(Editor’s note: The following article is part two in a series adapted from pastor John Kimbell’s sermon delivered at Clifton Baptist Church on June 29, 2014. In the first half of his sermon, Kimbell preached directly to the children. We retained the second person where applicable, making this particularly well-suited to read aloud at the dinner table or during family devotions. We pray it will bear fruit in the hearts of your children.)
by John Kimbell
In Part 1, we looked at the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian parent, and a Christian child. Now we’ll look at the whys of obedience.
Paul doesn’t just give children the command, “obey your parents and honor your parents.” He also gives a couple reasons. “Children, obey your parents,” he says, “because it is right.” Ephesians 6:1 says obedience is righteous. It is right because God commands it, as Paul shows in verse 2, where again he quotes the fifth commandment. This is the role God has given you in your family according to His good design. He commands you to relate to your parents in this way, and therefore it is the right and righteous thing to do. Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” It is right in His sight.
Obey because it is right
So kids, at the most basic level, you are not supposed to obey your parents because they deserve your obedience, but because God deserves your obedience. And He says this is right.
I need to be clear: Paul is writing to families with Christian parents, and the obedience of children to their parents is subject to the greater authority of God. If any parent is requiring a child to sin or is taking advantage of a child in a sinful way, that is a terrible offense to God. There are not many more vulnerable relationships than that of a child to their parents. And to take advantage of that authority is wicked. I think Paul assumes this goes without saying in this passage. The obligation for obedience is not absolute but comes under what God says is right.
With that said, even Christian parents are weak and sinful and at times lack wisdom. We know that. God knows that. That in itself does not remove the need to obey your parents. It is not ultimately your parents who are worthy of your obedience. But God is worthy of your obedience. He is not weak and sinful. He never lacks wisdom. He is completely good. And He says this obedience pleases Him. So He is ultimately the One you need to trust, and He is ultimately the One to whom you will give an account.
This is where it is good to be reminded that God looks on the heart. He knows what is in our hearts. He knows if our obedience is real. Or if it is just an act. He knows if you are actually deceiving your parents in some way so they think you are obeying them when actually you aren’t.
Some of you are old enough that you realize your parents don’t know everything. (I’m sorry parents if I’m shattering some illusions at this point which have been helpful to you so far in your parenting.) It can seem when you are younger that your parents know everything. Some of you know that is not actually true. And you have successfully deceived them in regard to your obedience. And they don’t realize it. That will be a short-lived success. Because it is not ultimately your parents to whom you will answer, or to whom you are obligated. It is to God. And He looks on the heart. He knows everything. And what pleases the Lord is your obedience.
Obey because it is good for you
Paul makes very clear you are not just supposed to obey your parents because it is right, but because it is good for you! This is a flat out appeal to godly self-interest. Your obedience to your parents is not at odds with your joy and happiness — it leads to life going well.
Paul highlights the fact that in the Ten Commandments, the command to obey parents was the one that had a specific promise attached to it. Ephesians 6:2-3 says, “‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’”
I realize this may sound a bit surprising to you, but God does not call you to obey your parents because he wants to ruin your life. It may feel like that sometimes: when your parents say you may not watch that movie, or you may not hang out with those friends, or you may not wear that outfit. It may seem like they are just trying to steal your fun or steal your freedom. In reality God says He has put them there to protect and lead you and help your life to go well as they teach you to follow Him.
When you gladly follow your parents, as your parents the follow the Lord, God says things will go well for you. This was originally a command and a promise that was part of the Mosaic covenant. Specifically the promise of prosperity and long life in the land related to Israel’s possession of the promised land, the geographical land of Palestine, which was bound up with their obedience to that covenant. Israel as a whole failed to keep that covenant and therefore, they were cast out of the land.
Today, God’s people are no longer under that covenant. God’s people are under a new covenant in Christ. And so I understand Paul to be appealing to this command in the sense that the moral principle taught there still applies. The moral principle is unchanged, even though we are not under the Mosaic covenant per se. Children are still required to honor and obey their parents in the new covenant as well. And the promise now is fulfilled not through life in the land of Palestine, but through a transformed life in Christ, which brings blessing both now, wherever God’s people live, and ultimately, in a new heaven and a new earth. This is what the promised land had been pointing to all along, where truly, for all those who are in Christ, life will go well and we will live long in the land.
Generally, when Christian children obey their Christian parents, life goes better for them in this life in a variety of ways. They are spared heartache and struggle and pain that their own sin would have brought into their lives; they experience a joy and peace that obedience brings. But also this points beyond itself. The fullness of what this points to is not experienced in an absolute or universal way in this life. Some Christian children still die young, others experience difficulties and sufferings. But the general principle and experience in this life still points to a greater fulfillment of a promise in a new heaven and a new earth that will hold true absolutely and universally for everyone who lives this out in Christ.
Does this mean children can gain God’s favor, even eternal blessing, by obeying their Christian parents? Well, yes and no. Paul says, “Children, obey your parents. Obey your parents, because it is right. Obey your parents because it is good for you . . even unto eternity. And lastly, obey your parents in the Lord.”
That italicized phrase is essential for putting all of this in the right framework. If you take that phrase out, you take Jesus out of this whole picture. And if you take Jesus out of your life and your obedience to your parents, everything else falls to the ground.
If you try to be the child that God wants you to be toward your parents without the life-changing grace and forgiveness and spiritual transformation that Jesus Christ gives to those who trust in Him, you will fail. I’m not even talking perfection here. I’m just talking a general pattern of life. Without Jesus Christ, your life won’t be characterized by a faithful obedience and honor toward your parents from the heart. Unless you repent for your sins, you won’t experience the blessing that is promised.
You cannot gain God’s blessing or favor by obeying your parents.
But if you follow your parents in their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, if you personally trust in Him to save you, you will experience His life-changing forgiveness and grace and your life will show that, at least in part by your obedience to your parents. It won’t be perfect, but real. And when you fail again, you will agree with God about what you should do and you will repent and keep trusting Christ and be forgiven and turn again to follow Him. And then yes, in that way, you will gain the favor and blessing of God and the incredible promises that He provides through Jesus.
Children and youth, there is nothing we want more for you than this. We pray that it will be true in your life. May you obey your parents in the Lord.
(Next time, in part 3, we’ll look at Paul’s commands to parents.)
John Kimbell serves as Pastor of Preaching and Discipleship at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. John and his wife, Sarah, have five children. He completed his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.