July 12, 2015
Roles within the Fourth commandment
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As children grow up, who are their role models? Who do they look up to? Well, by the nature of that second question, they look up to older people. The growth of the brain and the psychological development of the child craves someone to look up to. The child is learning survival by watching adults who are surviving and are adjusting to their environment. The children mimic and thereby improve their cognitive and physical skills. It is fascinating. Growing up, children will have lots of people that they admire and look up to, anyone from a football player to an older sibling. But, the greatest role models are the parents.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Broken homes are becoming the normal. Children are growing up without an understanding of who is a good role model and who isn’t. These problems aren’t a result of bad governmental programs or bad teaching in the schools. Our sin is causing the problems that we have. We are sinners who don’t like the responsibility of listening to God’s law. Our sin causes our familial disfunction. Our selfishness leads us to disregard our own family and to simply worry about ourselves. Our laziness leads us to dismiss the roles that God has given to us in the family and in society. Our sin perpetuates the sin cycle as we bring the next generation into our sin sick environment. Parents and adults in the congregation, we are failing our roles on a daily basis.
When looking at the Old Testament, when the law was first given, God put the parents in a high position. Looking at Exodus 20 or Leviticus 20, if the children “curse the father or mother” the children could be killed. This isn’t just for the children to remember this, but this is for the parents to realize the incredibly important role God has placed them in. God emphasizes this throughout scripture.
But, if you haven’t realized from your own experience in a family, relationships are difficult. We become bad role models for the children. Our families become bad family models. That’s why God gives us the model. We might be asked, or we might even think sometimes, “What right does God have to impose this law on me? Why should I listen to this old book written a long time ago? After all, the family model has changed a lot in a couple thousand years!” You see, God does have the right. God has the right to give us the correct family model because he demonstrated it for us. He embodies it. He knows the blessings of it. He loves us so much that he wants us to know the blessings of what a family should look like. Yes, we will fail. Yet God reminds us of his forgiveness and the blessings that come from that forgiveness.
When we look at the fourth commandment, it tells the children to honor their parents in the Lord. No doubt, this Ephesians passage speaks to Christian children. Paul reminds us of another point in Romans 10, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Paul gives us the question in Romans to ponder: how can our children show true Christian honor if they aren’t Christian? I’m at that age now where my friends are either having children or getting dogs or even both. Now I love dogs, but sometimes it seems as if people spend more time training their dogs than they spend training their own children. It is important for the parent to train their children in God’s Word, to share God’s word, and to display that honor and respect.
There’s the story of a football player in high school. He was all American. He was big and strong. One day his father told him clean up after himself. He said he wasn’t going to do it. So his father replied, “I’ll help you pack, since you obviously are all grown up and don’t need me.” The boy starting packing all mad, but the dad kept unpacking his stuff saying, nope that’s mine. I paid for it. The teenager was mad and walked outside in the Wisconsin winter. But, he didn’t have a car that was fully his own. His parents paid for mostly everything. He had nothing. The boy realized that he maybe didn’t prefer home, but compared to what was happening outside, it wasn’t half bad. The boy apologized and cleaned up. Kids, sometimes you need to realize that your parents aren’t trying to annoy you, but they love you and they want to prepare you for life and what comes after this life.
Preparing for what comes after this life is the most important responsibility a parent has. And this commandment that Paul highlights in our text today is a wonderful reminder that the 10 commandments aren’t irrelevant. In fact, this verse is an important reminder that children are sinful. Children are born sinful. They may be cute as babies, but they are sinful. That is why we teach the children the ten commandments, just like that would have been true for the children in the apostle Paul’s day, so that they might see their sinful condition and their instant need for a savior. And in doing so, their gratitude to God for salvation might express itself in obeying and respecting parents and those in authority.
Did you notice that this commandment doesn’t say, Parent’s honor your children, but it’s the other way around. The mark of an authentic parent is that they are not out to please the child. They are out to do what is best for the child. Otherwise, the child becomes the parent. Children need to know the position God has put them in, just as parents need to realize the important position God has placed them in. In the home, a child learns love and self value. The child learns from the parents how to live in the real world. The parent is really training the child to be a grown up Christian in today’s world. It's not an easy world out there! People hate Christians. They will be mean, hateful and hurtful. The parents need to prepare children for that real world.
Apples don't fall far from the tree. That's why it’s good for the parents to instill good qualities and good habits, first for themselves, so that their children see that and mimic it. The parents need to teach the children what it means to be a man or a woman in society, in the family, and in the church. That model needs to be taken from scripture.
Now, I’m not a parent. Many of you are, but many of you aren’t parents. Do you remember the difficulty of being a child? Oh, I remember thinking life could not go on, that I’d rather just wither away, than doing my thirty minutes of homework at night. Thirty minutes! How was I going to survive? I’ll be the first to admit that I know I was not always the easiest child to deal with. But it was always good to see how the role models in my life could get through their difficulties, great or small. It was good to see their faith in God, how devotion and bible study did wonders for the individual and for the family bond. Those without children can be awesome Christian role models to the children of our congregation, because we all know it takes a village to raise a child. We are a family of believers, and what a wonderful way to incorporate those who don’t have children or families.
The very fact that this section of Scripture was addressed directly to the children is certainly a proof that the Christian children attended the gathering of Christians where these letters were read, that parents with their children, belonged to the congregation, that even at that time children were baptized and were received into the Christian congregation. Historically, the Christian church has always believed in infant baptism and that children are not to be treated as different, but that they need to hear the law and gospel too!
As we look to God’s model for love and family, we see God’s encouragement to us. The wording of this translation may be a little confusing, where it says, “First commandment with a promise”: You can think of this as meaning the fourth commandment is one of first rank, one that it is very important. God is serious about this fourth commandment from the fact that He attaches that promise! God simply says to obey our parents and those in authority so that it may go well for us! The motivation for obeying is not the reward of things going well, but the motivation is because it pleases the Lord. However, God promises us that when we listen to our parents or those in authority, life is going to be a lot simpler and less stressful.
Children of our congregation, whether you are 1 or 100, do you always like to be told what to do? Of course not! Our sinful nature hates being told what to do. We like to live life our way. But the apostle Paul isn’t speaking to our old sinful nature. He is speaking to the new lives that children live in Christ. So much more is asked of Christian children when it comes to the relationship between parent and child. The motivation is so different from a non Christian child. They are to honor and obey their parents. In other words, a proper attitude is required, one that involves both heart and mind. This obedience, should flow not only from the feeling of love, gratitude, and esteem for their parents, though these motivations are very important, but especially from their love for Jesus because He has showered us with so many blessings. It is only right to thank him in this way!
So children, think of this when your parents tell you something. Think: I should obey my parents because the Lord tells me to do so. What God says is right, for the simple reason that he says it! It is God who determines what is right and wrong. So, when I disobey my parents, I am disobeying and displeasing my Lord. But, when I obey them, I am obeying and pleasing the Lord.”
Parents and adults in our congregation: We may or may not have children, but God wants us to be role models for those who are maturing in God’s Word. When it comes to the fourth commandment, it isn’t just for the children, but we all have incredibly important roles. May we continue to always look to God for strength to carry out his laws. Amen.