Love in the family: children

(This article was published in Grace Magazine (Kenya), 2010/4).

The Bible is a book for all people, and therefore it is a book for children. When he was on the earth, Jesus had a special concern for children, and a deep desire to see them coming to himself (Mark 10:13-16). The world often thinks children are unimportant. They are only expected to go to school, to behave well and wait until it is their turn to be adults. The Bible does not look at children in this way. It tells us that they have precious souls just as adults do. It gives us a whole book (Proverbs) showing us how to teach and train them in the ways of God. The Son of God did not come into the world as an adult, but as a baby. He honoured every stage of life, including childhood. He gave a great dignity to childhood, when he took a child to himself and told us that unless we become like a child, we will never enter heaven (Matthew 18:2-3).

Because children are important in Christ’s eyes, he caused his apostles to write to the church with instructions for them. Perhaps not many children will be reading “Grace Magazine”. But we are sure that many parents are, and pastors of churches with many children. Like the apostles, those parents and pastors can teach their children what the Lord says to them.

Paul’s words to children

In Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul wrote to the children in the church at Ephesus. These were children who had repented of their sins and believed in the Lord Jesus. It was not because their parents were Christians that they were part of the church. It was because they themselves loved the Saviour. This should not surprise us. Children are also sinners, fallen children of Adam – and children can also be given new hearts and a new life in Jesus. The gospel is not very difficult to understand. Very young ones can understand that they have broken God’s laws, and deserve to be punished. They can learn, even as infants, that Jesus is God’s Son who was punished for us when he died on the cross. They can hear and believe that Jesus rose again from the dead and promises to forgive everyone who is sorry and comes to him. We do not need a lot of education to see these things. To come to Christ we do not need great learning, but the help of the Holy Spirit to believe. The writer of this article was saved at Sunday School aged seven. He has friends who trusted Jesus when they were even younger than this.

When Paul wrote to these believing children, his words were very simple. He wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (6:1). He used nearly the same words in Colossians 3:20, saying “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” The command is very easy to understand. The first duty of children is to obey their parents, wherever possible. As long as they can be obeyed without sinning (“in the Lord”), they must.

Sincere, joyful obedience is everything that God requires of all people, everywhere. He is not pleased with great sacrifices and offerings like he is with obedience (1 Samuel 15:22). Great gifts, words and even miracles are worth nothing without obedience (Matthew 7:21-23). There is only one way to be a friend of Jesus – and that is to obey him. Nobody who loves Jesus carries on disobeying him (John 15:14). Adam did not bring us ruin and misery by failing to do some very great task. He brought us ruin and misery by failing to obey a very simple command (Genesis 3:11).

Obedience is the great lesson which God wants all people to learn. He wants us to learn it young, and remember it all our days. To teach us this lesson, he gives us parents. He then tells us that obeying our parents is obeying the Lord. It is Christ himself who has put us with our parents, so that we can learn obedience under them. Perhaps obeying does not seem very exciting or important. But it is important to Jesus – Paul says, “for this pleases the Lord.” This is very encouraging. Children do not have to wait until they are grown up before they can do something for their Saviour. They can do it even from the earliest days, simply by obeying.

The words “for this pleases the Lord” are very helpful for a child who has unsaved parents. A believing boy or girl may have a mother or father (or both) who do not know the Lord. Those parents might be hard and cruel. They might make obeying very difficult. But if the child can remember that Jesus is watching them, and that Jesus is pleased with them when they obey, then this will be a great help. Of course, they should also pray that God will save their mother and father so that they can really be together in the Lord. Obeying them may help to draw them to Christ, and save them.

Paul then reminds us that this command is not new. It was one of the Ten Commandments – part of the Law of God given at Mount Sinai. This also shows us how important the command is. Alongside not committing murder, and not worshipping false gods, is the command to obey parents.

But there is still another reason to obey this command. Paul writes, “Honour your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long on earth” (Ephesians 6:2, quoting Exodus 20:12).

God gave a special place to this command. Unlike any before it, it comes with a particular promise, a special encouragement to obey it. He says that if we obey, then we will enjoy long life in God’s world. If we are careful to please the Lord, then the Lord will be pleased to look after us. God hates rebellion and disobedience, and in his world sin often leads to lives being cut short. But those who have learnt to live in a godly and obedient way since childhood will not need to fear those punishments.

Love and obedience

Someone may ask the question – “This is all good teaching – but what does it have to do with love? I thought this article was about ‘love in the family’?”

The answer is very simple. This article has been all about love. This is because love and obedience have been joined together by God. They are two sides of the same coin. Without obedience, there is no love. Where there is a lack of love, it shows itself through disobedience. The reason why people do not obey God is because they do not love him as they love themselves and their selfish, sinful desires (2 Timothy 3:4).

How can you love your parents, and also hate doing what they say? How can you want to please them, and also not care about their commands? If we love them, we will not want to give them trouble or hurt them. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

As we finish this article, there is one very important thing to remember. We have talked about obedience, but there are two big mistakes to avoid. We must not think that children have the power in themselves to obey, or that obeying is the way into heaven. Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6), and only Jesus can give the power to obey. By ourselves, we have no strength for any good work (John 15:5). Even our very best efforts will not be enough. We must remember also that Jesus died for us and loves us now, even though there is a lot missing from our obedience. If we remember this, then every time we go wrong we can say sorry, and try again. That is the only way to get strength to give our parents the obedience he wants from us.

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