A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:1-3. 1). The duty of children (continued).
The promise concerned was material prosperity (*that it may be well with you*) and long life (*that you may live long*). During the time of the theocracy, when Israel was both a nation and a church over which God ruled, his covenant blessings were closely tied to the promised land, and to safety, health and good harvest in it. But now times have changed, and God’s dealings with his people have also changed. This seems to be implied by Paul’s deliberate alteration of the promise from the original ‘in the land which the Lord your God gives you’ to *on the earth*. The promised land fades from view. God’s covenant people are now an international community, and his blessings are largely spiritual in Christ. At the same time, along side his blessing ‘in the heavenly places’ (1:3), there is here a promised blessing ‘on earth’. Probably we should interpret this in general rather than individual terms. Then what is promised is not so much long life to each child who obeys his parents, as social stability to any community in which children honour their parents. Certainly a healthy society is inconceivable without a strong family life.
Two practical questions arise from the requirement that children obey their parents. Is the command unconditional? And to whom is it addressed?
Many Christian young people, who are anxious to conform their lives to the teaching of Scripture, are perplexed by the requirement of obedience. Are they to obey absolutely everything their parents tell them to do? What if they themselves have come to know Christ, while so far as they know their parents remain unconverted? If their parents forbid them to follow Christ or to join the Christian community, are they obliged to obey? In reply to such questions which are often asked in great pain and anxiety, I think I need first to say that during a young person’s minority (and I have more to say about this later) obedience to parents should be the norm, and disobedience the rare exception.
For example, supposing you are a young person who, having been brought up in a non-Christian home, have recently come to Christ and now desire to be baptized, but your parents are forbidding it. Personally, I would not advise you to go ahead in defiance to your parents’ expressed wishes. Even baptism, though Jesus commanded it, can wait until you are older and the law of your country gives you a measure of independence. If, on the other hand, your parents were to forbid you to worship and follow Christ in your heart, this you could not obey. It must have been just such a situation as this that Jesus had in mind when he warned of family conflict in which parents and children would be opposed to one another and our enemies would belong to our own household. In such circumstances, however painful or perilous, our loyalty to Christ must come first. If we love even our parents more than him, he said, we are not worthy of him (Mt.10:34-39). Not, of course, that we should ever seek family conflict or be guilty of fomenting it. On the contrary, all the followers of Jesus are called to be peacemakers and, so far as it depends on us, to live peaceably with everybody (Mt.5:9; Rom.12:18). Yet sometimes tension and strife simply cannot be avoided.
It is quite true that in a parallel passage in Colossians children are told to obey their parents ‘in everything’ (Col.3:20). But this is balanced in Ephesians by the command to obey them *in the Lord* (6:1). The latter instruction surely modifies the former. Children are not to obey their parents in absolutely everything without exception, but in everything which is compatible with their primary loyalty, namely to their Lord Jesus Christ.