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.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. – Ephesians 6:1-9
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11
Fathers and Masters (Employers) are leaders. Children and Bondservants (Employees) are followers. This may be simplistic, but it gets my point across. We can learn a lot from both the explicit application of this passage to Children and Fathers, Bondservants and Masters and the implicit application to the broader categories of leaders and followers.
This passage is one that cuts across the grain of contemporary American culture. I believe it is vital that we come to grips with the fact that America is no longer a Christian culture. Culturally, we Americans are pagans. Biblical Christians in America are on the mission field. We don’t have to go overseas to be on mission. This is a paradigm shift I hope to influence among American Christians. As a Christian, how one is to live as a child, father, employee or employer is vastly different from the contemporary pagan American culture.
The essential instruction to children is to obey our parents in the Lord. Why? Because it is right. Children are to live in submission to their parents. This does not mean a child should obey a parent if instructed to sin. Otherwise, children obey your parents. Children are not equal to their parents and should not think or treat their parents as their equal. Giving honor to our parents is such a big deal to God that it is the first of the ten commandments to be accompanied by a promise…that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land. This instruction counters the natural propensity of children to rebel and do their own thing. It is the same energy the propelled our primal parents Adam and Eve. They wanted to know what God had told them they should not know. They too wanted to be as gods, independent of his sovereignty and care. What parent who has raised children hasn’t at some point heard the phrase, “You can’t tell me what to do!” Children, obey your parents.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger. Don’t feed their rebellion by mistreating them. The Amplified Bible expands on this command thus, “do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them…” This can be a tall order for a father who deeply cares about the prosperity of his children. We want them to do right but can’t be anal about it. Of course, there is also the problem of fathers riding roughshod over their children because (the real motive) they assume their reputation is determined by the behavior of their children. That’s a wrong motive for sure. Instead, a father is to bring his children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This is the Great Commission in its most intimate setting, making disciples of your own children.
Bondservants (employees) are also called to obedience to their employers as are children to their parents, not to say employees are children. A Christian bondservant or employee obeys with a different motivation than a pagan. The pagan wants a raise, a promotion, to stay out of trouble, etc. A Christian may want all of those things as well, but there is a higher overriding motivation. The Christian employee is to obey out of a pure heart as obedience to Christ knowing that he will receive his reward from the Lord (whether he gets the raise, promotion, extra time off, etc. or not). The Christian who looks beyond his employer and sees the true Employer, Christ, will act differently and will bring glory to God through his labors and relationships.
Masters get instructions much like that to fathers, “stop your threatening.” Most of us know that threats are not a good leadership technique but too many bosses can’t help themselves when they are frustrated with the high demands for productivity and the sometimes inadequate production from some employees. It seems easier to threaten than to train and motivate in other ways that are more productive in the long run. Employers, keep in mind that you answer to the same God as your employee. I think it is kind of funny that God sort of drops his own threat to employers, “there is no partiality with him.” In other words, if you get out of line, God is gonna’ getcha. Treat your employees right.
The undivided heart
Whichever of these roles you fill, what is the one essential ingredient that will aid you in obeying God’s instructions to you? An undivided heart.
Psalm 86:11 is a prayer for God’s aid in living. It is a request for God to teach us his ways so we can walk in them and not the ways of the world. The second half reads in the ESV “unite my heart to fear your name.” I found the NIV translation to be helpful in understanding what the writer is getting at by “uniting my heart.” It reads, “give me an undivided heart; that I may fear your name.”
It is so easy for us to be swayed by the fear of man. It may be fear of losing a job, fear of not getting a raise, fear of being socially ostracized, etc. I have found it immensely helpful to pray this prayer asking God to give me an undivided heart to fear his name. God will answer that prayer. What God thinks of you will be the only thing of real importance. When you fear God and what he thinks of you, you treat your employees better; you obey your employer with a more joyful heart, you approach your children with greater respect, and you do what your parents ask of you with joy.
Know that it is only the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that will allow you to have an undivided heart. We are naturally inclined to the world, that is why this comes only by prayer and the word of God. An undivided heart will make proper decisions about our conduct more obvious. We won’t be confused about how to act if we only fear God and not man.