The Imperatives of Parenting (Eph 6:1-4)

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The Imperatives of Parenting

Ephesians 6:1-4

I am Robert Dodson.  I have served as an elder here at FBC for over eight years, and have been married 22 years to Tracy.  We have five wonderful children ages 17 down to 7.  I’m teaching on parenting today, so I told all my kids they better be on their best behavior today.

When we had our first child I remember feeling overwhelmed.  There was so much to learn.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and wasn’t really sure what my home should look like.  I also never understood in Scripture how the children of men who were praised by God turned out so bad, like David and Absalom.

After the conquest of the Promised Land, we read in Judges 2:10, “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers.  And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done in Israel.”  After all the miracles of the conquest, manna and more this next generation didn’t know what God had done.

Look at all the books you find on parenting in the Christian bookstore–book after book.  You would think that there would at least be one chapter devoted to parenting in the Bible.  I fear sometimes we make parenting way too complex, when Scripture is so clear.  It is like a knife pinpointed at the truths of parenting, and that is what we get to study today.  Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians.

In order to understand what Ephesians 6 says about parenting, we have to put it in context.  Ephesians is in two parts.  Chapters 1 to 3 give us the indicatives–who we are in Christ, and what we have in Christ to accomplish the imperatives.  Since we have these things, this is how we are to live in Chapters 4 to 6.  Right doctrine in 1 to 3 leads to right living in 4 to 6.

Chapters 1 to 3 basically tell us all that we have been blessed with, and that it is for His glory and to put Him on display.  This culminates In chapter 3:20 to 21, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”

We have been blessed with all these blessings to put Jesus Christ on display.  Therefore, because of this, do these things which are in chapter 4:

Being UNIFIED to cause the growth of the body–verse 16

We are to WALK NOT as Gentiles but, speak TRUTH–verse 25

Be angry but do not sin–verse 26

Don’t steal–verse 28

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth–verse 29

Be kind–verse 32

Live like Christ and display Him to the world.  You cannot do any of this without being filled with the Spirit in 5:18–living a dependently obedient life, and mutually submitting to one another in the church and the family.  Ephesians 5:21 says, “And be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”  Mutual submission to each other flows right into marriage.

Wives–why are you to submit to your husbands?  Ephesians 5:22 to 24, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”  Not because your husband is great, but to display to the world how the Church is to be in subjection to Christ.  It is an opportunity to display the Gospel to the world.

Husbands, you are to love your wife as what?  Verse 25, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”  You are to die for your wife so that God would receive glory through your marriage.

Too often parents want to be good parents, so they study all these parenting books.  You cannot just take principles and apply them without all of Ephesians before that.  You must be saved.  You must have right doctrine.  You must live like Christ.  You must live a genuinely dependent lifestyle in the Spirit and not the flesh.  You must have a marriage of submission, all to display Christ to the world and (get this) to your children.  Now we come to our text in Chapter 6.

Read with me Ephesians 6:1 to 4, “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 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.”

First Imperative Family Command—Obedience  Verse 1

This is the greatest verse for us as parents, isn’t it?  First verse we learn, and the first verse we teach our children–our big gun.  They might not listen to us, but they have to listen to God.  Tekna (children) does not refer particularly to young children, but to all offspring–sons and daughters still under their parents’ roof or authority.  Children eighteen or eight, if you are under the authority of your parents, this verse applies to you.

Hupakouō (obey) literally means “to hear under,” that is, to listen with attentiveness, and to respond positively to what is heard.  Children are to put themselves under the words and authority of their parents.  “In the Lord” refers to the sphere of pleasing the Lord, to obeying parents for the Lord’s sake.  Children obey their parents as reflective of their obedience to the Lord.  The context makes it clear that “in the Lord” applies to honor as well as to obey.  Parents are to be obeyed and honored because to do so is to obey and honor the Lord. (MacArthur)

Children, you are to obey your parents as if Jesus Himself is commanding you.  Whatever it is that your parents say, unless it is in direct violation of Scripture, you are to obey (Acts 4:19 to 20).  Clean your room, do your homework, don’t do this, do that.  I don’t care if it is do ten jumping jacks—you are to obey.  Notice–it doesn’t matter why.  Children tend to obey as long as they agree.  They ask why?  If it makes sense to them, they will submit.

Abraham offered up Isaac

Mary, in Luke 1:38, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, the bondslave of the Lord;  may it be done to me according to your word.’”

Zacharias was told that Elizabeth would have a child and asked, “How will I know for certain?”  He is made mute because of his unbelief.

There are biblical rules, and there are Dodson rules.  We used to randomly issue commands just to get our kids practicing obedience when they were young—“Come to Mom/Dad,” while they were in their room playing.

Also children, you are not to violate Scripture and sin.  I doubt many parents here would command you to murder someone (but that would be wrong).  What if the phone rings and you answer, and your parents tell you to tell the person they are not at home?  That is lying and a violation.  This sometimes will happen.

Disobedience is sin.  Delayed obedience is sin.  Counting to three?  Seriously?  We have our children say, “Yes, Mom/Dad.”  This helps them to understand instant obedience.  And external obedience is sin.  This is really as they are getting older–pursuing a heart that wants to obey.  Younger and unsaved children, get them to obey.  Every ounce of them doesn’t want to obey, but they do.  Fred Barshaw says, “Train your kids in the habit of doing good.”

Why do you need to obey?  Look back at verse 1.  It is right, proper, exactly as it should be, because God declares it so, and this is the family structure that He has chosen.  Also, how you obey your parents today is a good indicator of how you will obey God as you grow.  Great parents–praise God for them.  Hypocrites as parents or unsaved parents–I still learned obedience.  God has sovereignly placed you in your home with your parents for the purpose of learning obedience.

Parents, do you realize that we stand as God’s proxy to our kids?  Children are to obey as if Jesus is personally commanding them.  That means that as we command our children, are we doing it as Christ would?  While our kids are under our authority, we need to:

First  Train them to obey

If they obey us half-heartedly or not at all, how will they one day obey the Lord?  Are you asking them several times before they obey?  Do you ask your child multiple times before using a bribe to get obedience?  Or count to three?  Or raise your voice, using the child’s middle name?  We must parent with an expectation of obedience.  Elisabeth Elliot said, “Expect little of your children and you will surely get it.”

Second  Guard your words

Once we utter a command, it’s game on–our children must obey.  If you call your child to come when they are running with their friends and they don’t obey, then you feel bad.  But you uttered the command.  What if there was danger—they were crossing the street and there were cars coming.  They need to obey.

Parents, please use wisdom.  With young children, you are preparing their hearts to obey.  Realize that their obedience to you is a foretelling of their obedience to God.

Second Imperative Family Command—Honor  Verses 2 to 3

The right attitude behind the right act of obedience is honor, timaō, which means to value highly, to hold in the highest regard and respect.  Honor is the worth one ascribes to a person, and is tied back to the Ten Commandments.

This is the only commandment that deals with the family.  This one principle is enough to define a godly family.  If children honor their parents, esteem them as valuable, worthy–they will obey, respect, show humility . . . the home will function properly.

Children, when you are rolling your eyes when your parents ask you to do something, is that showing honor?  It is sin and God sees it, even if your parents don’t–or if you go into your room and are angry.  It was so critically important that God commanded in the Old Testament, Exodus 21:15, “He who strikes his father or mother shall surely be [what?] put to death.”

Leviticus 20:9 says, “He who curses his father or mother shall surely be [what?] put to death.”  Physical or verbal abuse would get the death penalty.

Result—“that it may be well with you and that you live long.”  “That it may be well with you” relates to the quality of life, and “that you may live long on the earth” relates to the quantity of life promised.  The original promise was to the Israelites, but Paul’s reference to it means that it extends to believers today.

Well with you”—ask a Jr. Higher what they imagine their life will look like?  “Good.”  You want that?  Then obey and honor your parents!”  And “live long” does refer to length of time.  Like a proverb it is not always guaranteed, but it is generally true.  Ted Tripp says when a child doesn’t obey, the other child says, “You don’t want to live long, do you?”

First Imperative Family Command  Obedience

Second Imperative Family Command  Honor your Father and Mother

Third Imperative Family Command  Do Not Provoke

Verse 4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  “Fathers” here refers to the biological male.  This is different from “parents” in verse one and “father/mother” in verse two.  He means, fathers, it is your responsibility–but that doesn’t mean that moms can provoke.  This is a universal command, but specific here to fathers.

Provoke means to cause someone to become provoked or quite angry—“to cause to be provoked or to make angry.”  This is exasperating your children.  These are some ways we provoke:

Inconsistency–sometimes they get in trouble, other times it is no big deal.  They feel like you fly off the handle and overreact.

Overprotection–not allowing them to take responsibility

Pushing achievement–are sports or grades too important in your home, such that your child only feels worth based on how they perform on the athletic field or in the classroom?

Discouragement–too many parents are so negative about their kids.  They expect the worst, and constantly rag on their kids in public, making their children feel like an intrusion.  Too many people talk about parenting as being “in the trenches” . . . it is a joy!

Failing to let them grow up at a normal pace–getting irritated if they act childish (when they are still a child).  Six-year-olds still spill milk.

Physical or emotional abuse

Neglect–statistics say that the average dad gives a child only three minutes of undivided attention per day.


Expect obedience but be careful in wielding an unbiblical authority that exasperates.  Provoking is different for all of us, and different for each child.  It is difficult to discern sometimes, between willful disobedience and provoking.  The resulting emotion in our children will be angry frustration at what he feels is wrong.  It will display itself three ways:

Active rebellion–open defiance of the parent, or fleeing from the control of the parent

Passive rebellion–the child doesn’t argue or fight the parental command, but either delays or never fully completes the command

Suppressed/delayed rebellion–the child obeys, but stores up anger, resentment and hatred until he is in a position where his rebellion cannot be fully controlled or countered by the parent.

All of these create resentment and an abiding desire for retaliation or vengeance against the parent, which unfortunately often carries over into the child’s attitude toward other authority figures, and even to God.  Fathers, be careful not to provoke.

First Imperative Family Command  Obedience

Second Imperative Family Command  Honor

Third Imperative Family Command  Do Not Provoke

Fourth Imperative Family Command  Bring Them Up in the Discipline and Instruction of the Lord

Verse 4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  This is the positive command–bring up means to raise, to rear, to bring up, to nurture, to raise to maturity.  The same word is used in 5:29 of a husband’s responsibility to nurture his wife.  “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”  The idea is one of tenderness.  There are two distinct and different ways:

Spank (discipline)–“padeia” is to discipline, to train, correcting sinful behavior.  Discipline carries with it the idea of punishment for the purpose of correcting inappropriate behavior.  This is done not out of anger, but tenderly.  We are trying to take them from dangerous disobedience (it won’t be well with you, and you won’t live long) to joyful obedience.  It is not about us.  Too often parents discipline out of personal anger and inconvenience.

The goal here is heart change and not behavior change.  Shepherding a Child’s Heart is a must read.  Heart change is the goal in discipline, but I see too often in parents the desire to change the heart, so discipline is preceded by hours of talking, trying to make sure their child’s heart understands.

Too often discipline is the primary means of instruction.  These are distinct and different.  Discipline should be swift.  Establish the biblical violation.  Make sure they understand.  Administer appropriate discipline.  Pray with them, hug them, tell them you forgive them and that God will forgive them–all after the discipline to restore them.  Instruction is when you talk–discipline is swift.  Fathers, this falls under your umbrella.

Speak (instruction)–to teach or instruct.  This happens all day long, and is different from discipline.  Instruction is a compound word, nouthesia from nuos (mind) and tithemi (to put).  It literally means to put or bring to mind, to admonish–the idea is one of correction by word of mouth.  Discipline is training by act, where punishment is administered.  Instruction, on the other hand, is by word.

Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

Proverbs 1:8, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction.”

Proverbs 4:1, “Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father, and give attention that you may gain understanding.”

Deuteronomy 6:7, “And you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”

This is all day long.  Fathers are to carry out the mandate on behalf of the Lord.  Fathers are God’s representatives in the home.  These are souls every single day in your home that need to hear from you.

Our goal is to train them in obedience and honor, not provoking them, but bringing them up in discipline and instruction—why?  To have good kids?  No, it is not.  It is to display the Gospel to them of a loving and faithful Father–to train them so that one day they would obey and honor God when they are out from under our authority, and to display Christ to the world in our home.  That is what chapters 1 to 3 call us to do.

None of this can be done unless you know Jesus Christ.  You must first recognize your sin.  Then submit and surrender your life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  And finally, we must live dependently, moment-by-moment as we parent our children.

Children, how are you doing in obeying and honoring?  Singles, you need to be preparing your heart and convictions in this area, and looking for a spouse that will share your convictions.  Couples, watch others before you have kids–evaluate your parenting.  Get accountability from others to help you see your holes.  And grandparents, encourage your grandchildren to obey.  Don’t be the grandparents that ruin your kids’ parenting.

About Robert Dodson

Robert serves as an elder at Faith Bible Church

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