God’s Design for the Family: The Role of Children

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Faith Bible Church, NY

December 15, 1996

God’s Design for the Family:

The Role of Children

Ephesians 6:1-3

Turn to Ephesians 6. The whole section reads as follows: 6:1 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 that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. This is the role given to the children.

We have already examined the roles that God has given to the wife and to the husband. The wife, though equal to her husband, has the supporting role. She is to willingly submit to his leadership while demonstrating chaste and respectful behavior to him. Again, she is not to obey, but rather submit because in doing so she 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.

The husband’s role is leadership since God has placed him as the head of the family. God has commanded him to lead his family into sanctification that they may be holy and blameless. God will hold him accountable for how he does in this. The husband is also to love his wife in the sacrificial manner that Christ loves the church. He is to cherish her the same way he cherishes his own body. He is to love her with the same thoughtfulness as he loves himself.

Now the role given to the children is actually very simple. They 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 forgotten by most and confused by the rest that do remember it. There are two extremes within our society, and we do not want to fall into either one. We want to follow the Lord’s commands concerning our family – husband, wife and children.


The first extreme in our society is now the most prevalent one because there has been a basic change in our understanding of children. Most of the people of our nation no longer view children the way generations prior to the 1950’s did. The philosophical basis behind secular psychology has made a fundamental change in our understanding of ourselves. No longer are people, and especially children, seen as responsible for themselves, rather there is always someone else to blame, some other factor within society that is responsible, some mitigating reason behind the negative behaviors of people.

When Americans were a biblically literate people it was commonly understood that people did evil things because everyone is by nature sinful. 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. The only 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.

The common understanding in our society now is that man is basically good and that any evil that he commits is due to either some environmental factor or psychological damage someone else caused the individual. Thus the wide spread erroneous notions like: poverty causes crime; a disease causes alcoholism; spanking causes aggression and is a reason that some people become serial killers; Freud said that improper potty training leads “possessiveness, retentiveness, aggressiveness, pronounced messiness or tidiness, punctuality and shame…”, or as another simply described it, “bad potty training results in emotional constipation.”

When basic philosophical premise concerning children is now this: Kids are innately good and will grow up to be good adults as long as the parents don’t mess them up. We are told to provide children with the right environment, give them freedom to explore, and do not inhibit their efforts to express themselves. If that is done, the kids will turn out to be healthy adult members of our society. The result is fear. If the parent does not satisfy every whim of the child they are told the child will turn out psychologically damaged. The philosophy behind Dr. Benjamin Spock’s famous quote, “You can’t spoil a baby. His wants are his needs,” has resulted in the baby becoming the center of the family, for everything focuses on meeting the baby’s desires. That philosophy then continues into childhood.

What is the result of this philosophy? We all see it when we are out in public. Kids running up and down store aisles without supervision, kids refusing to do what their parents tell them, kids calling their parents names and telling them to shut up (we used to call such children, “brats”). I have been in homes were the walls were heavily marked with crayon as high as the child could reach.

As the children get older the problems just increase. Teens that remain immature and self centered. In the worst cases they become sociopaths with no concern at all for others. Cheating, stealing, lying, and hurting other people are of no consequence to them as long as they get or do what they want. You see them and know that the path they are on leads right to jail or worse. The Proverbs prove true: 30:11, “There is a kind of man who curses his father, and does not bless his mother.” 20:20 adds, “he who curses his father or his mother, His lamp will go out in time of darkness.” 19:26, “He who assaults his father and drives his mother away Is a shameful and disgraceful son.” 29:15 “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” 30:17, “The eye that mocks a father, And scorns a mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, An the young eagles will eat it.”


The other extreme is not as common anymore, but it can still be found. 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 dad’s 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 from them, not in what they can do. Thou shalt not do this, Thou shalt not do that.

The child’s outward behavior is everything, and while they may exhibit exemplary discipline and manners, the heart of the child may be completely lost. When such children become adults they end up with a distorted view of God. That is why the scriptures warn parents “not to provoke their children to anger” (Eph. 6:4) and to “not exasperate [them] that they may not lose heart” (Col. 3:20).

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. 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 – mostly dont’s. 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.


How then do we keep it balanced? We must understand the purpose and role of children in the family.

Let me give you several purposes to start with.

1) Continuation of mankind. 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. Deut. 6:4-7, Eph. 6:4. Israel was to pass their knowledge of God from one generation unto the next – Gen. 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 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 commandments,

Eph 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. 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 parents realize that the first priority in evangelism and discipleship is to be their 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 Tim. 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 is raising our children in His nurture and admonition. We will talk more about that in a couple of weeks, but understand at this point is that one of the reasons that God has given you children is so that you can pass on your knowledge and understanding of God for them to build upon.

3) A third purpose of us children is to be a blessing. Psalm 127:3-5, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 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. The 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.


What then is the role of children within the family? To put it most simply, they are there to learn. The parents’ responsibility is to teach them, their’s 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. When you and your spouse were first married, you were a family. 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 into holiness.

Gentlemen, 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, theirs is to learn, and learning begins with obedience. It 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.

Children, listen up. Your first and foremost responsibility in the family is to obey your parents. The word “obey” here literally means, “to hear under,” and so also 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 asked to do, you are not obeying even if you do what you were told. As the Proverbs state it; “My son, observe the commandment of your father, And do not forsake the teaching of your mother” (6:20). 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, toward gaining self-control and becoming 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 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 make no sense.

Obedience also is 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. Again, if you continue in selfishness and cannot consider other people you will have anything but problems all your life. Let me show you the importance of this by a simple question. Does anyone 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 in the business world whose only interest in you is your money and getting it into their pocket?

Obedience to your parents is also the place where you start to learn obedience to God Himself. It is from our parents that we are to learn our first lessons in consequences. Disobedience brings punishment, obedience brings blessings. A child that will not learn to obey simple instructions from a parent who is physically present will be not later obey more complex commands from a God they cannot physically see and touch. 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 primary role of children is learning, and that begins with the foundation for learning – obedience. This is God’s commandment to all children – “obey your father and mother.” This is a serious commandment. Children, when you are disobedient to 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. Obedience is not an option. The eternal consequence of disobedience is separation from God, an eternity in Hell.

But there are some limitations here. Notice that the commandment is that children are to obey their parents in the Lord. With children, as in every other situation in which one person is under the authority of someone else, their first allegiance is to the Lord. Whenever there is a conflict in commandments, it is the Lord that is to be obeyed rather than any human. Children, you cannot violate any of God’s commandments in trying to obey your parents. 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 – in doing so you are in like the apostles and prophets who also suffered for righteousness sake.

The tragedy is that parents do ask children to lie and steal for them. How often do parents tell children to answer the phone and say that they are not home? Don’t do it. Say they do not want to be disturbed at the moment and ask them to call back. I have heard of parents who ask their older children to lie about their age so they can get a children’s discount – that is also stealing. 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.


In verses 3 and 4 Paul repeats Exodus 20:12 from the Ten Commandments, which is the basis for his statement in vs. 1. Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Paul comments that this is the first commandment with a promise. There are blessings in obeying the Lord and in this commandment God says specifically what it is. It will go well with us and we will live long on the earth.

That 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. As I have already mentioned, 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 (Deut 25:15), who are wise (Prov. 3:16) and who generally keeps God’s commandments (Deut. 4:40; 32:47).

The promise here is also specific in that it is a direct promise of God. He extends 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 brings His blessings.

What 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 transitioning into adulthood honor through submission – they willingly follow the instruction and advice of their parents out of devotion to them. Obedience has been the schoolmaster that has taught them to willingly submit.

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. Ladies, you husband is now your head and not your father. 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 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 n current relationship is strained at best. But regardless of the past, you are still responsible before God to honor your 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 (Mk 12:31). What will be missing will be the joy. Honoring them will 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.

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