Redeeming Parenting: Parenting has been recognized as a blessing across societies and times. But how does the gospel change our perspective on parenting compared to society’s beliefs and practices? Christians believe that children have inherent value as image-bearers of God, not because of what value they will provide to us or society. But raising children (and people) is not just limited to parents but is the responsibility of the entire church. Recorded on Nov 20, 2022, on Ephesians 6:1-4, by Pastor David Parks.
“Redeeming Regular Life” is a sermon series from the Epistles of the New Testament in the Bible. The Epistles are letters from the Apostles to the early Christian churches helping them understand and apply the gospel to life. “To what part of life?” you might wonder. The answer is: to every part! The way of Jesus changes everything, including marriage, sexuality, singleness, parenting, work, politics, friendship, and more. In Christ, regular life is a gift.
This year, the annual theme of our preaching ministry is Learning the way of Jesus. And right now, we’re in the middle of a series called Redeeming Regular Life. This series is from the household codes found in the epistles/letters in the New Testament in the Bible, from the Apostles of Jesus to various churches around the Roman Empire. Now, in their day, household codes were common and addressed the way our basic relationships (regular life) ought to work. But the apostles wrote on these things from a uniquely Christian perspective, showing how the gospel and the way of Jesus changes everything. So far, we’ve covered redeeming marriage, sexuality, and singleness. Today, we’ll move on to the very important topic of parenting. For my wife, Holly, and I, parenting has been a source of the greatest joy in our life, but also of confusion, anxiety, and stress. Everywhere in the Bible, children are described as a blessing — maybe a chaotic and exhausting blessing (especially when they’re young), but a blessing nonetheless. But as far as I can tell, this is true no matter what you believe about God/faith/bible. So how does the way of Jesus impact and transform the work of parenting? What would a uniquely Christian perspective be on the relationship between parent and child? If you have a Bible/app, please open to Ephesians 6:1.
Ephesians 6:1-4 (NIV), “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” So, as we said a few weeks ago in our marriage sermon, the book of Ephesians is an epistle/letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in and around the city of Ephesus in the modern country of Turkey. And in this section of his letter, he addresses these basic household relationships. Look back at v.1.
Ephesians 6:1 (NIV) says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Let’s pause here. Interestingly, it seems as if Paul was expecting kids to be in the church congregation when his letter was read because he addresses them directly here. So kids! Do you want to know what it looks like for you to follow the way of Jesus? You should obey your parents. Now, this isn’t new. Almost every culture forever has come to this conclusion. Kids are the responsibility of their parents, kids need to grow up and mature in every way, and their parents, presumably, are further on in that maturity process, so kids should obey their parents. Learning obedience should help in the primary task of childhood- of growing up. However, there are always some parents who get the command backward, thinking it to say, “Parents, obey your children.” Obey their every desire, meet their demands, let them run the show. This never works for the parents or for the kids as they grow up. No one wants to be friends with or get married to, or work with someone who was raised to be spoiled/entitled, thinking the world revolves around them. Paul gets it right by saying that children should obey their parents, but then comes the uniquely Christian perspective. He says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” He says this because of the governing principle for all Christian relationships from Eph 5:21, which says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We saw this in the relationship between the husband and wife in marriage. Now here, we find another example in the home. Children are to submit themselves to their parents out of reverence for Christ. This is what is right. Of course, if a parent is abusive, the child should not need to submit themselves to that. Child abuse is a great evil done against some of the most vulnerable people in society. The Lord’s wrath is against people who do such things, and the intervention of other adults is a necessity of justice. But most of the time, learning obedience is right, as Paul says, and will set you on a path for success in life.
Ephesians 6:2-3 (NIV), ““Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”” Now, after the new year, we’ll have a whole series on the Ten Commandments, so I won’t cover everything there is to say on this today. But here, Paul quotes from the fifth commandment. And this command seems to say that there’s a blessing of long life and success that is found when you honor your parents. The commandment in the OT referred to the land of Canaan that the Lord had promised to give to the people of Israel (the Promised Land). But here, Paul widens it beyond the ancient people of Israel to all people, Jew and Gentile in Christ, saying “…on the earth.” So is this like the prosperity gospel, where our obedience/works bring the blessing of God? The answer is not at all. The promise/blessing of obeying the fifth commandment doesn’t replace the grace of God. In the gospel, we see that ultimately, God’s favor and blessing to us is given as a free gift in the person and work of Jesus. If we could earn our way into God’s favor by honoring our parents as an example, then Christ died for nothing. But then, on what basis is this promise made that it will go well for us and we might enjoy long life on the earth? The answer is found in understanding that God has made this world to work in a certain way, and if you violate the natural laws of his world, things will not go well for us. For example, as a human being, you were not made to breathe underwater. Other creatures were created in this way, but you were not. And unless you strap a scuba tank to your back, if you try and live outside the bounds of how God created you, you will surely die. So obeying this God-given law of nature that human beings need air comes with a natural blessing, that is, life! In the same way, there’s a natural law of society. When children obey their parents, in general, life in the family/home will be marked by more joy and peace and less by arguing, anger, selfishness, and hatred. Obeying your parents helps you learn, at a very young age, to put others’ needs ahead of your own, to see yourself not as isolated but as a needed part of an interconnected whole, and it forms relationships built on trust and long-term commitment. A family like that is able to be more stable, more productive, and more successful through the ups and downs of life. And a family like that will work better with other families in their neighborhood and city, and the whole society works better. But if at the family level there’s disobedience, then you have a situation like that of the book of Judges, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (Judges 21:25). If you read the book of Judges in the OT, it was an utter disaster. Of course, we see this sad outcome in many families and communities today. So to honor your father and mother is a way of life in line with the way God made this world to work. To recognize this and live accordingly is wisdom. This won’t guarantee success, just as following the other wisdom proverbs in the bible don’t guarantee success, but in general, this is how life works, and we should respond accordingly. Ok! That’s a lot to think about for the kids. How about for the parents? Look back at v. 4.
Ephesians 6:4 (NIV), “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The word for “fathers” used here can be translated as fathers and mothers, but I don’t think that’s what Paul meant. Back in v. 1, he uses a different word that is always translated “parents,” including mom and dad. Here, he uses a different word, most commonly translated as “fathers.” How come? For two reasons, I think. First, in Ephesus in the first century, steeped in greek and roman culture, it would typically have been the dad’s responsibility for education or for “training and instruction,” as Paul says. So addressing the dads here speaks to the cultural expectations of their day. But also, I think Paul directs this toward the fathers because, as dads, we can sometimes use our physical power to get our way in a way that is not Christ-like at all. But again, we have a uniquely Christian perspective in both the guidance not to exasperate your children or provoke them to anger and in saying that the task of education or bringing them up was in the training and instruction of the Lord. First, being careful not to exasperate your children is the parents’ application of Eph 5:21. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Kids do this by obeying and honoring their parents, and parents do this by being careful with how they treat their kids. Kids need correction, and all the more often when they are young. This goes back to their need for wisdom. But this correction/discipline must not be done out of a desire for revenge (to make them pay) or to crush their spirit, or to leave them to hopelessly wallow in guilt and shame. Repentance and forgiveness should not only be offered but modeled by us as parents. Kids need to grow up and mature in every way, physically, emotionally, academically, and so on, but most importantly, they need to be discipled. They need to be taught about Jesus and hear the gospel and be shown in regular life what it looks like to follow him. They need your prayers and your words of instruction, correction, and encouragement. They need to see someone love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. They need to hear you apologize when you sin against them and see you ask for forgiveness, and so on. So dads, do you know that it’s at least 50% your responsibility to train and instruct your kids in the Lord? You can’t be passive about this. You can’t assume that mom will take 100% of the responsibility. You can’t assume they’ll pick up these things of first importance simply by osmosis. You have to be intentional. You have to take the responsibility for yourself. You have to think and speak and act with your kids in mind. But do you also know that how you do this matters? Not by provoking your kids, not by making fun of them or putting them down, and not by using your power and authority as a weapon to get your way, but as a tool to serve your children out of your love for them. Mothers are often far better and more natural at being nurturing and caring. So all the more, fathers, we must pour out our lives so our kids will grow in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” This is the way of Jesus.
So what do you we with all this? How do we apply this teaching to our lives today? There are so many things to say about parenting through the difficult terrain of life. And there are different skills needed at different points of time, from when your kids are young to when they’re teenagers to when they are grown and out of the nest. But I’d like to close with three takeaways for you. First, and very simply, 1. The way of Jesus changes parenting. This was as true for the Ephesians in the first century AD as it is for us today. In ancient Greco-Roman culture, children didn’t have many rights but were valued for their help with the family business (trade/farm), as heirs of the family’s wealth/property, and as security to have someone to take care of the parents when they were old. Kids had toys and played games (just like kids everywhere), but the parents saw their responsibility for raising their children more in light of the needs of the broader society. They were raising their sons to be strong warriors or educated citizens and their daughters to be capable wives and mothers, able to raise kids and run a politically connected household. Our modern culture, of course, is very different. Today, many secular people value children not for their help with the family business (in fact, many people see kids as a hindrance to their careers), as heirs, or even for security for later in life, but instead as objects of love and personal meaning/identity. Being a mom or dad isn’t simply something we do or one aspect of our lives, but rather, who we are. Kids still have toys and play games, but parents see their responsibility for raising their children not so much in light of what type of citizens we want in society, but more in light of personal happiness for the parent and child as they grow up. We’re less communally minded in modern western culture and way more individualistic. We’re less virtue-minded, caring about what is right and wrong and the type of society we want to create, and are more happiness-minded, feeling free to disregard the needs of others for the sake of personal/individual happiness or fulfillment. But the way of Jesus subverts and transforms both the ancient and modern secular views. Christians believe kids have inherent value, not based on how they will serve society or serve our own individualistic needs/desires, but because they, too, are image-bearers of God. From conception on, these little boys and girls are ours to love and protect, entrusted to us by a God who knows them and loves them. This really does change everything.
So first, the way of Jesus changes parenting, but second, how does any of this apply if you don’t have kids? Well, last week, we saw that to remain single and celibate is a gift for some in the church. But also, even some who are married might struggle with infertility. This can be so painful and frustrating. So obviously, not everyone will have biological kids of their own. Does this mean only some of us will be responsible for this work? And I think the answer is no. Absolutely not. 2. Helping people grow up is the work of the church. There is something very beautiful about being a foster parent or adopting kids, whether or not you can have biological kids of your own. In fact, adoption is at the heart of the gospel. That God the Father would adopt us as sons and daughters in his own family by faith in Jesus the Son. But even beyond that, every single one of us has been given the responsibility to help one another grow and mature as followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul was a single guy without biological kids of his own, but Paul had a number of younger men that he invested in and considered to be his spiritual children. We see this in 1 Corinthians 4:15–17 (NIV), “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” The work of discipleship in the church is really the work of spiritual parenting. We must both look to men and women who are more mature than we are to learn from them and to become like them. But we must also look back and see who is behind us in this journey of faith and help them, teach them, gently correct them, and so on to help them make progress. This is what our church and every aspect of our ministry is all about. Helping people grow up is the work of the church.
Third, and finally, I’m sure there are some of you who are feeling pretty down right now. Maybe you were raised in a dysfunctional or abusive home. Maybe you never had a godly mom or dad who modeled these things for you. And you feel like you’re kind of lost when it comes to how to raise your kids. Or maybe your kids are grown, and they are struggling, and you’re wondering to what degree you are responsible for their struggles in life. I’d like to say that 3. God’s grace is sufficient for moms and dads. The gospel is not that God will bless you if you raise perfect children. That is just not how life works in this world. You will struggle at times, and your kids will struggle at times. It can be very painful and difficult. But God’s grace is available for you. In fact, earlier in Ephesians, Paul said that in the ages to come, the incomparable riches of God’s grace will be seen in the kindness that he has expressed to us in Christ. When Paul was at his lowest, Jesus told him that his grace would be sufficient for him because his power is made perfect in our weakness. My friends, we bear much responsibility for our words and deeds as parents because the way of Jesus changes our parenting. And even if we don’t have kids of our own, we all still bear responsibility for this work because helping people grow up is the work of the church. But we do not do this on our own. And we do not struggle on our own. We who have put our faith and trust in Christ in life have received and will continue to receive the wonderful riches of God’s love, the power of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of God, and so much more to help us in this high calling. And the grace of God is enough. So today, may we see this as our task, may we see this as our high calling, but may we never try and do this work outside the grace of God found in Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray.