Perhaps you’ve notice (though probably not) that the titles chosen for these shepherding posts reflect entry-level courses. In other words, this is all basic material that must be mastered. Any future work in the field is built upon these concepts. Any trouble within the family can be traced to either a misunderstanding or a rejection of what we have already covered.
First: God created humanity for the purpose of being His representative upon the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). We are not fulfilling our purpose when we fail to do so.
Second: God created humanity within the context of the family unit (Genesis 2:18-25). That family unit is designed with a single masculine head (father/husband), which is supported by a single feminine helper (mother/wife). Where men follow and women lead, marriages and families fail.
Third: God has given fathers the primary responsibility of shepherding future generations (children). Shepherding is primarily accomplished through teaching (Deuteronomy 6). The only person commanded by God to teach children is the father.
Any breakdown, mishap, failure within the family unit can be traced back to one of these points. Any breakdown in society can be traced to a breakdown in the family. This is basic information that provides the foundation for all things to come. If you reject this, there’s literally zero hope.
I plan to conclude this short series with a final post that includes a warning. I want to examine a text that reveals the implications of obedience and faithfulness…or disobedience and faithlessness.
The Blessing of Obedience: Ephesians 6:1-3
“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 be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (NASB)
There are only two observations that I want to make on these verses. First I want to make sure we understand the structure of the family and then I want to make sure we understand the purpose of the family.
The Structure of the Family
Did you notice whom Paul commanded children to obey? Using his own words he says “your parents” and then quoting from Deuteronomy 5:16 he reiterates “honor your father and your mother…” Using everything that we’ve already learned, it is both father and mother who are representatives of God. While it is the father who is charged primarily with the duty of shepherding, mom’s duty is to support and assist him. By commanding children to obey their unified parents assumes that both father and mother are giving the same commands. There is only one way that this assumption works. Only if the man is actively leading and shepherding his family and his wife is assisting him and carrying out his marching orders can the children be expected to honor and obey both of their parents simultaneously.
I also find it interesting that Paul calls for obedience, but also reminds the Ephesians of the commandment to honor. In theory, children could obey both parents with only one parent functioning in a shepherding capacity. You can’t disobey a father who doesn’t give instruction. But unless dad is actually leading, he sets his family up for failure because neither his wife nor his children are able to honor him. A passive husband/father sets the entire family up for failure.
So many people skip over their Old Testaments and attempt to live their entire Christian lives in the New Testament. Hermeneutically, that is laughable. You cannot understand the New Testament with zero knowledge of the Old. But practically (and this is but one example) you cannot obey even the basic commands given in the New Testament without knowing where they come from. Paul is assuming a structure made clear in Genesis and Deuteronomy. Without that structure in place, obedience is impossible.
The Purpose of the Family
Understand that the reason that children are commanded by Almighty God to obey their parents is linked to the purpose of humanity. Remember: God created man in His image and according to His likeness for the purpose of being His representatives upon the earth. Dad and mom are to represent God to their children to the point that to disobey them is to disobey God. If you have doubts of this, just turn to Deuteronomy 5 or Exodus 20 and look at the layout of the 10 Commandments. The first four deal strictly man’s relationship with God. The last five deal with man’s relationship with man.
This mirrors what Jesus said concerning the two greatest commandments that sum up the totality of the law and prophets: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love you neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mathew 22:37-40 NASB)
But what is the connecting commandment between “love of God” and “love of neighbor”? Children, obey your parents. It is through obedience to parents that a child demonstrates his submission to God’s representatives and thereby his submission to God Himself. A rebellious child is rebelling against the created order and the Creator Himself. The implications of this are numerous.
Parents must make clear whose work and will they are enforcing.
Children must be made to understand that rule bending = sedition against God.
Parents must never wink at sin.
Children must be made to understand that the rod is an act of love and grace.
Parents must administer the rod with love and grace.
Parents must administer the rod.
This is why this commandment comes with a promise. “Living long in the land” is a reference to the Promised Land about to be inhabited by the 2nd generation of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. Obedience to God means peace and prosperity. Disobedience will lead to expulsion. Disobedient children only grow into rebellious adults who hate God and His law. A submissive and obedient heart is indicative of a child of God. Teach them while they’re young and break their rebellion before it takes them away.
The Command for Faithfulness: Ephesians 6:4
“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (NASB)
Again I’ll make two observations. First, notice who is being addressed. Second, notice what is being commanded.
The Command to Fathers
If there is any debate considering my interpretation of Deuteronomy 6, I feel that I share the same interpretation as Paul. While children are to obey and honor the united parents (both father and mother), this command is to fathers only. In fact, there is no command to mothers in these verses at all. But once again, we’re assuming that we understand the role of man/husband/father as leader/head/shepherd. If he’s doing his job correctly, then his wife’s job of assisting and supporting him should be relatively easy.
What Not To Do and What To Do
Fathers are commanded to cease provoking their children. The Greek indicates that this action is presently going on and it needs to stop now. I’ve heard all sorts of commentary on what it means to “provoke” your children. All of that is needless because Paul gives us the opposite of provoking to anger. The conjunction indicates an alternative action. BUT bring them up in the disciple and instruction of the Lord. In other words, if you’re not teaching your children the Scriptures, holding them accountable to obey them, and modeling that obedience before them; then you’re provoking them to anger. It really is that simple.
Frustration mounts when there’s hypocrisy (do as I say not as I do). Fathers are commanded to model righteousness, not only preach it.
Frustration mounts when there is no reason other than “I said so.” The instruction and discipline is “in the Lord” not according to daddy.
Frustration mounts when there are inconsistencies. Sometimes there’s discipline, but when daddy’s tired he just doesn’t enforce God’s standard.
Fathers: Instruct your family in the Scriptures. Fathers: Model obedience to the Scriptures. Fathers: Consistently lead your family.
Conclusion: You cannot build upon a faulty foundation. Unless you go all the way back to Shepherding 101 and understand the purpose of your existence is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, you will never understand what it means to be a husband/father/wife/mother. You cannot attempt to fix your child’s anger problem or finicky eating habits unless you understand that you’re God’s representative in that Child’s life. You’ll never be a godly disciplinarian unless you understand that you’re combating sin.
Dear reader, this is what it means to preach the gospel to your children, to your wife, and to yourself every day. Because here’s the skinny: You can’t do this. Your children will continue to rebel, your wife will not submit, your husband will not lead UNLESS GOD SAVES THEM. Every attempt to glorify God is an opportunity to preach the gospel. I pray that you find this helpful.
Soli Deo Gloria!