Parents and Children
by Jack Wald | February 12th, 2017

Ephesians 6:1-4

Some of you are not parents but will be someday. Preparation for parenthood is not just a matter of reading books and decorating the nursery.  I came across 12 simple tests for expectant parents to take to prepare themselves for the real life experience of being a mother or father. I’ll share just three of them. Let me know if you want me to send the full list.

1. Women:  To prepare for maternity, put on a dressing gown and stick a beanbag chair down the front. Leave it there for nine months. After nine months, remove 10% of the beans.

Men: To prepare for paternity, go the local drug store, tip the contents of your wallet on the counter, and tell the pharmacist to help himself. Next, go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to its head office. Go home. Pick up the paper and read it for the last time.

2. Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who are already parents and berate them about their methods of discipline, lack of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels, and how they have allowed their children to run wild. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child’s sleeping habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior. Enjoy it — it’s the last time in your life that you will have all the answers.

11. Hollow out a melon. Make a small hole in the side.  Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side. Now get a bowl of soggy cereal and attempt to spoon it into the hole of  the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane. Continue until half of the cereal is gone. Tip the rest into your lap, making sure that a lot of it falls on the floor.  You are now ready to feed a 12-month old child.

We make jokes about the difficulty of parenting young children, but it does not get easier as they age. And, in fact, the challenges of parenting become increasingly complex and will continue even when the children are adults.

All parents are amateurs and make mistakes. All parents are imperfect and imperfectly raise their children. If reincarnation was true, I would want it to be designed so that I could come back in the next life and be a better parent, having learned from all my mistakes in the previous life. But that is not how it works – we move through this life just once.

Parenting is not easy and it is also not easy to be a child. Because parents are imperfect, children suffer at the hands of their parents. I talked with a friend this week who told me that when you are asked in an interview about your childhood, the best answer is, “It was stable.” And this is what most of us project to others.

The reality is that for many of us at RIC our childhood was not at all stable. This is not something we talk about, but many of us were physically abused by one parent or another. Some of us were sexually abused by a parent or relative. Psychologists also talk about emotional abuse and many of us have experienced this.

I have said many times that children have an amazing ability to survive their parenting. Children survive, but not without wounds. And then these wounded children become parents, imperfect parents, and their children are wounded.

This is the cycle that has to be broken. Children who have been abused need to be able to raise children who will not be abused. The best way for that destructive cycle to be broken is to come into a relationship with Jesus and let the Spirit work in you, bringing healing, and helping you to raise children in a healthy relationship of love.

This morning, as we make our way through Ephesians, we come to Paul’s words about the parent/child relationship.

For those of you who were not here the past couple Sundays, let me repeat myself and say that Paul’s words about the husband/wife, parent/child, and master/slave relationship need to be viewed in the context of what Paul is writing.

In Ephesians 5:15-21 Paul summarizes his application of the theological truths he presented in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Paul writes in verse 18
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

Paul uses this image of getting drunk to describe being led by our sinful human desires. In Galatians 5:19–21 Paul lists behaviors that come from our flesh.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is what Paul means when he writes:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

Then Paul goes on in verses 21-22 to talk about the fruit that comes from being filled with the Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

As I said last week, if you have to choose how to live, from which of these lists of behaviors do you want to choose?

Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine to being filled with the Spirit.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

We are to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.
We are to sing and make music from our heart to the Lord
We are to always give thanks to the Lord
We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This is the context in which we approach the three relationships that follow. The three relationships are illustrations of how we submit to one another. And that submission is made possible by the filling of the Spirit.

So when we look at the verses about parents and children, we need to understand them as an application of what it means to be filled with the Spirit, allowing the life of the Spirit to affect all parts of our lives. The married relationship between husband and wife should be a relationship of mutual submission. I talked about that last Sunday.

The relationship between parent and child should also be a relationship of mutual submission. What does this look like? It is not difficult for us to think about what it means for a child to submit to the parent, but what does it mean for a parent to submit to the child?

Paul writes:
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.”

In the ancient world, children’s duty to obey their parents was taken for granted. Households were dependent on the members of the extended family working together. This was especially true for sons. Daughters were married and became part of other households, but sons stayed and if they did not work hard and did not help prosper the family, they were a danger to the economic health of a household.

So we read in the law of Moses, (Deuteronomy 21:18–21)
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

A stubborn, rebellious son who was a glutton and a drunkard could destroy the family. This is why the punishment was so severe. This is why it was so shocking to the people who heard Jesus tell the parable of the prodigal. A son acted selfishly and publically dishonored his father. He wasted all he received. He had brought shame to his father and family and now he himself was deeply shamed. He fell so far that he ate the food of pigs who were considered unclean.

He returned to his father and was stunned to discover that his father welcomed him back. His father covered his shame and restored his honor. To the people who heard Jesus tell this story, it was unbelievable that the father would honor this son who had selfishly and recklessly endangered his family and dishonored his father.

In cultures where technology develops slowly, the elderly are honored and respected. They hold in themselves the wisdom the younger generations need to prosper. They know from experience what to plant and when to plant. They know from experience what makes a crop do well and what does not. They know when to harvest.

But in cultures where technology develops rapidly, the elderly are viewed as useless and are disrespected. They have to get their grandchildren to help operate the devices that enter the marketplace.

The biblical view of parent and child relationships comes out of a culture where the younger generations were dependent on the older generations.

So there was a practical reason for children to obey their parents. Whether it was agriculture or fishing, pottery or carpentry, the family business needed and depended on the stability of the children working with the father to make the business successful.

But now we live in a culture where the elderly do not hold the keys to success in a rapidly changing technological world. Why should children obey their parents?

Paul writes:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

This is the right thing to do and let me suggest three reasons why this is so. First, the key to success in life is more than technological ability. The older generation may not know how to set the clock on some device, but they know, from painful experience, how to live life. They have lived through the events of life and can offer wisdom about what matters and what does not matter so much. They can offer wisdom about the importance of holding on to Jesus even in the most difficulty of situations. The older generation may have difficulty with a new computer operating system, but they can help younger generations make their way as pilgrims on the path to their heavenly home.

Second, the fifth of the ten commandments tells us to honor our father and mother. Even if we do not understand completely why this is important, that fact that God tells us it is important is reason enough. We submit to God who knows better than we do what is good for us.

Third, in our relationships, the more intimate the relationship, the more we should live as Father, Son, and Spirit live in their eternal relationship. We are to care for each other the way Father, Son, and Spirit care for each other. So Paul wrote to Timothy when talking about taking care of widows in the church: (1 Timothy 5:3–8)
Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God…  8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

It is interesting to note that in revivals, genuine revivals, not just religious enthusiasms, there is great social change. In the Welsh revival in 1904 this included children bring their parents out of nursing homes and into their own homes. I am not judging those who have parents in a nursing home, just pointing out that caring for parents was part of the social change that resulted from the revival.

Paul tells us that children are to obey their parents, not just when they are young, but when they are adults. Children are to submit to their parents, loving them they way they are loved by God.

Paul speaks also to parents.
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Let me begin with the second half of this instruction. The biblical view of parenting is that children are a blessing from the Lord. (Psalm 127:3–5)
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.

Children are a gift from God. Children are given to prosper a family, to strengthen the family, to take care of parents as their parents took care of them.

Parents are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Children were important to the health and welfare of a family, but Paul takes a longer view here. Children, like their parents, need to know who loves them and who they serve.

Peter O’Brien, in his commentary, writes that
In contrast to the norms of the day, Paul wants Christian fathers to be gentle, patient educators of their children, whose chief ‘weapon’ is Christian instruction focused on loyalty to Christ as Lord. Christian fathers were to be different from those of the surrounding society.

Paul wrote to Timothy and reminded him of his mother and grandmother who brought him up with an understanding and love for God as revealed in the scriptures. (2 Timothy 3:14–15)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

This is our primary calling from God when we become parents. We are to train our children and encourage them to choose Jesus as we chose Jesus.

How do we know how to be mothers and fathers? We spent our childhood watching our parents and learned from them how to be a parent. We picked up good ways to parent and bad ways to parent and when we become parents, we instinctively parent the way we were parented. We pick the things we liked and resolve to do the same with our children. We pick the things we did not like and resolve not to be that way with our children. But as hard as we try, our instincts kick in and we discover, to our dismay, that in some ways we ended up parenting like our parents in ways we did not like. We need the work of the Spirit to transform us. We need to deepen the intimacy of our relationship with God so that God becomes our model of how to raise children.

In Paul’s prayer at the end of Ephesians 3 he prays: (Ephesians 3:14–15)
For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

We do learn, in both good and bad ways, how to be fathers and mothers by having watched our fathers and mothers, but Paul points us to our Father in heaven. As human fathers and mothers, we are to care for our children as God the Father cares for us. We have to resist our instinctive way of parenting and reflect on whether the way we parent is the way God parents us.

Paul tells us
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

In his letter to the Colossians Paul writes (Colossians 3:21)
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

“Exasperate,” “embitter”, what do these words mean? The Greek word used means “not to provoke to anger.”

Peter T. O’Brien writes:
Fathers are urged to avoid those attitudes, words, and actions which would provoke their children to anger … Effectively, the apostle is ruling out ‘excessively severe discipline, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, arbitrariness, unfairness, constant nagging and condemnation, subjecting a child to humiliation, and all forms of gross insensitivity to a child’s needs and sensibilities’. Behind this curbing of a father’s authority is the clear recognition that children, while they are expected to obey their parents in the Lord, are persons in their own right who are not to be manipulated, exploited, or crushed.

Parents do not own their children. Children are a gift from the Lord, a treasure given to parents to guard and protect. This is where we see how parents are to submit to their children. In the same way that God bends toward us, repeatedly forgives us, works so that even our mistakes can be turned into something good, so we are to bend toward our children. As God has sacrificed himself for us, we are to sacrifice ourselves for our children. We are not to try to turn our children into what we want them to become; we are to discover who God created them to be and encourage them to grow into that person.

There are some well known verses in the Bible that parents hold on to.

Proverbs 22:6
Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

This is a great proverb that encourages us to do what Paul urges us to do, to train our children.

A second proverb is this one.

Proverbs 13:24
Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.

This is a more controversial proverb. How are children to be disciplined? Do you spank or not spank? If you spank, do you spank with an open hand? Do you use a belt? A stick? Annie and I used an open hand. Our two daughters and their husbands do not spank. They give “time outs” and the child has to sit on a step and think about what they have done. One daughter will call out that if they continue with a behavior she does not want, she will take away 20 baht (the Thailand currency) and then 30 baht, increasing the amount of their allowance she will take away until they behave.

I have to say that it takes a lot more time and energy to discipline children the way they do it and it would have been good for me to have done the same, but I did not have the patience or the understanding of discipline they have.

Parents are to discipline with love, not with fear. Even if a parent spanks, the intention should not be to make the child feel pain. The intention is to discipline the child in a way that encourages a change in behavior. Discipline with love, not with fear.

This brings us to the subject of abuse. What do we do with Paul’s admonition to submit by obeying our parents when they are being abusive in the way they treat us? What do we do if they beat us with sticks and fists? What do we do if they beat us so we have welts and bruises on our bodies?

I quoted Richard Foster last week about abuse. Let me read it again.  “The limits of the Discipline of submission are the points at which it becomes destructive. It then becomes a denial of the law of love as taught by Jesus and is an affront to genuine biblical submission.”

God does not want us to stay in relationships where we are abused.

Many of us in this room were physically abused by our parents. What is child abuse? “Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse.”

In the US, 28.3% of adults report having been physically abused as a child. 20.7% of adults report having been sexually abused as a child. 10.6% of adults report having been emotionally abused as a child.

I don’t know the percentages for other countries, but in talking with people in our church, I would guess that over half of us have been abused as children, physically, sexually, and or emotionally.

In talking with counselors, I have been told that the way I was treated as a child was emotionally abusive. My mother was a narcissist / borderline personality. I was not physically or sexually abused, but the abuse I experienced damaged me. I learned early on to protect myself by creating an emotional wall, but that has created problems in itself.

I became a follower of Jesus when I was 20 years old and when I read the biblical instruction to honor my father and mother, I struggled with this. How do I submit to a woman who manipulates and controls others to fit into what she thinks in the moment is the right thing to do? As I grew in my faith I slowly and gradually came to see that my mother was fighting her own battles. I developed some measure of compassion toward her, but I was careful to keep my distance.

I used the analogy of going to the zoo and getting my hand too close to the lion cage so that my hand got scratched. I went back to the zoo but made sure I did not get too close to the lion cage.

My mother was not happy and always picked one of her six children to blame for her unhappiness. In the year and a half before I came to Morocco, it was my turn. My mother refused to speak to me. In the year before I moved to Morocco, I worked with my father on his oral history and we met often for him to tell his stories and select pictures to go in his book. My mother was furious with him for coming to see me.

Then three weeks before I left, we met for dinner and she said we needed to be friends and proceeded to be as warm and affectionate toward me in those three weeks as she had been cold and distant before.

Each year when I came back from Morocco to visit, we would go out for breakfast and one time she asked me why we did not have the mother-son relationship we should have. I reminded her that she had refused to speak to me for a year and a half before I left for Morocco and she denied that had ever happened. She was true to what she felt in the moment, forgetting anything she had said or done in the past that was contrary to what she felt in the moment.

Children with a parent like this need to create emotional distance to protect themselves from abuse that will keep on coming even in adult years.

Honoring your father and mother does not mean you remain open and available for any abuse they inflict. Once again, God does not want you to suffer in an abusive relationship. This may mean you need to keep some emotional distance from a parent, but keeping distance is not dishonoring.

It is important to forgive your parents for any way in which they hurt you. I did this with my mother. I forgave her. I did not tell her this. If I had she would have been highly offended. But I forgave her.

When she died I did not cry. I had forgiven her but still held on to the hurt she caused me. It took me about three or four years after she died to be more sympathetic and compassionate toward her. All parents were once children and we have to ask ourselves what happened to our parents when they were children. What happened to make them who they are or were?

If you were abused by a parent or parents, pray for them. Let the Spirit bring you healing for the abuse you received. Talk with a counselor. We need to work for healing and understanding so that when we are parents we do not inflict on our children what we suffered ourselves. We can break the cycle. Annie and I were better parents than our parents were. Our daughters are better parents than we were.

Mutual submission. Parents and children are to submit to each other. Parents are not to use their children for their own benefit, they are to encourage their children to prosper in all ways. Children are not to be disobedient. Even when parents are abusive, it is good to get to a place of healing where you can have compassion for your parents and love them.

One day, hopefully, you will stand in heaven with your parents and grandparents, with your children if you have children. When every knee is bowed, you will not be kneeling alongside your parent or child, you will be kneeling alongside your brother and sister in Christ.

This is the image to keep in mind as you parent. This is the image to keep in mind as you relate to your parents. Love your parents as God loves you. Love children, if you have them, as you have been loved by God. Hold on to Jesus. Cooperate with the work of the Spirit. Seek healing through friends and counselors. Love as you are loved.