Children matter to Jesus. So much so that when his own disciples tried to keep children away from him, Jesus chided these adults by reminding them “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
But right here in Erie, in our city, we’ve got a problem because more and more children are not finding their way to Jesus. Recently we have been participating in the Take Me to Worship Campaign across Erie county. You’ve seen the signs and billboards and commercials. I remind you what has been discovered in deep, sociological research.
- Of those surveyed, 63% of students currently participate less than once a week or not at all. 20% say they have never attended at any time.
Your leadership team right here at Christ Church has done their own homework and discovered that in only 3 miles around this building there are 5000 children between birth and 12th grade who do not go to church anywhere. We are taking intentional and positive steps to correct that problem right in our own neighborhood.
Those who research faith development remind us that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday. (Barna Research Group 2004)
The investment we make in our own children and the children in our community when it comes to introducing them to Jesus in positive ways has eternal ramifications. Children matter to Jesus.
The reality that children matter to Jesus has often been a radial thought. Especially in the context of the Scripture we’ve been studying for a few weeks.
In Ephesians 5&6, Paul has been writing to Jesus followers in the city of Ephesus in Asia (Turkey). He’s teaching these disciples what it means to live in unity as God’s people and significance of a home/household/family who follows Jesus. Christians, directed by the Holy Spirit, are called to practice mutual submission. This finds an outlet in how disciples relate together in the community, church and even the family. Wives and husbands practice mutual submission in the context of the family as they model the relationship between Jesus and the church.
How families operated in the first century had everything to do with household codes. These Christians in Ephesus who read these words from Paul would recognize these household codes. They were part of the cultural fabric. But now, in Ephesians, Paul is offering a remix of the codes they were accustomed to. The prevailing philosophy of the first century was the idea that the man ruled over the household as a sovereign. Wives, children, slaves, were all subordinate. Preserving this household structure was critical to preserving society as a whole.
Four hundred years before Paul, Aristotle had begun this conversation about household codes and wrote that household management had three parts: the rule of master over slave, father over children and husband over wife. In the first century the man was justified in ruling over his household because his wives, slaves, and children were by nature, his inferiors – his property!
This is the context into which Paul was writing a radical revision of the home and family. Ephesians 5&6 are profoundly subversive. Paul turns the table and because of Jesus begins to place a high value on wives, slaves and children and they way they hold the husband/father accountable to Jesus.
Earlier in this teaching we were reminded that with Jesus at the core/center every dimension of life changes: marriage, family, job, finances, even the city. Jesus changes the social order. Paul is subversively calling for a new family system with Jesus at the center. One in which mutual submission is practiced and led by the Holy Spirit a family honors Jesus. Paul places Jesus at the center. So we’ve already been learning what happens to household codes when Jesus starts to readjust the family – those who were called inferior are now compared to the church and to Jesus, himself.
There are three movements in household codes: how the man relates to the wife; how the man relates to children; and how the man relates to slaves. Because Jesus values children we’re going to study this second movement and begin to see this new radical idea that Paul introduces when it comes to children in a family and how strong families can create the opportunity for strong children to become faithful adults who follow Jesus. READ EPHESIANS 6:1-4.
Children were property! They had little to no intrinsic value. Children were seen as naïve and uncontrolled, like an untrained animal. The philosopher, Plato, wrote, “Of all the wild beasts, the child is the most intractable…and the child must be strapped up as it were with many bridles.” The children were owned as property by the father, and if the father did not approve of the infant’s development they would be left by the side of the road to die of exposure. Since the child was seen as property of the father, paying respect was a one way transaction. Children respected and obeyed fathers and nothing more. Obedience was paramount because the family represented the state.
But what does the cultural context of the first century have to do with our 21st century thinking and living. It certainly does not take much effort to believe that in some cases and in some circles, children are still treated as nothing more than property; whether it is the unwanted aborted fetus; the newborn abandoned in a gas station garbage can or the child sold into sex slavery, even in the 21st century the case could be made in some places that children are at best property or at worst, a nuisance.
And the other side of the spectrum to families that have no control over their child and live as hostages to the whim of tantrums, backtalk and outbursts. The child runs the home with no respect given to the parent; and the parent isn’t sure they can enforce discipline upon the child.
Just as God spoke through Paul into the 1st century world of children and family, so God through Paul, can speak into our own context. As we read Paul in Ephesians we have to keep several things in mind which rise above time and place and apply to every season of our experience with God. The Biblical text wants us to keep in mind the value of children – at one time we were all children; we all have residing within us the imago dei, the image of God. Children are the image bearers of God. The text invites us to know that God expects certain behavior from children. And finally God places a high calling on parents when it comes to raising their children as disciples of Jesus.
At the beginning of chapter 6, Paul speaks first of the relationship of a child to the parent. This is subversive because Paul is empowering a portion of society that had no power. And in doing so, he is giving children an choice and a reason to relate to their parents in a godly way. Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Obedience to parents is connected to obedience and submission to Jesus. Verse 21 – submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Now this wouldn’t have been a shocking statement in and of itself. Children were required to obey. But Paul is putting obedience in a different context. You relate to your parents the way you relate to Jesus and visa a versa.
I think this is one of the most profound ways a child can witness to their faith in Jesus and to the reality of the gospel in our current culture. By merely showing respect to parents sends a loud message of submission to Jesus. Respect for authority is at a premium in our culture.
Obedience toward parents/adults teaches children about a lifestyle of worship. I don’t mean that parents are worshiped but acts of obedience can teach a child about the proper placement of any person to God. Obedience is worship. Children were made by God to glorify God. One of the ways kids can glorify God is through obedience to parents/adults.
Paul helps us understand this theologically as he ties it to the OT. Paul reflects back on the 10 Commandments (Ex 20) – “honor your father and mother – so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” There is blessing when children (of any age) honor their parents. When we read about “honor” in the Bible we understand it as “esteeming, valuing, or respecting” someone. The idea of honoring someone, like parents, comes from the fact that they represent God’s authority.
If a child is taught and expected to be obedient to and honor parental authority, it will naturally put them in a position to honor and be obedient to God’s authority.
From children, Paul moves to the role of parents in the new family God is creating. Fathers (parents) do not exasperate your children, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
This is a very significant sentence here because of the word “exasperate.” That’s an odd word. It’s not one that I use often. We translate the Greek word to “exasperate.” But what did Paul mean to his readers in Ephesus? Do you know anyone who is very blunt in their language? They say what they mean without regard to a person’s feelings. Exasperate (Greek) suggests someone who is blunt, opinionated, practices freedom of speech, is frank – without concern for the other. In the first century Ephesian experience this was the way it was. Parent, the master of the house, would do or say whatever they wanted and obedience was expected. Feelings, consequences were irrelevant.
There is also another idea being conveyed. It is one of sharing opinion. Opinion – here’s what I think; here’s my truth.
So Paul is again subverting common place ideas with kingdom of God values. This new family with Jesus at the center interacts with children differently than their culture does. So parents don’t frustrate your children. Practice gentleness and kindness and grace.
And this is even more powerful – don’t just give them your opinion of things – but train them to follow Jesus! In a culture that does not have Jesus at the center, let your home be a place that practices the centrality of Jesus and trains your children how to follow Jesus.
Paul’s purpose here is to show Christians that their home can be ordered to show culture what the gospel is all about. A Christian parent cannot say – I’m not interested in raising my kids to worship and follow Jesus. I’ll let them choose their religion when they’re older.
Parents have the primary responsibility of discipling their children – teaching them to follow Jesus. Parental involvement in the spiritual formation of their children is characteristic of the people of God. Read Deuteronomy 6.
Now kids don’t inherit your faith (nor are they saved by your faith) but your faith can be impressed upon them and taught to them so that they can decide to follow Jesus for themselves.
It was important for Paul to remind these Ephesian Christians about training their kids to follow Jesus. In that culture that was not centered on Jesus – nor even really cared about Jesus – a Christian parent was the only one who could train their child to follow Jesus. And it had to more than personal opinion. It had to be grounded in and centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and God’s revealed truth though him.
I’d suggest to you that we find ourselves in a similar situation. For the most part when we release our kids into the world they are not going to be taught about God, about a lifestyle of worship or obedience to God. Kingdom of God people must allow their home to be a place where children are discipled to follow Jesus.
This is also so relevant for us as a church in an increasingly pagan culture. As a church we can be committed to providing an atmosphere to support parents in raising godly kids and we can be proactive in creating an atmosphere and strategy for introducing the 5000 unchurched kids in our neighborhood to Jesus in a positive way. We are taking that mission very seriously – spending money there and thinking and acting intentionally as leadership to create the space for kids to know and follow Jesus.
These last few weeks and these two sections of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus have highlighted the essential priorities of families with Jesus at the center. But this is more than just how to become better families, parents and children. This is about the gospel. And the gospel changes our identity, our lifestyles, and our homes. God turns us into new people – new husbands, new wives, new fathers and mothers and new children.
My Next Right Step
- What does obedience teach children about a lifestyle of worship? What does Paul mean when he writes that obedience will ensure the goodness of life? (Ephesians 6:1)
- Scripture reminds us that Jesus made space for children. In fact, by virtue of their baptism, children are considered disciples of Jesus. What is your plan for discipling your children so that they not only experience the salvation of Jesus but also sanctification?
- Your children will reflect your own spiritual maturity. How are you growing with Jesus? What is your next right step when it comes to spiritual maturity? Are your reading your Bible, praying, worshiping, serving, giving and experiencing the fruit of the Spirit?