The Third Sunday after Easter May 11, 2003
14, 629, 625, 785 [alt: Children of the Heavenly Father]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Dear fellow children of God through Christ Jesus:
It has become common enough that it isn’t even the news it once was: Parents being found guilty of leaving their children alone, or children being found guilty buy a court and parents regretting the criminal acts of their children. Many sitcoms on TV today (as well as movies) portray children of all ages in open defiance of their parents. This “entertainment” often makes the parents look foolish and simple, and it is supposed to be funny and a joke. Children mock their parents in front of friends. Respect for parents and other adults often seems to be gone. These are problems in need of a solution.
The obvious need to solve these problems in our society has led to frequent calls for better “family values.” Today, as our nation celebrates “Mothers’ Day” it gives us the opportunity to consider the value God has given us in our Christian families. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we seek to consider what God says about our roles as children and parents. Today, we learn FAMILY VALUES from God. God’s will is that I. Children value parents and give honor and that II. Parents value children and give nurture; and in both ways we all value our heavenly Father and live to His glory.
God says to children, “…keep on obeying your parents in the Lord for this is right.” [v.1]. Let our ears hear the word “obey” and our sinful nature wants to raise the challenge: “Give me one good reason why I should obey! My parents are out of touch and awfully demanding, and maybe I don’t want to obey them and I have my rights, so there!” Then the next thing out of the child’s mouth is a defiant, “NO!!” This kind of “no” is not only heard in the parents’ ears, but echoes all the way to heaven.
God sees and hears every child’s disobedience to parents because it is disobedience to Him. God does not come down to earth and personally deal with each of us. Instead, He puts people in authority over us to serve as His representatives. Anyone who has authority over us, like parents, is put in that position by God. God says, “…there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Romans 13:1).
It may not seem like much to be disobedient to parents, but it’s not that simple. Disobedience to parents is direct disobedience to God and is something that God does not take lightly. God expects us to obey His representatives just like we would obey Him if He were dealing directly with us. When some children made fun of the bald-headed prophet Elisha, God sent a bear which mauled 42 of the children. In Proverbs God says, “The eye that mocks his father and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out and the young eagles will eat it” (Proverbs 30:17).
How seriously God views disobedience to parents is also made clear in the New Testament. In Romans, Paul lists twenty of the things that the godless heathen practice. Paul mentions things that are easily recognizable as evil. Things like murder are in the list, but then Paul says, “They are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents…” (Romans 1:29-30). To Timothy, Paul describes the kinds of things that will occur in the wickedness of the last days. “[People] will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1ff). God puts disobedience to parents together with some very wicked things and leaves no doubt as to how He feels about it.
There is no one here who can plead innocence if charged with disobedience to parents. We know the seriousness of disobeying our parents and ask forgiveness from them and from God when we do. As children of God, we want to please God in our lives as a way to show that we appreciate the forgiveness of sins which Jesus has given us. We look for the right things to do as a way to serve our Lord. Obeying parents is one of the ways to serve. Children, obey your parents with willingness and cheerfulness. Do it out of love for them, but also remember to serve whole-heartedly, “as to the Lord and not men” (Ephesians 6:7) because your parents represent God.
There is something even greater than obedience which God expects children to give their parents. It is honor. “Honor your father and mother” [v.2] To honor something is to place a high value on it. You honor something that is extremely valuable by giving it care and respect. God wants all of us children to know and understand that our parents are His gifts to us. Every gift from God is to be honored, respected, and treated well. God gives His gifts for our good. God gives the gift of parents to provide for our needs; He gives us the gift of parents to correct us when we sin so that we don’t get off the track into a sinful way of life. They are a gift to teach us the way to eternal life through the Word of God. They are a gift to teach us from their experience and wisdom. They are a gift to love us and give the tender compassion and comfort of a home, not just a house, but a home.
Children, value your parents as a great gift from God and give them the respect and honor they deserve. Honor them for the blessings God gives you through them. Honor them for the great responsibility God has given them and which they take on themselves for your sake. Honor them for the work and sacrifices they make to fulfill their responsibility.
Honor belongs to the honored even when wrong decisions are made and there are disagreements. We may not agree with everything that our president does. However, we still honor him as the leader of our country. Children, you may not always agree with your parents’ decisions or what they do, but keep on honoring them as your parents and as gifts from God. When disagreements do arise, you honor your parents when you respectfully present your side, listen to their explanation, and calmly discuss the issue. In the end, a decision does have to be made. That decision lies with your parents. It may not be what you wanted, it may seem wrong to your way of thinking, but honoring parents is to humbly and willingly accept their decision.
Giving honor to parents is not something that changes once we become adults and move out of the house. Honor for father and mother is to last a lifetime. In fact, God has put us into a wonderful cycle: A child is born and parents provide everything. As the children grow they are able to do more and take more responsibility. Soon the children are able to help in the family’s work and they gladly and willingly honor their parents by helping in the many tasks of life. As the parents grow older they begin to have needs which they cannot fulfill. Then their adult children begin to help them. Jesus honored and provided for His mother even when He was dying. As adult children, honor your parents for the gift they have been and remain. Honor, respect, and help them when you grow older as do they.
It really goes without saying that children are to return the love and care given to them by parents. It is hard to imagine something more painful to parents than ungrateful, thankless, disrespecting, children. Being parents is hard work and children honor their parents when they are thankful for the many things their parents do.
We can call to mind the hurt that we, children of God, bring to our heavenly Father every time we sin, grumble, or complain and are dissatisfied with how He has directed our lives. Out of love deeper than that of a mother, God has sacrificed His Son for our salvation. He provides for us and preserves us. God tells us that even though something as deep as a mother’s love might falter, His love for us will not. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15). Yet, how often aren’t we the rebellious, thankless children. What a tremendous comfort to have Jesus’ picture of the Forgiving Father who always welcomes us home as His children (cf. Gospel reading).
God’s command to obey and honor parents and all others who are in authority is unique because He attaches a specific promise to it. To those who honor and obey His representatives, God promises the enjoyment of a “long life on the earth.” This “long life” is not always long in the number of years. Scriptural, a “long life” refers to a life of peaceful happiness, contentment, and blessed living. Someone who disregards God’s representatives will face a life of turmoil, punishment, misery, and quite possibly a violent death. Those who honor their parents and other authorities may never be famous and may even die young, but they will have a happy life of good days and a wonderful home.
Fellow children—young and older—if we place the value on our parents which God places on them, we will give them honor and God will bless us.
Now, we turn to the other side of the family circle— the parents. There are some of us here for whom parenthood still lies in the future, and others for whom active parenting is in the past. Nevertheless, God’s Word to parents is important and applies to all of us so that whether we are parents or have the opportunity to speak about parenthood, we may do so in a God-pleasing way.
Parents, understand the tremendous responsibility God has placed in your hands and the purpose you serve in your children’s lives. See your children as souls which God has entrusted into your care for a time. You are not the owners of your children. They belong to God and are gifts from Him. God doesn’t give children to parents so that they can do whatever they want with them. God gives children to parents so they can care for them according to His guidance and Word. You are God’s servants to instruct, train, correct, and give loving care to those precious souls.
As parents fulfill their God-given responsibility, God does also give wonderful joy and great blessings to them through their children. In this way, children become a precious gift from God. “Behold! Children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is His reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5a). Parents who value their children as gifts of God’s grace will fulfill their responsibility by nurturing their children according to His instruction.
God’s instruction to parents begins, “Fathers do not exasperate your children.” [v.4]. God’s instruction for parents addresses fathers because they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the child’s upbringing. The husband works side-by-side and in consultation with his wife to raise the family and both are responsible for fulfilling their roles as parents, but the one on whom God places the responsibility of leadership and the one who is answerable to God is the father.
Note also that God places the responsibility for the nurturing of the children on the home. The responsibility for every part of a child’s upbringing lies at home. This does not mean that parents do not enlist the help of schools, Sunday School, a congregation, and others in the training of their children. However, everyone else is always secondary. The primary place of learning and upbringing is the home. Much too often, day-cares, schools, churches, and other organizations are expected to assume the primary role of raising and instructing children. This is a shirking of God-given responsibility on the part of parents.
When we see the lack of parental respect among children today, the most natural reaction is to point only at the disobedient children. We also need to be able to recognize faults in the exercise of authority. Whenever God grants authority to sinners He also adds caution. He put parents in authority over children but He adds, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” [v.4]
When parents or anyone else disciplines a child, it is important that it not be a thoughtless act based on the emotion of the moment. Is our handling of our children done in an arbitrary or inconsistent manner? Are our “yes” answers really just “maybes”? Do our “no” answers really turn out to be just suggestions that are changed when the children complain loudly or long enough? When this happens, the children’s sinful nature knows that it can get its way and the child will rise up in continual defiance. Imagine how frustrating and exasperating it is for children when things are inconsistent or when words are not followed by appropriate action. It is exasperating for children not to know where they stand in relation to their parents and what might come from them.
Think about how miserable we would be if our heavenly Father would change from day to day—one day forgiving our sins and the next day not, or one day saying that something is a sin and the next day not. We appreciate God’s just, consistent, and reliable treatment of us. He is a father who does not exasperate His children.
Pride can also become a factor for parents. It is pride that does not want to hear anything but it’s own self and says, “No! I don’t like it, that’s it, I’m the parent, end of discussion!” The parents’ decision may be the right one and it needs to be the final one, but if that decision is not understood by the children or if they come away with the feeling that their needs or concerns were never really heard, then it is going to be an exasperated and frustrated obedience which the children will give—if obedience comes at all. Actions toward children need to be based on truth and be done with understanding. Parents need full understanding of the situation so that they do not jump to conclusions. A parent who listens, is consistent, thoughtful, firm, and loving in the upbringing of children will not exasperate them.
The opposite of exasperating your children is nurturing them and that is the blessed task which God gives to you. “[Instead], bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” [v.4]
It has become a trend in child-rearing to let the children have their own way, make their own discoveries, and learn in complete “freedom” without parental “oppression” (as its called). We are not too blunt to say that such a philosophy is pure nonsense! Every child is born with sin and a wickedly sinful nature. There is no natural desire to obey in a child. If we do not curb the sinful nature with God’s law, correct the sinful deeds, instruct in what is right and pleasing to God, and above all if we do not teach them to see their sins and then show them their Savior from sin, then our children will teach themselves right into hell. A woman once told her pastor that she would not give her children religious instruction until they had reached the age of discretion (whatever that might have been in her mind). The pastor replied, “Madam, if you do not teach them, the Devil surely will.” A social commentator of our own day points out that there are whole sections of cities where this philosophy has been used and they are the sections of cities where one is afraid to go.
God instructs parents to nurture their children with admonition, correction, and discipline, even to the point of physical discipline. This is not abuse. Abuse is uncontrolled and comes out of anger. Physical punishment as part of nurturing is calm, controlled, and comes out of love. God says in Proverbs, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly…Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him…do not withhold correction from a child, for if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and deliver his soul from hell…the rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13, 29:15).
God instructs parents to nurture their children with instruction and training in the way of the Lord. This kind of instruction is good instruction for this life and the life that is to come. Parents, instruct your children in taking responsibility. Instruct them that “no” is at times a necessary answer and that providing for them does not mean giving them everything they desire. Our heavenly Father at times wisely tells us “no” and does not grant our every wish.
Parents instruct your children in the way of the Lord. Teach them that parents and children alike are miserable sinners, but that we all have a Savior, Jesus, who came to earth, suffered, died, and rose again to save us from our sins. Train them to confess their sins and to seek forgiveness from Christ. Share with them your love for God and His Truth. Show them why you love Him so that they too may come to rely and trust in Him and love Him like you do.
We can force our children into submission purely by fear of punishment, but God-pleasing obedience is that which comes out of love for Christ, and not fear of the Law. Children at a very young age can be led to understand that when they do something wrong that they are making Jesus sad and then be encouraged to correct their misbehavior because they love Jesus and want to thank Him for all He has done.
Parents, make God and His Word the focal point in your family, in everything and at all times. Luther wrote in his catechism “Let each his lesson learn with care, and all the household well shall fare.”
Nurturing children takes time. Time flies and is often is in short supply. Take time to be not just “mothers” and “fathers” but “mommies” and “daddies”—and there is a difference. Parents have tried to make “quality time” for their children, but nurturing time for children is not something that can be manufactured. It is not something that can be given its own title and a slot in the daily schedule. Nurturing time can be needed at anytime and is constant rather than another entry on a task list.
Parents, your example is another important part of nurturing your children. If you want to encourage your children to better use their time for family, spiritual and personal growth, or simply a better use of time altogether, YOU provide the example. Nurture them away from the TV by escaping its intriguing grasp yourself. Nurture them into taking time for devotion by taking time yourselves. Nurture them to give you time by taking time for them. Nurture them by taking the time to discuss and work out problems and solve them with God’s Word as the guide. Nurture them by forgiving their sins as they will then also do for you.
In all of this, our perfect example is our Heavenly Father. He took the time to provide salvation. He continues to take the time to admonish and chasten us and instruct us in our lives’ ways. He continues to preserve us for eternal life. Despite our rebellious ways, He continues to be the loving Father with open arms ready to receive us back as His most precious sons and daughters.
There are benefits for the whole family when parents value their children in the Lord and seek to fulfill their responsibilities in a way that is pleasing to our Father. There are benefits for the whole family when children value their parents in the Lord and seek to obey and honor them. The blessings which come to a Christian family produce benefits for society as a whole which in turn gives benefits back to the family.
God has given us the fourth commandment for our good and He keeps the promise which He attaches to this commandment. So as children and parents, young and old, let us conduct our family life in the Lord and His blessing will surely follow. As Joshua said, “If it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.