Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ephesians 6:1-4 - The Spirit-Filled Family

Audio can be found here (click to stream, right-click to download).

Children, we are told in Psalm 127, are a gift of the Lord. This is a truth that bears on children, on parents, and on societies. In the providence of God, we come to this text on the date Christians recognize as “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” A foundational element of a Christian worldview is that all human life bears the image of God from the moment of conception, and each life has precious value in the sight of God. Children, born and unborn, are a gift from God, and biblical Christians must not only understand this and its implications for ourselves, but must also speak out prophetically to our culture that devalues life. Among the many ills of our society, the holocaust of abortion is paramount. The sanctity of human life has implications that go far beyond the issue of abortion, but this issue is perhaps most pressing for us today as people of God, for if we fail to speak out, the unborn have no other voice. It is up to us as God’s people to remind the world that children are a gift of the Lord, and this means my children, your children, and every other child born and unborn alike. This is not the point of our text, but it is assumed in our text, and we would be in error to avoid that subject on this day as we come to this text.

Not only is the Bible clear about children being a gift of the Lord, but it also clearly declares that parents have a tremendous responsibility. When I think about the awesome responsibility I have as a Christian father to the precious children God has given me, it is enough to buckle me at the knees. Hardly a week goes by that I do not interact with a person whose life has been negatively affected by the failures of their parents. And when I look at my two children, I am overwhelmed to think that their entire future depends in large part on my stewardship of the brief time that they are under my care at home. A day will come when they go out on their own. It is my job to make sure that when that day comes, they are ready to do so as mature adults who are ready and able to live their lives for the glory of God.

Thanks be to God, He has given us some priceless resources to help us. First, He has given us the ultimate example in that He is a Father to those who come to Him by faith in Jesus. I learn a lot about being a dad as I look at God as my Father. Secondly, He has given us each other in the church. As we fellowship with each other, we see the examples of other godly parents and their children. Many Christians have even found in the church a mother or father figure that they lacked in their biological families. And many who had no children of their own to raise were blessed by having children in the church to minister to in formative ways. Thirdly, God has given us the perfect treasure of wisdom in His Word. The Bible is full of instruction and examples for parents! But perhaps most important is the resource that we most often overlook. He has given us His Spirit. At the moment we become followers of Jesus, God comes to dwell within us in the person of the Holy Spirit. He does for us, in us, and through us, those things which we cannot do in our own strength, including parenting, when we allow Him to have full control over us. We call this being Spirit-filled, and in Ephesians 5:18, all Christians are commanded to be filled with, or controlled by, the Spirit. This passage follows closely on the heels of that one, for the instruction given here depends on us being Spirit-filled Christians. This goes for the children and for the parents. So, let’s explore this brief text and find the characteristics of the Spirit-filled family.

I. Spirit-Filled Children Obey and Honor Their Parents (vv1-3)

Nowhere does one’s worldview, particularly as it relates to the nature of human beings, become more apparent than in parenting. Some parents mistakenly assume that their children are born innocent and pure, and that they only go bad when something in the environment affects them negatively. Certainly there are many negative influences in the world that can affect children in harmful ways. However, we must understand that corruption is not only something that affects us from the outside. We are corrupted internally from birth. Children are born with a sinful, corrupted nature, and must be nurtured by the Gospel of Jesus Christ if there is to be any hope of overcoming this corruption. No child has ever had to learn how to do wrong. That comes naturally because we are all born in sin. Rather, it is with much loving patience that godly parents must cultivate a heart that honors God in their children.

Now before we get into what Paul says to children, I want to point out some unstated assumptions that the Apostle Paul has about children. First, the Apostle appears to assume that children can become fully devoted followers of Christ even in their youth. We know this because Ephesians is addressed in 1:1 to “the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” And from 6:1, we can conclude that Paul assumes these faithful saints to include some who are “children.” All children are different, and we mustn’t set hard and fast rules as to how old one has to be to understand and respond to the gospel. Rather, through investing time with our children conversing about the gospel, we can detect if they have a proper understanding of sin, the person and saving work of Jesus, and the biblical call to repentance and faith. And certainly a number of factors affect this, but it is possible that some children can grasp these truths at a very young age. After all, Jesus said that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all. (Mark 10:15). Jesus did not bar children from His presence, and we must not either.

A second assumption Paul has in mind here is that children can be filled with, or controlled by, the Holy Spirit. He is speaking to those whom earlier he has commanded to be Spirit-filled, and apparently this includes children. So we must not give children a license to live for the satisfaction of the desires of their flesh, for it is apparent that they can live in the Spirit’s power. Third, it seems that Paul assumes that children are participants in the life of the church, and even that they will be present in the main gathering of the church, for that is where this letter would have been read aloud. Paul does not say here, “Parents, tell your children these things,” but rather he addresses the children directly. There is a place for age-appropriate activities for children in the church, but too often these things are scheduled on top of the primary church activities so that children are never exposed to “grown-up” church life and never sit under biblical exposition. No wonder, when they reach 18 years old, so many leave the church for good. I advocate being a “Family-Integrated Church”, meaning that the right place for children to be in church are by their parents’ sides in worship, Bible-teaching, and serving. This may be supplemented by age-appropriate activities, but it must not be supplanted by those things. Again, we don’t want to set hard and fast rules, but a good guideline for integrating children into the worship services is by school-age. Some children will be able to sit and listen earlier than that, and some a little later, and parents and the rest of the church need to be sensitive to families preferences in this regard.

Now, with those assumptions in mind, we come to what the Apostle says under the Spirit’s inspiration to children. First, there is a command for children to obey their parents “in the Lord.” This phrase “in the Lord” is virtually synonymous with what Paul earlier said to wives about submitting to their husbands “as to the Lord.” Children are to obey their parents as they obey the Lord. In fact, it seems that children will have a very hard time growing up to obey the Lord if they do not learn to obey their first known authority figures, namely their parents. And if they are not obeying their parents, then they are not obeying the Lord. The family is the place where God intends to instill the idea of respect for authority and obedience so that as children mature they are able to live under God’s authority even as they graduate from mom and dad’s authority.

In almost all of the TV shows and movies aimed at children, the main character is a child who rebels against authority: at home, at school, and in the community. So children are constantly bombarded with role models who teach them that the way to success, the way to be cool, the way to find acceptance is to rebel against authority. This is a destructive pattern that has to be countered by biblical truth! Children must learn by example and instruction that authority is not a bad thing, and that obedience is good and right. That is what Paul says here: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

The only right way to live is under God’s authority, and we are all, children and adults alike, trained to live under His authority by living under the other authorities that He sets over us in His providence. So, when children disobey their parents, they are actively rebelling against God and the rightful Lordship of Jesus Christ. And if the child does not learn obedience in the home toward parents, then it is very likely that the child will disobey God’s authority and the authorities He establishes or allows in other areas. Respect for authority is a mark of Christian discipleship for followers of Jesus regardless of our age, because the Bible teaches us that the only authorities that exist are those which God has allowed in His providence.

Then Paul says, quoting the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” Now, honoring one’s parents implies obedience, but honor goes beyond obedience. Obedience is about behavior, but honor is about attitude. It is not possible to honor without obedience, but it is possible to obey without honor. A child can perform outward tasks of obedience, but internally harbor hostility and anger toward a parent that festers into hatred, resentment and extreme manifestations of dishonor. A good indicator of a child’s honor for his or her parents is how they speak of them when they are with their peers. Get a group of kids together, and invariable one or more of them start trashing their parents. A child who honors mom and dad doesn’t follow along with this, but speaks with respect toward them even when they aren’t around to hear it.

So parents must not only confront their children’s behavior, but also the underlying attitudes that provoke the behavior. Often times, disobedience is born from dishonor, and if the dishonor is not addressed in a careful, gospel-centered way, we can end up with “well-behaved pagans,” who do all the right things for all the wrong-reasons. After all, we do not want our children to only grow up to keep a list of rules, but who also honor God with their lives. This begins at home very early as a child learns to honor his or her parents in such a way that obedience is a natural result. It matures into a lifestyle that honors God and that honors Jesus Christ as rightful Lord over one’s life, and manifests obedience to Him as an act of love.

There is a promise attached to this commandment: “Honor your father and mother so that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” In other words, children who honor their parents generally find that their lives are enriched in terms of both quality and duration. They experience God’s blessing not only in their childhood, but in their adult lives as well. Now, this is a proverbial truth, not a guarantee. Exceptions can be found in which children who honor their parents die young or have hard lives, and rebellious children prosper and live to an old age. But all things considered, on the whole it is generally true that children who grow up in rebellion find that things do not go well in life, and their lives are often shortened by the consequences of their rebelliousness.

Now, that seems like very simple instructions for children: Obey and honor your parents. However, because we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, these things do not come naturally to anyone. This is why it is important for parents to instill the truth of the gospel into their children from birth, so that at the first moment of understanding, a son or daughter may come to know God personally through faith in Jesus Christ and become indwelled by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit can empower a young Christian to do what doesn’t come naturally. And parents must not make excuses for children who dishonor them and disobey them, or seek to supply their children with false assurances of their spiritual condition. Dishonor and disobedience in children who profess to be Christians are indicative of, AT LEAST, a failure to live in the Spirit’s power, or worse, a false profession of faith. So, rather than reminding children of a past profession of faith, parents should talk to their children about their present position in the faith, and return regularly to the basics of the Gospel. Do you believe that Jesus died for you? Do you believe He is risen from the dead? Have you put your faith in Him to save you? Is He truly Lord over your life? Are you surrendered to His control? If so, then why do you seek to live outside of His commands? And these are questions that children need to revisit on their own frequently as well. After all, Paul commands us in 2 Cor 13:5 to examine ourselves to see if we are in fact in the faith.

Now, of course all of this begs the question, what is a child to do when their parents are not “honorable” or when a parent demands obedience to a command that is evil, immoral, or unbiblical? First, simply speaking, the decision to honor one’s parents does not entail an endorsement of the parent’s attitude or actions. In fact, it appears to be unconditional. Thus, while it is not necessary to approve of dishonorable things in the parent’s life, the child who professes faith in Christ should seek to always give as much honor as possible to his or her parents out of devotion to Christ, if not to the parent. Honoring one’s parents is a choice that must be made. Secondly, in terms of obedience, we would not counsel a child to endure or tolerate something that is harmful, wicked, or sinful. In severe cases, we would want to rescue a child from some settings. But in less severe cases, we would counsel a child to obey the parent unless the parent commands something that God forbids, or the parent forbids something God commands. This can still be done in a spirit of honor, in which the child must say, “Mom, Dad, I love you. I thank God for you. But I am a follower of Jesus and I cannot do this. I know that under your authority there will be consequences for my decision, and out of respect for your authority I accept those consequences.” Thus a child learns through these experiences the high cost of following Jesus and how to be faithful to Him in adversity. That is something that will most certainly be required of them as adults who live for Jesus.

Now we come to the second characteristic of a Spirit-Filled Family:
II. Spirit Filled Parents Nurture Their Children In Christlike Ways (v4)

The address is made here to fathers, and the role of a father in the home is vital. However, the exhortations here are equally applicable to both parents, even as in a single parent home, the mother may have to engage these responsibilities alone. Still, fathers in particular must not buy into the lie that the raising of children is the primary job of the wife. The Bible places a tremendous responsibility on dads for the nurture of their children. So where a dad is present in the home, he needs to take the lead in nurturing the kids, and mom needs to encourage this to happen.

The word translated “bring up” in v4 is perhaps best translated as “nurture.” And how are parents to nurture their children? First is the corrective measure of discipline. “Bring them up in the discipline … of the Lord.” Discipline is not a bad word. It means training or teaching, and it is related to the word disciple, which we are all called to be. God demonstrates that discipline is not unloving in that He disciplines us. Hebrews 12 teaches us that God disciplines those whom He loves, and if we aren’t disciplined by God, then we do not belong to Him. His discipline is a manifestation of His Fatherly love for us. And so it is with parental discipline. So Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Now, this is not a license for child abuse. There are those who say that spanking and certain other forms of discipline are abusive to children and should not be practiced. Certainly any form of discipline can be carried to an excessive and dangerous extreme and here the parent must exercise caution. We must remember that there is a difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is an extraction of retribution or revenge. You did this, so I am going to do this to you. But discipline always has correction at the heart of it. You did this, and you need to learn to not do that. And it is accompanied by instruction and reassurance of affection, and it is saturated in the gospel and followed up by forgiveness. It is, after all, the discipline of the Lord, in which parental authority is being exercised to instill a regard for God’s authority in the life of the child. And here’s the thing … a parent who uses this kind of discipline doesn’t have to constantly spank their children. If they are effective, the actual physical act of discipline will become increasingly rare as the child grows and learns. Because they are being trained, not punished, they learn from these experiences as their hearts are nurtured in sensitivity toward the Lord. Aside from the Bible, I have been greatly helped in this area of parenting by a book called Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp that I would recommend to any parent or grandparent as a biblical guide to gospel-centered discipline.

In a typical discipline encounter, a father or mother confronts the child about the attitude or behavior in question, and the conversation goes something like this: “Do you understand what you did here? Do you think that was right or wrong? Why or why not? Do you remember what Mommy and Daddy have said the rule is about this? And do you remember what we said the consequences would be? Do you remember why it is important for you to obey Mommy and Daddy? What is the word that God uses for disobedience? And what has God done about our sins? Have you confessed this sin to Jesus and asked Him to forgive you? OK, now because I love you, I have to follow through with the consequences, but I want you to know that I forgive you too.” And then once the discipline has been applied, Mom and Dad should give the child a hug and show them that they are loved and forgiven. See, this is how God disciplines us, and it is how we must nurture our children with the discipline of the Lord. We can even explain to them how we experience that kind of discipline from God when we sin, and we have consequences for our sin, but we are loved and forgiven by God because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. So we aren’t just preaching the Gospel, but practicing it as we do this.

So, that’s the corrective side of nurture: the discipline … of the Lord. But there’s also an informative side, and that is the instruction of the Lord. I have said before that husbands are like pastors in their own house-church. Here I will go farther and say that fathers in particular, and both parents generally speaking, are the “youth pastors” of their children. You are not doing your Christian duty as a parent if you only entrust them to others for spiritual development. The PRIMARY responsibility for the spiritual instruction belongs to parents, and the primary place for it to occur is in the home. The ministry of the church is important, but it is supplemental to what takes place at home. Deuteronomy 6 lays out an important principle concerning this. Here parents are commanded to take the instruction they receive from Moses and “teach them diligently to your sons and … talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” The church has a child for a couple of hours. But parents have them all week long. If they are going to be nurtured in the Lord, then it will require the repetition of biblical instruction and consistency in teaching and modeling the Christian life in the home and daily activities of family life.

This means that mom and dad have to be growing in their own faith, sitting under the preaching and teaching of the Word, feeding their souls with regular intake of the Bible and good biblically based books, etc. Parents ought to sense a calling to be like amateur theologians, because their kids are going to learn more about God from them than from any other source. And what they learn from their parents in both their teaching and their lifestyle will either impart truth or lies about God to the kids.

Now, those are the exhortations: Nurture your children in two ways – the discipline and instruction of the Lord. But here’s the caveat: in so doing, do not provoke your children to anger. We must avoid overprotection, overindulgence, favoritism, unrealistic expectations, unfair comparisons, mean-spirited words, intentional discouragement, neglect, excessive and baseless punishments, and anything else that will inevitably produce anger in the heart of a child and destroy any vestige of honor that the child may have for his or her parents. Certainly there are times when a child’s selfishness or immaturity stirs up anger toward a parent, and in these cases the sin is on the part of the child. But when the parent’s thoughtless and insensitive words, attitudes, and actions are the direct cause of the child’s anger, then it is the parent who has sinned. And as Paul stated earlier about anger, both parties have a biblical mandate to seek reconciliation without delay. When a parent provokes anger, he or she must not only seek God’s forgiveness but the child’s as well. And when a child finds anger arising against the parent, he or she should bring it to the parents’ attention and try to work through it before it festers into a deeper level of resentment.

So, parents, don’t provoke anger, but nurture your children with the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And as any parent can tell you, that is a lot harder than it sounds. And that is why it can’t be done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through us. These things will only be carried out faithfully by a Spirit-Filled mom and dad who regularly come before the Lord to be emptied of self and filled with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit as He takes control in our lives.

I know there may be some today who say, “Is it too late? My kids are grown now, and I made a lot of mistakes. What can I do about it now?” First, I’d say, we all make a lot of mistakes. It’s called being human. So, do with those failures what we do with the rest of them and take them to Jesus and receive His forgiveness. But secondly, I’d say it’s never too late to have a heart to heart talk with your kids, no matter how old they are. Ask their forgiveness for things you may have done wrong along the way, and speak to them about where your heart is now in terms of your walk with Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to use that in your life and in theirs. Thirdly, some of you may have somewhat of a second-chance at some of these things with your grandchildren, with children in the church, or with other children in your life. Here is an opportunity for you to be involved in the spiritual nurture of a precious young life that you may have missed earlier. Then finally, I’d just encourage you by saying that your success as a parent is based on what you do, not what they do. You do what you can do in the Spirit’s power to follow these biblical instructions, and pray for them and stay connected to them, and you leave them in God’s hands concerning their decisions and the outcome.

Likewise there may be someone who would say, “I blew it as a kid! I disrespected my parents and disobeyed them,” and maybe the Holy Spirit is convicting you about that. Well, again, maybe it isn’t too late. You can have that talk with them, seek God’s forgiveness, seek their forgiveness, and begin today to honor them as you should. And if death has taken them, and it is too late to have that talk with them, you can still find forgiveness from God and honor them. And maybe God can use your experiences to talk to kids or adults who have bitterness toward their parents and God may yet do something good with it.

The bottom line here is that none of us are perfect. All of us blow it, as parents, as kids, and as people. And God’s solution for my sins as a child of my parents, for my sins as the parent of my kids, and for my sins as a person in every other realm is the same: Jesus Christ. I am not going to make myself right with God by perfect obedience, perfect parenting, or perfect living. I am incapable. But Jesus Christ has lived the life of perfection on my behalf and yours, and He took our sins upon Himself in His death on the cross and conquered them in His resurrection. So today, regardless of whatever failures are in your past, and we all have them, you can turn from those and place your faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and receive His forgiveness, His perfect righteousness, and the power of the Holy Spirit to live for Him now and with Him forever.

No comments: