The Happy Home Life -The Duty of Children to Parents

Ephesians 6:1-4
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, November 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004, P.G. Mathew

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.'” – Ephesians 6:1-3

What is the prescription for a happy home life? Many people are very eager to give their views on this issue. But according to the late Dr. James Boice, “No man has a right to tell other people how to raise their children until he has children of his own and has tried to raise them. As a corollary, I am convinced that no wise man will give advice even then until his own children have grown up and turned out well,” by which he means grown up as believers in Jesus Christ (James Montgomery Boice,Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988, 1997], 210).

As far as we know, the apostle Paul was not married and did not have any children. Nevertheless, we must exempt Paul from this restriction because he is the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Paul speaks about the order in the Christian home. We have already considered the biblical teaching about marriage and how husbands and wives should relate to each other. Now Paul addresses the relationship of parents to children and vice versa. In this study we will consider the duty of children to their parents.

God’s Will for Children

How important is it for children to obey parents? Much in every way, for the family is the foundation of all other institutions. Thus, when children are disobedient to their parents, it demonstrates how decadent a society has become. When families break down, civilizations collapse.

The Heidelberg Catechism, produced in 1563, is the most ecumenical catechism in the Reformed world. Question 104 asks, “What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment?” The answer: “That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I obey and submit to them, as is proper, when they correct and punish me; and also that I be patient with their failings-for through them God chooses to rule us.”

During the time of Paul, the pagan Roman fathers had absolute power (patria potestas) over their children. When a child was born, it was placed at the father’s feet. If he stooped to pick it up, that child could live in the home. But if the father walked away, that child would be thrown out as garbage, and people would collect these exposed babies to raise them as slaves and prostitutes. A Roman father also had the right to kill his adult children or make them slaves. So Roman children remained under the control of their fathers until the fathers died. In Roman culture, children never came of age.

But Christianity elevated the lot of both women and children. Christianity recognizes that children are created in the likeness and image of God, that they are persons with divinely given rights and responsibilities. The Bible says children are a heritage from the Lord. Jesus Christ himself was a child, and we are told that Jesus loved little children.

So through the apostle Paul, Christ now tells us how we must order our homes. Every aspect of home life is to be lived in the light of Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit,” and Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Without obedience to these principles, family relationships cannot prosper. Happy homes consist of Spirit-filled people who submit to one another.

Who Are Children?

Ephesians 6:1-3 specifically describes the responsibility of children to their parents. Notice, Paul uses the word “children.” The question is, who are considered children? Up to what age are we to obey our parents?

In contrast to a pagan Roman family, where the children were to obey their father until he died, in a Christian home children are to obey their parents until the parents die or the children marry. When Christians marry, they establish a new unit wherein the husband is the head. So “children” here can mean infants to adults who are not married.

Thus, Jacob obeyed his parents though he was over forty years of age, for he was still unmarried (Genesis 28:7). Joseph obeyed his parents as a teenager, and Jesus himself submitted to his parents until he was thirty years of age. Of course, the older the children are, the greater the freedom and responsibilities they have.

In our modern decadent culture, youth is worshiped and older people are despised. This should not be so in Christian homes. God’s covenant promise was to Abraham and to his children. And Peter says in Acts 2:39, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Because Christian children are included in God’s plan of salvation, they are under authority to the Lord and must respond to him.

Whom to Obey

The verse says, “Children, obey. . . .” It is an imperative, a command from God the Father, not a suggestion or a plea. Notice, they are not asked to submit; that word is used for a wife’s submission to her husband. “Obey” means “to hear and do while standing under an authority.” So children commanded by Christ to hear and do what God’s delegated authorities tell them.

God has ordained a hierarchy for home life: Parents are to exercise authority over their children. It is true that in this time of egalitarianism, we do not like hierarchies. But God’s world has order, and only children of reprobate mind will refuse to obey their parents. Romans 1:28 says, “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind,” a reprobate mind, “to do what ought not to be done.” Then a list is given of things that ought not to be done, one being that “they disobey their parents” (v. 30). So disobedience to parents is a manifestation of a decadent society and depraved minds.

Children are to obey their parents in all things (Colossians 3:20), not selectively. The only time children should not obey is when the parents prohibit them from worshiping God or specifically command them to sin. Otherwise, God requires every child to obey his or her parents in all things at all times.

You may ask, “What if my parents are non-Christians?” Christian children are to obey even non-Christian parents, unless, again, they prohibit them from worshiping God or ask them to sin. The obedience of Christian children to their parents reflects their obedience to their heavenly Father.

The obedience that God requires is illustrated in 1 Samuel 3. As a little boy, Samuel was dedicated to the Lord and taken by his parents to live with Eli, the old priest. One night, God called Samuel. The boy had never heard God calling before, so he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” This happened three times until Eli finally told him to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant heareth.”

According to our text, children are to obey both parents, not just father or mother. Some children obey their father and despise their mother, while others obey their mother and despise their father. But by the command of Christ, children are to obey both parents, unlike the Roman homes, where the father alone had authority over the children.

How to Obey

We are told that children are to obey “in the Lord.” Just as wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, children are to obey their parents in the Lord. So when a child obeys his parents, he is obeying the Lord, who invested his authority into those parents. Children are to acknowledge this God-given authority by their attitude and obedient actions. When a child disobeys his parents, he is really disobeying and displeasing the Lord. But Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and will not permit himself to be despised by anyone.

Jesus himself submitted to his parents, and in Luke 2:52 we read, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Children need wisdom, and they gain it by learning from and obeying their parents.

Christian children have an especial duty to do this, for Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). So a Christian child ought to be a better child than a pagan child, just as a Christian husband should be a better husband, a Christian wife should be a better wife, and a Christian worker should be a better worker. If a Christian child is filled with the Spirit and knows the Lord’s will, he will be eager to do God’s will.

Why Obey?

Why should children obey their parents in the Lord? We are told “for this is right.” It is always right for children to obey their parents. This is true in every society on earth. We even find it in the animal kingdom.

But in a Christian society it is the right thing to do because Jesus Christ said it is right, and there ends all argument. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” or dikaion, righteous. For children not to obey their parents is ungodly and unnatural, and reveals the depravity of their minds. Christian children are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which, for Christian children, consists of obedience to parents.

Obedience of children to parents is not only right, but Colossians 3:20 says it “pleases the Lord.” God is always observing the behavior of children. If they obey their parents, he is pleased, and there is a blessing that will come upon such children. But if they do not obey their parents, it displeases the Lord and requires divine judgment. God will not tolerate disrespectful behavior.

Honor Your Father and Mother

Next we are told, “Honor your father and mother.” This is the fifth commandment cited from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. Many believe that Christians have no obligation to God’s moral law. But here we notice that God’s moral law is cited in the New Testament as something we must obey. And now, with the Holy Spirit and with the divine nature in us, we are made able to do so with great joy. So the gospel never negates God’s law; rather, it empowers us to do it.

The word “honor” in Hebrew is chebed, from which we have chabod, which means glory. So we could translate this way: “Children, glorify your father and mother.” Generally, this word is applied to God-we glorify God. But here it is applied to parents, who represent God to their children. Chabod literally means “to make heavy,” to value something or someone highly, to give great respect to, to pay serious attention to, and to obey. That is how we must honor our fathers and mothers. We are to glorify them because they represent God to us.

Honor speaks about our inner attitude and obedience is the outward action. Thus, parents are honored when their children respect them and obey their commands. God invested parents with honor and authority to govern his world. Children ought to acknowledge this reality and respond accordingly, obeying immediately, exactly, and with great joy.

Leviticus 19:32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” I was brought up doing that. When my father or my mother would walk in, we would stand up. But in this country many children are taught to disrespect and despise their parents. In fact, in many families, parents are supposed to render obedience to the children, while the children are expected to guide and direct the parents. Such parents will say, “You don’t want to eat that? All right, what else can I offer you?” “You don’t want to do your mathematics homework? What would you like to do instead?” This is why we have a total moral collapse in the Western world. By rising in the presence of the aged, children are revering the Lord and honoring parents. Parents must not let their children despise them. If they do, they are teaching them to despise the Sovereign God of the universe.

So we are told, “Rise in the presence of the aged,” and I would go further-children should bow! Don’t you think you would rise and bow if the queen or the president came to your home? How much more should we respect our own parents! They gave us existence as they cooperated with God. They did not abort us for their own selfish interests. They loved and cared for us according to God’s command. So we ought to honor and obey them in all things.

The Hebrew law which functioned in the Old Testament theocracy made rebellion against parents a capital offense. Exodus 21:15 says, “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.” And verse 17 says, “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” So both a physical attack and a wrong attitude toward one’s parents was punishable by death. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New; thus, the injunction for children to honor their parents doesn’t change.

In Deuteronomy the rule is stated more clearly. Remember, unlike the Roman father, the Hebrew father did not have absolute power. The Hebrew father was under God; therefore, he was not sovereign. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.” The parents had no authority of their own to kill; they had to submit their rebellious son to the state. “They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.'” So this is not speaking about a three- or five-year-old child. Apparently this man was grown up. “Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.”

Disobedience to parents is evil. It is terrible to let a child misbehave, because his disobedience will affect every other child in the home as well as in the neighborhood and school. (PGM) But God does not permit his society to collapse. So, in theocratic Israel, rebellious sons were put to death, thus purging the evil of rebellion from their midst.

When Paul cites the fifth commandment, he says it is “the first commandment with a promise.” Actually, it is not the only one with a promise. If you read the second commandment, you will see there is a promise attached to it. But I would say it is the first commandment in its importance to children. They are to learn this first and obey this first, and parents are to teach this first.

Notice the importance of this fifth commandment. The truth is, if children do not obey this command, they will surely fail in their duty toward God as taught in the first four commandments, and in their duty towards society found in commandments six through ten. So this is the key commandment to be taught in the home. If parents fail in this and indulge children, allowing them to be disobedient, they will be disobedient to God and to society. A disobedient child contributes to the breakdown of society, to his own misery and destruction, and to the pain and suffering of his parents.

Obedience Brings Blessings

What, then, is the promise attached to this commandment? “That it may go well with you.” An obedient child will prosper in this life. He will gain wisdom and grow up in favor with God and with men. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, whose leaves do not wither and which brings forth fruit in its season. Whatsoever he does will prosper. He will delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night. He will not walk with the wicked but in the way of righteousness. The path of a righteous man is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter unto the perfect day. All of his life he will be given light and counsel, and will be guided as he goes on in the straight and narrow path, experiencing one blessing after another. Such a man shall not stumble about in deep darkness. It shall go well with him.

“That it may go well with you” speaks of the quality of the life of an obedient son. He will have peace, joy, health and wealth, all within God’s will. He will enjoy a good social life because he will know how to get along with people. Above all, “it may go well with you” speaks about the “well” of salvation. Such a child will know and love God. The Lord shall be his shepherd and he shall lack nothing. Listen to the testimony of an old man. In Psalm 37:25 David says, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

The second part of the promise is, “that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” This speaks, first, about the quantity of life. An obedient child will not die in the midst of his years unless, in God’s sovereign will, his early death has a purpose. He will live a long life, and I believe it is also pointing to eternal life, which everyone who trusts in God receives as a gift.

So the general rule is that those who obey parents shall live in right relation to God and others. Certainly, they will be able to keep the commandments by the grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such people generally will live happy, healthy lives, in contrast to wicked people, who destroy their bodies by their sinful lifestyles. In fact, if one compares the health of God’s people to that of wicked people, he will notice a remarkable difference.

Serious Christians live better lives in this world. Their lives are generally happy and healthy, filled with sufficient material goods because they keep the fourth commandment that says they must work six days. They live in joyful fellowship with others. They have happy married lives, and, generally speaking, live long on earth. But whether long or short, such people shall enjoy eternal life.

In contrast, disobedient people are often cut down early by the Lord. In Acts 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira, who came and lied, and God cut them down in the midst of their years. First Corinthians 11:30 tells us that because of sin, “many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

But Paul is speaking more about spiritual blessings than even material blessings. In Ephesians 1:3 he declares, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” We value such blessings more than anything else in this temporal world.

How to Honor Aged Parents

Not only do children growing up in the home have responsibilities toward their parents, but grown Christian children also have responsibilities to their parents in their old age. Our decadent, youth-worshiping society despises old people. Their wisdom is despised. They are neglected, warehoused, and seen as a burden, both to their families and to the state. Let me tell you, the time is coming, and now is, when they will be euthanized.

But the Scripture declares that children have a duty to honor their parents, who gave them existence and cared for them for many years, who spent their money on them, who provided for their every need and educated them. This responsibility does not end when the children turn eighteen. Grown children have an obligation to honor their parents until the day they die.

How, then, are we to honor our elderly parents? We are to provide for them in their old age as they have need, for when we were dependent on them, they took care of us. And now, when they are dependent, it is not the government or anybody else, but their own children who are responsible for taking care of them financially. And beyond that, Dr. John Stott says, we must take care of them personally through personal acts of love, rather than sending them a little money every so often.

In Matthew 15 the Pharisees devised a way to shirk their responsibility toward their parents, but Jesus rebuked them for doing so: “But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might have otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (vv. 5-6). These people were telling their parents, “What I was going to provide you with, I dedicated to the Lord; therefore, I cannot give you anything.” Jesus accurately labeled them: “You hypocrites!” And in John 19:25-27 we see Jesus Christ carrying out his final responsibility to his mother. From the cross he instructed John, “Here is your mother,” meaning, “Take care of her for the rest of her life.”

In 1 Timothy 5:4 we are told, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents.” Think about that. You see, we have defined the family down to just a husband and wife and two children. But that is not the way the Bible defines family. Verse 8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family,” which includes parents, grandparents, and everybody else, “he has denied the faith.” It is our responsibility to provide for our aged relatives, rather than to push them onto the church roll. In fact, Paul says they should not be accepted on such a roll if they have children. It is the children’s responsibility to take care of their parents.

Think about your own parents. They did not let somebody else take care of you when you were little; they took care of you personally. In turn, you are to look after them personally in their infirmity. In olden days, grandparents lived with their children and died in the home. They were useful, and the grandchildren learned many things from them. Grandparents enjoyed happy times together with the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Today we have a different situation.

I will not presume to tell you how you must deal with this issue, but the Scripture requires us to honor our parents until they die and to personally provide for them, if need be. We are also to love them personally, to visit them regularly with the grandchildren, to pray for them, to take care of their business affairs, to help with medical matters and their estate, and so on. Thus, we will teach our children to respect their grandparents and learn from them.


“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.'” What about you, children? Have you done this? This is not a suggestion; this is the command of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you obey your parents immediately, exactly, with joy and honor? Do you glorify your parents?

If you have been doing this, let me assure you, God’s favor is resting on you. You are blessed and will be blessed all the days of your life. But if you are not doing this, I urge you immediately to repent of your sins. You have sinned against the Lord himself, who, through the apostle, gave us this command, and divine judgment will surely come. Therefore, repent earnestly, return to God, and he will return to you. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Prosperity will come to you when you repent and begin to honor your parents and obey them.