By Nels Nelson, Board Chair
Children. Few things in life are more important than this stewardship God has given parents. Business meetings, adventures, financial opportunities and careers often get in the way of this stewardship, so it is important to recall God’s plan for parenting found in Ephesians 6. To sum it up, it is to teach our children to love and serve Christ.
However, if you are like me, you only refer to Ephesians 6 when a child is inconvenient, disobedient, disrespectful and an embarrassment. I am quick to quote, “Children, obey your parent in the Lord: for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1) to force them unto obedience. It comes out like this: “You better obey, because if you don’t, God will get you.” It is easy to wield the Bible as a club to subject them rather than instruct them.
Yet, Ephesians 6 is written in the context of the relationship of redemption. Paul shows us this in verse 2:
Ephesians 6:2, “Honor your father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise.)”
Paul is quoting from Exodus 20:12, the fifth commandment. God gave the Ten Commandments to a redeemed people delivered from slavery. Moses explained that God delivered His people for the purpose of serving God in the wilderness (Exodus 7:16). This term "serve" can also be rendered worship. Thus Exodus 7:16 could read this way:
Exodus 7:16, “Let My people go, that they may worship Me.”
Paul quotes Exodus 20:12, and assumes that a love relationship between the parents and God, and the children and God, already exists. God is calling parents to set the example for the children by cultivating a deep, abiding relationship with God. Paul is reminding parents to honor and worship God with all our substance (Proverbs 3:9).
So, when we read Ephesians 6:2 in the context of worship, we see that Paul is telling the children to “worship” their parents!
This points out the question, why such a high view of parents? Because parents are ordained by God to oversee, protect, and teach HIS possessions unto Christ. Moses instructed the redeemed of Israel this way:
Deuteronomy 6:6-8, 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Moses is calling parents to disciple their children. Thus, the authority a parent exercises is the authority of God. So, by teaching children to honor their parents, the parents are teaching them to honor God. When a child honors his parents, he is not worshipping his parents but God who is ruling through the parents. Thus, as parents we are called to disciple our children so that they love and worship God.
The parent/child relationship is all about God exercising His authority through the parent so that the child learns to worship God. Many in our day think the chief goal of being a parent is to have our children get good grades, dress a certain way, and act in a way that doesn’t embarrass the parent. However, Paul says the chief goal of parenting is to teach our children to become true worshippers of God.
The Bible teaches us that God the Father is someone who has a love relationship with the Son. We as parents should reflect this concept of relationship with our children. God doesn’t draw His children by barking orders at them; He draws them by His love (Romans 12:1 and Jeremiah 31:3). Likewise, we as parents shouldn’t just issue edicts, but labor to cultivate deep, rich relationships with our children. We cannot do this with threats, decrees, or force. We must develop a love relationship with them so that love compels them. Don’t just be their friend, be their shepherd.
Two very influential Christians of the 1800’s illustrate this well: Dr. Charles Hodge, who taught at Princeton Seminary (d. 1878) and Archibald Thomas (“A.T.”) Robertson, who wrote one of the most important Greek grammars of the twentieth century (d. 1934). Both were used mightily by God in the preservation of His church at a time when liberalism was gaining significant ground in America.
Now, both of these men had boys. When Charles Hodge was in the study and his son entered the room, Hodge always welcomed him in — this was God’s child entrusted to his care. Dr. Calhoun described Hodge’s parenting this way, quoting Hodge’s son’s recollection:
"His study had two doors, one opening outwards toward the Seminary for the convenience of the students, and a second one opening inward into the main hall of the home (for the children.) He prayed for us at family prayers... and taught us to pray at his knees with such soul-felt tenderness, that, however bad we were, our hearts all melted to his touch." (Calhoun 1994, 192)
In contrast, A. T. Robertson’s demeanor toward his son was much the same as toward his students. In fact, the “flavor” of A. T. Robertson’s demeanor is captured by his biographer, Everett Gill:
Students all remember how abruptly he would enter class, comment on the ventilation, castigate janitors in general, pass right on to `Let us pray’... The prayer over, he turned at once to the calling of the roll... Then calling for books to be closed, he scanned his class roll, while the students waited in suspense to see who the first victim would be.
"Having fixed upon [a] man, he would say with the solemnity of a judge summoning a prisoner to his feet to be sentenced, `Mr. Blank, will you recite?’ Brother Blank stood, bracing himself for the worst. ‘Brother Blank, what is the title of the lesson?’ Brother Blank, clearing his throat for time, replies weakly,
"The lesson is about the healing of the man who was let down through the roof.’ `Yes, but what is the title of the lesson?’ `I don’t remember.’ `Well, did you ever know? That will do.’ Mr. Blank sits down in mortification and with not a little resentment, as Dr. Bob records a mark against the name of Mr. Blank as all the class can see. There is no question in any one’s mind that it is an F- a failure..." (Gill 1943, 6)
There is such a contrast here! It is interesting to note that both of their sons grew up and went into the gospel ministry. A. A. Hodge, like his father, became a professor at Princeton and shaped a generation for Christ. A. T. Robertson’s son became a liberal theologian and leveled harsh attacks against the Bible. Clearly, Charles Hodge was a shepherd, while A. T. Robertson was a taskmaster!
Are you a shepherd or a taskmaster? The greatest thing we can do for our children is to disciple them to love the Lord by developing a love relationship with them. Let us present the face and affections of Christ to our children!
Calhoun, David B. Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning 1812-1868, Volume 1. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994.
Gill, Everett. A Biography of A. T. Robertson. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1943.