Americans love holidays. Just look at how they made May 4 into Star Wars day and their willingness to celebrate Cinco De Mayo despite a total ignorance of Mexican history. But America is a secular nation and becoming more secular all the time which means that religious holidays, like Easter make people uncomfortable. But Mothers Day has no such problem. It is not trivial like May 4 and its not religious. Plus everyone has a Mother so not only can everyone celebrate it, the culture makes it clear that everyone should celebrate it …. Period. How can you argue with celebrating mothers?
Unfortunately Mother day can also be a referendum on the value of every woman. In a time when women should be celebrated but they often feel judged because there are so many ways that they feel short of the ideal. With the “American Holiday Machine” in high gear the celebration is unavoidable.
At Cornerstone Christian Church we are building a community centered on Jesus Christ. So for us the question is, “How do we celebrate this holiday as Christians.” We are going to ask that question as we continue our series in Ephesians looking at chapter 6.
6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” [Deut 5:16]
4 Fathers, [or Parents] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Children, obey your parents as part of your obedience to the LORD
The first point that Paul makes is that children should obey their parents. It is worth remembering that Paul is writing this to Christians. In the first half of the letter he explains what salvation in Christ is all about: how God loves us, how he called us and we responded with faith in Jesus and where incorporated into his new community. Now he is addressing what it looks like to live as a follower of Christ? After talking to husbands and wives in chapter 5 he now addresses children. Notice that he assumes children are in the worship service and he treats them as free moral agents. He doesn’t tell parent to control their kids. He tells children to obey their parents. And the truth is that we are all children to one degree or another as long as our parents are alive.
He gives three reasons why children should obey parents
“This is right.” Almost every culture agrees that the society works better when children obey parents and parents lead well. It is the foundation of stability in any culture. If people are well cared for in families everything else is much smoother. If you don’t believe me, ask a teacher. When a child comes from a strong supportive family their job is much easier. If there is no family structure their job is even more important but also nearly impossible. (It is amazing how little the government has to do if families are strong).
This is in keeping with the Law – Paul quotes the fifth commandment which is about honoring your father and mother. He calls it the first commandment with a promise: that you may live long on the earth. In fact Paul changes the wording of the commandment to make it more universal.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
The commandment is making a general statement about life: It will be better for you if you honor and listen to your parents. This changes over time. You obey without question when you are little because there is so much you don’t understand. On the flip side, parents need to establish this authority early. If you don’t, it will not be established later when there are more serious things to address. You don’t want to get to adolescence with there being any question about parental authority.
But this is addressed to kids. You are being treated as free moral agents and the call is to obey and honor. To obey means to do what they say. Most kids will do that for a while but as Christians your responsibility is more than that of your friends. It is not just doing what you can get away with. It is obeying the intent and desire of your parents as a way of obeying God. Yes as you get older, you should get more explanations about why they do what they do, but you will never completely believe your parents. There has to be a sense that you are willing to trust them out of devotion to the Lord.
People often look at the ten commandments and see two uneven sets of commands – four aimed at God and six aimed at others. But the Jews did not see it this way. They saw five and five which means that the command to honor your father and mother is a way to obey God. This is even more important as followers of Christ. We obey and/or honor our parents as a way of worshipping God.
What about if your parents are not Christians? I believe God can still speak through them and we should be very careful about openly going against their will. The real application of obeying and honoring should be done by the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer. As you get older you honor more than obey, and of course as Christian you can neither obey nor honor your parents more than the Lord.
How do we honor parents as we get older?
There are many ways to do this but let me suggest three.
Communicate – very simple, call, visit, let them be part of your life.
Care – as parents get older they need care. Toward the end of their life the tables have completely turned and you have to care for the parents who once cared for you.
Reconcile – as a Christian you need to do your part in seeking reconciliation with parents that are estranged from you. Obviously you cannot compel someone to talk to you or reconcile. But as a forgiven followers of Jesus, as people who worship a reconciling God, we should do our part in seeking to forgive and be forgiven by parents. Again, the ultimate application of this needs to be done by the Holy Spirit because every situation is different and the details matter.
Everyone has scars from growing up because there are no perfect parents. So how can we keep from passing our damage on to our children?
Parents do not provoke your children but instruct them in the Lord
Paul addresses fathers because they had almost complete control over their children in the Greco-Roman world. Interestingly he does not tell them to make their children obey. He tells them instead not to exasperate or provoke their children to anger. This is clearly a call to restrain the power that has been given to you. Fathers could certainly exasperate if they wanted to. They did not have to care about their child’s emotions. But Paul says we are to be different. As Christians, we have a different relationship with power. We are not to use it to exploit our children for our benefit but are to raise them in the training and instruction of the Lord.
So, what might provoke a child to anger? Here are a few suggestions.
Unrealistic expectation: the constant pushing to make your children perform, the desire to see them excel is often fueled by our own desire to live through our children. Getting glory because your child has done well is intoxicating and it can leave us wanting more, which causes us to push our children unreasonably.
The antidote is a vibrant and growing relationship with God. If God is controlling your ego you have a better chance of doing what is right for your children.
Uneven or unfair discipline: this usually comes from disciplining your child out of anger. When we do this our kids have no idea what to expect. They do not know the rules, how to obey them or how to make their parents happy. This is a recipe for disillusionment and exasperation. Only the Holy Spirit can control your anger and so only the Holy Spirit can help you discipline with wisdom. In general, a good rule of thumb is to discipline for disobedience, not mistakes.
Hypocrisy: hypocrisy will embitter your children against both you and the Lord. Hypocrisy comes when we seek to be something that we are not and our kids will see it. This is not about being perfect. It is about being honest even to the point of admitting when we are wrong.
Hardest thing about parenting is doing so for your children’s good. We often discipline out of our own desires, fears or need for control rather than what our children need to learn. Only way do this well is to be in the Lord. You can only overcome your own needs by giving them to the Lord and then asking him to help you parent with wisdom.
Your goal is not obedience, but instruction in the Lord …
The positive side of parenting is our call to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Training – This word is related to the notion of nourishing or feeding. It is about giving our children positive directions on how to live in the world as a follower of Christ.
Instruction – this word include warnings and is sometimes translated “admonitions.” Good parenting also involves telling our children what not to do.
Both the positive and the negative sides of parenting are done in the context of both formal and informal settings. We can read the Bible with your kids or teach them to memorize songs and verses. But you also have to be ready to talk in the informal times, when they are curious, when something happens. The only way to be ready for spontaneous, informal times is be “in the Lord” always listening to the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion – whatever it is in the culture, Mothers Day is a time of recommitment for all of us who are in Christ to honoring our parents and being worthy of honor ourselves.