“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1-4
Here we have a partial snapshot of God’s design for the family, wherein parents train and instruct their children and children honor and obey their parents. If we kept to this design we would thrive as individuals, as families, as a Church, and as a society. We would “enjoy long life on of the earth”.
But we don’t live in such a world. We live in a world marred and broken by sin. Here children are often rebellious and parents are prone to neglect their duties to train or instruct. Some are overly harsh in their discipline, even abusive. Or, one parent is entirely absent – having moved on to some other life, in jail, addicted to drugs, sick, or dead.
The brokenness of this world attacks the family both from within and without. Sometimes parents strive with all their might, but they strive against circumstances outside of their control. Perhaps they are not neglectful, but lacking: in knowledge, time, or resources.
As I prepare to preach on this topic this morning I’m painfully aware of the brokenness around me. I know parents who tried with all their might to raise good kids but whose kids have nevertheless turned away from them. And, I know of adults, now grown, who continue to be burdened by strained relationships with their own parents, or who suffer the psychological pain of past abuse.
In this pain we are encouraged to look beyond the moral instruction of the passage to the truth of the gospel. Thankfully we do not only have a list of God’s instructions to follow, but the story of good news in a world where His instructions aren’t followed.
Here’s some good news:
God is our Father. For those who have had harsh or unloving fathers, God’s Fatherhood is both a hard and a necessary teaching.
It is hard, because one might ask: If God is like my earthly father, and I find it impossible to love him, how could I love my heavenly Father? But here we must remember that it is not the God is like our earthly fathers, but that our earthly fathers ought to resemble our heavenly Father, like a mirror reflecting Reality. Too often they don’t, but that’s the fault of the dimness of the mirror, not the Reality which it is supposed to reflect. Still it can be exceedingly hard for some to think of God as their Father.
But, we must, both because that is how God reveals Himself to us and because, in the nature of the reality He has created, we cannot do without a father: a provider, a teacher, one who trains and guides. And we especially need a Perfect One, when the earthly one has so failed. Don’t think of God as an image of your earthly father. See in God the perfect and ideal Father who loves you unconditionally.
Our Heavenly Father adopts. In a sense all people are God’s children by creation. But in a more special sense, it is those who God adopts that are his children by redemption. God seeks out the orphans, those far from him, and brings them into His family. He brings them in through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. He expressed His unconditional love – “For God so loved the world” – by giving us the unimaginably great and costly gift of the cross – “that he gave us His only Son”.
No one is beyond His reach. The Biblical story of the prodigal son gives us a beautiful picture here. The rebellious son, having reached the depth of his sin resolves to return home, not as a son but as a slave. But his father, seeing him a long way off, runs to greet him and welcome him back. God wants the prodigals to return. Your child may indeed be beyond your reach, but he is never beyond God’s reach.
God calls us to be like Him. God calls us to imitate His character. God has sole rights to the gospel –He alone calls, saves, adopts, and redeems. But we get to embody the truth of the gospel. In your family God calls you to faithful obedience to your role: to honor your parents and train and discipline your children in love. But your call may go beyond your family, to care for those whose families have been ravaged from within or from without.
God calls us to practice true religion, to care for the widows and the orphans. For some, this might mean adoption. For others, it might be foster care, for still others it might just mean caring for the physical and spiritual needs of hurting families and children. May we heed God’s call, both in our roles as parents and children, and beyond our immediate families as God so wills.