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. These words echo 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? The answer is no!
To understand Paul’s admonition to children, we must remember how Paul 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
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
The truths of these two verses must not be separated from what Paul writes in Ephesians 6:3. Otherwise, obedience becomes about performance and earning approval. Obedience is not about doing what I say or else. 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. Obedience given to parents must be seen as obedience to Christ. They cannot be separated.
So when Paul says in Ephesians 6:3, obey so that it will go well with you, he is not saying “follow this formula to success.” Rather, Paul says that obedient works must be seen as a love offering to God. This is what children should be pursuing with all their hearts. There is nothing in the first five chapters of Ephesians that suggests that obedience is anything other than a gift we offer back to God. For this to happen, nothing short of the miracle of the gospel is needed.
Take some time to think about what it is that you consider obedience. In your home, does obedience focus primarily on the parent–child relationship? Does obedience consist of do this and don’t do that? How much of your training is directed to showing obedience as a love offering for Christ?
Seeing obedience as a love offering to God is what makes biblical child training unique. Obedience that is offered as a love offering to God is what Paul says will bring true life and wellbeing on this earth. Paul is urging you and your children to obey in the strength and hope of the gospel, this is how it works!