Growing a Royal Culture: The Children of Nobility: Ephesians 6:1-4
Weeks and years can and should be spent studying the area of the covenant household, the Christian family, and today we are condensing even more the relationship between parents and children. But if Paul can condense his teaching into four verses; it is permissible to condense our consideration to one sermon. Paul’s instructions are essentially two-fold. First to children and then to fathers: Children honor; fathers do not provoke. This is your royal callings; you are nobility as you take up these duties in faith.
To Children of the Covenant:
Paul begins by exhorting children to obey. For support he cites Deuteronomy five, where Moses has re-given the law and given a promise with it. The original publishing of the Decalogue in Exodus 20 gives essentially the same information. But Deuteronomy makes it clear that there are two distinct but closely connected promises that are attached to the command to bestow honor upon parents. The promises are long life and a good life in the land. Notice that Paul equates honor and obedience. Children, descendents, posterity, etc. are to obey by honoring and honor by obeying. We know from Scripture and other historical evidence that first born sons received a double portion of their father’s inheritance because that “honor” would later become support for their parents (cf. Mk. 7:11-13). This establishes the principle that honor is always required but it can and does look differently throughout a lifetime. Children must grow up understanding this; and parents must not put obstacles in the way of children fulfilling this calling. And Paul says that this obedience is “right/just/righteous”.
The second promise is a good life in the land that God is giving us. This promise is empty if you do not believe that we are being given this land or if you don’t think the land is worth inheriting. But “[life] going well with you in the land” is directly related to eschatology, your expectations of what the world is going to come to look like over the next centuries and millennia. And this entails cultivating a “contempt for the cool”. “Cool” is evasive, fading, and ignorant. Of course nothing is wrong with looking nice, but it is stupid to think that the latest fashion fads are any different than they have ever been. Covenant children should grow up with a healthy cynicism for trends and fads, especially ones that claim the opposite of what they are: “unique”, “different”, “rebel”. Covenant children must grow up despising this kind of double speak.
Covenant Children, we are being given this land. That is why we gather here for worship. That is why we celebrate the Eucharist; that is you were baptized. We truly believe that we are being brought through another great Exodus in Jesus Christ. Come with us in faith into the land. Do not wish to go back to Egypt; do not fall in the wilderness from unbelief. Come with us into the land; fight with us; do not be cowards; do not envy the godless.
Paul exhorts fathers in particular here not because mothers do not have an important role to play in the raising of faithful children but because fathers are held responsible for their families. This means that fathers must recognize this responsibility. This does not mean that fathers are held liable for the guilt of their children’s sin, but it does mean that father’s are held responsible for it (Ez. 18:20, Ex. 34:6-7). The father will not be punished for the sins of his son, but the fact that a son is carried away in sin is the father’s fault. This is terrifying, but this is God’s way and it is his intent for this to be a blessing. This means that fathers must be sin confessing warriors. You must confess your own sins and the sins of your household. You must do this not as nit-picking cranks, but as honest, faithful fathers and husbands following the example of faithful Job (cf. Job 1:5). If things are not going well in your home whether your child is six months or sixteen, get on your knees and do some soul searching confession.
Further, you are called to raise your children up not provoking them or making them angry, but in the nurture/culture/lifestyle and instruction/warning/admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). This means that you must raise your children up in the spoken and unspoken ways of the faith. You must show them and tell them. Proverbs 22:6 says that training of a child stays with him even when he is old. The proverb is intentionally ambiguous referring both to the specific “instruction” and the “way”. But the point is that there is a “way of life” and a “way of the mouth” that make up the training, and those will stick for better or worse. These two ways must also include both positive and negative direction; this is just logical and biblical coherence. Choosing one thing is a simultaneous rejection of everything else. This is always implicit and must be made explicit for children.
Application & Conclusion
Finally, I exhort you parents, but particularly fathers to imitate God the Father in delighting in your children (e.g. Mk. 1:11, 9:7). This means that you must imitate the Father by saying this out loud. This is not an invitation to pride or boasting (let him who boasts, boast in the Lord). But this means respecting your children and having grateful hearts to God out loud. It is not thankfulness and respect to only having thankful/respectful feelings in your bellies. Have those, but you must say and act accordingly. Delight in your children; do not be blind to their weaknesses, but determine to see God’s blessing in their lives and praise them loudly. If you don’t, then you are not delighting in them and you are blaspheming the Triune God.
In our text, the word Paul uses for “bring up” or “raise” primarily means to “feed” or “nourish” (e.g. Eph. 5:29, Rev. 12:6). Are you feeding your children with the nurture and admonition of the Lord or are you starving them? Are you feeding them or are you stuffing it down their throats? Is the Christian life being presented as a feast or famine? A banqueting table full of joy or barren land with grumbling and harping? Covenant children, much has been said to your parents, but you must recall that you are called to be royalty, nobility. Regardless of how your parents are doing or will do, your royal calling is joyful obedience in the Lord. The Christian faith is a call to inherit the land, to take possession of vineyards and cities, spoils of our King. Therefore all of you forgive as you have been forgiven, confess your sins, turn from them, and come join the feast.