Excerpts from a sermon on
by Kerry Ptacek
Marriage points to the basis for the salvation of the elect: union with Christ. Thus the saints die with Christ and are raised up again with Him. Marriage is related to why children also are part of God's plan fulfilled in Christ. In God's denunciation of divorce in Malachi the prophet begins with Israel's response to God rejecting their offerings:
14Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. 16"For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously" (Mal 2:14-16).
God made husband and wife one because He seeks godly offspring. This desire was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man. However, just as the fulfillment of marriage in Christ does not eliminate the need to glorify God in our marriages, so too, Christian fathers and mothers should glorify God in raising godly children.
Children are not passive bystanders in God's desire for godly offspring. The Son of God is their pattern: "though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb 5:8-9). Children too learn obedience. However, Christian children can rest in the knowledge that even when they fall short or suffer because of their sin or the sin of others, Christ's perfect obedience and sacrificial death have been accepted by God in their behalf. Still, obedience to parents is central to the sanctification of Christian children. I will focus on three aspects of that obedience.
In verse 1the word "children" is not a term for the very young only. A mature yet unmarried son would be addressed by his father as "child." Still, "children" certainly included all other age groups, down to the youngest. That Paul directly speaks to the children reminds us that families were together in congregational worship and instruction. Not only are children part of the congregation, through Jesus Christ all the saints have become children of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:16-17,21).
To obey means to respond positively to someone's words, literally "hear under." Usually the Greek word is translated "obey." It includes but goes beyond doing what someone says when the command is understood (Phm 1:21). For example, Jesus rebuked the winds and the seas, which obeyed Him by becoming calm (Mt 8:27; also Lk 8:25).
The wind and the seas are not alive, yet responded immediately and exactly to the sovereign power of God. The word rebuke also is used to describe Jesus's words to a demon who was told to "Be quiet and come out of him!" (Mk 1:25). The unclean spirit obeyed Jesus by immediately leaving the one possessed (Mk 1:27). The demon did not ask when to obey or, even less, decide to "obey" by leaving later. It could only obey God's sovereign power by acting immediately. Therefore, obedience is not a matter of attitude alone but also is action in response to words.
Some Christians contrast faith and obedience to God's Word. However, in the Bible faith is the response of a willing heart, made so through God's Holy Spirit. Believing the gospel is described as being "obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7; see also Rom 1:5; 6:17; 10:16; 16:26; 2 Th 1:8). Of course, only one Man, Jesus Christ, has been truly obedient to God's will (Rom 5:19). However, it is a mark of those who are in Christ that they do not obey the lusts of the flesh but obey righteousness (Rom 6:12,16; 16:19; 2 Cor 7:15). Said another way, Christ in the saved makes them obedient (Rom 15:18). Since this obedience is from within, it operates even when no one is watching (Php 2:12). Also, Biblical obedience is not limited to a formula of faith but extends to all of God's Word (2 Th 3:14).
Children are commanded to obey their parents, not all adults. "Parents" is the general term for the father and mother. It is used in the case of Joseph and Mary, so this term is not limited to biological parents (Lk 2:37,41).
Disobedience to parents is listed among the sins of the unregenerate world (Rom 1:30; 2 Tim 3:2). Indeed, all societies have held that children should obey their parents. Like other examples of the work of the law -- not the law itself -- written on the human heart adherence to this norm varies (Rom 2:14-15). For example, most people recognize that this obedience is limited to some extent by other values. However, Christians are given this guidance in defining the limits of obedience: Children are commanded to obey their "parents in the Lord."
The phrase "in the Lord" establishes the manner and limits of the child's obedience to parents. In other words, a Christian child obeys his or her parents primarily because of God's command (Col 3:20). However, God must be obeyed over non-Christian or even Christian parents when their command is contrary to God's Word. This prospect is virtually inevitable in families divided by the gospel.
The church is Jesusís true family (Mt 12:46-50). The gospel divides families that include believers and unbelievers (Mt 10:21,34-37; 19:29; Mk 10:29; 13:12; Lk 18:29; 21:16).
In Hebrews believers are reminded that the Lord chastens those who are His true children. As we see in this verse obedience to parents is the principal mark of a Christian as a child. In the same way, obedience to God the Father is the main evidence that avowed Christians are His children.
Paul provides as a justification for the obedience of children "for this is right." Right, dikaios, refers to conformity to God's law. Therefore, Paul cites the law in the next verse.
In verse 2 obedience by children is based on the fifth commandment (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16). The word honor in both Hebrew and Greek conveys the idea of giving someone what is due to them. Indeed, what is due generally is material or monetary.
"Honor," timao, can be translated "priced" (Mt 27:9). The related noun is translated "value," "proceeds," "price," or "sum" (Mt 27:9; Acts 4:34; 5:2,3; 7:16; 19:19; 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23). Even when translated "honor" the noun can refer to monetary payment or material benefit (1 Tim 5:17). The adjective form of the word is rendered "precious" in virtually every New Testament case (1 Cor 3:12; Jas 5:7; 1 Pet 1:7,19; 2 Pet 1:4; Rev 17:4; 18:12,16; 21:11,19).
It is not limited to the kind of empty honors involving meaningless words and flattery that is so common in our language.
By citing this commandment, Paul makes it clear that obedience is part of how a child honors his or her father and mother. However, there is an additional element of the meaning of "honor" in the original language. Honoring parents also includes providing for them in their old age. Jesus stated that the Pharisees transgressed this commandment by their doctrine that if a man dedicated money that would have gone to support his elderly parents to the temple he was to that extent "released from honoring his father or mother" (Mt 15:1-6).
Honoring parents involves both obedience and material support in their old age. The obedience is only limited by being in the Lord as we have already noted. The material support of parents is suggested by Paul's commentary on the fifth commandment as "the first commandment with promise." Some commentators have wondered why Paul calls the fifth commandment the first "with promise." The content of that promise is given in the next verse.
In verse 3 the New King James Version treats the words "that it may be well with you" as part of the fifth commandment, although they clearly are not. Instead, these words explain that the fifth commandment is the first to include a promise about the well-being of those who are obedient to it, that: "you may live long on the earth."
Children were the only social security for elderly parents who could no longer provide for themselves in the ancient world. Naomi's despair following the death of her husband and her two sons reflects this situation.
Those who did not obey the fifth commandment by caring for elderly parents were likely to provide an example for their own children to imitate later. Jesus Christ fulfilled this commandment in honoring His heavenly Father. He even arranged for His earthly mother to be taken care of by the apostle John after His death.
Christian children who honor their parents need to ensure that their material needs are met. Parents who make many provisions for care by retirement plans admit a lack of trust in the faithfulness of their children.
The fifth commandment speaks of the promise of long life "on the earth." However, the original wording understood by Paul's words is "that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (Ex 20:5). Thus the promise clearly refers to long life in the promised land, Israel. With Christ's fulfillment of the law, the punishments and rewards are no longer in effect since the saved have been given a new heart that desires to conform to God's Word regardless of rewards or punishments. Nevertheless, children who disobey and dishonor their parents tend to follow lives of rebellion, violence, and selfish disregard for the rights and needs of others. As a result, they often, but not always, are "not long for this world."
In summary, obedience to their parents is central to the sanctification of Christian children. I have focused on three aspects of that obedience. First, obedience to parents is the principal mark of a Christian child as a child. Anyone who denies the main command of the Lord to them in the family can hardly claim to be a regenerate Christian. This obedience honors mother and father, however, in my second point I argue that children also honor their parents by providing for their material needs in old age. The specific promises and punishments of the law are not inevitable under the gospel. Nevertheless, the effects of disobedience will be manifested in this life. So then, my third point is that children who disobey and dishonor their parents will suffer loss in their lives on this earth.
Christian children fall short of this command. Only Jesus Christ perfectly obeyed God the Father. Because the Spirit of Christ, the only truly godly offspring, is at work in Christian children, they will seek to obey God by obeying their own parents. The obedience of Chritian children honors their parents and God the Father.
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