Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ephesians 6:1-4 - God's Design for Parenting

Opening thought: John and Mary had not been at church for several weeks. That was unusual. John was a new deacon, and Mary was involved with the small-group ministry of the church. The pastor dropped them a note to tell them he had been missing them and was praying for them. Then John and Mary showed up the next Sunday morning with their son Rodney in tow. They sought out the pastor between Sunday School and worship and were clearly in a hurry.
“Hi pastor, sorry to be in such a hurry, but Rodney has a ball game. We are not going to be able to stay for preaching. We’ll get the CD. I know we haven’t been too faithful lately, but that will change this fall. Rodney made the all-star baseball team, and most of their games are on Sunday. Some take us out of town, and we have to leave on Saturday night. We hate to have to miss church, but this is a great opportunity we didn’t’ think Rodney could miss. The coach tells us our son has real potential and may have a chance for a college scholarship if he focuses on his game. Who knows, maybe he’ll get a shot at the pros someday. You know I could have had a shot if I hadn’t been injured. Pray for us; he has a real talent from the Lord. We’ll see you in the fall.” And they sped to their car.
These earnest parents wanted the best for Rodney. Or did they? Whose best interests were they seeking? Was this a dad who as living out his dream through his son? Was “best” being measured from a biblical standpoint or from the standpoint of the world?
Rodney did indeed show real talent. He progressed through the ranks of Little League, Pony Baseball, and American Legion Baseball, all the time making the all-star ranks. As he progressed, John and Mary were less and less in church. After all, there were camps and clinics to attend that were essential to Rodney’s development. He had to be seen by the coaches and scouts if he was to have any chance to play at the next level. We stayed in touch, and they attended church once in a while. John felt he had to resign as a deacon since he had to travel so much with Rodney. It was, after all, important to keep the family together.
Rodney found it hard to make the transition from the children’s ministry to the youth group. He didn’t know the kids in the youth group very well and felt like an outsider when he attended. After all, he didn’t have anything in common with the other youth. He say them at school, but all his spare time was taken up with baseball. He really wasn’t interested in dating. He just didn’t have the time right now. Baseball was his first priority.
The youth pastor, Mike, was surprised but excited that Rodney had decided to go to youth camp. Mike had worked to develop a friendship with Rodney. He had attended several of his games and had begun to spend time with Rodney in prayer and bible study. He knew that Rodney found it awkward when the other youth talked about the Bible. After all, Rodney had missed much of the small-group study because of his busy schedule, and his parents didn’t feel  he should attend the Wednesday night youth explosion since he had little time to study, with practice every afternoon.
“Have to keep your grades up if you expect a college scholarship,” they would tell him.
But Rodney was showing a real interest in spiritual things, and Mike the youth pastor was willing to go the extra mile. Rodney had confessed to Mike that he was getting a little burned out on baseball. He really wanted to develop some friendships among the youth group. Most of his peers on the baseball team were a little wild, and he didn’t feel comfortable with some of the tings he was doing to win their approval. They were both convinced camp would be a good opportunity to develop some good solid relationships with other youth and grow spiritually.
Mike was speechless when John the father had made a scene at a parents meeting about the high cost of camp. The youth pastor had explained that it included the cost of transportation and three meals a day for five days. The church was paying for all the other costs. He was surprised that John had reacted so negatively since he had sent his son to baseball camps costing many times what the youth camp would cost. When Mike privately pointed this out to John, John exploded. “But baseball is my son’s career. Camp is just fun and games!”
Mike tried to explain that while camp was indeed a fun event the focus was on spiritual development of kingdom youth. John declared, “Rodney has plenty of time for that later. Right not he has to focus on getting that college scholarship!” The embarrassment on Rodney’s face spoke volumes. Mike was disappointed but not surprised when Rodney called to explain that he was not going to be able to go to youth camp after all. A big league manager had called and invited him and his dad to California for a ball game. They were going to sit in the dugout with the team. His dad believed this was too great an opportunity to pass up. There would be other youth camps. Sorry! Mike didn’t see much of Rodney after that summer. He seemed to lose interest in spiritual things. The door of opportunity seemed to close.
Rodney’s senior year was a disaster. He couldn’t’ seem to find his stroke. His batting average suffered. He couldn’t seem to maintain focus. His dad blamed poor coaching. No professional team was showing interest in their son, and they were shocked when no college scholarship was forthcoming.  Rodney went to a small college and walked on, but he was cut after a few weeks, and he went into a depression. John made an appointment to talk with the pastor. He was upset that Rodney had developed a relationship with a girl who was distracting him from his game. He and Mary suspected the girl was a bad influence on their son. They had smelled alcohol on his breath and were concerned he was trying drugs. They were now desperate to help their son. He was becoming detached and had no desire for church.
Now the parents sitting in the pastor’s office were devastated because their son not only wanted nothing to do with church but had embraced a lifestyle that had broken the hearts of his Christian parents. The child that grew up in the influence of the church has now rejected the value system of his faith and parents.
This story is not about keeping kids in church and out of sports. It is something much higher. What are we teaching our kids about priorities? What if we raise our children to gain the world but in the process they forfeit their own souls?
Studies indicate that 70% of youngsters from evangelical churches drop out of church within two years of high school graduation. How does it begin? What has caused the mass exodus? An even more important question is, What can we do about it?[1]
Contextual Notes: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a masterful explanation of how Christ’s salvation for us gives us the authority of a seat in the heavenly places, gives us power to walk in the Spirit in this life, and gives us the ability to stand against the devil’s schemes. At the end of Paul’s discussion of walking in the Spirit, Paul talks about walking in the Spirit in marriage (Eph 5:22-33), the family (Eph 6:1-4), and work (Eph 6:5-9). We will discuss the middle one today, the family.

Key Truth: Paul wrote Ephesians 6:1-4 to teach believers that children need to learn obedience and respect for authority in the home, and that fathers are responsible for taking the lead in that training.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about parenting.
Key Verse: Eph 6:4
Pray and Read:  Ephesians 6:1-4

Sermon Points:
1.   Children need to learn obedience to parents (Ephesians 6:1).
2.   Children need to learn to respect authority (Ephesians 6:2-3).
3.   Fathers need to lead in training their children (Ephesians 6:4).

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Like the husband-wife relationship noted in chapter 5:22-33, the parent-child relationship is rooted in love and reverence for Christ. All members of God’s institution of the family must recognize the Lordship of Christ. Apparently Paul expects children to be present in the congregations where his letter will be read and not sequestered in another place because they “make too much noise.”
b.   Note that obedience to parents must be “in the Lord,” making it a part of one’s obligation to Christ. The fact that obedience is “in the Lord” makes it right. The Lord himself expects children to have an attitude of obedience to parents. This is proper and essential for a Christian household. Right out of the gate, Paul, like Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-6, makes obedience a heart issue, not a behavioral issue.
c.   ILLUSTRATION: My good friend who is closer to me than a brother, Dennis Aggrey, a man of the unreached Lorma tribe from Liberia, West Africa, earned a master of divinity in 2000 at the Baptist school, Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Having grown up in the jungles of West Africa, Dennis had also become very knowledgeable in the culture of the American South as well. When Amanda and I lived in Liberia while working for Samaritan’s Purse, I asked Dennis what he thought was a major difference between American and West African cultures. Immediately he answered me: “In Africa, the parents tell the children what to do. In America, the children tell the parents what to do.” God’s design for parenting seems the Lord is more African than American these days.
d.   APPLICATION: Do what you say you will do. It teaches consequences for behavior. If you tell them you will take something away if they misbehave, take it away when they misbehave. When you don’t, you are teaching them that disobedience has no consequences and that you do not need to be obeyed. So think through what you are going to say or promise before you say it and be prepared to take the toy or the remote or the keys.
e.   Reward obedience. Most kids want to please you. By acknowledging them, you help motivate them to do the right thing for the right reasons.
f.    Live an obedient life yourself. When they see you stealing from work or choosing to disobey the law you are teaching them to disobey and to have no respect for authority.
g.   Teach them to obey from their heart, not just behavior. An Amazon search on parenting will call up about 60,000 books on parenting, and most of them, even the Christian ones, focus on behavior modification, a psychological term that does not work ultimately, because you are not dealing with their heart. Talk to them about sin and about what is right and why you want them to obey. Not because there is a prize at the end of the day, but because they love you.

a.   The first command to honor parents is found in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16) and includes living in such as way as to bring honor on them in a godly society (Deut. 21:18-21). Honoring father and mother involves more than just obedience to a stronger person. It involves voluntary respect and appreciation.
b.    Some people get tangled up on “first commandment with a promise,” saying that the second of the Ten Commandments has a promise (Exod. 20:4), and therefore the fifth commandment has the second. But the commandment to “honor your father and mother” is the first commandment in the table of duties toward others (following the first four which deal with one’s relationship with God).
c.   What is needed here to better understand is a comma,[2] e.g., “It is the first commandment, with a promise…” That is, it is the first commandment by which parents can introduce children to God and His ways. The promise is generally true, though God’s providence orders otherwise. The point is that disobedience to parents is certain to bring about a troubled future for a child. If children respect parents, they will respond to their nurture, come to know God, and so “enjoy long life on the earth.”
d.   APPLICATION: What tone of voice do you tolerate from your children in your home? If it is the tone of voice used on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, then it is unacceptable. The tone should not be rude or sarcastic or disrespectful. When they are rude or sarcastic toward you, make them start over and use respectful language. Withhold what they are asking for until they can enunciate a proper respectful tone of voice. If they are talking to you in a disrespectful way as their parents, then they will talk in a rude and disrespectful way to their teacher or any authority – and that is dangerous for them as they get older. It will get them fired. It will get them put in jail. It will get them killed. You are doing this for their good. They need you, but they will not listen to you if you do not require them to talk to you and other adults with respect.
e.   What are you modeling for them from the way you talk about respecting authority? When they hear you bad-mouthing your supervisor, you are teaching them that authority doesn’t matter. When you chew out your spouse in front of them, you are teaching them that your spouse is not worthy of respect or commanding authority. When you curse the state trooper who pulled you over, you are teaching them to disrespect law enforcement’s authority. When you constantly complain about things at church and butcher the preacher in front of your children, you are teaching them that it is not important to respect the church or God or the Bible. When you curse the President or the Congress, you are teaching them that the government is not worth their respect. Watch your own mouth and listen to yourself talk. Are you teaching your children to respect authority?

a.   The Bible teaches that the father is responsible for the child’s education and that discipline for children was corporal punishment. In the Greco-Roman world, standard punishment for children was heavy beatings. Paul here charts a new course among ancient writers in discouraging excessive discipline (Eph. 6:4). It is easier to be severe or indulgent in training children, but children need discipline and admonition combined with a gentle understanding of their needs and limitations.
b.   “do not exasperate”: In the exercise of authority and discipline, fathers are called to exercise sensitivity and moderation. Parents are not to make unreasonable demands of their children. Children who are exasperated by such demands may rebel, and rebellion leads to godlessness. A child who has been treated with harshness all the time without the gentleness of the Father above is very difficult to win back to the Lord. Fathers are to reflect the love of God the Father, are to be tenderhearted and considerate in dealing with their children. Why did Paul not address mothers here? Because most mothers are already nurturers by default. Fathers are more prone to be too rough and harsh with their words and actions.
c.   Fathers’ primary task is to train their children in righteousness and to exercise discipline in the home. The ultimate responsibility for nurturing children in the faith lies with the father. In many of our homes, fathers leave that to the mother and the father focuses on providing. That is an unwise way to run a family. Fathers (and mothers) must be concerned not just for their children’s physical health but also that they grow into mature people spiritually and psychologically/emotionally in the home and in the church. Most fathers, even Christian fathers, give that responsibility to the mothers, but it takes – not a village – but both a mother and father to raise a child.
d.   ILLUSTRATION: This rather well-deserved message appeared on facebook last night: “Early Father’s Day message: Steve, I am so glad that I live 3½ hours away from you so I don’t have to deal with your crap. I thank God every day that I didn’t turn out like you. I really wish I didn’t name my sweet daughter after you. You are a terrible person. Happy Father’s Day.” Steve smothered that first daughter with gifts. He put her above everyone else in the family, above her mother and her sister. She did no wrong, and she was never disciplined as a child or teenager. Their lives revolved around her and her ball games. When she was sixteen she got the car she wanted. Even though they had paid all her life into a 529 account for her to go to a state university, she wanted to go to a private college, and Steve, who is also a loud mouth, abusive, atheist, and adulterer, paid the difference so that she could go where she wanted. A friend commented on her facebook message saying, “I feel the same way about mine, too.”
e.   APPLICATION: Fathers, your kids want you to lead them, and your wife wants you to lead her. There is something about a father’s approval that kids crave. Hug and kiss them. There is something about a loving but firm boundary that Dad sets that gives a child security.
f.    Be an example. Lead in the way you treat your wife. Lead by praying at the table in the blessing. Let your children hear you pray for them. Lead by setting a time to do family devotions. Be around. Be available to them. Put your family before your job.
g.   Have a relationship with your children. Love them actively. If you have been absent from their lives because of work or family situations or just plain sorry-ness, a good starting point is to get to know your children. Know what they like. Know who their friends are. Find out their interests. Don’t leave all this to their mother. Don’t try to become their best friend. Still be their father, but take them out to lunch. Spend some one-on-one time with them. Get their attention by giving them your undivided attention.
h.   All this is about helping your children have a healthy relationship with their heavenly Father. If you can model for them loving boundaries, gentle love, strong tough love, and a providing heart, then you will set them up for a healthy relationship with their Father God.

Clinton Arnold, gen. ed., Zondervan Illustrated New Testament Background Commentary, 3:334-5.
F.F. Bruce, gen. ed., International Bible Commentary, 1438.
Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed., Africa Bible Commentary, 1437.
“Family and Marriage,” Christ Fellowship Miami,
Ken Hemphilland Richard Ross, Parenting with Kingdom Purpose (Nashville: Broadman & Holman), 2005, 1-7.
Craig Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 552.
Larry Richards, Victor Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 479-80.
Larry Richards, Bible Reader’s Companion, 802.

[1] Illustration from Ken Hemphill and Richard Ross, Parenting with Kingdom Purpose (Nashville: Broadman & Holman), 2005, 1-7.
[2] Greek uses all capital letters with no spaces or punctuation.