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How Parental Authority is Good News

Editor’s Note: This is  an excerpt from Tim Chester and Ed Moll‘s book, Gospel-Centered Family, published by The Good Book Company. It appears here with the publisher’s permision. Purchase the book today for 20% off at the publisher’s site using coupon code: GCFGCD13.

Karen slumped onto the sofa.

“It’s just the terrible twos,” her friend had told her this morning. But there was no “just” about it. This was war! She loved Jack so much, but he was driving her mad. Refusing to eat. Throwing food on the floor. Pulling books off the shelves. Hitting his baby sister. Screaming on the supermarket floor. She’s tried reasoning with him. She’s tried negotiation. She’s tried bribery. Truth was she wasn’t even sure what she was trying to achieve. It just felt like crisis management.

Then the baby monitor crackled into life. Here we go again. “Is there more to parenting than survival?” she asked herself.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:1-4

What is expected from children and parents?

Why should children obey their parents?

What does it mean for parents to “exasperate” their children? Can you think of examples?

Why does the writer point out that this commandment is the first with a promise?

What does this passage suggest is the purpose of families?

Gospel Centered Family by Ed Moll and Tim Chester
Gospel Centered Family by Ed Moll and Tim Chester

Show that God’s Rule is Good

Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ – Mark 1 v 14-15

Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming the good news – or “gospel” – that the kingdom of God was near. God’s kingdom was coming because God’s King was coming. Good news. Gospel.

Except that the rule of God doesn’t sound much like good news in our culture. No kind of rule sounds like good news. We want to be free. We don’t want someone else ruling over us. How can the rule of God be good news? Surely God’s rule is bad news.

This was the lie of Satan way back in the Garden of Eden when the “serpent” portrayed God as a tyrant holding Adam and Eve back. But God isn’t a tyrant. His rule is a rule of blessing, freedom, love, life, justice and peace. Good news. Gospel.

But isn’t this an article on parenting? What does this have to do with parenting? Everything!

Look at Ephesians 6:1-4. What does obeying parents have to do with living long in the land? Verses 2-3 are a quote from Deuteronomy 5:16, where Moses is recounting the Ten Commandments. He ends by saying: “So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33) God’s people would live a life of blessing in God’s land if they obeyed God. Anything else would lead to chaos, conflict and destruction. Ultimately, if they rejected God, they would not live long in the land – they’s be exiled (as it turned out they were). Welcoming God’s rule = blessing. Rejecting God’s rule = judgment.

That’s true in families. When people in families live for themselves, the result is chaos, conflict and destruction. In families we learn to live alongside others, negotiate differences and express our views while tolerating other opinions. The Puritan Thomas Manton said: “The family is the seminary of church and state … A failure in the first area will not be mended in the second.”

But it’s not just about having a happy family or a happy community.

The family is the place where you learn to submit to authority instead of living for yourself. In this section of Ephesians, Paul says our different roles in life are all to reflect God’s role in our lives. Marriage is an illustration of Christ’s relationship with his people (5:22-33), while working relationships are to be shaped by the fact that we are slaves of a Master in heaven (6:5-9). It’s the same with families. Parents are God’s gift to children to teach us how to live under authority. We learn to submit to authority instead of living for ourselves by learning to submit to our parents.

That’s why this is the first commandment with a promise. Learning to enjoy your parents’ authority is the first step towards welcoming God’s authority.

Don’t tell children off for being children. Children break things and drop things. They get giddy and raise their voices. But ensure they obey you. Teach them to submit to your authority. Discipline disobedience. Don’t let your child rule the home. If you do, you’ll be teaching them that they are king in their lives. They’re not. It won’t prepare them for wider social interaction. And it won’t prepare them to meet the true King.

Let your child realize they’re not the center of the world. It’s very easy, especially in early years, for children to be all-consuming. So invest in your relationship as a husband and wife. Not only does healthy parenting require a healthy marriage, it will also reinforce for your child that they’re not the center of the world, not even of your world!

Parents are to model God’s good, liberating, just rule in the way they bring up their children. We’re to show that it is good to live under authority. We’re to show that authority can be good.

Show that God’s rule is gracious

But hang on a moment. Is God’s kingdom really good news? Not if you’re a rebel! “Where is the God of justice?” people asked the prophet Malachi. He’s on his way, said Malachi. “But who can endure the day of his coming?” (Malachi 2:17 – 3:2) For God’s people his rule is good news, but for his enemies his rule means judgment and defeat. And we are all God’s enemies. We’ve all opted to live our life our way without God.

The good news is that the coming of Jesus as God’s King defied most people’s expectations. It wasn’t all about glory and conquest. That’s coming when Jesus returns at the end of history. But when Jesus came first time around, judgment didn’t fall. Or rather, it fell on the King himself! The King died on the cross in the place of His enemies. God’s rule is not only good, it’s also gracious. God makes it possible for his enemies to become his friends.

Jesus told the story of a family in which the younger son rejected the authority of his father (Luke 15). He went off and squandered his part of the family’s inheritance. But rejecting his father’s authority didn’t make him free or happy. He ended up wishing he could eat the food he was serving to pigs. So he decided to return to his father and ask if he could become a servant. But his father ran in a most undignified way to greet his returning son. He honored his son with a robe and ring. He threw an extravagant party to welcome him home. God is a gracious Father who welcomes wayward children.

Often parenting can feel like a battle. And the “enemy” is your two-year-old who’s just thrown their dinner on the floor (again); or your fifteen-year-old, who’s just slammed the door on you (again). But still your job is to show them what our Father in heaven is like. Yes, they need to learn to live under authority. But they also need to learn of a God who welcomes his enemies, loves his enemies and gives his life for His enemies.

Your number one aim as a parent is to show how great it is to live under God’s reign of love.

Tim Chester (PhD, University of Wales) is pastor of the Crowded House in Sheffield, United Kingdom, and director of the Porterbrook Institute, which provides integrated theological and missional training for church leaders. Chester also coauthored Total Church (Re:Lit), Everyday Church (Re:Lit), and has written more than a dozen books.

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