The Vocation of Parents and Children

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

- Ephesians 6:1–4

Every Christian has a vocation in which he is to serve the Lord and bring Him glory, for God has made us a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). This is true not only of adults, but also of children. While children may not have a vocation in which they earn a living, they nevertheless have a calling from God with distinct responsibilities. This is evident in today’s passage, which gives basic instructions not only to children but also to their parents.

Children, Paul tells us, are to obey their “parents in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). Importantly, Paul quotes the fifth commandment in order to support his instruction (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). This tells us that the moral law, particularly the Ten Commandments, has abiding force for new covenant believers. But in any case, children are called to obey their mothers and fathers. Yet, as with other relationships wherein one human being submits to another, parents are not owed unqualified obedience. The obedience children render is “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). Children are not obliged to sin and break God’s law even if their parents tell them to.

Also worth noting is the promise attached to the fifth commandment, which Paul cites in Ephesians 6:2–3. One of the motivations given to children for obeying their parents, besides the fact that God commands it, is that it will go well for children who obey their parents. This is true on two levels. First, to obey the law of God is pleasing to Him, so children please God when they obey their mothers and fathers in the Lord. Second, we see that generally speaking, life goes well for children who obey their parents. Good parents lay down rules of discipline that are beneficial for all areas of life, and as children follow these rules, they find themselves able to form healthy relationships, hold down a job as an adult, and otherwise enjoy many benefits.

Today’s passage informs us that the vocation of parents involves not provoking their children to anger (Eph. 6:4). Paul singles out fathers, but this does not mean that mothers are allowed to provoke their children to anger. He likely speaks to fathers specifically as the heads of their households and as having the primary responsibility with respect to disciplining their sons and daughters. Essentially, not provoking children to anger entails not laying expectations on them that they cannot fulfill. It also requires clear communication and non-arbitrary rules so that children can know what their parents desire and why they are disciplined when they break the rules.

Coram Deo

If children do not know the rules of the household and are disciplined for breaking them, they will understandably resent their parents and be provoked to anger. Thus, parents should strive to clearly communicate their expectations and make sure that these expectations are reasonable. Children are to obey their parents, but their parents should do what they can to make this obedience something children can and want to render.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 1:8–19
Proverbs 30:17
Matthew 15:4
Colossians 3:20–21

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.