A Commentary by John Stott

Ephesians 6:4. 2). The duty of parents (continued).

Behind this curbing of parental authority there lies the clear recognition that, although children are to obey their parents in the Lord, yet they have a life and a personality of their own. They are little people in their own right. As such they are to be respected, and no account to be exploited, manipulated or crushed. ‘The dominant father of the Victorian novels’, writes Sir Frederick Catherwood, ‘who used his own authority for his own ends is no more entitled to claim Christian authority than the rebellious son. One is abusing authority, the other is flouting it. Both are wrong.

It is not only in the novels of Victorian England that oppressive parenthood is to be seen, however. Another example comes from more recent times from the United States. Edna Ferber’s novel *Giant* tells the story of the Texan, Jordan Benedict. Owner of a two and a half million acre cattle ranch, he is furious because his infant son Jordy, aged three, does not take to horses. When set on one in full cowboy regalia, he cries to be taken down. His father is disgusted. ‘I rode before I could walk’, he says. ‘All right’, responds his wife Leslie, ‘that was very cute, but that was you. This is another person. Maybe he doesn’t like horses…’ ‘He is a Benedict,’ his father retorts, ‘and I’m going to make a horseman out of him if I have to *tie* him to do it’. ‘You’ve being playing God so long you think you run the world’. ‘I run the part of it that’s mine’. ‘He’s not yours. He’s yours and mine. And not even ours. He’s himself…’

Every child must be allowed to be himself. Wise parents recognise that not all the non-conforming responses of childhood reserve to be styled ‘rebellion’. On he contrary, it is by experimentthat children discover both the limits of their liberty
and the quality of their parents’ love. Moreover, in order to grow up, they have to develop their independence, not because they are resistant to their parents’ authority but because they need to exercise their own.

Paul does not rest content with his negative instruction to parents not to provoke their children to anger. He complements it with this positive exhortation: *Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord*. The verb (*ektrepho*) means literally to ‘nourish’ or ‘feed’ and was used in 5:29 of the nourishment we give to our own bodies. But it is also used of the upbringing of Children. Calvin’s translation is, ‘Let them be fondly cherished…, deal gently with them,’ and William Hendriksen’s, ‘Rear them tenderly.’ Here is an understanding, centuries before modern psychology emphasized the vital importance of the earliest years of life, that children are fragile creatures needing the tenderness and security of love.

The implications of this insistence on the parental upbringing of children are many. One is that Christian parents should jealously guard their responsibility, delegating some of it indeed to both church and school, but never entirely surrendering it. It is their own God-given task; nobody can adequately or completely replace them. Another implication is that parents need to take time and trouble with their children. Failure to do so causes many problems later. As Dr. Lloyd-Jones pertinently observes, ‘If parents but gave as much thought to the rearing of their children as they do to the rearing of their animals and flowers, the situation would be very different.’

————————
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.