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Last Sunday something wonderful happened to me. Minutes before we began our worship gathering a man came up to me and said, “Do you know who I am?” And I had a dozen things on my mind as we were about to start so I drew a blank. And then he said, “I’m Bill.” And it clicked. I was shocked to see him. I hadn’t seen Bill in decades. I couldn’t believe he was here! And he said, “Bruce, we’ve been meaning to come to Valley View for years. I’m so sorry it’s taken so long.”
Bill and his wife Annette, who was with him, were my church youth leaders for ten years, from middle school all the way through college. They had a profound impact on me. They were instrumental in my decision to go to seminary after I graduated from college and then into ministry. They made a huge difference in my life and it was so good to see them.
And when he sat down I thought to myself, “Oh no”! I better not screw up today!” Then I remembered I was team teaching with Jennifer and I thought, “Good, if I flop, I know she’ll do a great job! And if we both flop at least they’ll know I married a beautiful, godly woman who loves Jesus!”
Every parent who wants their children to follow Jesus needs to pray that God puts people in their kid’s lives like Bill and Annette. We still pray that for our three adult children. We pray that God would put others in their lives that they respect who love and serve Jesus because parenting is a daunting task. And we all need help. We cannot do it alone.
Parenting is filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows. And in my opinion, to do it well, it takes the most emotional energy of any relationship on the planet, at least it does for me. And I think the saying is true that as a parent you’re only ever as happy as your least happiest child.
This morning we’re going to talk about being a parent. But we’re also going to talk about being a child because not all of us are parents, I get that. But all of us are children. So what does it mean to be “in Christ” as a child? What does it mean to be “in Christ” as a parent? How does our new identity affect these primal relationships? This morning we continue our series called Becoming Who We Are with a look at Ephesians 6:1-4 (p. 816). If you have a Bible please meet me there.
Last week I asked you the question, who taught you how to be a husband? Who taught you how to be a wife? Today I want to ask you the question, who taught you how to be a parent? Where do we learn Parenting 101? Where do we get equipped for one of the most challenging responsibilities in all of life? I’ve never seen a baby born with an owner’s manual!
Maybe you had the privilege of growing up in a home where Christ was honored, the Word of God was valued, and you were loved and respected and encouraged to become all that God designed you to be. Your home was a safe, happy place with laughter in the walls. And now that you’re a parent you often reflect on how things were done in your home and find that to be a good template for the environment that you want to create for your children. If that’s the case, thank God.
But my guess is that’s probably the exception, not the rule. Some of us came from divided homes where one of our parents was a Christ follower, but the other wasn’t and it created incredible tension. Some of us came from addictive backgrounds or abusive homes. Some of us came from single parent families and grew up with the unavoidable stress that situation creates. And now you’re a parent and you’re saying, “Help! I know what I don’t want to do, but I’m not sure what to do.” This passage is for you.
But it’s not only for parents. It’s for children as well, children of all ages. I recognize that not all of us are parents today. But all of us are children. And three out of the four verses speak to us as children of any age, adult children as well as young children.
So let’s look at Ephesians 6:1-3, 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 go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."
Ephesians 6:1 is the very first Bible verse we had our kids memorize! Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Even before God is love or John 3:16, we taught our kids Ephesians 6:1.
But this passage is not just for little kids. It’s for adult children as well. Paul is quoting the fifth commandment from Exodus 20. The word “honor” in verse 2 literally means to “attach weight to, to hold in high regard.” And how we honor our parents changes as we move through the stages of life.
When we’re kids and teens still living at home, dependent on our parents, to honor means to obey. The Greek word “obey” literally means to “to obey, to listen to, to follow, to submit to.” Obedience means doing what our parents tell us to do.
The only limit to obedience is found in the phrase “in the Lord.” Which I believe means that if a parent asks a child to do something that disobeys God, then the child has the right to disobey the parent and obey God instead. But the principle here is clearly to obedience.
When our kids were young that meant doing what we told them to do. Sharing their toys. Making their beds. Cleaning their rooms. Collecting the trash. Going to bed on time. Trying certain foods at the dinner table. Treating others with respect. And when they needed to be reminded why, we told them that we were obeying God by teaching them to obey us.
At times I can remember getting so weary of teaching obedience. Somedays Jennifer and I felt like all we did was say “no.” I can remember saying to the kids many times, “Can you ask me a ‘yes’ question? Ask me something I can say ‘yes’ to!”
Teaching obedience can be exhausting. And it goes way beyond teaching our kids to eat their carrots or brush their teeth. Teaching obedience is how our kids learn to obey authority, especially God, the ultimate authority in their lives. The stakes are incredibly high. Someone has well said that, “Every great person has first learned how to obey, whom to obey, and when to obey.” In other words, you can’t lead well until you learn to follow well.
But how long can we expect our children to obey us? Those of you who have older kids, kids in college or beyond, know that the line of obedience gets real fuzzy as they gain their independence. The college years are especially challenging because often our kids are living apart from us, but are still financially dependent us which can cause a lot of tension when they come home on break or for the summer.
Because at some point obedience needs to transition to respect as they become independent. When our kids leave the nest and are out on their own either as single adults or young marrieds, to honor parents means to respect them. Leviticus 19:3 says, Each of you must respect his mother and father. What does that look like? Well, I think respect looks like a lot of things, but let me just suggest three.
First, by respecting their counsel, getting their input on decisions we make as we get older. It’s important to get our parents counsel on decisions related to the choice of a college, a vocation, a mate, a house, finances. We may not take their advice, but seeking it shows them respect.
Second, we respect them by speaking well of them. None of us had perfect parents. And we won’t be perfect parents. But we don’t need to bash them in front other people. Instead, we can talk about their strengths or say nothing at all.
Third, we respect our parents by communicating with them. We stay in touch with our parents. We visit them. We call them. We text them. We skype them. We face time them. We send them pictures. When we do that we’re saying, “I’m thinking about you. I appreciate you. I want you to stay involved in my life.” Now, let me call “time out” right here.
Some of you may be thinking, “Bruce, you don’t know my parents. They’re not worthy of respect. If you knew how much pain they brought into my life, how weak and self-centered they are, you wouldn’t be saying these things.”
And you’re right. I don’t know you’re parents. And I’m sure some of them caused great pain in your lives. But as someone once told me, “Bruce, remember who changed your diaper. Remember who took care of you when you were weak and self-centered. We owe them something. Maybe you think they’re unworthy now, but you were unworthy then. And we need to respect our parents just for that.”
So when we’re children, we honor mom and dad by obeying them. When we’re independent, we honor mom and dad by respecting them. And when our parents get older and become dependent on us, we honor mom and dad by caring for them financially, physically and emotionally.
That’s what Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:8. In the context of caring for aging parents he says, Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own family, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
When our parents grow older and can no longer take care of themselves, we honor them by making sure they’re well cared for. Now our culture is much different than Paul’s culture 2,000 years ago before Medicare and Medicaid and long term care insurance and pensions and social security. Maybe not SS!
But if our parents need financial help, we give it to them. For some that means moving in with us, for others it may mean placing them in a care facility. Every situation is different. But the principle is the same. Honor aging parents by caring for them financially, physically, and emotionally.
Many of us are in this stage right now. And some of us are in the sandwich generation caring for both aging parents and still raising kids. This week I read that 1 out of every 8 Americans between the ages of 40-60 is getting sandwiched. Why? Because parents are living longer and kids are taking longer to grow up which can put an enormous strain on our lives.
So as children we need help, God’s help for every stage of life, to obey, to respect, and to care for. And God promises to bless us for that. In the Old Testament it was a very tangible promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Today I believe that blessing comes in many different forms. But even today, stressful relationships with parents can cause all kinds of health problems and shorten our lives. It happens all the time.
We all need to make peace with our parents for our own health and well-being. We need to forgive them for their mistakes, reconcile with them if we need to, and honor them in these ways.
Now, let’s take a minute to unpack this one verse devoted to parents. Look at Ephesians 6:4 (Blank Slide), Fathers (the word can also be translated “parents”), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Two things, one negative and one positive. First, the negative. Don’t exasperate your kids. What does it mean to exasperate our kids? It means to make them angry, to infuriate them with anger that not only expresses itself right away, but that can get buried deep down in a child’s heart for years. While we’re teaching them to obey we must not exasperate them.
This doesn’t mean that every time our kids get angry it’s our fault and we’ve done permanent damage. No, not at all. But there are times, when we relate to our kids in unhealthy ways, and they can grow bitter against us.
Let me give you some time tested ways to produce angry kids. Show favoritism. Give more time and attention to one child over the other. Push achievement. Make sure that enough is never enough. Keep moving the goal post and then withdraw your love if your kids don’t measure up. Invalidate their feelings with statements like, “You really aren’t mad at your mother. You really don’t hate your brother. What are you sad about? There’s nothing to be sad about. What are you afraid of? There’s nothing to be afraid of.” If you need more, ask me. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way.
Here’s another one. Be their best friend. Don’t set any boundaries or limits. Let your kids do whatever they want to, whenever they want, however they want and you’ll raise angry, insecure kids because children need the security of boundaries and limits. Raising children gives us lots of opportunities for failure and for humility and for the cross and the need to ask Jesus and our kids for forgiveness.
Then there’s the positive aspect of parenting. Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Certainly that means reading Scripture to them, praying with them, talking often about Jesus, bringing them to an incredible children’s ministry like Valley Kids or Valley Mid’s or Element.
But perhaps the most important thing is for parents to love each other, even more than they love their kids. Parents who love each other give their kids the gift of safety and security that no one else can provide. That’s why before this section on parenting, Paul talked about marriage and husbands loving their wives like Christ loved the church. Jen and I truly believe that best gift we can give our children is to love God and to love each other. That’s the instruction of the Lord.
I’m so glad Bill was here last Sunday. But I’m also glad that I didn’t give him the microphone. Because as my youth leader for ten years he could tell some pretty good stories about me that may have convinced you to look for another pastor and for me to look for another job … as a travel agent. You see the mission I was on with my three buddies was to do our best to disrupt every youth meeting that Bill led. We called ourselves the Raiders.
In fact, more than once Bill said the four of us were either going to end up in prison or in the pastorate. Well, by the grace of God none of us ended up in prison. One of us became a social worker, another became a navy chaplain, and two of us did become pastors. We need Jesus’ help and the help of others like Bill and Annette to raise our kids.
Church, raising kids is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to take a long view of their lives and their relationship with the Lord. We need to pray for them and for our parents, if they’re still living, that we would honor them so that it might go well with them and us. In fact, before we come to the Lord’s Table let’s pray for our families right now.