In the early 1500s, the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de León, sailed north from Puerto Rico, through the Bahamas, looking for new lands and treasures. He had heard rumors of a mythical fountain of youth. The native peoples spoke of a legendary, magical spring whose water was believed to make older people young again. Ponce de León explored many areas, including the Bahamas and Bimini, for both gold and the mythical fountain, but he never found either one.
Today, people are still searching for that mythical fountain. They’re not looking for a physical, geographic location like Ponce de León did, but they are pursuing the idea. You don’t believe me? Just pick up a magazine, or a newspaper, or search the internet. You’ll find plenty of evidence. People are still looking for a miracle potion that will stop or reverse the aging process.
Vitamins, dietary supplements, anti-aging creams, you name it; they all promise spectacular results if you’ll only use their expensive product. I know that some of these products are legitimate and help to maintain more vibrant health, even as we grow older. There is also solid research that poor dietary habits are a significant contributing factor to sickness and disease. The saying, “Eat well, live well,” is generally accurate. But the fact is, no matter what we do, you and I and every other human being on this earth are under the curse of death.
While the Scriptures make it clear that all human beings have a date with death, they also spell out how you and I can enjoy long life. The secret to long life is first given in Exodus 20:12. It is repeated by the apostle Paul in our text for today, Ephesians 6:1-3. As you may already know, this text gives particular instruction to children, so that will be our focus in this study.
Let me read now, the first four verses of Ephesians chapter six. I’ve titled our study, “How to Have a Long Life.”
Read Ephesians 6:1-3
It may be that as I read those verses, your memory was stirred by a thought something like this: “I knew a godly woman or man who was an obedient, respectful child, and they died at a young age in life. So just what does this promise mean, and who does it apply to?” That’s a legitimate question that deserves a thoughtful response.
To put it simply, I believe this is a general principle, not an absolute guarantee. Many of the Proverbs function in the same way. Let me give you just one example; “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Generally, this is true, but you can probably think of “exceptions to the rule.” Our text here presents a general rule also.
If you and I want to do those things that improve our health and lead to longer life, we need to know what we can do to aid the process. In the context of these verses, let’s examine the FACTORS that will generally promote long life.
The First Factor to Achieve Long Life is,
Obey Your Parents
Let me say first that these verses addressing children are in the larger context of the church, the body of Christ, and the family unit. The verses just preceding our text deal specifically with the husband-wife relationship. So, Paul is just continuing his teaching about human relationships, especially within the family.
Verse one gives a very straightforward command. So, what part of “children, obey your parents…” don’t you understand? Perhaps understanding “what” is no problem, but what about the why? Children should obey their parents for the following reasons.
First, it is a command of God. That itself should be sufficient. But you may ask, “Why does God command children to obey? Let me remind you that God accomplishes His work through structures of authority. That structure in the family is God, Christ, man, woman, children. There cannot be order or success in the family if children do not learn to obey their parents, the authority God has placed over them.
In addition, children should obey because their welfare depends on it. It is extremely important that we parents teach our children to obey our commands; the first time they’re given. They need to understand that delayed obedience is disobedience, and it can have very serious consequences. When we lived in the city, one day, our boys were playing on the sidewalk, and a ball went out in the street. By God’s grace and perfect timing, I looked out the window to see our son start to run out between two parked cars after it. I yelled his name, and he stopped. As he stopped to see what I wanted, a car went whizzing by. If he hadn’t stopped …well, I don’t want to think about that.
A further reason for the need of obedience is, children have a limited ability to understand the consequences of their choices, to know what’s best for them. They don’t know how to determine the difference between right and wrong. The parents must make choices for them. God has charged parents with this responsibility and will hold them accountable. Obviously, as children grow and mature, they will begin to make more and more decisions on their own. That’s part of the preparation for adulthood.
Now, what about what the phrase, “in the Lord”? Some have said, “Children only need to obey their parents if the parents are Christians.” But if you extend that idea to other structures of authority, it makes no sense. Must I only obey government leaders who are Christians? Of course not! I must be subject to the position even if the person is an unbeliever.
Others teach that this phrase means the child’s obedience should be given on the condition that the command does not violate Scripture. I believe this makes the most sense and agrees with the larger context of Scripture. If a child is commanded to do wrong, he or she should respectfully question it. In letting the parent know he cannot do what is asked, he should be gentle, respectful, and express a willingness to find a creative alternative. Ultimately, he or she may need to suffer for doing what is right.
This leads us to the last part of the verse; obedience is commanded because it is right. It is the proper thing to do. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was obedient to His earthly parents, Mary, and Joseph. Luke 2:51 tells us that “[Jesus] increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” We can expect this same result for our children if they are well trained and disciplined in obedience.
I remember a pastor friend of mine once saying to me, “A happy child is a well-disciplined child.” He was not talking about perfection; he was talking about a general attitude. A child who is undisciplined will often be whiny and ill-tempered, certainly not enjoyable to associate with. Proverbs 29:15 reminds us, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother shame.” I have seen lots of mothers brought to shame by an undisciplined child in restaurants, grocery stores, and other public places.
Children, obeying your parents is an imperative, a command. If you think you can ignore it and escape the consequences, I have sobering news for you; it won’t work. Returning to Proverbs, we read this warning; “The eye that mocks at his father, and despises to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” That is a very graphic and unpleasant picture of the consequences of disobedience.
This command of obedience to parents is so important because it lays the foundation for the future. A child who does not learn to submit to the will of his or her parents will have difficulty with authorities in school, in the workplace, and in society. But the most tragic result is: they will have difficulty submitting their will to God.
The First Factor to Achieve Long Life is,
Honor Father and Mother
As children grow in age and maturity, they must begin to make their own decisions. Dad and Mom no longer give explicit commands to be followed. In my older teen years, my dad no longer gave me specific commands relating to my daily schedule, my work, and so on. But he did maintain some overall guidelines for what was acceptable in our home. There were certain things I knew I could not do as long as I lived in his house. And that was good! To this day, I appreciate that, and I had similar guidelines for my children.
It’s important for us to realize that the command to honor father and mother is even greater than the command to obedience. Why do I say that? I can obey my parents out of obligation. But that is not honor. Honor is a greater concept than obedience. It involves proper attitude coupled with appropriate behavior. I can obey my parents without honoring them, but I cannot honor them without obeying.
In addition, honor is not dependent on age or marital status. Neither does this verse suggest that we only need to honor our parents while they are living. Again, we have a straightforward command with no qualifiers. The word, honor, means to appreciate, prize, respect, and revere. It includes the idea of assigning value to the one being honored.
What does honoring parents look like in the process of life? A key aspect of honor is gratefulness. You see this throughout Scripture. When the people of God were properly grateful to God for His blessings, they honored Him. They understood that He was the source of all good things. Their honor was expressed in their obedience to His commands.
As a child, your parents brought you into the world, cared for you, and provided for your needs when you couldn’t help yourself. They watched over you and watched out for you. They freely gave of themselves to help you get a good start in life. And even if that’s not the case with your parents, the command to honor still applies. In fact, if you didn’t have the privilege of having good, godly parents, it is very important for you to honor them. Your godly response could be the one thing God uses to draw them to Himself.
One way to honor your parents is by giving public testimony to the impact they’ve had on your life. When someone compliments you on your character or a certain skill or ability you have, how do you respond? Do you give credit, first of all, to your Heavenly Father, and then to your parents? Most of us are what we are and who we are in a large measure because of the investment our parents made in our lives. Let’s express that fact publicly to other people. That way, we honor our parents’ sacrifice and their investment in our lives.
Honoring our parents means valuing their opinions, seeking their advice, respecting the wisdom of their years of experience. I was glad for the counsel of my parents in some of the major decisions Joyce and I made in the process of raising our family. Honor means speaking about them and to them respectfully. Honor means keeping in touch: by phone and personal visits. Honor means remembering the special days in their lives and setting aside time to be with them.
Honor means being willing to take responsibility for their care in the later years of their lives, much like they cared for you in your infancy. I realize that sometimes this is impossible. A parent may need skilled care that cannot be given in a home setting.
But, in far too many cases, adult children have communicated their desire not to be burdened with the care of an aging parent. To be fair, some parents have not given their children the opportunity to care for them; they feel like they’d be a bother. So, it is a two-way street. I bless my sister and brother-in-law for the care they gave to my parents in their later years.
Our text states this is the specific commandment from the Decalogue for children, and there is a promise attached to it. The promise is those who honor Father and Mother will have blessing and long life. It isn’t an ironclad guarantee, but this is a general principle that has proven itself true. Those who obey this command find much blessing in their lives.
Honoring parents, in many cases, will keep you from engaging in activities that will shorten your life. There are mountains of statistical evidence that children who honor the Lord by honoring their parents are less likely to live in poverty or engage in destructive and criminal behaviors. They will be less likely to live with bitterness that often robs people of years of joyful living. They will likely be well-adjusted, productive citizens.
Honoring my parents is important to me, personally. My Mom passed away in 2009, and she had a great impact on my life. My dad followed her ten years later. I love and appreciate the parents God gave to me. I’m glad that the things they taught me have been a source of much blessing to me and to others also. I value their contribution to my life, my marriage, and my family. It meant a great deal to me to know that they approved of my walk with the Lord, and their prayers and encouragement were priceless.
Well, now you know the secret to a long and fulfilling life. Is your life going well, according to God’s plan? What kind of relationship did you develop with your parents? You know, you are responsible for a major part of that development! Did you obey them as a child, and are you honoring them as an adult? If you are, you have the promise of God’s blessing and long life; if you don’t honor them, you can expect the opposite. That’s the general principle expressed here in this text, and you can experience it personally. It’s your choice!