Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."
This passage is proof Paul endorses children’s ministry. It is appropriate to read this verse and, if you are a parent, quickly and directly apply this to your or another’s children. Of course they need to honor! Have you seen the disrespect children show their parents these days? The world is on a downward slide and the children are climbing up and gliding down it! Many parents want their youth minister to create a six-week series from this Pauline sermonette and let it (gently) fly to their sweet little ears.
But what about us? In some sense, are we not still childish? Though we might be “of age,” might have our own family, and be quite independent physically and financially from our parents, we are still spiritually and physically dependent on God as much today as the day of our spiritual and physical birth. Need an example? Remind yourself to breathe right now. Now exhale. Now tell the sun to remain where it is. Now make sure the earth’s axial tilt remains at approximately 23.4°. Remind your leukocytes to arise and defend you against your child’s influenza. Stop worrying. Now stop worrying about worrying. Now remind yourself to breathe again. Answer your prayer from last night. Breathe! Tiresome, no? God sustains us with His common grace and transforms us with His special grace every single day. We cannot live or thrive without our heavenly Father. We must honor Him as the One in whom we live and move and have our being. In this sense, we are quite childish, and the command to honor remains. To recognize Him as your Father is to honor Him. To honor Him is to love Him.
Now, it is true, we are admonished by Paul to be mature—not childish—in our speaking, thinking, and doing. But central to many of Paul’s letters is a reminder that childishness is fundamental to the Gospel and our identity as Christians. We never graduate from being a son or daughter of God. Ever. Almost paradoxically, in the Christian life we put away childish ways and childish thinking only as we grow more childish in our relationship with our heavenly Father. Thus, Paul is indirectly preaching to our sweet older ears and asking,
Are you honoring your heavenly Father?
If it is difficult to answer that question, Paul helps us evaluate. He asks, “Are you honoring your father?” That’s a lower-case f. He tells us to survey how we treat our earthly parents. The way in which we treat and honor our earthly parents reflects the way in which we value and honor our heavenly One. If we cannot honor and love our parents who are seen, how will we possibly honor and love our Father who is unseen?
So, are you honoring your father?
What if you have dishonorable, deficient, flawed parents this side of heaven? For some, this is the primary hurdle in their Christian faith. This wound can be very dark and quite deep, and here Paul calls us to honor them nonetheless. It is a very difficult task to be dishonored and not dishonor, to be reviled and not revile in return, to “love your enemies” or even “pray for those who are persecuting you.” There is only one way to undergo such a task. Remember the Father who is for you what they have not been and never could be, who perfectly loves and never fails. Your earthly parents will fall short, but your heavenly Father never will. His love for you is flawless. The admonition here in Ephesians 6:1 is connected to the admonition of Ephesians 5:1: “Be imitators of God…as dearly loved children.” You are dearly loved by your heavenly Father. Dearly loved. That is why you honor Him by honoring them. He flawlessly loves you. Ever question or wonder how deeply and dearly He might really love you? Someone else* answered that question:
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory.
Now surrender, today, to His sacrificial love for you in Christ Jesus. Now breathe. Now honor Him. Now breathe. Now childishly live and be flawlessly loved by such a Father as this.
*Stuart Townend, copyright 1995 Thankyou Music