Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.…
I. DUTY OF CHILDREN. "Children, obey your parents."
1. Sphere in which the obedience is to take place. "In the Lord." It was said in Ephesians 5:21, as determining the character of the whole subjection that there is between human beings, that it is to be "in the fear of Christ." That is to be interpreted as meaning that, in each ease, Christ is to be regarded as the authority (behind the visible) before which those who are subjected are to bow. The husband, we have seen, represents Christ (so far as it goes) to the wife. And so the parents represent Christ to the children. And then only can the children obey in the Lord when they regard their parents as placed over them in the Lord. In baptism parents acknowledge that their children belong to the Lord as standing over them. And, in accordance with this, children are to look to their parents as standing in the place of Christ to them, and to obey them as though they were obeying Christ.
2. Natural ground of the duty. "For this is right." There is a relationship founded deep in nature between parents and those to whom they have given being. This is associated with an affection which is one of the most beautiful things in our nature. The strength of the parental affection qualifies the parents for being placed in authority over their children. And the filial affection leads the children to look to their parents as the natural source of authority ever them.
3. Scriptural confirmation. "Honor thy father and mother." This is the fifth commandment, and is wider in its range than obedience to parents. Contents of fifth commandment.
(1) Children are to honor their parents by treating them with proper respect. Children are to respect their parents on the ground of their superior age. We are commanded to rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man. So children should show reverence to their parents because of their years. And those years are associated with superior attainments. A big ship leaving for another land needs to be cautiously piloted out of the dock and past the other ships in the harbor or river, away beyond the bar, and, it may be, through the channel, until it is out to the open sea. Men of special knowledge need to be employed for this, that the ship may not get on to the sandbanks or on to the rocks. So children in their inexperience, their ignorance of the shoals and rocks and seamanship, need to be piloted by the superior wisdom of their parents until they are out to the open sea of life. And it is right that they should think of themselves with humility, and treat with respect those who are appointed their guides. There are certain natural signs by which this may be shown - a readiness to give place to them, to give them the best seat, to be silent when they speak, a tone of deference (while at the same time of confidence), and a certain courtesy in address which is not inconsistent with familiarity. When Solomon on his throne saw his mother approaching (inferior though she was to him in one relationship), he rose to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and caused a seat to be set for her on his right hand. It would be well for children (who are sometimes inclined to be rude to their parents) to take an example from the wise king. "Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother." "The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it;" that is, something terrible shall overtake him who dares to make light of his parents.
(2) Children are to honor their parents by showing gratitude to them. How much are children laid under obligation to their parents! There was a time when they were entirely helpless, could neither walk nor speak, and, but for the care of parents, they would have perished. And parental cares for them do not soon cease. How they need to be watched, to be kept out of harm's way! And when they are sick, how they need to be attended to day and night! The mother needs to labor on all day in the house (sometimes when she is not strong) to keep things right for them. And the father needs to go out and work that he may provide shelter, and clothing, and food, and schooling for them. The children are not in a position to know all the sacrifices their parents make for them, and the amount of thought that is bestowed on them, and the prayers that are put up for them. But they are receiving daily marks of their kindness, and they should receive these, not as though they were entitled to them, but with feelings of gratitude ever fresh. They will never have on earth better friends, greater benefactors, than Christ has given them in their parents. And let them value the gift.
(3) Children are to honor their parents by being obedient to them. This is the point on which stress is laid (as though it summed up the command) by the apostle. There is nothing by which children can better requite all the trouble that their parents have had on their account than by their obedience. This is the most beautiful flower that there can be in their character as children. It is true of them (as of those who have not come out of the childish state) that they are creatures of impulse, and inclined to, seize upon present gratification, without thinking whether it is for their good or not. Parents, as preferring their future happiness to present gratification, must lay commands on them, and the commands should be felt to be easy as coming from those who are at the same time heaping kindness on them. Children should be prompt to obey. They should not wait until they are threatened. They should not yield with a grudge. They should not think of opposing their untutored wills and crude wishes to the disciplined wills and ripe judgments of their parents. Let them honor their parents by giving them all obedience.
(4) Children are to honor their parents by being helpful to them. There are little services which, from an early age, children can render to their parents. They should be pleased even to leave their play to run an errand for them. They should not grudge doing things about the house to relieve an overworked mother. Sometimes sick parents have been thrown on their children, and then it has been seen what little hands can do. Some Parents have a very hard struggle, and children may relieve them of much care and save them not a little expense by taking care of what takes money to replace. There are some children who only think now much they can get out of their parents (do not think whether their parents can afford it, or have to want to give them). Children who wish to honor their parents will be unwilling that they should want for them, and will think how much they can save to their parents of labor and expense.
(5) Children are to honor their parents by placing confidence in them. Parents and children are friends, and there is nothing on Which friendship more hinges than confidence. Parents are intended to know all that their children do, and it is wrong for children to conceal anything from them. If they wish to undertake anything, let them ask their parents' consent. Let nothing be done on which they would not wish their parents' eyes to rest. If they have done wrong, let them frankly come forward and confess their faults, and ask forgiveness. But let there be no concealment, no artifice, no untruthfulness. Children who practice deceit on their parents are likely to form character according to one of the most detestable types. All will come to regard them with distrust.
(6) Children are to honor their parents by attending to their instructions. Children are to take full advantage of the provision made by their parents for their education; but their duty does not end there. They are to lend a ready ear to their parents when they talk to them, especially about serious subjects. They should love to hear the story of Christ and his love. They should not turn away their ear when their parents tell them what dispositions they are to cultivate, what temptations they are to shun, what company they are to keep, what books they are to read; when they tell them to be respectful, truthful, honest, kind, and above all dutiful to their Father in heaven. "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother. For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck." Promise annexed to the fifth commandment. "Which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." It is no longer the land of Canaan that is mentioned, as it was when the promise was first given. The whole earth (not merely the heavenly Canaan) is to be regarded as the land of promise nosy for God's people. The promise is not to be understood as absolutely guaranteeing long life to dutiful children. For there are some who die in childhood and who have not been less exemplary than those who get the blessing of a longer life. "The good die first," it is said, and there is truth in the saying. Some who have been early taken away have exhibited a singular sweetness and a ripeness beyond their years. Still, it is true (apart from other considerations that may come in) that long life is promised to children who honor their father and mother. And we can see how God (in his ordinary providence) works towards this end. Those who are dutiful to their parents are likely to grow up good members of society. They are not likely to bring their life to an untimely end in disgraceful quarrels or by crime. They are not likely to shorten their days by intemperance or by idleness. They are likely, too, to grow up good members of the Church, and may have their lives prolonged to them because of their usefulness. When Peter's life was in danger, prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him. And his life was spared because of its felt valuableness. So if we interest people in us, by services rendered to them, their good wishes and prayers may go to our days being lengthened out for us.
II. DUTY OF PARENTS. Fathers are addressed; mothers might have been addressed as well. But one class only being mentioned it is those who represent the others.
1. Negatively. "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." Parents have not a right to act as they please toward their children. They are responsible to him who has placed them over their children, and are bound to act in his spirit. Parents provoke their children to wrath when they give them a sense of wrong.
(1) By over-commandment. Parents have a right to exact of their children; but there are limits to what is to be exacted of them. To heap command upon command, prohibition upon prohibition, is not to accomplish the end aimed at. When the requirement is more than can reasonably be rendered, it becomes vexatious. The children lose the sense of their ability to obey, and under compulsion are provoked to wrath.
(2) By unreasonable blame. It is true of children that they need a great amount of encouragement. And where it is deserved it ought to be freely bestowed. To bestow it where it is not deserved is to encourage unreality. Faults (at least the more serious, where they are numerous)are to be dealt with. But extreme care must be taken never to impute blame undeservedly or tentatively to children. There should be no hint of blame unless there is sure ground to go upon. For if children are stung with a sense of injustice, then, provoked to wrath, they are apt to think that they may as well do the things with which they are credited.
(3) By passionateness. Children can understand a burst of indignation for some serious offence, and are the better for it. But they are also quick to understand. When their parents lose command of themselves and punish beyond what the offence deserves. This is carefully to be avoided, for passionateness provokes passionateness; the passionate father makes a passionate son.
2. Positively. "But nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord." Such nurture is to be understood as a tender plant needs. If it is to be brought to any perfection, then it needs to be suited as to soil, as to exposure, as to temperature, as to nourishment, as to protection from insects, as to its particular habits. So parents have tender plants given them in their children to rear up, sometimes exceptionally tender, but tender in any circumstances. They have to keep them from the storms and blasts that would wither them. They have their physical development carefully to watch over. Their intellectual development, too, needs great care, that they may not grow up stunted. And especially has care to be bestowed on the nurture of their spiritual powers.
(1) This nurture is to have a distinctively Christian character. The appliances mentioned are described as being "of the Lord." That is, they are such appliances as those acting for Christ should use. They are to be used toward Christian ends. They are to be used toward the children being trained up as Christians. Parents are to train up their children as those committed to their care by Christ. They are to train them up for Christ. They are to indoctrinate them with Christian truth. They are to seek to attach them, not merely to themselves, but through themselves to Christ. They are to seek that their whole being may be subject to and center round Christ.
(2) The Christian appliances.
(a) Chastening. It is difficult (apparently impossible) to get words in the English language to represent the two words that are in the Greek original. They are in a general way to be distinguished as discipline by power and discipline by reason. This distinction is effected in the words which are used in the Revised translation ("chastening and admonition"), but by an undue limitation of the meaning. The first word is more than discipline by punishment; the punishment is accidental, or what is only occasionally to be resorted to in discipline. It is rather all that drilling which a parent gives his children in virtue of the executive (magisterial) power which is placed in him. He has certain rules by which he goes in training his children, and he has got the power to enforce them. The first lesson he has to teach them is that he is their master. And so they are, at first, purely in his strong grasp. In vain is all their resistance. As soon as they can lisp words they must use them in prayer. They are passive in his hand, and he can make them utter what he pleases, he makes them observe simplicity, restraint, good manners in eating, that they may not learn to make too much of the pleasures of the table. He makes them say "grace before meat," that they may learn betimes from whom all table-comforts come. He makes them attend to their lessons, that they may know that they have got to work and not to be idlers. He makes them be select as to their companionships, that they may not get out into evil associations. He appoints certain hours for the house, that they may learn order and punctuality. He does not ask them if they will go to church, but he makes them go to church with him. That is the kind of drilling that is meant here, and when it is necessary it must be backed up by chastening, or judicious punishment for good.
(b) Admonition. This is also a word of too narrow a meaning. The Greek word means generally an appeal to reason. This commences at a later stage, viz. when intellect begins to open. It is not necessary that a parent should always explain to a child the reasons of his procedure. But it is important that, as a rule, children should have explained to them the evil of the course they are asked to avoid, and the advantages of the course they are asked to follow. And if they evince a tendency to any evil course, it is right that they should be remonstrated with or reproved. The importance of an appeal to reason is that it has in view the emancipation of the children from parental authority. The time has to come when they have to go from under their parents, and be thrown upon their own responsibilities and resources. And it is all-important that, when they go out to the world and meet its temptations, they should be fortified with good habits and reasons which they have in their minds for a course of sobriety, of industry, and of godliness. Parents, then, should feel their responsibility with regard to the proper up-bringing of their children. This responsibility is great in view of the evil that is so natural to them, and in view of the evil example with which they are surrounded. They should see to it that they are first of all Christians themselves, leading a Christian life before their children. They are especially to see that they are Christians in the methods which they use with their children. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.