Children, Obey Your Parents
By Joe Keim
November 1, 2011
On numerous occasions, I've heard well-meaning parents ask, "Don't you know that obeying your parents is the first command in the Bible?" Then their question is backed up with Ephesians 6:1-3, Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
If you look closer, you'll see it's not saying that parental obedience is the first commandment. Rather, it's "the first commandment with promise." What does with promise mean? It means it was the first of Ten Commandments given to Moses in Exodus 20 that carried a promise. That promise was, That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Rather than say, "parental obedience is the first commandment" it's better to say, "parental obedience is the first commandment with promise."
The age group Paul was addressing in chapter 6:1-3 is children; not dads, moms, nor adults. I realize that some adults consider their offspring as children, despite their age. At 30, 40, and 50 years, they're still considered children bound by the first commandment. But let's consider the context in which this was written.
In the previous chapter, Paul addressed husbands and wives. Now in chapter 6, he addresses children, fathers, servants and masters. These are all positions which people fulfill at certain periods in life. In other words, a husband is not a wife, a master is not a child, and a child is not a father.
In the New Testament, Jesus repeats an Old Testament statement, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? (Matthew 19:5). Note, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother." A man is no longer a child; he's grown expected to act like an adult by leaving his father and mother and cleave to his wife.
This does not mean that adults should stop honoring their parents. God commands all to honour their parents, For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death (Matthew 15:4). According to Scripture, children are commanded to obey father and mother while adults are commanded to honour parents.
What's the difference between obeying and honouring? Obey means to submit, follow, observe, conform and mind. Honour means to respect, admire, esteem, and reverence. Is it possible to disobey father and mother and yet honour them at the same time? Yes. Suppose a man and woman want to get married. They must first leave father and mother and become one flesh. And suppose that, in time, the man's parents want to move to another part of the country, but before doing so, they approach their married son and ask him and his wife to move with them. However, the wife doesn't agree.
In this case, the young couple first and foremost need to consider their own family, future, and lives; even if it means rejecting the father and mother's desire to move with them.
Let's take this another step. If we look to Ephesians 6:1, you will note, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord." We live in a world when children sometimes must choose between obeying parents and the Lord. In this case, the child is required to obey the Lord first. The same is true when it comes to husband and wife. The Lord must be first and above all other family relationships.
Consider Jesus' words, Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:34-37).
Concerning child abuse; it devastates me to tears when I hear of adults who abuse their own children in a sexual or physical way. There is a limit to the child's obedience. When a parent is not acting in the Lord, he is not to be obeyed. The Lord has nothing whatsoever to do with the filth of unrighteousness and abuse of precious children. If a child can break away and free himself from such parental corruption, he has every right to be freed from his parent. The Lord came to set men free from the abuse and the filth of sin, not to enslave men to it, and especially not to enslave children to it (Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible Commentary).
The severest warning issued in history was from the Lord Jesus to adults abusing children, "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. And if thy hand offend thee [by abusing a child], cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee [by abusing a child], cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee [by lusting after a child], pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:42-48).
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