God’s Idea Of Marriage, Part 3: The Role of Children

Grace For The Journey


27Aug  Over the past couple of blog posts we have examined the roles that God has given to the wife and to the husband.  As I have pointed out in each of those studies, . . .

The ability of the husband and wife

To fulfill their roles will be

Dependent upon their

Walk with the Lord.

What Paul commands in Colossians 3:18-19 is dependent on what he has said in the previous seventeen verses.

If we live as those who have been raised up with Christ,

Which includes putting off the practices

And attitudes we had prior to salvation

And putting on the new practices and attitudes

That are in keeping with walking with Christ,

We can fulfill our roles in marriage

And so bring glory to God.

Colossians 3:18-4:1 is the context of our current studies.  A rereading of these verses is helpful, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.  Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.  Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who [merely] please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.  For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.”

The wife has the supporting role.  This is by no means an inferior position for she has equal value before God.  It is only a recognition that God has given her different gifts, abilities and responsibilities.  A woman needs to be careful about whom she marries for she will need to willingly submit to her husband’s leadership while demonstrating chaste and respectful behavior to him even when he does not lead as he should (1 Peter 3:1-6).  Submission is an act of her will and not something coerced or forced.  Her submission demonstrates her love and trust of God through her service to her husband.  Her submission is first to God and then because of that she secondarily submits to her husband.

God has placed the husband as the head of the family which means he has the responsibility of leadership.  He is commanded to love His wife in the sacrificial manner that Christ loves the church and cherish her the same way he cherishes his own body.  This love includes being her provider and protector.  The husband is also commanded to lead his family into sanctification that they may be holy and blameless.  God will hold the husband accountable for how well he fulfills his role and responsibilities.  He is also responsible to make her his life’s study as he seeks to know and understand her while giving her honor as a joint heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7).  This is true even though she is extremely different from him in her emotions and the way she thinks, but that is part of the challenge, so be a man and rise up to the challenge.

Today we come to the role of the children.  It is easier for children to fulfill their role if they know the Lord and are walking with Him by the Holy Spirit, but Paul does not place that expectation upon them since even the children born to Christian parents come into the world as unsaved sinners.  Until the child comes to personal faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, they cannot live as one who has been raised up with Christ, for that has not yet happened.

The role given to the children is actually very simple.  The Bible says here, “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.”  In Ephesians 6:1-3 he adds a similar statement the Old Testament command and promise that goes with it, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

Children are to obey their parents, yet, in view of actual practices within our society, and those practices exist within the church as well, we must conclude that this scriptural directive has been either forgotten or confused by most parents.  There are two extremes within our society, and we do not want to fall into either one.  We want everyone in the family to follow the Lord’s commands and fulfill the role God has given to each – wife, husband, children and parents.

1) Open Fields

The first extreme I want to mention is the one now most prevalent in our society.  I call this open fields because while there may be boundaries somewhere, they are so distant they are hard to see. This is the result of a basic change within our society in its understanding of children.

When Americans were a Biblically literate people, it was commonly understood that people did evil things because everyone is sinful by nature.  Evil actions are the result of a sinful heart.  Evil was held in check by holding each individual responsible for what they did and then dispensing the appropriate punishment for the sin committed.  It was understood that children were born as sinners and discipline would be needed to hold that sin in check.  The only real cure for the sin problem is the gospel of Jesus Christ because through faith in Jesus and His atonement, sin could be forgiven and the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration could change the heart.

As America has slid from its moorings in a Biblical world view, the philosophy behind secular psychology has made a fundamental change in how people understanding themselves.  Society now views people – and especially children – as naturally good instead of sinful.  This is accomplished by a couple of methods.  The first is to redefine what is good and what is evil.  This allows people to do whatever they want and not feel guilty about it.  The second is to blame something else when evil does occur.  Responsibility is always shifted to something else.  It could be environmental factors, societal failure, or psychological trauma caused by someone else.  People, and again, especially children, are no longer seen by a large portion of society as being responsible for their own actions.

Consider some of the following erroneous excuses prevalent in society.

  • Crime is caused by poverty – a surprise to the generation that suffered through the Great Depression.
  • Alcoholism is a disease – if so, it is the only one that must be continually self-induced to keep it going.
  • Aggression is caused by spanking and is a reason that some people become serial killers – yet it is the children without discipline that are the most aggressive and studies of violent criminals keep showing a stronger link with a childhood that was without discipline rather than one having too much.
  • Freud said that improper potty training leads to “possessiveness, retentiveness, aggressiveness, pronounced messiness or tidiness, punctuality and shame . . .”, or as another simply described it, “bad potty training results in emotional constipation.”

Sounds more like just another way to blame it on your mother and refuse to grow up and take responsibility for yourself.

The basic philosophical premise in society now concerning children is that kids are innately good and will grow up to be good adults as long as the parents don’t mess them up.  The so-called experts warn us that we must provide children with the right environment, give them freedom to explore, and do not inhibit their efforts to express themselves.  We are told that if the parent does not satisfy every whim of the child, the child will turn out psychologically damaged.  This is the philosophy behind Dr. Benjamin Spock’s famous quote, “You can’t spoil a baby.  His wants are his needs,” which has resulted in the baby becoming the center of the family, and for everything focuses on meeting the baby’s desires.  That mindset and practice then continues into childhood. The truth is that you can spoil a baby and children, and children arrive messed up and it is the parent’s responsibility to rear them to be good.

What is the result of this liberal philosophy?  Children who are out of control in private and in public.  I think most of us have seen parents chasing children up and down store aisles because the kid refuses to stay with the parent.  We have all seen children who defiantly refuse to do what their parents tell them.  I have also seen children who call their parents names and tell them to shut up.  The word that described such children when I was growing up was “brat.” I have been in homes where the walls were heavily marked with crayon as high as the child could reach.

If this mindset continues the problems increase as the child gets older resulting in teens that remain immature and self-centered.  Cheating, stealing, lying, and hurting other people does not bother them as long as they get or do what they want.  You see them and know that they are on the path to jail or worse.  In the worst cases they become sociopaths with no concern at all for others.  The Proverbs prove true:

Proverbs 30:11, There is a kind of man who curses his father, and does not bless his mother.” Proverbs 20:20,“He who curses his father or his mother, His lamp will go out in time of darkness.”

Proverbs 19:26, “He who assaults his father and drives his mother away Is a shameful and disgraceful son.”

Proverbs 29:15 “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Proverbs 30:17, “The eye that mocks a father, And scorns a mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it.”

2 ) Restricted Stall.

The other extreme is not as common anymore, but it can still be found.  The child is not in an open field, but is confined to a restricted stall.  In this view children are not the center of the family, but somewhere on the outer edges.  The dad views himself not as the head, but the king. The mom may or may not be the reigning queen, but in either case the child is more of an object than a person.  Loving care and nurture take a back seat to keeping family law.  Punishment is swift, but does not always match the crime.  Scripture might even be quoted a lot in such a home, but that does not mean it is quoted completely in context or applied correctly.  Other Scriptures dealing with the parents’ responsibilities are usually left out.

In this type of home the child exists for the benefit of the parent, so when the child intrudes on the parents’ life through childishness or misbehavior, there are severe consequences.  The child’s main motivation is fear.  Fear of the parents, fear of God, fear of all authority figures.  Children of such homes develop what is called a prohibitive conscience.  Life is viewed in terms of what is restricted – You shalt not do this, You shalt not do that.  Guilt and the fear of potential guilt controls them.  The freedom and motivation to do good is stilted or crushed by fear of violating some rule.

The child’s outward behavior is everything, and while they may exhibit exemplary discipline and manners, the heart of the child may be very far away or completely lost.  These children learn a very distorted view of God which is why the Bible warn parents to “not exasperate [them] that they may not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21) and to “not to provoke their children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4).

Some who grow up in such a home end up rejecting what they had been taught.  This is a common reason “good kids” go “wild” in college.  The restrictions have been removed and they go to the opposite extreme.  Others live lives controlled by fear and guilt.  They do what they believe is expected of them, but there is no joy in doing it.  If this was a Christian home, they become legalists.  Spirituality is defined in a list do’s and don’ts and mostly don’ts.  They do not understand grace, forgiveness, or freedom in Christ.  Serving Christ to them is more of a responsibility and duty than a privilege and opportunity.

The Balance.

How then do we keep it balanced?  We must understand the purpose and role of children in the family.  Let me start with several purposes . . .

1) Continuation of mankind.  In Genesis 1:28 God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth . . . .”  Mankind is always just one generation away from extinction.

2) Continuation of the knowledge of God.  Israel was to pass their knowledge of God from one generation unto the next – Deuteronomy 6:4-7, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall 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.”

Psalm 78:5, “For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, [even] the children [yet] to be born, [That] they may arise and tell [them] to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandment.”,

Ephesians 6:4 – “. . . bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Certainly people can come to know the Lord regardless of the beliefs of their parents just as have many of you.  That is what the Great Commission is all about.  We are to proclaim the gospel message to everyone, and the Lord in His graciousness saves people.  But I hope you parents realize that your first priority in evangelism and discipleship is to be your own children.

One of the great tragedies I have seen are pastors who think that if they take care of the church that Christ will take care of their family.  The children turn away from Christ because dad has not been around long enough to model Christ to them.  Such men are actually unqualified to be pastors according to 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1.  Jesus said He would build His church.  While He uses people to accomplish that goal, the priority He has placed upon all of us including pastors in raising our children in His nurture and admonition.  We will talk more about that in tomorrow’s blog, but understand at this point that one of the reasons that God has given you children is so that you can pass on your knowledge and understanding of God to them to build upon.

3) A third purpose of children is to be a blessing.   The Bible says in Psalm 127:3-5, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”

Children are a blessing from God.  They bring so much into our lives.  Certainly there are the heartaches and tough parts of raising kids, but they also bring such joy.  Their love for life, wonder at the world around them, and happiness over simple pleasures.  But more importantly from the eternal perspective, they teach us a lot about trusting the Lord and walking with Him. They prod us to think less of ourselves and learn to love sacrificially.  They reflect us and we see both the good and bad in ourselves which prods us on to greater holiness.  Their very presence causes us to be more careful how we act, what we say, and even how we think.  Children are a great blessing from God to us.

The Role of Children

What then is the role of children within the family?

To put it simply,

They are there to learn.

The parents’ responsibility is to teach them and theirs is to learn.  Children are not the center of the family and neither are they somewhere on the outskirts.  They are part of the family.  You and your spouse became a family when you married.  A family of just two people, but a family. When your first child came along your family simply expanded to three and with each child your family circle simply got larger.  Each new life added to your family is another precious soul for you to guide and direct to know Jesus and live for His glory and honor.

Husbands, remember, Paul has already commanded you to lead your wife in sanctification so that she might be holy and blameless.  The same is true for your children.

Their role is to learn

From both of you

Who God is,

What He is like

And how to have

A personal relationship

With Him.

Your role is to teach

And their role is to learn

And learning begins with obedience.

Obedience is the schoolmaster needed to help shape the child’s behavior, character, and belief system.  Proper obedience leads to the freedom of living positively out of a love for righteousness instead of fear of doing wrong.

A child’s first and foremost responsibility in the family is to obey and honor your parents.  God’s commandment to all children is “obey your parents” … “honor your father and mother” and our text adds that this is to be “in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.”  Ephesians 6:1 says, “for this is right.” Children, it is right and it is pleasing to the Lord for you to obey and honor your parents in all things.

The word “obey” here literally means, “to hear under,” and so includes the idea of hearing and responding positively.  Attitude as well as action is important in obedience.  If you grumble or whine about what you are asked to do, you are not obeying or honoring even if you do what you were told.  As the Proverbs 6:20 states it; “My son, observe the commandment of your father, And do not forsake the teaching of your mother.”  This is not some conspiracy against you so that your life will be miserable, but rather this is God’s commandment so that there will be order in the home and your life will be filled with blessings.  Learning obedience to your parents is the first step toward learning obedience to the Lord and toward gaining self-control and being considerate of the interests of others.

Self-control and considering the interests of other people are both vital to your getting along with others and becoming successful as adults.  Self-control is the foundational skill for all learning. This is both mental and physical.  Without mental self-control you will not be able to focus your attention to read, study, or analyze, and solve problems.  Every subject you will ever study takes concentration – math, history, language, art, science, and understanding your Bible.  The better your mental self-control, the better you will do in all your studies regardless of your IQ.  Without physical self-control you will never gain the skills needed to perform any kind of job.  It takes a lot of practice to learn to control your fingers so that you can color between the lines or nimbly use a keyboard to operate a computer.  If you cannot control your hands you cannot drive a nail and you would be dangerous with a power saw.  Even the ability to speak requires precise control of your vocal cords, tongue and lips.  Clear communication requires the addition of a controlled mind otherwise what you say will not make sense.

Obedience is also the foundation to being considerate of other people.  Obedience combats selfishness because it requires placing your will under the authority of someone else.  It demands you to place yourself in a secondary position.  If you continue in selfishness and do not consider other people you will have relationship problems all your life.  Let me show you the importance of this by a simple question.  Do you like being around someone who is self-centered and gives no consideration to your thoughts or feelings?  What is your response when you run into someone whose only interest is in what you have and getting it for themselves.  For a child that may be a toy – other children that come over to play only because they want to play with your toys.  In the business world it is the fake friendliness of the salesman who is only after your money.

Obedience to your parents is also the place where you start to learn obedience to God Himself.  It is from your parents that you learn your first lessons in consequences.  Children, when you disobey your parents you have also broken God’s commandment to you and that is sin.  Parents, when you let your child get away with disobedience to you, then you are training that child to sin.  That means you are also in sin.  Disobedience brings punishment while obedience brings blessings.  A child that will not learn to obey simple instructions from a parent who is physically present will not later obey more complex commands from a God they cannot physically see and touch.  It is better to learn this lesson when the consequences are at worst a spanking or removal of privileges rather than the wrath of a holy and just God.  The eternal consequence of disobedience is separation from God and eternity in Hell.

The vast majority of all parents love their children and want what is best for them.  Parents are also wiser.  That is why children need to obey them.  God uses them not only to protect and provide for them, but also to guide them in how to live life.  However, the statement here to obey them in “all things” is not without qualification.

As with all authority there is a hierarchy that starts with God and then descends from there.  For children, as with all people, God is to be obeyed first and above anyone else.  After God, children are to obey their parents next, and then any other sources of authority as is fitting to the particular situation – government officials, teachers, coaches, etc.  Children, you cannot violate any of God’s commandments in trying to obey your parents or others.  You cannot lie for them. You cannot steal for them.  You cannot assist them in committing sin.  You respectfully decline to obey in those circumstances and willingly suffer any punishment they give you, and in doing so you are like the apostles and prophets who also suffered for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:10-12).

The tragedy is that parents do ask children to lie and steal for them sometimes without really even thinking about what they are doing.  Rare are the cases of parents purposely sending their child into a store to steal something, but how often do parents tell children to lie about their age so that they can get a discount?  That is stealing.  How often do parents tell children to lie when they answer the phone and tell the caller they are not at home?  Don’t ask your children to do that, and children don’t do it.  Say they do not want to be disturbed at the moment and ask them to call back.  Children you are to obey your parents, but you obey them in the Lord.  You have to obey God first, and then your parents.  This is what God declares is right and just before Him.

Honoring Parents

I want to conclude by looking at the other biblical teaching of “honoring your parents.”  The command to obey your parents arises out of the commandment in Exodus 20:12.  Paul expresses that in Ephesians 6:3-4 and adds that honoring your father and mother brings the promise that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.  There are blessings in obeying the Lord.

This particular promise is both general and specific.  It is general in the sense that a person who has learned obedience has also learned the skills needed to have a good life.  For example, self-control and consideration of others are the keys to good relationships with others and decent jobs.  In general, the natural consequence of honoring your parents and the skills learned from doing so lead to a good life, and a good life is also generally a long life.  Sin characteristically shortens life while virtue extends it.  Similar promises are also made to those who are just in their business dealings (Deuteronomy 25:15), who are wise (Proverbs 3:16) and who generally keeps God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 4:40; 32:47).

This promise is also specific in that it is a direct promise of God to extend a blessing to those who honor their father and mother.  This does not mean that God cannot have a different plan for specific individuals even if they do honor their father and mother.  For example, believers who are persecuted for their faith in Christ.  But this is the general case of the specific promise. Obedience to God in honoring your parents brings His blessings.

What then does it mean to honor your parents?  Primarily it means “to place value upon” them. It is demonstrated in respect and consideration.  This is something that all of us are to do regardless of age.  Young children honor their parents through their obedience to them.  Older children honor through submission which is willingly following the instruction and advice of their parents.

When you become an adult and live independently of your parents you are no longer under their authority.  The obedience and submission are no longer required because the authority structure has changed.  Men, you are to leave your father and mother and cleave to your wife (Ephesians 5:31).  Ladies, your husband is now your head and not your father (Ephesians 5:23).  But even so, as adults we are still to give honor to our parents.  This is done by showing them respect.  If the parents have done their job properly and the children are walking with the Lord, this arises out of the love of devotion.  It will be joyful to show respect and appreciation, ask advice, and care for them as needed.

But some parents have been bad.  Their children suffered at their hands.  The past is full of pain, trust has been broken, and the current relationship is strained at best.  But regardless of the past, you are still responsible before God to honor them.  At minimum this means not speaking evil of them, slandering them, letting them go hungry, or ignoring them in time of need, for at worst they are still your neighbor which we have been commanded to love as ourselves (Mark 12:31).  What will be missing will be the joy.  Honoring them will be a difficult duty instead of a joyful devotion.  Even so, you can still honor them out of your love for Jesus Christ and desire to be obedient to Him.

Parents, will your children honor you out of love or duty?

Children, obey and honor your parents now and learn those lessons that will bestow on you God’s blessings throughout your life.

When Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4), wives submit to their husbands, husbands love their wives, and children obey their parents.  But that comes from our verses today.  When Christ is our life, fathers will encourage their children.  In verse 21, the Bible says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”  The word “fathers” here can be understood to include both parents.  Both moms and dads are often guilty of “provoking” their children.  What does this mean?  The parallel passage in Ephesians 6:4 helpful, “Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”  The idea seems to be that parents should not discourage their children to the point of exasperation.  When we fail to encourage our children, they may feel they will never live up to our standards, never make us proud,  never please mom or dad.  Pparents may also be guilty of exasperating their children by passive parenting.  They may not “be there” for their children or may fail to discipline them.

Often children rebel and push back in an effort to determine whether they are truly loved by their parents.  They may even behave this way unconsciously, rebelling and pushing boundaries because deep down they yearn for the correction that a loving parent provides.

Verse 21 goes on to caution fathers to not “provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”  The primary idea seems to be the ongoing criticism of children that leads to their frustration.  Fathers, your sons and daughters may not choose the path you think they should choose.  They may make mistakes.  Lots of them!

You can raise your children according to the latest book on godly parenting, dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s, but your children will still grow to make their own decisions.  You may well “train your child up in the way he should go.”  If so, you have done well.  Your child grows and makes his or her own decisions and may even stray from the faith for a season.  If he or she strays, it is not a judgment upon your parenting abilities.  If that were so, there’d be a lot of godly Christian teachers and preachers who have failed: Billy Graham and John Piper chief among them.  John Piper held family devotions and wrote beautiful poetry for his wife, but even Piper had a rebellious grown child.  To quote the headline from an article in Christianity Today a few years ago: If It Can Happen To John Piper, It Can Happen To You,” “I don’t mean to alarm, but rather to remind that you and I have no control over anyone or anything.  We trust a sovereign God, who always does what is right.”  So heed the warning of the opposite error: just as the bad behavior of straying children raised in godly homes is not a condemnation of your “inferior” parenting skills, so the good behavior of non-straying children is not a commendation of your “superior” parenting skills.

If you’ve got kids who have never strayed, never pushed the envelope, and always did the right thing, you’d better get on your knees and thank God above that He saw fit in His grace to give you – undeservedly – a low-maintenance bundle of joy!  And if God in His grace has given you a child that challenges you at every turn, then praise God for that child as well.  God is good and He knows what He is doing.  He has entrusted your child to you that you may raise that child well.  So do it.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”


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