Summary: We are also called to honor and obey our heavenly Father-this is the highest obedience. If obedience to parents or an employer, or a government, is contradictory to obedience to God, we have to make a choice. We must choose to obey God rather than people.
Ephesians 6:1 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.”[a]
4 Fathers (Parents), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
More About Obedience
Some people think of the word “submission” as a kind of profanity. But in some cultures obedience is still thought of as a virtue. Confucius taught in the Analects that playing your role in society, whether as father, or son, or mother, or sister, or worker or employee, was a part of the mandate of Heaven, and that society could only function well if everyone learned to actively embrace his or her role at any given time in life. These ideas still influence much of what happens in many Asian cultures. In the Gita, Krishna teaches that a person most work out his or her duty in whatever role required, and that doing so well works the kinks out of your soul so you can attain a better place in the next life, and, eventually, eternal enlightenment. In the West, however, bucking tradition is held as a cardinal virtue. Learning to blaze new trails that our forefathers never imagined is the sign of an enlightening soul. The Eastern view fits well with what Paul is teaching, the Western view, not so well, at least at first glance.
The New Testament still teaches obedience and honor to parents. But Jesus also taught
Luke 12:51 "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
We are called to honor and obey our parents, and our lives will be longer if we do. We are also called to honor and obey our heavenly Father-this is the higher obedience. If the two are contradictory to each other, we have to make a choice. Obedience to parents is not the automatic right answer. Because of our faith we will often be in conflict, even with members of our families. Just as the Disciples said to the Sanhedrin when they were told by the authority not to preach Jesus, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5). There is a higher authority. For this reason, Paul says “children obey your parents in the Lord”. There are times our parents are not “in the Lord”, even believing parents. Part of maturity is learning when the higher obedience is demanded that supersedes the lower.
Related to this, the parents’ role is to nurture and admonish, again “in the Lord”. It is not our role to dominate or to manipulate. It is not our role dictate to the children what they must do with their lives as they become adults. Our job is to teach our kids to hear and obey the voice of the Lord, not to be the lord.
Ephesians 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
A Good Day’s Work
Who do you work for? Where do you work?
By the best estimates, more than 1/3 of Italy and ¼ of all of the Roman Empire was slaves. Slavery is comparatively extremely uncommon today. For this reason it seems appropriate to look here for the principle Paul is discussing and apply it to our situation, wherever we are. Today about 99 out of 100 of us work for someone else. Most of us are employees, and few of us are employers. Paul is not condoning slavery, as some have accused. The New Testament never does. In fact, many people credit the principles of the NT as the reason the practice of slavery eventually died out in most of the world-we are all servants of God, which makes us more like fellow slaves than masters and servants.