by Rev. Douglas Kuiper


Text: Ephesians 6:1

Scripture: Ephesians 5:22 - 6: 9

Psalters: 134, 62, 309, 213 (1-3)

Our text addresses the children of the church. The apostle Paul, writing by inspiration, has a special word for them: "Children, obey your parents." How he must have loved the children of the church! He had no children of his own. Still, he loves the children of the church so much, that he seeks their spiritual wellbeing. And children, your spiritual wellbeing is enjoyed in the way of obeying your parents. So Paul expresses his real, spiritual love for the children of the church, by giving them the command found in our text. Also the pastors and elders of our churches love you, children; and also we desire your salvation. We show that by teaching you about Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, and by reminding you of the obligations you have as children of God. The text contains such an obligation: "Obey your parents in the Lord."

The text is not only a word for children, but is a word for all of us. The command of the text is a specific application of the fifth commandment of God's law, "Honor thy father and thy mother." That is not a word just to children. Each of us is to honor those in authority over us. When the apostle by inspiration pointedly and specifically applies the fifth commandment to children, he reminds us that we must all honor those in authority. If the adults do not do honor those in authority, neither will the children honor their parents by obeying them.

By implication, the text also contains a word to parents. The context brings out this fact, for verse 4 reminds parents of their duty to instruct their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Such instruction involves teaching our children to obey. No pastor or elder will be able to teach a child obedience, if that child's parents have not worked to teach their child obedience. Sometimes parents think that the church's officebearers can turn around their wayward child. And by God's grace, sometimes this is the case. But if the child has not been brought up to know and obey God's law; if such obedience has not been enforced in the home by discipline; then it is not likely that the officebearers will be able to teach that person obedience, either. The text requires of parents that they teach their children to obey.

But children, particularly the text is for you. Let us underscore that, by using the words of the text as the theme:


I. To whom the command comes.

II. What the command is.

III. Why the command is given.

I. To whom the command comes.

To whom does the command come? The text itself makes this clear. It comes to children.

We must understand clearly which children are addressed. Is this command only for naughty children? Are the good children not required to obey this command? Or, is this a word only for the young children, so that older children, say 10 years or older, do not need to hear it? Or might this be a command only for natural, biological children, but if you happen to be an adopted child, it does not apply to you? The text does not make any limitations. Each and every child is addressed. Children, including teenagers and young adults living at home with your parents, you may not go home after church and say, "That text did not apply to me."

Yet there is one important restriction to the address. The Holy Spirit in the text is not speaking to every single child who ever has lived and ever will live. The word of God's grace does not come to every person. And this command is a word of God's grace, as is evident from the promise added to the command, found in verses 2 and 3: God promises salvation to those who obey their parents. The children addressed in the text are not the children of the world, but the children of the church.

That these are the children of the church means first that they are born into the covenant, born to God-fearing, believing parents. Implied in this address is the beautiful truth that God continues His covenant with believers and our children.

You remember the promise as it came to Abraham in Genesis 17:7:. "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." You remember the words of the Spirit through the apostle Peter, in Acts 2:39. " For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Beautiful promises! God saves our children! We can view our children who are sitting next to us in the pew today as covenant children. Pity the parents who do not understand the truth of God's covenant as continued in the line of generations! Pity the parents who view their children as outside the church, until they come to the years when they make confession of faith and are then considered members!

Reformed parents, the truth that God saves our children in the line of generations is a precious heritage. We know God does not promise to save every single one of our children. We know that it is still difficult to raise covenant children, for they have in them the same sinful nature with which we were born. But at the same time, God's promise to save the children of believers encourages us to diligence and faithfulness in instructing and chastising our children, knowing that God will bless our efforts. To such children, born and raised in covenant, believing, godly homes, the command is addressed.

That these are the children of the church means secondly that these children are incorporated into the church. This incorporation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Not a single parent here can incorporate his child into the spiritual body of Christ. If we could we would, wouldn't we? But we cannot. God, on the basis of Christ's work on the cross, by His Holy Spirit regenerates our children, applying to them all the benefits of Christ, uniting them in one with Christ and His church. That is how our children are incorporated.

The sign of their being incorporated is the sacrament of baptism. The children addressed in the text are the baptized children of the church of Jesus Christ. They are the ones to whom the sign and the seal of regeneration has been administered, and who by virtue of being baptized are incorporated into the congregation, the earthly manifestation of the church. So we have in the text, by implication, a proof for infant baptism. If the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, addresses the children of the church as though they are in the covenant and church of God, let them be baptized! For this is the sign that also God loves children! Paul loves children; good pastors love the children of the church; but so does God! God comes to the church's children with the command of the text.

That these are the children of the church means thirdly that these children should be present in the worship service. The Holy Spirit through Paul expects that the children are present in the worship service. He addresses the children as though they will hear. He does not say, "Fathers, go tell your children" assuming that the children are not present. He knows you children are going to be right here in the pew with Mom and Dad this morning, and says to you, "Children."

Paul intended that all of his epistles written to the different churches would be read at the public worship service. He says to the Thessalonians, "I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren" (1 Thess. 5:27). Whoever received that epistle was not to read it just in his own home and then tell others a summary of what was in the epistle. He was to read the epistle to all the holy brethren. Again in the epistle to the Colossians Paul says, "And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea" (Col. 4:16).

The text makes this assumption, that in the church of Ephesus there are children, and that the parents bring those children to the worship service. Therefore the children will hear themselves addressed: "Children, obey your parents."

Isn't it sad that in some Reformed churches, which confessionally hold to the doctrine of the covenant and the place of children in the covenant, those covenant children are dismissed from the worship service? The argument is that the preaching is over their head. We know that the preaching must be the meat of the word, with the edification of adults in mind. But the Spirit will use that preaching also for the instruction and spiritual growth of our children. For they are part of the church! And so these children are brought to church; and they will also be listening. Of course, children, you will not understand everything that is said. But you still listen, don't you? You must! For God speaks to you in the preaching of the gospel.

A man who is a member of another Reformed denomination spoke sadly of the fact that there are very few young people left in his church anymore. They have all left. His explanation for this sad fact was that as very young children, they were kept out of the worship service and put in the nursery; then when they grew older, they were sent to children's church; and when they became young people, they attended Young People's church, or society - all during the time that their parents were sitting in church under the preaching. The children were never brought to the worship service! They came to think that church was for their parents, not them. So when they became mature, and no other programs were offered for them during the worship service, they either had to go to church - which they had never done - or leave. And most left!

The doctrine of children being in the covenant is a precious heritage. Let us show our love for it, by bringing our children to church! And then our children will hear the command of the text, as it comes to them.

II. What The Command Is

What then is the command of God to children? The command is this: "Obey your parents." Do you hear it, children? This is what God requires of you; and in obedience to this command, you will experience His love and favor.

But do not forget, children, that there is someone who does not want you do obey this command. Someone is working very hard to get you to disobey your parents. That someone is Satan.

You know that when the kingdom of anti-Christ comes in its most complete manifestation on earth, the world will say to the children, "Do not obey your parents, especially if those parents are teaching you about God and about Jesus Christ. They do not know what is best for you anyway. Obey the government." Must children obey the government? Of course we must obey the government. But that does not rule out obeying our parents. In fact, obeying government begins by obeying our parents. Our parents are the form of government nearest us.

But even now Satan tells you do disobey your parents, doesn't he, children? Sometimes he uses the world's philosophies and attitudes to tell us that: "Just do it." Or, "Don't worry about the consequences. Be happy. Just do it and you will be happy." Children and young people, you don't swallow that argument of Satan's, do you? Or he uses our friends. They say to us: "But do it just this once. Your mom and dad will never know if you do it just once." Or Satan uses an older brother or sister, who set a bad example for you. You want to be like them, to do what they do. Whatever the means Satan uses, he is deceiving you. Just like when he came to Eve in the Garden of Eden and asked, "Did God really say that? Perhaps God doesn't know what is best, and doesn't know what will really make you happy!" That is the approach that he uses today too.

Not what Satan wants, but what God wants, the text tells us. God is our Creator and Savior, so God must be obeyed. And God says, "Children, obey your parents."

The commandment reminds us, children, that your parents have authority over you. Your brother does not. Your sister does not. And your friend down the street does not. They have no business telling you what to do, unless Mom and Dad specifically appointed them for a time to be your babysitter. Apart from that, they do not. But your parents do have authority over you. God gave them that authority; and He gave them the wisdom, knowledge, and spiritual zeal to bring you up in a godly way. Therefore He commands us to obey our parents.

By implication, He also commands us to obey those who stand in the stead of our parents. Especially this means our teachers. When parents send their children to school, they entrust the care and learning of their child to the teacher; they give that teacher authority to teach their child as needed. Parents, do you insist on it that your children obey their teachers? For teachers stand in your stead! If we undermine the authority of our teachers, we teach our child to disregard our own authority!

The command now is to obey. What is obedience? That answer is easy. Obedience is first of all, doing what you are told; and secondly, doing what you are told willingly and submissively. Obedience is not saying when you are told to take out the garbage, "Well, then, I'll take out the garbage, if that is what you want," with a very grudging tone in your voice. But obedience takes this form, "Dad, I will be happy to take out the garbage."

Are there any limits to this command to obey? There is no time limit; obedience is required at all times. The imperative is in the present tense. The idea is, "Children, be continually obeying your parents." Such obedience must be an ongoing activity. There is not any sphere in which the command is limited either. "Obey your parents in all things," says Paul by inspiration, to the church of Colosse in Colossians 3:20. That command is almost the same as in our text, but with the addition of the words, "in all things." Children, there is no area in which you need not obey your parents.

The only limitation again to this command is this one: "We ought to obey God rather than men." That means, children, that if mom or dad ever tell you to do something that God very clearly forbids, you may say to your parents, in a respectful voice, "Mom and Dad, God will not be happy with that." But let me caution you, children: if your mom and dad are godly believers, then remember that mom and dad know better than you what God wants. So, even though we must obey God rather than men, we must not use that as an excuse to disobey just because you really want to disobey!

The Holy Spirit adds that we must obey "in the Lord." The "Lord" of whom Paul speaks is, of course, Jesus Christ. He is the Lord whom wives must submit to, as they submit themselves to their own husbands. He is the Lord whom husbands must love, as they love their wives. He is the Lord whom parents must serve as they bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He is the Lord whom servants must serve as they obey their masters and employers. And He is the Lord whom employers must have in mind, remembering that they serve Him, when they tell their employees what to do. The context makes clear that wives and husbands, parents and children, employers and employees must all remember that they serve the Lord Jesus Christ. So this is the same Lord whom children must have in mind as they obey their father and mother.

Children, by adding the phrase "in the Lord," God tells you of the manner in which you must obey. We have already noticed the need to obey willingly. Jesus also obeyed His parents willingly and submissively. We read about Jesus, after His parents found Him in the temple at age 12, asking and answering hard questions, that "he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them" (Luke 2:51). Notice that - He was subject unto them. This wasn't just when he was a child, 4 or 5 years old; but this is when he was 12! At age 12, boys! At the age when a boy starts to think, "I'm growing up now, and now I'm getting smarter than mom and dad. I can make my own decisions." At that age, Jesus was subject to His parents.

But Jesus had another Parent, to whom He was subject. Jehovah, His Father, commanded Him to die on the cross. And while His human nature didn't want to, for the death of the cross was a very horrible death, still we know that He obeyed His Father willingly! And if He had not obeyed God willingly, we would never be saved from our sins, and given grace to obey our parents either.

So is this the manner in which you obey your parents? Do you obey them as Jesus obeyed Joseph and Mary, and as He obeyed God? Do you show by your obedience that you follow the example of Jesus Christ? That will mean that you obey willingly, and perfectly.

But the phrase "in the Lord" reminds us that Jesus is more than our example. He is also the one who forgives the disobedient. What an important point to understand, children! For we cannot obey our parents perfectly, as Jesus obeyed His earthly parents and His heavenly Father perfectly. Try as we might, we will fail. And then we need forgiveness. Jesus' obedience provided the basis for our forgiveness.

And Jesus is the one who gives us power to obey. This is another important point to understand. For there are times when we do not want to obey. We all know that. There are times when we struggle; times when you know you should obey, but are ready to disobey. You, just like all of us, have the old man of sin in you, telling you to disobey, and oh, how persuasive that old man of sin is!

At that point remember, you are the Lord's. He died to take away that old man of sin in each of us. He rose again to work the new man of life, of His life, in His people. So children, in those moments when you find it so hard to obey, say a prayer to Jesus and to God: "Lord, give me power to obey!" And He will!

That is what it means to obey our parents in the Lord. But why should we?

III. Why the command is given.

Why is such obedience required of children?

First, because God require it of us in His law. God is our ultimate authority, higher than parents, higher than government. None is higher in authority than Jehovah God and Jesus Christ who sits at His right hand. And the text brings that out as a reason why children are commanded to obey the Lord. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." When the text says, "this is right," it means "this is in accordance with the law of God." This is righteous. This is the way a person lives who desires to be pleasing to God. Paul explains what he means by the words "this is right," when he quotes the fifth commandment. No child can disobey his parents and say he is pleasing to God, because God said "Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long upon the earth."

Secondly, Jesus requires such obedience of us as our Lord. Not only did Christ show us how to obey, and give us power to obey, by dying on the cross; He also bought us to be His people! We are not our own. We belong unto our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our Lord and Master! Therefore, we must be sure that we are pleasing to Him.

Have you studied at school about the American institution of slavery? I am going to use an illustration from it. By using this illustration, I do not mean to defend the American institution of slavery, for it was wrong. But the fact is, that white men owned black men. The white owner could tell the black slave what to do every moment of his life. The black man was not allowed to think for himself, or to do his own thing. He was told when to get up and when to go to sleep, who to marry, and what he would eat. That black man was not his own!

That is exactly what is true of us. We are Christ's slaves. Because He made us His own, He requires us to serve Him. Serve Him, not just part time; not just for a few years; but for our whole life, with our whole being - heart, soul, mind, and strength. And that is why we obey our parents in the Lord. The Lord who bought us and owns us, tells us to. We must obey Him in love, and in gratitude, for freeing us from slavery to sin, so that we could obey Him, and God, and our parents!

Thirdly, we must obey our parents to show that we are different from the world of ungodly boys and girls around us. The world's children cannot obey their parents in the Lord. They might obey outwardly, in their actions. But they cannot obey "in the Lord" - that is, from their heart, willingly, in the service of God, and in thankfulness for God's salvation. But we even see that the boys and girls of the world go out of their way to be unthankful and disobedient. God's Word told us this would happen in the last days: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy" (II Timothy 3:1-2). Such are the ties in which we live. Why then must you obey, when they don't? To show them that you are different from them; that by grace, you believe in Christ and love God.

Finally, we must obey to show that we really desire the fulfillment of the promise which God added to the fifth commandment, "That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." God does not mean that we will live long on this sinful earth; but we will live long in heaven - we will live forever, with Him! Obey your parents, and you will live long in heaven.

Does this mean that obedience earns a reward? Absolutely not. We know our obedience does not earn us a place in heaven, because we do not obey perfectly; we do not obey our parents all the time and in every way. We deserve condemnation. Christ earned the reward for us! And therefore it will surely be given to us.

Do you want that reward of grace which Christ earned, children? Do you desire heaven? Show it, by obeying your parents in the Lord. May God make the children of the _________________ Protestant Reformed Church the most obedience children in the whole community, to the glory of His name.