A Dual Responsibility
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right… . Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”- Ephesians 6:1–4
Taking the fifth commandment on a surface level and refusing to consider some of its broader implications would lead us to believe it applies only to how children are to relate to their parents. When it is viewed in light of the new covenant revelation in Christ, however, it is plain that the commandment is also instructive for parents in their relationships with their own children. Paul explains as much in Ephesians 6:1–4.
Clearly, the command to honor mother and father passes into the new covenant virtually unchanged, but it is now easier for us to see the duty that the command gives to parents. Children must obey and honor their parents, but parents must do everything in their power to make this obedience a joy and not a burden. This does not mean that parents become lax disciplinarians; rather, they are to raise their children wisely, working to help them want to choose what is pleasing to God.
There is much that could be said about how this might work itself out in the parent-child relationship. First, Matthew Henry reminds every parent that “your children are pieces of yourselves, and therefore ought to be governed with great tenderness and love. When you caution them, when you counsel them, when you reprove them, do it in such a manner as not to exasperate, endeavoring to convince their judgments and to work on their reason.” In other words, parents should not discipline without reason but should have rules that are clear and consequences that children can reasonably foresee before they engage in disobedience. When discipline is necessary, mothers and fathers should also take the time to explain why a punishment is meted out in order that children might learn the error of their ways. This is, in fact, how the Lord disciplines us. He lays out the way we should follow, promises specific punishments for disobedience, and so forth (Deut. 28; Heb. 12:3–17).
Not exasperating our children also means that we do not become Pharisees who lay burdens on our sons and daughters that they cannot carry (Matt. 23:1–4). This entails the avoidance of legalism at all costs, for nothing will provoke a child to rebel more quickly than a legalistic spirit. It also means not sheltering our children from the world entirely, lest they be unprepared for facing it when the time comes.
Boundaries and other elements of discipline will necessarily vary a bit from family to family depending on cultural location and other factors. What should be the same across the board, however, is an attempt not to put rules on children that are not grounded in Scripture. Part of not exasperating children involves letting them be children, under the wise guidance of humble parents, of course.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 3:4–5