Sermon: Ephesians 6:1-3: It All Starts In The Home

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 20:12-17

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:12–17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Ephesians 6:1-3

“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.’” (Ephesians 6:1–3, ESV)


[Please excuse any and all typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church, but without the benefit of proofreading.] 


I have given this sermon the title, “It All Starts In The Home”. And this statement is true as pertains to individuals learning how to be good and productive members of society in general, and how to honor authority — wherever it exists —  in particular. All of that starts in the home as children learn to honor their father and mother. This is what the Apostle teaches here in Ephesians 6, and his teaching is rooted in God’s law, as you can see. Children are to learn to not covet (but to be content), to not lie (but to promote the truth), to not steel (but to labor with their own hands doing honest work so that they may have something to share with those in need), to not commit adultery (but to be faithful to the marriage covenant, and to all other covenants), to not murder with hatred in the heart (but to love from the heart), and to honor authority wherever it exists — this they are to learn in the home by first honoring their father and their mother. It all starts in the home. The home is the place where Christian children are to learn to keep the first table of the law (which has to do with the proper love and worship of God), and where all children are to learn to keep the second table of the law (which has to do with the proper love and treatment of fellow human beings). It all starts in the home, for the first and principle commandment of that second table of the law is in fact, “honor your father and your mother.”

I have begun the sermon this way — by stepping back just a bit from Paul’s specific command to Christian children to “obey [their] parents in the Lord” —  so that you might see from the outset that although Paul addresses Christian children directly, what he says to them has far reaching implications for the church and for society in general. 

Paul, remember, is addressing life within the Christian home. He is applying the wonderful and rich truths that he had established earlier in his epistle to family relationship. In 4:1-5:21 his focus was upon life within the church. There he exhorted us to walk worthy as the people of God in this world by preserving unity, pursing holiness and “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21, ESV). But in Ephesians 5:22 and following the focus is upon the home, or the Christian family. Wives are to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22, ESV). Husbands are to “Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). And now we hear Paul say, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1, ESV).

The focus is upon family life. But let us not forget that what happens in the family will have profound impact upon the church and upon society. This is why I have said, it all starts in the home. 


The Command

The command that the Apostle issues is very straight forward: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:1, ESV).

Children are addressed by the Apostle directly. This fact is easy to overlook, but it is very significant. We are to remember that Paul wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus. This letter was to be read aloud to the church. And Paul’s assumption was that children would be present to hear the reading of his letter, for he addresses them, saying, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…”

Yes, the Apostle’s expectation was that children — even small children — would be present in the Christian assembly to hear his letter read. This has been the practice of the church throughout church history. Children — even small children — would sit in the assembly with their parents. They would grow up under the ministry of the word. They would learn to worship and to pray alongside their parents. It was not until very recently that the church has (in some circles) decided to send their children off to another place during corporate worship. The effects have been devastating, I think. Many children leave the church when they reach adulthood in part because they were not truly raised in the church. But Paul, when writing to the church in Ephesus, addressed the children directly, saying, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…

Children, please listen carefully to me. It is so very important for you to be here. It is important for you to worship God — to sing to him, to pray to him, and to listen to his word preached. I do understand that it can be difficult sometimes to understand everything that is said. And sometime it can be hard to focus for such a long time, especially if you are very young. But it is important that you try. And as you try to listen, and as you try to understand, you will grow. You will mature. 

And please understand that you are very blessed to have a parent or parents who have faith in Christ. You are very blessed to be brought up in a Christian home where the good news of Jesus Christ is explained to you and where the faith is taught. It is a privilege to be raised in the Lord. Our prayer and our expectation is that one day you will make a profession of faith of your own. Our hope is that you will come to say, “I trust in Christ for the forgivness of my sins” and “Jesus is Lord”. And it will be then, when that credible profession of faith is made, that you will be baptized in water and invited to the Lord’s Table. Until then, your parents will strive to raise you up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord”, and you are to honer them by obeying them, for that is what the scripture says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…” 

Children, it is very important for you to obey your parents and to honor them. 

When you obey your parents you are really obeying God, for God is the one who has command that you honor and obey them.

God designed men and women to live this way. His design was that children would be born to a mother and father who are joined together in the covenant of marriage. The child is to grow up in that environment. There the child is to learn many things. There child is to learn to love God supremely, and to love his or her neighbor as themself. The child is to learn wisdom. The child is to learn to honor authority — God’s authority, and the authorities that exist within the world by God’s appointment. And this the child will learn from the experience of showing honor and offerning up obedience to mom and dad.

Children, be careful to honor your parents. Be careful to obey your mom and dad. Do not give in to the temptation to disrespect them or to disobey them. You are to obey your parents even when you don’t feel like it. You are to obey your parents even when you think they are wrong. You are to show them honor and respect even when you think they are being unfair or unreasonable. As the text says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord…”

That phrase in the Lord is very important. Paul assumes that these children to whom he is speaking are being raised in the Lord — they are being taught the faith and they are hearing the gospel. He probably assumes that many of them have faith already. And he assumes that the ones who have not yet made a credible profession will do so in the future. 

By the way parents, I think this should be the attitude that we have towards our children. On the one hand, we know that they are born into this world, not in Christ, but in Adam. We know that they are born, not into the Covenant of Grace, but the broken covenant of works. This means that we must be diligent to proclaim the gospel to them, teach the faith to them, and pray for true repentance and a credible profession. Never-the-less, we must also raise them in the Lord. I believe that our expectation should be that they will believe upon Christ. Our hope should be that when asked, when did you first believe? they will respond by saying, I can’t say for sure. I can remember my baptism, but I cannot remember a time when I did not believe, for I was raised in Christ. Everyone’s testimony is different. Some will come to faith later in life. We rejoice in that also. But we should seek to raise our children in the Lord. And when we urge them to obey, we should urge them to obey in Christ — that is to say, for the sake of Christ, and with the strength that he provides — just as the Apostle does. Though our children are not born into faith, nor into the Covenant of Grace (in any sense), they are sanctified by the believing parent, for that parent is to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)

Children, when you obey your parents you are to do it in the Lord. You are to obey them for the sake and with the strength he provides. Remember that something similar was said to wives concerning their submission to their husbands: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22, ESV). And something similar was also said concerning there husbands headship over the wife: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV). And we could even look ahead to consider Paul instructions to fathers, bondservants and masters. In every instance the command to lead or submit has reference to Christ the Lord. Fathers are to bring their children up in the Lord. Bondservants are to serve their earthly masters sincerely as “bondservants of Christ”. And Masters are to rule being ever mindful of the fact that Christ is their Master.  In each and every instance, then, authority and submission is to offered up as and act of submission to Christ.

To make it more concrete, children when mom or dad asks you do something, or tells you that you can’t do something, it is important that you honor and obey them even if you don’t like their decision. You shouldn’t talk back. You shouldn’t show a fit (neither the toddler kind of fit, nor the teenager kind). Instead you should say, “yes, mom” or “yes, dad” and then follow that up with obedience and respect. Ultimately you should do this in the Lord and in service to Christ.  

One last question before moving on to the rationale and the motive. Is there ever a time when a child should disobey his or her parents? You might be surprised to hear me say, yes! A child is right to disobey his or her parents when what the parent commands or forbids is in direct contradiction to what God commands or forbids. I doubt any of our children will ever experience this, but some children in the world do. To give a rather innocuous example, if an unbelieving parent were to say to a child who believes, you are not aloud to pray to God or to speak of Christ to your friends, the child is right to pray and to speak of Christ, for when the two are in conflict we are bound to obey God and not man. But even then the child should offer up the righteous disobedience respectfully and with pure conduct


The Rationale

Let us now consider the rationale of the Apostle. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”, he says. Why should children obey their parents? What is the rationale or reason? The Apostle says they should obey, “for this is right.” 

And what does  it mean for something to be “right”?

Consider three things: 

One, things are right when they are in accord with the way God designed them to be. God designed the world and all that is in it to function in a particular way. Things are right when they function according to God’s design. They are wrong when they out of step with God’s design. As it pertains to the family, God’s design is that wives submit to their husbands, that husbands loving lead their wives by giving themselves up for them, and that children honor their parents by obeying them. Things are right when each one is doing their part. Something is wrong when they do not. The Christian must understand this most foundation truth: in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And he designed the world in general, and the family in particular, to function in a particular way. We ought to be eager to do what is right — this is, to live according to God’s design — in the family, and in every other sphere of life.  

Two, things are right when they are in accord with God’s moral law as revealed in nature. Not only has God designed the world in a particular way, he has also revealed his moral law to men and women. In fact, the scriptures are clear that he has written this moral law on man’s heart. Paul teaches this most clearly in Romans chapters 1 and 2. There he speaks of this law that is written upon the heart of every person. And there he speaks of the conscience that resides within man. The obligation for children to honor and obey their parents is not unique to Christian children. All children are to honor their parents. This is a part of God’s moral law, written upon the heart of man at creation. God’s moral (or natural) law reveals what is right. Even the unbeliever who does not have access to the scriptures has access to this moral law. It is written upon their heart (even though they have suppressed and distorted it), and it is apparent in the world that God has made (even if they are blind to it). Those who are wise in the world perceive God’s moral law and strive to keep it. Something is right when it is in accord with God’s moral law as revealed in nature. 

And three, something is right when it is in accord with God’s moral law as revealed in scripture. Yes, God’s moral is revealed in nature. It is revealed so clearly that men and women are justly held accountable for breaking it (God will judge them by this law on the last day). But God’s moral law is revealed much more clearly in the scriptures. In the scriptures we find the moral law. The ten commands are a summary of it. And in the scriptures we find wisdom. They tell us how we ought to live with great specificity and clarity. And of course the gospel is also revealed there. Through we have violated God’s law in thought, word and deed, and though we are deserving of God’s judgment, he has mercifully provided a Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord. Through faith in him we have the forgivness of sins, reconciliation with God, and the hope of life eternal, along with many other blessings. But here we are talking about the law. God’s moral law is revealed in the scriptures clearly and concretely. And in the scriptures the Christian learns what is right and what is wrong. 

Notice that the Apostle, after commanding children to obey their parents, and after declaring that “this is right”, then supports his claim that this is right by quoting the fifth of the ten commandments, which says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” I suppose that Paul could have demostrated it is right for children to obey their parents by reasoning from nature and appealing to the natural law. He could have argued that it is good for the children to learn to respect authority, that it is good for society, and that children obeying their parents within the family has been the custom in all societies from the dawn of time. But Paul is writing to Christians who believe the scriptures to be the word of God, and so he simply sites the command of to prove that this is right: “Honor your father and your mother”, the law says. 

Friends, you cannot earn salvation through the keeping of the law. As it pertains to our right standing before God, the law condemns us, for we have all broken God’s law. We cannot expect to be justified by keeping God’s law, for we are all transgressors. In this sense, the law is a curse to us. It condemns, if cannot save. 

But let us not forget that law of God is good. Indeed, it is very good provided that we approach it properly. The law is good in that it shows us our need for a savior. It is used by God to drive sinners to faith in Christ. The gospel is that Christ keep the law of God for us, and he died in the place off sinners, death being the just penalty for sin. The forgivness of sins is recieved through faith in Christ. But before we can repent and believe, we must recognize our need for a savior. And we will recognize our need only by considering God’s law as we come to the realization that we have broken it, and knowing that we stand before God guilty and condemned. In this sense, the law is good. It is good that we know the truth concerning our sin and guilt, and thus recognize our need. 

And the law is also good in another sense. The moral law of God, reveled in nature generally, and reveled in scripture specifically and clearly, tells us what is right and what is wrong. Men and women living in this world struggle to know what is right and wrong. This is due to the corruptions in them, their blindness and hardness of heart. But the scriptures reveal it clearly.

What should the Christians attitude be towards the law? We must start by confessing that it cannot save. Salvation is only through faith in Christ who, as the God-man, kept the law on behalf of sinners and bore the curse of the law in the place of sinners. But on the other hand, the Christian should love and cherish the law of God, for the Spirit of God uses the law to discipline those God loves, and to guide them in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 

Our attitude towards the law should be the same at the Psalmests as expressed in Pslam 119. There we read, among other things, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times. You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments. Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” (Psalm 119:9–24, ESV)

Brothers and sisters, may this be your prayer also. May it be true of you that you store up God’s word in your heart, long to be taught the statutes of the Lord and delight in them as much as in all riches, knowing that by keeping them you will bring glory to God and find the blessings of life abundant. 

Little ones, it is our prayer that you would learn this truth from a young age. May the Lord bless you with wisdom. May he use the law to bring you to  faith in Christ. And once in the faith, may the law of God be your delight. I pray that you soon come to see that living under God’s authority and in obedience to law of God is the very best way to live. And the very first place that you will learn this is in the home as you learn to obey your parents. This is right. For the law says, “Honor your father and your mother.”


The Motive

Lastly, let us briefly consider the motive. After Paul quotes the fifth commandment, which says, “Honor your father and mother”, he adds the remark, “this is the first commandment with a promise”, and then continues on with quoting the fifth commandment, which does indeed contain a promise, saying, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:2–3, ESV). Here is a motive for children to honoring and thus obey their parents: “that it may go well with [them] and that [they] may live long in the land.”

When Paul says that the fifth commandment is the first commandment with a promise he means two things. 

One, the fifth commandment is the “first commandment” in the sense that it is the leading or principle commandment in the second table of the law. As you know, the moral law of God is summarized in ten commandments. And those ten commandments are divided into two sections. The first four commands have to do with man’s relation to God. The last six have to do with man’s relation to man. And the fifth commandment — honor your father and mother”, is the first or principle commandment of the second table of the law. As I have said, learning to love and properly relate to man begins in the home. It is in the home, though obedience to parents, that children are to learn to keep commandments six through ten from the heart. I think this is what Paul means when he say that the fifth commandment is the first commandment. It wouldn’t make much sense for him to say that the fifth commandment is the first commandment to have a promise attached to it, for in fact, it is the only commandment with a promise. In this case “first” means first in rank or importance. 

Think about that for a moment. If I were to ask, which commandment of the last 6 is of first importance?, what do you suspect most people would say? I suspect they would choose the sixth commandment which is, “you shall not murder” on the grounds that murder is the most heinous sin forbidden sin the second table of the law. But Paul identified the fifth as being the first in rank. And in fact, God himself identified the fifth as first I rank when he gave it the position that he did, as head of the second table of the law. To state the matter differently, I wonder if most people wouldn’t consider the fifth to be of least importiance.  Murder, adultery, stealing, lying and covetousness — those are bad sins! But disobedience within the home… what’s the big deal? God’s perspective is the opposite. Though the sin of murder is heinous, men and women murder from the heart. And it is in the home that heart is to be trained to love God as supreme and to love others as yourself. It all starts in the home, and so the command to honor father and mother is given first place.  

And two, Paul then draws our attention to the fact that this first commandment does have a promise attached to it, namely, ”that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Let me make a few remarks about this promise. 

Originally, the promise was delivered to Israelite children and so the promise of long life in the land had specific reference to the land of Canaan. If Israelite children would honor their parents they should expect to have a good and blessed life in the land of Canaan. 

Two, this promise is to be understood as general precept. Certainly therefore some in Israel who, although they did in fact honor their father and mother, experienced difficulty in this life and lived only a short time in the land. This is the reality of life. Sometimes the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper. The promise concerning a blessed and long life is to be understood as a general precept. The Proverbs are also to be interpreted in this way. Generally, those who are diligent in their work prosper, while sluggards come to ruin, but this is not always true. There are exceptions to the rule. And generally when parents “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV). But this is not always the case. The word “promise” here in Ephesians 6 must be understood in this way as it pertains to life on this earth. Generally, honoring ones parents leads to a blessed and long life in the land, whereas those who are rebellious  come to ruin. 

Three, Paul applies this same principle to the New Covenant people of God who do not have a land of their own as it pertains to the Kingdom of God, but live as exiles and sojourners. The promise is that those whop honor their parents will in general, and in one way or another, be blessed wherever God has planted them in his good providence. 

This promise concerning a blessed life and along life is a motivation for obedience. It is not the only motivation. I’m not even sure it should be our primary motivation. A child should honor his or her parents being driven, above all else, by their love for God, their love for their parents, and because it is right. But this is a motivation none-the-less — those who honor their parents will be blessed as they live on the earth. For those who are in Christ, it will certainly be true in the world to come. Those who honor their father and mother are storing up treasures in heaven. 



Let me make just a few brief suggestions for application by way of conclusion. 

The most obvious is this: Children, it is so very importaint that you honor and obey your parents. Do this because it is right. Do this in the Lord, trusting him for your salvation, depending upon him for strength, and for his glory. Honor and obey your parents even when you don’t feel like it. Honor and obey them even when you disagree with them, our don’t understand why they are taking the position that they are taking. This is something that young children must decide to do. Instead of talking back to mom and dad, or throwing a fit when you don’t get what you want, littles ones should learn to say, “yes, mom” and “yes, dad”. If you are a young child you should decide to always honor your parents and to obey. And this is also true for older children who are still living at home. You too must decide to always honor and obey mom and dad, even if you don’t quite understand or agree with their point of view. This is right. This is pleasing to the Lord. The day will come when you will leave your father and your mothers house to form your own. Then the obligation to obey your parents will come to an end. But you will still need to honor them in the Lord. Think upon these things, children. Ask yourself, do I honor and obey my parents, or am I disrespectful and disobedient. If you love God and Christ, you should show it by obeying your patents.  

Secondly I will address the parents. Parents, we must teach our children many things as we prepare them for adulthood, but one of the most fundamental things we must teach our children is how to respect authority. They will learn this primarily by learning to honor you, their parent. As they learn to honor and live in obedience to you, they will also learn how to honor God and those whom God has delegated power within the civil and ecclesiastical realms. Stated negativity, if child does not first learn to honor their parents, they will struggle to honor God and this who have authority over them in the world, whatever kind of authority that may be. Therefore parents should not tolerate willful defiance and disrespect from their children. The scriptures are clear, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24, ESV). Parents must discipline their children. And sometimes corporal punishment is appropriate. Corporal punishment must be delivered very carefully though. Never should parents spank out of anger. Never should parents be overly harsh with their children, doing physical harm. Never should parents fail to instruct before and after punishment, especially punishment of this kind. And never should parents fail to reassure their children of their love before and after corporal punishment is administered. And lastly, parents must choose carefully when to administer corporal punishment. Children should not be spanked for being children — for being hyper or careless, or for making some other mistake associated with their immaturity. By I do believe that spankings are in order where there is willful deference and disrespect of the parent, or some other authority figure. It is imperative that children learn to honor their father and mother. And corporal punishment does have a way of grabbing the attention and communicating that it is a grave sin to dishonor the authority that God has placed over them. I suppose I will have an opportunity to say more about this when we consider the next verse which says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV).

Thirdly and lastly I will speak to all Christians saying, as we seek to promote the wellbeing our society we must encourage others, even non-believers, to form strong families by appealing to God’s moral law as revealed in nature and  in the Holy Scripture. God’s design is that children would be conceived by a man and a woman devoted to one another for life in the bonds of marriage. His design is that the man and women would fulfill their commitments to one another as husband and wife, and that they would fulfill their obligations to the child as mother and father. Christian parents must be encouraged to love one another in the Lord, and to raise their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, ESV). This should be our primary concern, for this will also promote the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth. But if we care for the well being of society (which we should) then we will also encourage the formation of healthy families even amongst those who do not believe. I can’t think of a better way to do this then by example, and through personal interaction with others as we live as salt and light in the world. 

Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, must not neglect marriage and the family in order to chase after other pursuits. God instituted marriage and the family in the beginning for the good of society, and also as instruments to be used for the furtherance of the kingdom of God on the earth. 

I’ll leave it to you to consider the weaknesses and wickedness that exist with the church today and within our culture and to ask, how much of this can be traced back to a breakdown within the family? We should certainly seek the wellbeing of our society and encourage strong families where children will be taught to honor authority and to obey God moral law. But brothers and sisters, it must start in our families. Parent’s must take seriously the responsibility too raise their children in the Lord, to teach them God’s law and how to live according to wisdom. And children, you must also do your part: “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’” (Ephesians 6:1–3, ESV).


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