. This is just a few. You can overly protect or overly limit. Don't trust your children. Favor one child over another. Make them feel like they are intruding on your time or space. Obviously things like verbal and physical abuse go without saying because that would provoke to anger. Teasing or taunting; disciplining them erratically, stifling their emotions. Instead of that, he says and he is going to say three things. Bring them up, train them and instruct them.

The first one is bring them up. The word means nuture or nourish them. It has to do with body, mind and spirit. Provide and nuture and nourish them, but literally this word bring them up in this text means "that to which one turns." It's like a nursing infant turning towards its mother's breast. Now you knew from two months ago when my grandson was born that it wouldn't take long for me to use him as a sermon illustration and I know when I hold him and I just touch his cheek, he turns. It's an instinctive thing. The meaning of nuture your children in the Lord is teach them the way to turn and by implication, teach them way not to turn. Now it's not saying that they won't turn that turn way, that they will listen to you, but when it says bring them up, it's show them the guidance, show them the way to turn. If you look in the Book of Proverbs, isn't that mainly what Proverbs is about when it comes to parents and children. "My son, don't go the way of the adulterous. You will find rottenness for your bones. My child, turn this way and you will be blessed", okay? "A child who listens to their mother is a joy and delight." Turn this way. So that's the idea behind bring them up; it's how do they turn; how do we nurture them.

Susanna Wesley had 17 children. Do you recognize the last name? She was the mother of John and Charles Wesley, two men in the last few centuries who probably affected more people for Christianity than almost anybody else. So you ought to listen to what Susanna Wesley says I think, okay? She says; 17 children and here are some rules for bringing up children. Just a few.

  • Subdue self will in the child and thus work together with God to save their soul.
  • Teach them to pray as soon as they can speak.
  • Give him nothing he cries for and only what is good for him if he asks for it politely.
  • Four, to prevent lying, punish no fault, which is freely confessed, but never allow a rebellious sinful act to go unnoticed.
  • Command and reward good behavior.
  • Strictly observe all promises you have made to your child.

I would add a 7th; don't ever promise your child anything, okay? That's what I would do, because they will shrink your brain until you provide. If you are going to promise something to your child, make sure you intend to fulfill it; that's the idea behind it. So bring them up, and it says two things in the training of the Lord. Now another translation says bring them up in the discipline of the Lord and this is where we get to the whole area of discipline. In fact, the Bible says whom the Lord loves the Lord disciplines. So it would make sense that those parents who love their children, discipline their children.

Now we could get in to a great debate over should you use corporal punishment to discipline your children. Should you spank your children? Our whole journey, we went through a yes and a no on that in our own development as parents. I am not saying what you should do it one way or the other. What I am suggesting that this means is that you discipline your children with discipline of yourself, that you never by God's grace discipline them out of your own anger and believe me that I know there is lots of guilt floating around because of the times that parents haven't heeded to that, but what Paul is saying is that train them has to do with disciplining them in the way to show them the way. There is a fascinating Verse again in 2nd Timothy, Chapter 3 where Paul talks about training children and the training that we get from the scriptures. In fact, he is talking to Timothy and he says, "Timothy, remember how from your infancy you learned the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus." And in the next verse he says about how the scripture is inspired by God for teaching the reproof, correction, training and righteousness. This is a wonderful guide for parents because it tells us first to teach our kids the right way. If they get off of that way, we warn them that they are outside the way, that's the reproof. The correction is show them how to get back on the way and then the last thing training in righteousness; train them how to stay on the way. That's a tremendous guide for parents in raising them in the discipline of the Lord. And then lastly he says, "Not only raise them in the discipline of the Lord, and the training of the Lord, but also in the instruction of the Lord" and this gets right down to Christian education.

The last church that I served and I have heard of this happening in other churches, parents drop their kids off and go to Sunday school and they are reading the paper, right? They pick them back up after Sunday school. Do not delegate Christian education. It is the role that God expects parents to fulfill in raising their children; to teach them about the Lord and the gospel and his word. One person put it this way,

"The highest duty of Christian parents should be more for the loyalty of their children, to Christ than anything besides health, besides intellectual brilliance, material prosperity, social position and even their exemption from great sorrows or misfortunes."

You probably have heard that illustration of motivation of somebody walking along side of people building a building and three different builders are asked what they are doing. One builder says well I am laying bricks. Another builder says I am earning a living. And the third builder says I am building a cathedral. You apply that to parents and children and you could say to parents, what are you doing? And one parent would say I am supporting my family. Another one would say I am raising my children and a third might say, I am shaping a life for an eternity with Jesus. That's what God calls us to do, to teach our children about a relationship with him.

Now let me just close with this because, again when it comes to parents and children, there can be all kinds of guilt and stuff that we carry along, and I just want to encourage you by God's grace to remember that God is our forgiving, loving, heavenly Father and to use a photo album metaphor to encourage you to live by God's grace and not by guilt. You know, pre-digital photography when you have all your snapshots and you buy a nice new album you are going to go through and take out which ones that you want to put in that album, right? You go through them and you go, "Oh that's terrible of me." "Oh that's terrible." "Oh, that's a nice one" and you paste that one in the album. You do it again. "Is that me, I can't believe that's me." And you set it over here and then "Oh I look good in that" and you put it right there. Can I suggest to you that we do the exact opposite when it comes to our memories and our difficult memories? We go through all of the things that we have done on the negative side of the ledger and we stick those in the photo album of our head and I would suggest that by God's grace that we can erase all that and we can use that to encourage us to restore and rebuild relationships that have not been as good as we would like them to be. Put those positive memories into your mind and keep those by the Lord's grace. You know why you should do that? Because that's exactly the way the Lord does it with us. Exactly. He remembers our sin no more. He forgets them. He casts them in the deepest part of the sea. Follow him in that way. Be free from guilt. Live in grace and strengthen the bonds of your family life.

Let's pray. Lord, we thank you that you have guided us as a heavenly Father who nurtures their children and that's what we are to call you; that's how we are to respond to you as children and to resemble again the family likeness. I pray especially for parents today who are feeling at odds with their children and children who are feeling at odds with their parents, that somehow by your grace and by the love of Jesus and by humility in being willing to learn to submit, to willing to let go of the terrible burden of always needed to get our own way, that we might truly value and serve each other in the body of Christ and we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

© 2006, Rev. Antonakos
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145