Message: The Reconstitution of Man | Scripture: Ephesians 6:1-4 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- Something I didn’t discuss in my sermon that I want to ask you is who is Paul referring to when he says “children”? Does it apply to everyone who still lives under the roof of their parents? Does it mean a certain threshold age? Try and consider both from reason and the Bible who Paul’s audience is.
- To what extent are children to be obedient to their parents? Should they concede to their parents’ demands if what they are asking them to do is sinful? Why/why not? If not, then what should a child do in a circumstance where a parent is asking him/her to sin?
- Why is it so imperative for parents to ground themselves in the knowledge of the gospel and the objective, moral law of God when it comes to parenting?
- How, in your life, have you used the reasoning of “glorifying God” to do “good things,” but for your own aspirations or selfish motivations? How have you asked others (if you have kids, how have you asked them) to do things “to the glory of God” without really considering whether or not it glorifies God? What are some ways that you see people in the world use this thinking while knowing that their intention isn’t truly what they say it is?
- What effect does a child have on his parents and on the community-at-large when he/she lives obediently to their parents? What greater effect is it when that child’s motivation for obedience isn’t to please his/her parents, but to please and bring delight to Christ?
- What does it mean when the end of verse 1 says, “For this is right?” Is it to say this is the correct thing to do, or is there more (what is the more…)?
- What is the overarching thing that brings honour to parents?
- How is Paul taking this commandment that was originally for Jewish children and reapplying it to the children of new covenant believers? What is it about the promise that is so staggering about this ethical command in comparison to those who were under the Mosaic covenant/Old Testament laws?
- What ought the family to be for the rest of the world? Does the family still do this? If so, are families building up society for the better? Why/why not?
- What does it mean when C.S. Lewis tells us to raise up men and women who are without hearts for what is moral (his literal statement is, “men are being raised without chests”)? How does having a “chest” affect our reason and emotions? What happens when we are raised without a heart/”chests”?
- Does the promise made by God, first to Israel, and now through Paul in verse 2 to the new covenant people apply literally? Do new covenant people, especially children, who obey live well and long upon the earth? Is there more to God/Paul’s promise for us as Christians? How should this “more” affect the way we live in this life (e.g. think about hope and the effect it has upon us)?
- What can we, as Christians who are no longer children and living in the world, extrapolate as application from a text like this?
- How have you been challenged by the commands of this passage, sermon, or previous sermons in your life to bring glory to God and grow in your understanding of the gospel?
- How can we be praying for you this week in the midst of your struggles, victories, hopes, and concerns?
- Take some time to pray for one another, especially those who have raised prayer requests.
Ephesians 6:1-4 – The Reconstitution of Man
I don’t keep a regular journal anymore—perhaps it’s something I should go back to doing—but if I did, almost every year, you would probably see an entry that said something similar: “I despise moving.” I’m telling you, I dislike moving with a passion, and many of you would probably say the same thing, but understand this about us, Candace and I have been married for 7 years, and out of those 7 years, we’ve moved 5.5 times (half because when we were moving out of Toronto, we had to move into Candace’s parents for a couple of months before heading down to Kentucky). So, we’ve moved a lot, and the reason why I despise it is because it’s uncomfortable. It’s an action that forces you against all the things that you’ve grown accustomed to. You have your things in a certain place, they’re relatively clean,, you don’t have to assemble, pack, and stack boxes, etc. Yet, perhaps the biggest reason I dislike packing is because my eyes aren’t focused on where we’re going or on the plans that we’ve made. Instead, they’re focused on specific tasks that seem extremely insignificant at the time I’m doing them. There’s just so much mundane work that it’s very easy to get frustrated on the little things and forget the bigger picture. The things is, we all know that without attention to those seemingly insignificant tasks, we would never have made it to the places God intended us to go. See, the problem with packing isn’t that it wastes my time, it’s that I don’t see the value in it at the time I’m doing it. I don’t see big changes being made. There is no instant gratification—instead, there’s this long period where packing one thing begets packing another. The seeming endlessness of it, the tedium, the exertion, the displeasure, the dirt, and the grind: these are things that we, especially in this day-and-age, don’t like to be associated with. We want to know what we’re doing is significant. We want to receive instant gratification and affirmation for our effort.
We all know of people like this. In fact, some of us might be this kind of person, and if you are, then as much as this passage is speaking to younger, Christian children, it is also speaking to us because it has to do with those things that seem insignificant. In this passage, we learn that God uses the difficult things, the “I don’t want to do that” situation to bring about a good, holy, and pleasing life. So, let’s unpack God’s wisdom here in Ephesians 6:1-4. TWoL.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may turn out well for you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Paul, here, is continuing to give us our ethical command for what the proper functioning of the body looks like when we walk in a unified, Spirit-filled understanding of God’s wisdom, and he uses the specific example of a family unit as the baseline test to show us what that God-ordained and God-sustained unity looks like. A church that functions properly is similar to a right ordering of a husband-wife, and father-mother-child/children relationship, and today, we’re looking at that second type of relationship: f-m-c. Our proposition in light of what this passage teaches us this morning is this: Cultivate an objective heart that results in a transformed life. I’m going to focus on this relationship between how one’s heart orients one’s life, and I’ll do this in three ways as I work through the text:
- An obedient heart displays a righteous life
- An honourable heart results in a lasting life
- A nourished heart produces a joyful life
1) An obedient heart displays a righteous life
Look with me a verse 1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” On its face, this doesn’t seem to be an overly complicated command. Obey your parents. Obedience is the key verb given to children, and parents, for those who have young children, or grandparents of young children, or those who aspire to have children, etc. what this passage tells us when we flip it around is that we are to demand obedience from our children. They are to know what it means to obey. This is especially true, from our perspective, when we know what is good and right for them according to Scripture. We are not to compromise on basic tenants of God’s moral, objective law. What he requires of us in terms of good actions—things that are good in themselves—such as being kind to others, valuing another’s life, caring for family, pursuing just and reasonable causes, not lying, not cheating, etc.—children are not to have an option in these things.
But it extends further from God’s moral law in that parents are to require obedience of their children even in the things that aren’t necessarily derived word-for-word from the Bible. There are biblical principles and applications that we see in Scripture that help us determine what is good for our children. For example, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes, “in whatever you do, whether eating or drinking, do it to the glory of God.” Thus, while Paul is speaking specifically in that context of Jewish food laws, we can extrapolate its meaning to see that everything we strive after ought to be to the glory of God. What this means is that we are not to waste our time. We’ve talked about this before, but God has not given us life to be neglectful, negligent, or lazy—everything we do, eating, working, playing, resting—all of it ought to be to his glory, and we’re to instill this deep and lasting principle into our children.
A friend of ours who was homeschooling her children told Candace one day that she was particularly frustrated with the homeschooling process, and she didn’t know what to do. So, when her husband came home from an early morning errand, she told him, and he sat down with his daughter, and he looked at her, and he said the following, “it’s time to study. And why is it that we study?” And she answered, “because when we learn about God’s world, we glorify the God who created it.” Then, he proceeded to say, “that’s right. Let’s pray before we begin.” Children, young men and women, obedience to parents, first and foremost, brings glory to God.
Now, a warning to parents/prospective parents/leaders of youth and children: don’t use the applications of the Bible, such as bringing glory to God, as a weapon to bend a child to your own will and aspirations, and don’t let them use it as an excuse from actually glorifying God. Growing up in a large Chinese church myself, I saw all too much of this. Parents who would demand that their children do their “homework” according to unreasonable expectations to the glory of God, even if it costs them time from being at church, their mental health, their ability to make and keep friends. Or parents who believe they desire to glorify God but allow their children to skip church incessantly for other “good” things. There’s a command in the Bible not to use the Lord’s name in vain, but we will be judged not only on how we slander him with our mouths, but also on how we slander him with our lives. Parents, be wary of God’s glory in the decisions you make for your children.
If we flip this around, this is also why Paul says that children aren’t only to obey their parents, but to obey them in the Lord. Parents are not the final authority over a child. Instead, the final source of their obedience is rooted in the authority of God displayed in the perfect work, life, and death of Jesus Christ. When parents require their child’s obedience, they do so as an ambassador of Christ. When a child obeys their parents, they do so in submission to and in acknowledgement of Christ. This is why Paul grounds the command to obey parents in the Lord with “for this is right.” The NASB says “right,” but it’s not an adverb. When you obey, it’s not just right, as if it’s simply the correct thing to do. It’s an adjective—the Greek used here is righteous: your obedience reflects righteousness. In other words, your obedience isn’t what saves you. No, your obedience reflects the only one who was ever righteous in history. When you direct others and yourself to see this Jesus by your obedience, you, yourself, are acting righteously because it is Christ, seeing and savouring him, that makes you righteous. You see, there is a reflection of the gospel between parents and their child(ren), especially when they’re Christian parents and children. As the Father sent the Son and required obedience from him, the Son submitted to the Father, obeyed perfectly, fulfilled the requirements of the law, sacrificed his own life for the sake of those who hated him, and rose again appeasing the wrath of God and cancelling the debt of sin. And what happened after that?! God glorified him!
Thus, children, obey your parents because they have their eyes set upon Jesus, desiring to glorify God, even when what they’re telling you to do is uncomfortable, and even when what they’re telling you to do seems insignificant to you now. God uses what is insignificant to bring about what the world thinks is impossible. God uses those instances of discomfort and insignificance to prune you, discipline you, humble you, and, ultimately, just as he did with his own Son, to glorify you. But if you get lost in the details, if, like in my illustration, you forget that you’re packing those boxes to get to that place that God has in store for you, then something as simple as listening to your parents will become a tedious battle, that I’m telling you, isn’t worth fighting. Holiness isn’t about the short-game or the instant gratification. It’s about endurance. It’s about living by faith. It’s about seeking to display the righteousness of Jesus in everything you do. Cultivate an objective heart that is comfortable with doing the uncomfortable and accentuates the insignificant through regular obedience because it leads to a transformative life—one that you may not see now, but I promise you, you will see it at some point, and you’ll give glory to God for convicting you to do it.
2) An Honourable Heart Results in a Lasting Life
It is by this kind of obedience—an obedience that is ultimately grounded in the righteousness of Christ—that honours your father and mother, as Paul says in verse 2. I hope that you know here in verses 2 and 3 that Paul is quoting the fifth commandment in Exodus 20, and, again, it’s meaning is not a mystery—the way that you fulfill this commandment isn’t to give them a standing ovation or to say nice things about them to your friends and other family only to turn around and disobey everything they tell you to do. No, the main way you honour them is by obeying them.
But remember in our previous weeks’ sermons, whenever Paul references the Old Testament, he’s doing something to reapply the context and the text to his current circumstances. As we know, Exodus 20 sets out the requirements of the covenant between God and his chosen people, which included the children of Israel. So, what Paul is doing here is similar to what Moses did in Exodus 20—he’s bringing covenant language and reapplying it to God’s, new chosen people, which includes their children.
The difference, however, is that for Israel, the Covenant was what we call a bilateral covenant—if you obey, you will receive blessing, and if you disobey, you will receive curse and the covenant will be annulled, but Paul doesn’t bring in the promise of the curse for children who disobey this covenant. Just look at the rest of verses 2 and 3. He brings up the commandment to honour, but he only makes reference to the subsequent promise of blessing—and it turns out that only this commandment, out of all the other commandments, contains a promise of blessing. What I mean is that Paul makes no reference to any curse that might come from a child’s disobedience because the curse has been satisfied in Christ. What remains is only promise. You might disobey, it’s true, but if you are a part of the new covenant, and if you truly love Jesus, then what happens as a result is that you will, truly, honour your father and mother when you obey. You will do it by virtue of being made a new creation. And you will be blessed for it. The promise for the children of promise is not something up for debate. It’s not a bilateral covenant. It’s unilateral. There is only promise, and that promise comes from God through Paul. The reapplication that Paul is making here is that the gospel reconfigures the entire covenant structure first given to Israel by turning it from something that was bilateral and temporary into something that is eternal and unilateral—that is, God will fulfill it even if you are, from time-to-time, disobedient.
And the reapplication is the result of everything that Paul’s talked about in Ephesians 1-3—you’ve been given a new heart, a new body, a new Lord, a new family, and a new purpose, and that purpose is to honour God all the days of your life, how? With children, it’s by obeying your parents in light of how Christ obeyed the Father. This fifth commandment is reappropriated in this way because Paul is acknowledging the effect that the gospel has upon us. It isn’t something that only forces us to do physical good works, as Israel thought was the case when they received the law. It’s about an effect that affects the heart. You aren’t just the child of your parents. You are, literally, brought into the family of believers. You are, literally, adopted—grafted, integrated, made an heir to the throne of heaven. You are, literally, a child of God, and God’s children don’t receive anything but the best. They aren’t contracted on a bilateral promise. No, they receive the ultimate, enduring, assured promise. And what is the reward of that promise? It’s not a simple, long earthly life. They’re promised eternal life. They’re promised eternal peace and well-being. The NASB interprets γης as earth, but in this context, as Paul is reapplying the language, it would be more appropriately translated as land. It will be well with you, and you will live long in the land.
But let’s go with the NASB’s translation for a second and say for those who truly get what the gospel is, even if this passage isn’t speaking about eternity (we have other parts of the Bible for that), you know that you’ve received blessing even now in this life. For those who honour their father and mother—for those who seek to honour and glorify their God—the promise to be well and to live long on the earth is not something foreign to them. There is eternity for us, but there is wellness, satisfaction, contentment, and rest even now in a world full of persecution and suffering for those who love God and who seek to honour him with a heart that loves to obey him. This word for living long is the same word in the Hebrew that often references God’s long-suffering nature and his willingness to preserve the life of sinners who deserve death. So, when Paul reapplies that word here, what is he saying? He’s saying that those who receive the gospel and live out that gospel, they will receive the long-suffering mercy of God. In other words, someone who has the gospel knows that each day that we have is a gift—each day we live is a sign that we have withstood the wrath of God far longer than we deserve, and we haven’t withstood it by our merit. No, we do things like obey our parents BECAUSE that wrath has been satisfied. Because we’ve received the gospel, the fact that we can breathe one moment past that moment where we realize the depth of our sin—the promise has already been fulfilled. That you are still living beyond that point of realizing your sin is a miracle of incredible grace and mercy.
One last note on verses 2 and 3, Paul has set the standard here, first, by discussing the characteristics that make up godly parents—wives who submit to their husbands, and husbands who love their wives in a redeemed, gospel fulfilling way. It is in light of THIS kind of relationship—this ideal kind of gospel picture, that Paul now says, children, look at your parents, see the fullness of the gospel both communicated and displayed between them, and do as they tell you to do. There’s supposed to be this holistic effect of the gospel where lives are transformed and molded into godliness. Others hear it and see it, and their own lives are affected by it. We know this should take place as Christians speak and display what is good in the world. We know this should take place as Christians speak and display what is good in the church. But, most fundamentally, we ought to see the effectiveness of the gospel most prominently in the life of the nuclear family. This is why there is a requirement for elders and deacons in the pastoral epistles to raise their children in obedience and to manage their household well. The family is the example for how the church and the world-at-large ought to be.
This, of course, is everything that is not happening in the world. In fact, it’s the opposite of this where people think that the family is something that has no application or significance to the rest of the world. This is why divorce rates are at an all-time high and are only increasing with every passing year. Each family is told to do their own thing, to figure out what’s best for them, as if it doesn’t produce something evil and toxic. We expect the children of these families to grow up as model citizens and know the difference between right and wrong, when the very thing that was meant to provide them with that kind of nourishment and instruction is rend apart without second thought.
Well, contrary to popular opinion, I’d like to argue that the family still has the same effect on the world that it did in creation, only it is affecting the world not towards what is good but towards what is terrible and godless. Just look at the most popular television show of the past decade: Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s about a family of trendsetters and socialites who have no understanding of family, who have no consideration for anyone other than themselves. They do what’s best for them, individually, and not only do you see a family of horrible people, but you see a world that is beginning to act just like them.
Church, the gospel redeems the family. It redeems it so that, despite the fact that we are human and flawed, and sinful, we might persevere and submit as wives, love as husbands, and obey as children not because any of us are worthy of being submitted to, loved, or obeyed, but because Jesus has submitted, he loves, and he obeyed by dying upon a cross for sinners like you and me. The effect of the gospel upon our hearts isn’t to give us license to live in a way that embraces our sinfulness. Rather, its effect is to provide us with the opportunity and ability to live in a way that acknowledges God’s gift of grace in our lives. So, wives can submit to husbands, husbands can love their wives, children can obey their parents—all being done imperfectly, yes, but persevering, nonetheless, because of grace. Cultivate an objective heart in the gospel for the purpose of living a transformed, God-pleasing, world-changing life. A life that honours one another. A life, children, that honours your father and mother, and a life that, above all, honours the God who promises unilaterally to prolong your days from now into eternity.
3) A Nourished Heart Produces a Joyful Life
Paul switches the audience of instructions in verse 4 from children to fathers once again, and his first command to them, regarding children, is not to provoke, exacerbate, or enrage them. Why would he say this? Why didn’t he say something like, don’t abuse your children? It’s because, just like he focuses on wives when he tells husbands to love them, his focus is not on fathers. It’s still on the children—Paul is talking to fathers, but he wants their attention on something other than themselves. Husbands, fathers, pastors, male leaders, the apostle is telling us that we are not more important than our wives nor our children. The concern that Paul hasn’t isn’t about fathers and their rage issues or abusive tendencies against their children, Paul’s concern, here, is about the heart of children. Don’t enrage your children! Don’t give them any reason to step out from under the guiding light of the gospel. Make sure that you’re keeping your character intact. Don’t consider them insignificant. Don’t treat them as your own sins deserve. Don’t require them to do something that they cannot do or something that they shouldn’t be doing. Don’t take their eyes off Jesus. There are a lot of don’ts here for us fathers and men, and it’s supposed to feel weighty and incomplete because our obligation is weighty and the application is wide. We are tasked with the souls of people—other men, women, and children, and we need to take it in with the utmost seriousness and dependence upon the wisdom of God.
So, instead of infuriating children by making it impossible to honour you or setting a standard of obedience that no one can achieve, nourish them with the sensibilities and knowledge of how to react appropriately to right and wrong. In other words, our job as fathers, as leaders, as Christians in a world that cannot tell what is morally acceptable is to advocate for what makes sense according to an objective value. I don’t want to get too abstract here, but I’m borrowing some of this terminology from C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. It’s in these lectures, that were later turned into a book, where he argues that children and society-in-general are being taught to think that there is no such thing as objective truth, beauty, and good in the world. In fact, the world teaches us that when we look at something beautiful, like the Redwoods we saw yesterday during our prayer retreat, we are not seeing something beautiful in itself, rather we’re projecting our feelings and emotions onto the tree. But Lewis says this is completely backwards. We express our awe and appreciation for the beauty of a Redwood because it is incredible in-and-of itself.
Why am I giving a summary of this book? Well, it’s because it has everything to do with this passage in verse 4. When fathers, and even sometimes mothers, demand their children to blind obedience or conformity to their iron-will without proper nourishing, training, and instruction, then you get the type of men and women in the world that we’re seeing today. You get scientists who do not know how to observe and interpret the world around them. You get philosophers who teach morality without having a ground for it in their own minds and souls. You get people who consider what is right and wrong to be wholly subject to what they feel in any given situation because the way they were raised was based upon the feelings, emotions, and subjective whims of their parents. Parents who would say do this or that because I feel like that’s the thing you should do. It’s no wonder then today that people are making arguments about what is right or wrong based on what they feel is right or wrong in their sinful selves.
But what Paul is saying is, “parents, don’t rule your home by subjecting your children to your sinful whims and appetites. Instead, feed them with something objective—feed them with what is actually beautiful, good, and true in the world.” Teach them how to know what is right and what is wrong. Help them develop their sentiments so that when they use their reason, they know how to react to that reason. Ground them in a source that is unchangeable, irrefutable, and invincible. Do not, as C.S. Lewis says, build up men and women without hearts for what is moral. Our heads, what we think, ought to govern our appetites, how we feel, how we emote, and how we react, but without the cultivation of the heart, without the objective sensibilities to know the rightness or wrongness of our thoughts, things are turned upside-down, and emotion ends up governing our thoughts. What we end up with, then, is a world that thinks that “right” is what I’ve considered for myself, this is what our parents have taught us by their own deeds and actions, and no one can tell me otherwise.
Fathers, mothers, Christian brothers and sisters, we have a task given to us in this life, and it’s a task that starts with our children and with our families, but it does not stop with them. It goes on out into the world. That task is proclaiming and reflecting the life of Jesus so that they might know objectively that God, the Father, sent his own Son to die for them, to bring them to their knees in repentance and faith, to pick them up in their sorrow, and to embrace them as his own—forgiven for sin, appeased in his wrath, made righteous and holy in his sight by the blood of him who was slain. Parents, fathers, don’t enrage your children, lift them up by training and instructing them in the matters of the gospel. Paul literally tells us that we’re to train our children, and we’re to train the world, as the Lord has trained and instructed us. Do you see what the apostle is doing here? He’s put the emphasis on wives to start (5:22-24), he cuts men down to size in the middle, and then draws out the crescendo with children to finish (vv. 6:1-4). He does this in order to invert the expectations and faulty thinking of a sinful world. He takes those who we’ve historically treated as insignificant, and he raises them up as that which ought to be the most significant example to us. In the same way, our heavenly Father has given us him who we thought insignificant, and in his insignificance, humility, and condescension, he saved us all. When our children see us, fathers, and when the world sees us, Christians, they ought to see Jesus—not because we, ourselves, are Jesus, but because he has so enraptured our lives, our thoughts, our wills, our being, and our hearts with the love he’s displayed upon a cross that nothing is sweeter than making him known in all that we do. Cultivate an objective heart in the gospel that leads to a transformed life in what you think, in what you feel, and in how you act. Let the truth of Jesus guide the commands of Jesus and exalt him in this life without ceasing until he brings you home.