Norman Wright describes four changes that have taken place in family life in recent years. One is the move toward a nuclear family. This is the mother, father and children. In the past, it was common for families to involve the extended members as well. The second change is the selection of the mate being left up to the individual. The mate at one time was selected for the person. Third, the parents are now desiring fluid rather than fixed roles. Finally, there has been a change in sexual morality, specifically the lack of it.
Without a doubt, the family structure for the most part has greatly departed from what God intended and still intends. The rate of failure in families is astounding. This leads us to enforce the belief that being a mother, father and family is a full-time thing. If the family is to be successful, it takes hard work like anything else.
Dr. Charles Shedd tells of one occasion when he was taking a plane to Los Angeles. Beside him was a young man who was reading about teenagers and the various scenes they are involved in, especially the drug scene. All of a sudden, he exclaimed; ’Oh, God-I wonder why? I suppose nobody knows. But if a father can make the difference, I sure want to make the difference.’ Here was a successful businessman concerned about the family. This is not to say that the responsibility for holding a family together lies solely with the father but rather it is a consolidated effort. An old African proverb says that it takes a whole village to raise a child.
When God first created the family, there was no problem, and no problems entered the picture until sin did. Since this time, various problems have plagued the family, and it seems as if the problems increase in intensity as the generations go by. There are several causes of these problems. Sin is the first. It is our sinful nature that causes men to be chauvinistic and treat women like servants. It is also sin that leads women to be feminists who want to throw off God’s design for the family. It is sin that leads children to chaff under the authority God has given to parents.
A second cause is the environment we live in. God has always intended that his people be distinct and separate from the world system. However, Christians are often drawn into the mold of the world rather than the other way around.
Then there is the influence of the humanistic society we live in. One has even stated; ’To free the child, we must do away with parenthood and marriage, we must settle for nothing less than the total elimination of the family.’ We must allow children the freedom to express themselves without restraint. Punishment and discipline hinder them from being able to do this. One of the goals of Marxist socialism is to free the children from the home and make them wards of the state. The following words are quoted from one who emigrated from what was Czechoslovakia to America: ’In Czechoslovakia the great majority of women work, and children are in kindergarten since several months of age. The impact on the family ties is horrible... The godless doctrine pumped into little children’s souls brought up the most cynical generation you can imagine. Most young people do not believe in anything, not even God...What scares me most is that the same process of liberation movement and jargon I heard twenty-five years and thirty years ago is happening right now in this country.’
Such a bleak picture, and yet Paul gives to us in these verses words of comfort. If we would heed the word of God, we would go a long way in building families that would be pleasing in the sight of God.
I. CHILDREN ARE TO BE SUBMISSIVE
In contrast to humanistic philosophy that would tell children to liberate themselves from parents and parents to liberate their children, is the instruction of God that children are to obey their parents. Such a philosophy has liberated children from traditional morals, values, punishment, parental and adult authority, patriotism, sexual restraint and a host of other things, but the word of God says we are to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and that the children are to obey the parents. Children and grandchildren are gifts from God, and we are to care for them with faithfulness and gratitude.
Paul begins this passage by addressing the children. This does not refer to merely young children but to all offspring, regardless of the age. The instruction is simple: they are to obey their parents. Not only are they to obey their parents but they are also to honor them. The obedience has to do with action while the honor has to do with attitude. We understand that it is possible to do the first without doing the second.
To obey is to listen with attentiveness. It is to respond in a positive manner to what is heard. The obedience is not to stop when the child becomes a teenager or even after the child leaves the home. The obedience is to be for as long as the parent lives. This obedience should be in the Lord. The children are to obey the parents for the Lord’s sake. Their obedience to the parents is to be a reflection of their obedience to the Lord.
The parents then stand in the gap between the children and the Lord. The parent must understand that the child is a loan from God. They are stewards of the child just as they are of their time, talents and gifts that also come from God. Paul says; ’Be obedient to your parents in all things.’ Perhaps the only exception to this rule is when the parent might instruct the child to do something wrong.
The reason children are to obey the parents is because it is right. This means that it is correct, just and righteous. There must be right acts of obedience, but there must also be right attitudes that precede the right acts of obedience. The right attitude is one of honoring the parents. Honoring the father and mother in the family is the foundation for all human relationships in society. Obedience and honor for the parents are what teach children to have respect for other authority figures in society. Honoring one’s parents includes providing for them when they are no longer able to provide for themselves. This certainly includes financial support. To adequately honor our parents, we must be personally involved in their lives.
When obedience and honor are not forthcoming, there are serious consequences. In the United States each year, there are at least eight million assaults made on parents by children. In recent years, we have been confronted with children murdering their parents or having someone else to do it. We think of Lyle and Erik Menendez. Some children are divorcing themselves from their parents. This lack of obedience and honor in the home carries over into society as children show no respect for authority figures. We think now of the many teachers assaulted and killed by their students. When we understand that all other relationships grow out of the relationship we have with parents, we will understand how important this relationship is. When we liberate the children, we will produce a society filled with chaos and destruction. A child must grow intellectually, spiritually, mentally and socially, and it is the responsibility of the parent to provide the atmosphere where this type of growth can take place.
When the children obey and honor the parents, the result will be long life and that things will go well with them. They will have a quality of life that cannot be surpassed. Children must submit to the parents.
II. PARENTS ARE TO BE SUBMISSIVE
Fathers are not to provoke their children to anger. Sometimes father is used in a restrictive sense but at other times it is used in a general sense. Here it seems to be used in a general sense and possibly refers to both parents. Since the father was the dominant figure in the home, it would be more likely for him to provoke the child.
To provoke carries the idea of a repeated ongoing pattern of treatment that gradually builds up a deep-seated anger and resentment that boils over in outward hostility. There are perhaps seven ways this can be done: over-protection, favoritism, pushing achievement, discouragement, parents failure to sacrifice for the children, failure to let them grow at a normal pace, using love as a tool of reward or punishment and physical and verbal abuse.
This command of Paul’s was a new concept for his day. Mutual love was almost unheard of in his time. In ancient Greece, parents were at liberty to abandon children to cold, hunger, beasts and all with no threat of punishment. A father had life and death power over his entire household. He could cast them out, sell them or kill them. At birth, the father determined the child’s fate. If the father picked the child up, it could stay in the home. If the father walked away, the child was disposed of. The discarded healthy infants were usually raised as slaves or prostitutes. Seneca, a renown statesman of Paul’s day, wrote; ’We slaughter a fierce ox; we strangle a mad dog; we plunge a knife into a sick cow. Children born weak or deformed we drown.’ When we study history, we find that our times are not so bad after all.
Harvard University sociologists developed a test with a 90% accuracy reading to determine whether or not a five and six-year-old would be delinquent. They discovered four factors necessary to prevent delinquency: ’the father’s firm, fair, and consistent discipline; the mother’s supervision and companionship during the day, the parent’s demonstrated affection for each other and for the children; and the families spending time together in activities where all participated.’
Paul concludes by saying that parents are to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction if the Lord. This refers to a systematic training that includes correction for wrong doing. In involves punishment but also a teaching element. The key is that it is to be done in the Lord.
The mother of John and Charles Wesley stated the following: ’The parent who studies to subdue (self-will) in his child works together with God in the renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work, makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body forever.’
The experiment is often related of how one can place a frog in a pan of cold water on a stove. If the heat is slowly increased, it is imperceptible to the frog. Even as the water begins to boil, he remains in the water and eventually boils to death, all because he adjusts to the heat as it increases.
Rather than adjusting to the damaging changes that are taking place in the family, we need to proclaim the submissiveness of parents to the children and of the children to the parents.