“Children and Parents, Employees and Bosses”
June 5, 2016
Awareness of Christ changes every relationship and responsibility.
I. Children and Parents (Ephesians 6:1-4)
II. Employees and Employers (Ephesians 6:5-9)
Long ago, when I little, TVs were still black and white, and had control knobs for horizontal and vertical hold. It was in those years, in 1963, that CBS premiered a show which opened with these words: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.”
The show was called “The Outer Limits” and it was pretty good. But for Christians, controlling the horizontal and vertical has always been a challenge. We use the word ‘horizontal’ to describe the Christian life as lived out in human relationships, loving one another, witnessing and fellowship. We use the word ‘vertical’ to describe the Christian life lived in relationship to God: prayer and worship, intimacy with Jesus and hearing God speak through his Word.
Horizontal and vertical. The thing we often forget is that the two sets of relationships are connected. Only the vertical relationship with God can strengthen you for obedience to God in the realm of human relationships. This morning we are looking at two very different relationships. Children and parents. Slaves and masters. I want us to see that it is only in awareness of Christ and his word, in relationship with Christ through his Word that you will obey these relationship commands. Awareness of Christ changes every relationship and responsibility
Let’s look first at parents and children. Paul calls both to be rightly related to the Lord and under Scripture’s authority. Verses 1-4: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
John Stott looks at these verses and sees, in the early church, a strong and counter-cultural commitment to the well-being of children. He says: “That children should have been included in the instructions, and given a section of their own is an indication of the already pervasive influence in the church of him who had said, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them.’” Clearly we are to have the same commitment to children in our families and in our churches.
“Children, obey your parents.” This is a second instance, after husbands and wives of the general command to submit to one another. This is stronger, though. Where for wives Paul limited himself to the word ‘submit,’ here he explicitly uses the word for ‘obey,’ and he argues carefully for that obedience.
“Children obey your parents . . . for this is right,” or righteous. Child obedience is one of the things wired into the human conscience. It does not exclusively depend on what the Bible says, but is part of the natural law God has written on all human hearts, standard behavior in every society. Greek and Roman philosophers saw a child’s obedience as self-evident, part of the nature of things. In oriental cultures, one of the things greatly emphasized since the time of Confucius is respect and obedience to parents. Almost all civilizations have regarded the primacy of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society.
But obedience isn’t just a conviction of human societies; it is the explicit command of Scripture. Paul cites the ten commandments, the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and mother” Children are urged to obey their parents because it says so in Scripture. By obeying parents, children are learning to respect and obey Scripture, which is a crucial discipline we all need as adults.
Paul also cites the promise attached to the commandment in Deuteronomy “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” In the Old Testament God’s covenant blessings to Israel were tied to the promised land, and to safety, health, and a good harvest. But by the time Paul wrote God’s dealings with his people had changed. God’s covenant people are now an international community, and his blessings are largely spiritual, in Christ, in the heavenlies, as Paul said in Chapter 1. But that does not mean this promise is meaningless. First, the promise is fulfilled to families in general by common grace. Just as Proverbs offers wisdom to believers and non-believers alike, so this promise reveals a principle of blessing even for non-believers. But this blessing is even more apparent for believers raising their children.
How so? Well, as a very young child, obedience to parents protects you from harm. There are fewer accidents and traumas from such things as high places, sharp objects and hot surfaces if you obey your parent’s warnings. When you are older obedience to parents will be a protection not just from physical danger but from the bad habits and choices that can ruin or shorten life. You can’t get into drinking, drugs or sex without disobeying your parents. The young person who chooses to obey parents is far more likely to develop healthy character traits and make wise choices. And if his or her parents are believers, modeling the benefits of obedience and the reality of forgiveness and grace, a child will be in a place where he can learn to obey without fear. That’s a huge blessing.
What is required to “obey your parents in the Lord”? The Greek word translated “obey” comes from two words ‘under’ and ‘to listen’ so it literally means ‘to listen under’ Obedience involves conscious listening. That’s why parents say ‘listen to me.’ They want you to listen with a desire to understand and respond.
Further, this listening and doing are ‘in the Lord’ The sphere in which obedience takes place is ‘in Christ.’ This means that children who are believers, ‘in the Lord’ are to respect their parents with a reverence like that offered to the Lord himself, submit to parents because they are submitted to Christ.
But what are the limits of this obedience? We discussed this last week, between husbands and wives, and said that a wife will never follow her husband into sin. The same is true of children, though children need to be especially careful in evaluating such disobedience. For one thing the command to children is to obey, which is stronger than submission. Second, as a child, you may not have the tools to know when something your parents require crosses the line into clear, Biblical sin. You may need to talk to another trusted adult about whether disobedience or outside intervention is justified, which sadly, it sometimes is. But there are also times, as believing young people, when you may feel called to something and your parents won’t let you do it. That’s different than forcing you to sin, and often you’ll find trusting their judgment is the path to blessing.
But we do sense that there comes a time when you do follow God’s individual leading, and hopefully your parents recognize that and make the transition from demanding obedience to offering counsel. But remember too that the requirement to honor parents never ends. It’s a responsibility adult children need to take seriously. This means we won’t neglect our parents, nor forget them, nor demean them We will let aging parents live and make their own decisions, and will avoid treating them like children. Even when we do have to begin making decisions for them, we do so with kindness, caring and with sacrifice to provide for them if necessary. Adult children honor their parents.
So the responsibility of children and young people is to obey, out of respect for parents, but more than that, out of respect for the Scriptures which command it. Our first obedience is to recognize and respect God’s right to tell us what to do through His word. The vertical relationship strengthens us for the horizontal relationship of obedience. Again, this is why he says obey ‘in the Lord.’ It is in our own personal and daily relationship with Christ that we find the strength to obey what he says and those he has put in authority in our lives.
But those in authority have deep responsibilities as well. Verse 4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The advice to parents is in two parts, one negative, one positive. The prohibition is clear, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” literally means ‘do not provoke your children to anger.’ ‘Do not goad them.’ How do we exasperate our children? I can’t come up with better lists than the ones that Stott and Kent Hughes have put together.
Stott says: “Parents easily misuse their authority by making irritating and unreasonable demands which make no allowances for the immaturity of children, by harshness and cruelty at one extreme, by favoritism and over-indulgence at the other, or by humiliating them, or by those two vindictive weapons sarcasm and ridicule” Hughes adds “neglect,” a real temptation to many fathers. This was King David’s sin, by which he tempted Absalom to rebellion. This absent dad syndrome plagues our culture, whether absent due to divorce, distraction, an immature focus on entertainment, or workaholism. I’m guilty, and I have to work hard to make ways to invest in my kids.
“Don’t exasperate but bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” “bring them up” literally means to nourish or feed. It was used in 5:29 of the nourishment we give to our own bodies, and thus the care of a husband for a wife. So also with children. Fathers and mothers are to raise their children with a gentle and careful love, just as God cares for us. Calvin’s translation is ‘Let them be fondly cherished . . . deal gently with them.’ The bottom line is that parents need to be sensitive to the hearts of their children. Children are hand-made, home-made, and assembly-line processes are not going to work for every child. You have to be sensitive to their hearts, get to know them, and like a craftsman, work to bring maturity and growth without damaging them.
Yet we are to discipline and to instruct. These words are really about nurturing your child. The word “discipline” is the stronger of the two. It includes everything from modeling the practices of godliness to physical discipline, spanking. The goal is the moral uprightness of the child, that our children would know right from wrong, and would make right moral choices. The other word is more about the intellect. It literally means ‘to place before the mind’ It calls us to clear instruction of our children, of the kind envisioned in Deuteronomy 6, the daily exposition of what is true and right. This takes time, creativity and thought, elements sometimes neglected by parents. We are called to gently nourish their children in the discipline and instruction ‘of the Lord.’
This means basing our teaching and instruction, our morality and our truth not on the passing fancy of the world system, but on the Word of God itself. As Paul says to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” These are the very things we are told to do for our children. Remember though that the Word becomes the tool of Godly parenting primarily when we respect it and apply it to our own lives, when we spend time in it and model for our children the desire to learn and obey it, to be corrected and trained by it. In other words, only as we, “in Christ” are responding to the Word of God, will we be able to raise our children in discipline and Godly teaching without frustrating them.
So our relationship to Christ is the key to relationships as parents and children. And the key to relationships in the workplace. Ephesians 6:5-8. Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not only while being watched, in order to please men, but as slaves of Christ, doing God’s will from your heart. 7Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to man, 8knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
Slavery was universal in the ancient world. In the Roman Empire up to a third of the population were slaves, maybe 60 million. They were the work force, not only domestic servants and laborers, but educated people, doctors and teachers. That’s why these sections on slaves and masters can be readily applied to employees and employers. Granted, slavery was not exactly the same thing as employment. Most employees can’t be bought and sold, and employers can’t usually control their employees 24/7/365 or get away with abusing them.
Actually in first century Rome when this was written, those kind of things rarely happened to slaves. Sweeping cultural reforms had changed Roman slavery. It’s is estimated as high as fifty percent of slaves were freed before age thirty. Slaves could own property, could save and invest, even in other slaves. There wasn’t even a pervasive social distinction between slaves and slave-holders. This was very different from the awful slavery in America that we decry.
All of this helps us understand why Paul and the other New Testament writers didn’t more strongly condemn slavery. It was not the pervasively evil institution we are familiar with. More importantly, Paul seems to have known that teaching spiritual equality and practical fairness between slaves and masters would ultimately destroy the institution of slavery. Which is what happened. As Christianity became more influential, slavery waned and then disappeared.
So what are the instructions here for slaves? First, they are to obey earthly masters with respect and fear, not the abject fear of one being abused, but rather the same kind of respect and reverence called for throughout this text. In the same was as employees were are to be respectful toward our employers. Is this true in your workplace? Are only positive and supportive comments made about your boss around the coffee pot? No? Well your co-workers have an excuse, they probably aren’t believers. But you don’t have that excuse. Even if your boss is not one to garner much honor in the eyes of men, his position is one of authority and itself requires your respect. This is clearly the case in the armed services, where the general or the ship’s captain or the ranking officer is saluted, given respect, because of his rank. Workers are to respect their bosses - and they are to do it sincerely, as they would Christ.
This is so cool. You are to see Jesus behind all your other relationships, and behave toward others as you would toward him. If Jesus actually walked into your workplace and said “Hey, I need you to do an especially good job on this one, it’s for me” you would do so, or at least you’d try. The text says the same respect and effort should be made toward your actual boss. Verse six expands that thought: Obey them “not only while being watched, in order to please men, but as slaves of Christ, doing God’s will from your heart.” This employee, this slave, determines to have integrity, by being the same when the eye of the boss is on him as when he is gone. Integrity is a rare commodity. Howard Stein writes of a retired friend who got interested in the construction of a shopping mall. Observing regularly, he was impressed by one very conscientious equipment operator The day finally came when he had a chance to tell this man how much he’d enjoyed watching his scrupulous work. Looking astonished, the operator replied, “You’re not the supervisor?”
We see ourselves as slaves of Christ, as working for Christ, and to see our jobs as the will of God which we’re doing from the heart. Stott says: “Our great need is the clear-sightedness to see Jesus Christ, and set him before us. It is possible for the housewife to cook a meal as if Jesus Christ was going to eat it, or to clean the house as if Jesus Christ were to be the honored guest. It is possible for teachers to educate children, doctors to treat patients, nurses to care for them, accountants to audit books, store clerks to serve customers, and secretaries to type letters as if in each case they were serving Jesus Christ.”
Verse 7 sums it up: “Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to man.” I love the scene in “The Ultimate Gift,” where Jason finally decides he has to man up, and the soundtrack is Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” “You may be an ambassador to England or France. You may like to gamble, you might like to dance. You may be the heavyweight champion of the world. You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. But you're gonna have to serve somebody. Yes indeed, you're gonna have to serve somebody. Serve somebody. Yes you’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Ultimately we do serve the Lord. We serve Jesus because he alone is fully deserving of our devotion, because of what he has done for us. And his example is what inspires us to obedience and service even in difficult circumstances. Jesus submitted to his Father, went to the cross, bore our sins, endured the shame and suffering and separation to cleanse us from sin but also to show us what it is like to obey in hard circumstances and in hard relationships. And he rose from death so we might be with him always, even in those hard circumstances.
But in addition to his presence with us in all these things, he also promises us good things to come. Verse 8: “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.” You may get no thanks on earth for your integrity. You may reap only criticism and misunderstanding. But there is an unfailing reward for faithful service: The Lord’s well done is reward enough. His ‘welcome into the joy of your master’ is pure grace. So slaves, and employees, out of respect for Christ and because of what he has done, and in fellowship with Christ, and in anticipation of the joy before us, we are to serve wholeheartedly in the workplace, with respect, sincerity, integrity and diligence.
But maybe you are the boss? What then does God require of you. The same things. Verse 9: Masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him. Treat your slaves in the same way. This is the golden rule again. Masters are to treat slaves as they expect to be treated by the slaves. And how is that? As already described. If you want respect, show respect. If you want sincerity, be sincere. If you want integrity among your employees, show integrity. If you want your employees to work diligently, model that.
In addition, as an employer, you need to understand the radical spiritual equality of slaves and masters. Do not threaten them since you know that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven. Hey, we are all slaves here, servants of the one who has rescued us and become our master. You may stand above someone on the corporate ladder, but you stand beside them at the foot of the cross, and that’s the only place that matters. To honor Jesus, your master, show his kindness and his character to those who work for you, day to day. Kent Hughes says: “This demands that the employer refrain from harshness and from using his superior position to bully. He must be careful to pay fair wages, must care about his employee’s illnesses, must be concerned for their marriages, their children, their education and future.” They didn’t teach that when I worked at Exxon, but Jesus teaches us to be this kind of supervisor.
In conclusion, let me stress two things. First, in this whole section, beginning with husbands and wives, there is authority, and there is submission to proper authorities, but this is balanced by the compelling responsibilities placed on those in authority. Whether you are a husband, a parent, or an employer, you are expected to behave with Christ-like caring toward those in your charge. Be warned: any other attitude on your part is sin. Managers, bosses, mothers, fathers, husbands, take your responsibilities seriously, for they are serious and you will answer to the one who is our master for your handling of them.
Second: it is only when you are strengthened by your vertical relationship with Jesus that you will be ready to obey these radical demands. Respect the Word and see its instructions as coming from him, not from men, not as opinions, but as compelling responsibilities. And respect your Lord. Look to the cross, look to what he has done, and know that he will never ask of you more than he himself would do, nor will he demand of you that you do it in your own strength. By his salvation, by his sacrifice, by his Spirit he will strengthen you for what you must do. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” This awareness of Christ changes every relationship and responsibility.