Paul encourages children to obey their parents so that it will go well with them and that they will live a long life on the earth. Paul is quoting from the fifth commandment, found in Deuteronomy 5:16. We know that the gospel is all about grace and receiving things we do not deserve. Yet in Ephesians 6:3, Paul appears to add a caveat to grace—if children obey their parents, they will enjoy a long and favorable life on earth. Is this a formula for works being woven into the gospel???
To understand Paul’s admonition to children, we must remember how Paul had previously describes obedient living to the Ephesians. Here are two examples:
…For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 ESV
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV 2010
The truths of these two verses must not be separated from what Paul writes in Ephesians 6:3. Obedience to parents must be rooted in love for God, offered to him as a fragrant offering. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works. There is no way to biblical obedience other than these two primary considerations. After reading the first five chapters of Ephesians, there is no way that Paul is going to look at the obedience given to parents as anything less than obedience to Christ.
This is how we are to understand verse 4: fathers are to raise their children in the instruction of the Lord. Verse three is not saying “Follow this formula to success.” Rather, Paul says that, above all else, presenting obedient works to Christ as a love offering to God is what children should be pursuing with all their hearts. For this to happen, nothing short of the miracle of the gospel is needed.
I’ll provide some specifics regarding this point in the next post. But for now, please consider what it is that you consider obedience. In your home, does obedience focuses primarily on the parent–child relationship? That can easily lead to nothing more than sinful pride in “good works.” Obedience that is offered as a love offering to God brings true life and wellbeing on earth.