Paul is in the middle of a section giving rules for the family of God—a family that is different from any other family on earth and that is always growing. In Roman society two thousand years ago, a man had absolute, life and death authority over his wife and children. Children had no rights. They were overlooked and many adults would not have considered them worthy of addressing; but God, through Paul, speaks to the children.
Paul’s instruction to children is, “Obey your parents.” This means doing what you are told, bending your will in order to submit to theirs. It means continual obedience—the first time you are told, every time, immediately, in everything. Paul is after more than mere obedience, however. He adds “in the Lord,” meaning that you Christian children are to obey in such a way as pleases the Lord, in the strength that He provides. He is asking for obedience from the heart—not with a bad attitude, but willingly, joyfully, and immediately. Joyful obedience is a beautiful thing, but disobedience is an ugly, ugly thing.
We all have a tendency to try to make our sin seem small. This is one reason we don’t enjoy the gospel more. Our sin seems reasonable and acceptable to us. We minimize sin by saying things like “Everybody does it!” or “Nobody does that!” or “It’s not a big deal!” We lose sight of the fact that forgiveness for that sin cost Jesus Christ His blood. There are no small sins against a great God. Every sin deserves the wrath of God. According to the Scripture, those who disobey their parents deserve to be avoided and to die!
Paul makes three assumptions about children in this text. First, you are old enough to understand sin and grace. Second, you are young enough to be in the home of your parents. Third, you are old enough to repent and believe the gospel. You, Christian children, right now are real Christians and God is speaking to you!
Typically when God gives a command, He also gives a good reason. These are the motivations to obey your parents. First, it is part of your commitment to Christ. It is a matter of discipleship. Second, it is right. There is a general sense of what is fitting and appropriate in community across every culture and time; you might call it natural law or see it as part of the moral fabric of the universe. Third, what is right is the keeping of the law, and the Fifth Commandment says we are to honor our parents. All of us are obligated by this commandment, even if we are old enough that the obey part doesn’t apply to us. Honor means to revere, look up to, appreciate and show genuine respect for them. Finally, there is a reward. The command to honor parents comes with a promise—that you will live a long life and things will go well with you. This is not a direct promise to every individual but it is a general truth, like “If you exercise, you will be healthy and happy.”
As we apply this command to children, we can make a number of applications. The times when obedience is especially difficult are the times when it is especially meaningful. Obedience to someone else is a great aid in learning self-control.
No one loves you more than your parents do. You are to honor them even after you become an adult. Talk to them. Listen to them. Answer their texts and phone calls. Care for them in their old age, even if it costs you.
The command to honor parents is a special challenge for those who have been mistreated and hurt deeply by their parents. For those of you who carry this pain, remember that God, your Heavenly Father has never, and will never, mistreat you.
All of us fail the command to obey and honor our parents; none of us has kept it perfectly. This sin makes us worthy of death and there is only one solution: Jesus. Jesus was the perfect obedient Son. He obeyed His Father in everything, even when, as in the case of the cross, it was unfair. Obedience to His Father is how Jesus won our salvation! Today, even you who are children, repent and believe the gospel!