Harmony in the Christian Home – Ephesians 6:1-4

I think it would be safe to say that all of us want to have harmony in our homes.  We want our homes to be a safe place from all the hostility and bitterness that exists in the world.  The last thing we desire is to come home to dissension and anger and hostility and fighting.  Such an environment leaves no place for the soul to rest.  It causes husbands and wives, parents and children, to draw up into themselves and to avoid the people to whom they ought to be the closest.  If a child does not experience love and harmony in the home, we should not be surprised if they grow up to be cynical and suspicious of others.  And then they will go on to reproduce the cycle of suspicion and cynicism, hostility and anger, in their own homes. That should be the last thing we want.

Now, as Christians, we have a choice.  We may or may not have been brought up in a broken home.  We may or may not have grown up in a home were parents fought with each other and with their children.  In the end, that shouldn’t matter when it come to our homes, because we have the perfect guide, our Lord, and the perfect rule, the Scriptures.  We also have the perfect enabler, the Holy Spirit.  Our homes do not have to be a mirror image of the ones we grew up in, nor do they have to be an image of the homes so often found in Christless families. 

On the other hand, if we have grown up in a godly home, though you should thank God for this, you shouldn’t presume that you are just automatically going to reproduce this in your home.  A righteous man can have a godless son.  Godliness does not run in families; it is a gift of the grace of God.  Sin does, however, come naturally to us, and if we are not careful – even if we were raised in a consciously Christian home – we will end up reproducing an environment in our homes that is more like our godless culture than it is like the home that is the fruit of gospel living.

Now, I have preached on this passage many times.  This morning, therefore, I want to approach it from a particular point of view, from the point of view of how we can restore and secure harmony in the Christian home.  I say Christian home on purpose, because all the apostle says here is predicated on the fact that he is speaking to people who have embraced the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives.  You see this in our text in the words “in the Lord” in verse 1 and “of the Lord” in verse 4.  The Lord is a reference to Jesus Christ.  He is our Lord, and his words and example are the pattern and motivation for the Christian home.  If you don’t embrace Christ as Lord, then it is hard to see how you could truly put these words into practice.

How then do we secure harmony in the home?  Now I am talking about harmony here.  I know that the word “harmony” is not specifically mentioned in these verses, but it is definitely implied.  Remember that everything the apostles says from 5:22 to 6:9 is predicated upon his exhortation in 5:21 – “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”  That is harmony, putting others before yourself.  It’s like what the apostle is talking about in Romans 15 when he exhorts the believers in Rome to “be likeminded one toward another” and to “receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:5, 7).  It’s what Peter is getting at when he reminds husbands and wives that they are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  So if we put Paul’s instructions into practice, we are going to see the relationships in our homes – between husband and wife, parent and child – become increasingly harmonious and unified and loving and caring.

Now here’s something else.  Sometimes people have been so long in a bad condition that they don’t have any hope for change.  Things are just the way they are and they think they are going to stay that way.  As Christians, we don’t have to accept that!  Look, if your problems are so bad that you don’t have hope for change, then the real problem is that you don’t really believe what the Bible says about the power of God’s grace.  Our Lord said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).  Now a lot of people quote that verse and apply it to truth in general.  But our Lord is not making a statement about truth in general, he is making a statement about the truth concerning himself.  You have to read this verse with the previous one: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  In other words, if you embrace the truth about Christ and become his disciple, then you will experience true freedom.  And the freedom he is talking about here is freedom from sin, because in verses 34 and 36 he says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin . . . if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”  It could be that harmony is hard to come by in our homes.  It could be that you are very discouraged and don’t think it could ever be achieved.  But that is just to give into a lie that the Devil wants you to believe, but the Bible tells us that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). 

Now I realize that for true harmony to exist in our homes, everyone has to participate.  However, you cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.  So stop looking at the other person.  Consider the ways you can change.  There is freedom in that, even if the other person never changes.  The Bible never gives us the excuse that we get to wait on the other person, or if the other person doesn’t change, then we don’t have to.  That’s baloney. 

With that in mind, what does our passage say about how to achieve harmony in the home?

Well, the first thing I think we should point out is that Ephesians 5:22-33 comes before Ephesians 6:1-4.  In other words, unless husbands and wives are relating to each other the way they are supposed to relate, it’s going to be hard to have a home in which the children relate properly to the parents and the parents to the children and the children with each other.  Of course, if you don’t have children in the home, all the harmony in the home is going to come down to harmony between the husband and the wife.  So this is fundamental.

How does this look?  Let me remind you what the apostle says.  He says that wives are to submit to their husbands.  I know that this is not a popular thing to say today, but it is the Biblical thing to say.  If a wife is fundamentally unwilling to submit to her husband, and if the husband is fundamentally unwilling to lead the home, then there will be no basis for Biblical harmony in the home. 

But the husband ought never to be a tyrant or bully or center-of-the-universe in the Christian home.  Christ is Lord, not the husband.  And the husband is to lead his family, and especially his wife, in a loving manner.  He is to love his wife as himself.  He is to recognize that marriage has brought him into this “one-flesh” relationship with his wife, and on this basis he is to serve her and lead her, as Christ serves and leads the church.  If the husband truly loves his wife and is looking out for her interests and not just his own, then he will be in a position to lead her in such a way that she will willingly follow.  It will be hard, and sometimes impossible, for a wife to submit to a selfish bully.  That is not the marriage Paul is calling us to model. 

So the apostle’s words to husbands and wives are absolutely foundational to 6:1-4.  If the marriage is not right, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get the parenting right.  It will create an environment in which children will find it easy to disobey and disrespect their parents.  That doesn’t, of course, give the children an excuse for such behavior, or make it right.  But it does make it easy for sinful attitudes and behaviors to take root.  As parents, we must remember that when we sin against our spouses, it will not only affect our relationship to our spouse, our sin will also affect the people next closest to us, namely, our children.  The words of Hebrews are relevant here: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).  When bitterness between husband and wife springs up, the first people (outside the marriage) to be defiled by that are the children. 

I think this is especially important with the respect to the attitudes that the husband has toward his wife and the wife toward her husband.  Note the thing that Paul says at the end of Ephesians 5: “Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (33).  There are these two attitudes: love and reverence.  They are absolutely crucial to harmony in the home.  The husband loves his wife and does so in a way that is obvious to everyone – the wife, of course, and especially the children.  Husband, does your wife feel loved by you?  It is not enough to convince yourself that you love your wife.  You need to love her in ways that she feels loved.  If you are not doing that, you are probably not loving your wife. 

And wife, does your husband feel respected by you?  It is not enough to convince yourself that you respect him; he must feel respected by you.  By the way, the word in the KJV is better than the one used in most translations here.  Most translations use the word “respect” in verse 33.  But “reverence” is better.  It is more accurate.  The Greek word literally means “to fear.”  Of course, Paul is not saying that the wife should be afraid of her husband.  But there ought to be genuine reverence for him.  And the children ought to see that.  Do they?  Why do you think children don’t love and respect their parents?  It’s often because they don’t see the love and respect their parents ought to have for each other.  It is the first step to securing harmony in the home.

So wife, submit to your husband.  And husband, lead her in a way that is loving and fundamentally consistent with the way Christ loves and leads the church.

Next, Paul comes to the children in verse 1-3.  If there is to be harmony in the home, children must learn to obey their parents while they are at home.  And then even when they leave home and start their own families, they still show respect for their moms and dads.  That is the point of these verses.

Another way to put this is that the Christian home is not a child-centered home.  It is not a home where the children think they are the most important thing around, and where their wishes are always to be granted.  Rather, the Christian home is a Christ-centered home, in which is Lordship is respected and followed in every area of the home.  And part of being Christ-centered means following the leadership structure which he has ordained, and that means that parents lovingly lead their children and children lovingly obey their parents.

You know that you have entered a child-centered home when children are constantly interrupting their parents, when they can use manipulation and rebellion to get their way, when they can dictate the family schedule, when their needs take precedence over the needs of the spouse, when they have an equal or overriding vote in family decisions, when they can escape responsibility for their actions, when they look at their parents as if they were their peers, when they are entertained and coddled (instead of disciplined) out of a bad mood.[1]

The problem is that in many cases, the problem with children not obeying their parents is a problem with the parents not obeying Christ – that is, not willing to put in the time and effort to structure their home in the way Christ has ordained.  Yes, children are to obey their parents and this is addressed to them and they are accountable to obey their parents, but it is also the parent’s responsibility to see that the children understand that this is how they are expected to behave and to explain (as appropriate) why it is this way.

Speaking of reasons why, do you notice that the apostle spends most of his time in verses 1-3 giving such reasons?  There are three of them.  One reason is from nature: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  Charles Hodge commenting on this phrase, writes, “It is not because of the personal character of the parent, nor because of his kindness, nor on the ground of expediency, but because it is ‘right;’ an obligation arising out of the nature of the relation between parents and children, and which must exist wherever the relation itself exists.”[2]  Nature and just plain reason ought to tell us that parents are the natural choice for the direction of the life of their children.  To replace the parent with a nameless bureaucracy, as seems to be occurring in the West, is unnatural and unwise. Therefore, it is right and natural for children to obey their parents and wrong and unnatural for them to rebel against their direction and authority.

Another reason the apostle gives is from Scripture, straight out of the Ten Commandments: “Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (2-3).  It bothers me the way some evangelicals speak about the OT.  One prominent evangelical pastor says that we need to unhinge our faith from the OT.  But Paul never did that.  If you unhinge your faith from OT, you will also have to unhinge your faith from the NT.  They go together.  Yes, there is discontinuity but there is also continuity.  The discontinuity shows up here in the way Paul generalizes the promise.  In the Ten Commandments, the promise was that obedient children would have long life in the land of Canaan.  Paul generalizes this to long life on the earth, because the church is no longer tied to a specific geographic location.  However, there is also the obvious continuity.  The moral law still applies.  Paul is basing NT ethical commands on OT ethical commands.  The reason is obvious: the God of the OT is the God of the NT.  To deny this is to fall into the second-century heresy of Marcionism and to undermine the moral basis of the NT ethic.

Now, this ought to tell you children just how important it is to obey your parents.  God thought it so important that he did two things: first, he put in the Ten Commandments, which was a summary of how the life of the godly man or woman is to live before God.  It’s right there next to, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”  It’s right there next to, “Thou shalt not murder.”  This is clearly serious, and you see how serious it is when you look at how rebellious children were dealt with under the Law.  In a word, they were stoned!  Now, here is another point of discontinuity, in that the punishments of the Law no longer apply to the church.  But we should not think that God has softened in his view towards children who rebel against their parents.  The Law remains a reminder of just how God continues to think of it.

Then the next thing God did was to attach a promise to this commandment.  Now this has given commentators a lot of indigestion because of the fact Paul says that this is “the first commandment with promise.”  The problem is that there is a promise attached to the second commandment.  However, I think that the solution is that the promise attached to the second commandment is not specific to that commandment but is a promise (or a threat) of how God will act toward all who disobey any of his commandments.  Thus, the promise attached to the Fifth Commandment is the first promise attached to a specific commandment.  But there’s another problem then.  There are no other promises attached to any other commandments in the Ten Commandments!  So why would Paul say it is the first commandment with a promise?  The solution is surely that when Paul says this is the first commandment with a promise, he is not thinking only of the Ten Commandments, but the whole Law which includes the Ten Commandments.  This is a consistent and satisfactory solution.

The point is that God gave a promise to this commandment.  It’s that important to him.  It’s not only that you should obey your parents because it’s the right thing to do, but also because God has created this world so that obedience would be rewarded and disobedience would be punished.  That is the point of the promise.  It is not that there are not exceptions to the rule.  But exceptions do not negate the rule, and the rule – the promise – is that if you obey your parents, you are putting yourself in a position to be blessed.  On the other hand, children who do not obey their parents are setting themselves up for failure and disappointment in life.  This is why it is so important for parents to shepherd their children rightly and to command their obedience and respect.  Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bring shame to his mother” (ESV).

And then the most important reason Paul gives for children to obey their parents is from the gospel: I get this from the phrase “in the Lord” (1).  This is an unmistakable reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.  In a Christian home, everything is to be flavored by the gospel, including the way children relate to their parents.  Children need to understand that our homes stand under the Lordship of Christ and that this is a good thing not a bad thing.  Christ died for our sins that we might have eternal life.  This is not the act of a tyrant.  This is not the act of someone who is using you for selfish and unloving ends.  This is the generous and loving act of a Savior who gave his life so that his people might have never-ending and ever-increasing joy.  So if obedience to parents is something he commands, we can be sure that it is for our good.

At the same time, the gospel reminds us that obedience to any authority is not the basis of our salvation; that basis of our salvation is Christ.  Thus, where the gospel flavors the home life, it will temper the parent’s upbringing of their children, so that it is not done in a legalistic, mechanical, lifeless, and loveless atmosphere.  Yes, we expect obedience from our children, but we also give them grace, because that is just the way our Savior relates to us.

And that brings us to verse 4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” 

First of all, Paul addresses fathers in particular here because fathers are the leaders in the home.  It was that way in the general culture as well.  But this does not preclude mothers.  It is the ultimate responsibility of the father to make sure his children are being educated and brought up in a way that is consistent with the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  But of course the mother plays an important and crucial role here as well and she should hear these verses addressed to herself too. 

In our day, though, I think it is good that Paul put “fathers” here, because in our culture, men are more likely than not to leave the child-rearing to the mother.  This is true I think in Christian and non-Christian homes.  But this is not Biblical.  Fathers, God holds you just as responsible for the upbringing of your children.  We need to invest in our children, our sons and our daughters, and this doesn’t begin and end in bringing home the bacon.  It means that you are actively participating in their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. 

Note what Paul says: “in the nurture (paideia) and admonition (nouthesia) of the Lord.”  Now this word “nurture” includes the total development and training of the child.  The Greeks used this word to refer to the development of culture in their citizens.  In other words, this means all that goes into the training of a child and the outlook that they develop as a result of that.  Of course, for different people this means different things.  For the ancient Spartans, it means developing a sense of total submission to the state; that was their culture.  For the ancient Athenians, it meant something different: for them the development of culture meant educating their citizens so that they developed physical and spiritual maturity so that they became responsible individuals who could serve the state.[3] 

For the Christian, it means something entirely different: it means training our children so that they develop a Biblical worldview centered on Christ.  This is the meaning of the phrase “of the Lord” in verse 4.  We are not interested merely that they can read and write.  We want them to read and write and think and do art and science and everything else to the glory of God.  We want them to live out the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 

One of the ways we do this is by instruction and admonition.  Parents, you must teach your children the right way.  They will not absorb it by some process of osmosis.  They must hear from you the truth of God’s word.  If you share the gospel with anyone, share it with your children.  Teach them the Bible.  Teach them theology.  Memorize the Bible with them.  Sing it with them.  Let them know why you believe what you believe.  Don’t just expect them to embrace your worldview, because there are plenty of influences out there in the world who would love to draw your children away from the faith.  Make it interesting.  Show them that it is freeing.  Adorn the gospel of God our Savior in all things, especially in front of your children.  Back it up with your life.

If they truly embrace, along with their parents, the gospel, that is the truest way to harmony in the home.  But there are ways to sabotage this nurture and admonition, and that is why the apostle put in those words, “fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”  In Colossians, Paul writes, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:21).  Are your children angry, angry with you?  It could be that they are angry because you have provoked them. 

There are any number of ways this could happen.  Let me list a few.[4]  It could happen because of marital disharmony, as we’ve already pointed out.  It could happen because you are modeling sinful anger in front of them, blowing up at each other and at your children.  It could happen because when you do discipline them, even if they are wrong, you discipline them in anger.  As Lloyd-Jones put it, “We are incapable of exercising true discipline unless we are first able to exercise self-control, and discipline our own tempers.”[5]  Another consequence of this is scolding our children, which happens when we are unable to talk to our children in a natural tone of voice.  Along the same lines is a parent who disciplines their children in front of others, adding insult to injury.  In some sense this is a lack of discipline, refusing to make a place and a time in which correction can be administered in a way consistent with both justice and the dignity of the child.  We can provoke them to anger when we refuse to listen to the child’s side of the story, when we rush to judgment before we have had the opportunity to hear from them what happened.

There are other ways.  For example, when we live a double life in front of them, when we tell them to do one thing and then do another.  We can do it when we refuse to admit we are wrong and don’t ask their forgiveness when we have sinned against them.  We can do it when we are constantly finding fault with them, when we refuse to praise them for their successes but always point out their failures.  We can do it when we continually compare them to others, especially to their siblings or perhaps someone else’s child.

It is always the easiest thing to do to blame someone else when our homes are not the way they ought to be.  But if our homes are disordered, the very first place we need to look is in the mirror.  If you provoke your children to anger, and you don’t repent, Paul says that this will lead to discouragement.  And if that is not relieved, it will inevitably lead to rebellion.  In other words, the failure of parents to pay attention to verse 4 leads to children who don’t pay attention to verses 1-3. 

If we want harmony in the home, we need to take heed to all the apostle’s instructions, including his words to wives, husbands, children, and parents.  If there is not harmony in the home, on any level, it is because we are left off obeying God’s word to us in these verses.

And harmony is what we should expect in the Christian home.  It ought to be the outworking of God reconciling us to himself through Jesus Christ and bringing harmony between us and God.  If we have experienced this, it ought to show in practical, daily ways in our homes.  Remember that these instructions flow out of the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit in 5:18.  The promise of the Spirit is the gift of Christ, given to those who believe in the Son of God.  And if we live in the Spirit, we ought to walk in the Spirit, not provoking one another, but exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (cf. Gal. 5:22-26).

[1] I got this list from The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo (Grace and Truth Books, 2015), p. 24.
[2] Charles Hodge, Ephesians (Banner of Truth, 1991 [reprint, 1856 ed.]), p. 262.
[3] Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, (Zondervan, 1986), p. 775.
[4] Again, this list comes from Lou Priolo’s book, The Heart of Anger, chapter 2, p. 29-51.
[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in the Spirit, (Baker, 1974), p. 278.


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