“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with a promise, ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).
This particular instruction from Paul comes in the middle of a long series of instructions to his people at Ephesus. There are two things to pay attention to in this particular instruction. The first is that this commandment carries with it a promise. As he tells us, it is the first to do so. And the second is that Paul is actually practicing what he is preaching here.
In this instruction, we see that this commandment, the fifth of the Decalogue, carries with it a promise. With this commandment we see the logic of cause and effect in the moral life. It quite simply and practically states that if one acts properly, in accord with this practical moral commandment, that behavior will be followed naturally and logically by good consequences. The key word in the commandment is “obey.” The sin of Adam was an act of disobedience, done out of pride. Paradise was lost through disobedience to the one, single “law” that God had imposed on Adam and Eve, that is, not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All human sin is disobedience. Therefore, God has given us this commandment, as a practical means for us to learn and to practice the habit of being obedient to those who have been given authority over us, especially our parents. If Paradise was lost through disobedience and pride, then we must practice the virtues of obedience and humility in this life in order to return there. God has given us the means to learn and to practice these things in his commandments.
Paul has also shown us in this passage that those who have authority over others must conduct themselves in morally practical and virtuous ways as well. Parents must practice their authority with consistency, kindness, and with respect for their children. In other words, parents must love their children in the same manner that God loves them. As parents, this authority has been given to us by God and we are to “steward” it and to “shepherd” our children in the manner that Jesus did when he walked among us here on earth. We are to train and instruct our children in the faith. We are to teach them the commandments and of the love, the mercy, and the goodness of God. We are to teach them God’s law by our words and by our deeds, by living it ourselves. We are to be their first examples of obedience to God’s law. In order to do this, we must grow in our knowledge of the law of God by developing the habits of prayer and the reading of the scriptures. Our children will learn best, not when we vex them, or ride roughshod over them, or make unreasonable demands on them, but through the practical experience of both our “instruction in the Lord,” and our Christ-like forgiveness. In obeying this commandment, both as children and as parents, we teach and experience the practical moral lessons we need in order to lead good, virtuous, holy lives. Is this not what Paul is doing for his “children” in Ephesus? Is he not practicing what he is preaching here? He is doing his duty as a “spiritual parent” to all of us. We are to do the same for our children.
Lord, Help us to be the persons that you want us to be. May your will be done in our lives as parents and as children. Increase in our hearts a desire to know and to practice the liberation that comes through our obedience to your law in all things. As parents, we pray that you give us the graces of patient endurance, kindness, wisdom, and forgiveness in teaching our children. As children, help us to learn the great value of self-discipline through obedience to our parents and to your law. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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