It is astonishing, given all the books that have been written on marriage and raising children, that Paul says everything he wants to say in forty-two words in the original Greek text! Presumably, he’s focusing on key issues.
Paul’s command to children to obey their parents echoes the fifth commandment to “honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). In the Old Testament, to disobey one’s parents was tantamount to disobeying God, which was as serious as treason or idolatry. In fact, Paul saw increasing disobedience to parents as one of the signs of the end times (2 Timothy 3:2). A child here does not just mean a young boy or girl. One commentator points out that in Paul’s time, a father had authority in the home until he was 60 years of age, or passed away. But the outworking of a parent’s authority changes as the children mature. Children are to respect their parents “in everything” (Colossians 3:20), but as they become less dependent on their parents and, in particular, move away from home, the degree and extent of the obedience required is less. Still, respect and care for one’s parents is a lifelong obligation, though it will express itself differently.
Is it not amazing that, of all the advice Paul could give, Paul’s one word of exhortation to parents is: do not embitter or discourage your children (v. 21). In the ancient world, fathers had absolute power over their children, even over life and death. Today, parents still have tremendous physical, emotional, and psychological power over their children, and this power can be dreadfully abused.
Therefore, do not exasperate your children. Parents can commit this mistake in various ways: by showing favouritism; giving harsh comments without reasons and without reminders of their love; punishing with unreasonable anger; causing embarrassment; or expecting perfection.
Research from around the world is extensive and overwhelming. Stable, God-centred families are good for society. By every measure children do better in this environment. When God, who ordained family life, gives instructions on how it ought to operate, He must be listened to because this is the way to life, love, and happiness.
How all-encompassing do you think Paul’s command is to children to obey their parents in everything? Are there situations when a child, whether young or old, should not give complete obedience to a parent?
Can you think of any other ways that parents can embitter or discourage their children? Conversely, how can parents positively build up the lives of their children?