In Ephesians 6:1, Paul writes (translated into various English versions):
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." (NKJV)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." (KJV)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." (ESV)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." (NASB)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." (NIV)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right." (HCSB)
(The similarity of the above versions shows us that this is a very straightforward verse to translate. In other words, there is no confusion in coming from Greek to English.)
Ephesians 6:1 is very significant for at least two reasons. One of these is obvious to all. The second, however, is generally either not seen or ignored all together. In this post, I'll be discussing both of the reasons this verse is so important.
Ever since 5:22, Paul has been discussing family issues. From 5:22 to the end of that chapter, Paul compares the marriage relationship between a man and a woman to the relationship between Christ and His church.
As we read Ephesians, we should ignore the chapter divisions between 5 and 6 (after all, they certainly aren't inspired, having been added many hundreds of years after Paul wrote this letter).
Immediately at the beginning of chapter 6, Paul gives children a command. This is a plural command, which means it was directed to children in general.
The first reason 6:1 is significant is that Paul is, quite simply, commanding children to obey their parents as long as their parents' instructions and expectations correspond to those in the bible. The apostle is commanding all children everywhere to make a practice of submitting to their parents' rule - as long as the parents do not violate scripture.
The second reason 6:1 is significant is often either not seen or ignored. The significance is that Paul expects children to be with their parents while the church is gathered and teaching is taking place. How do we know this? In the early church, most of the people could not read. Therefore, someone (maybe the one who brought the letter) would read the letter to the church. In Ephesians 6:1, Paul gives a direct command to the children. He tells them to obey. Paul does not tell the parents to later tell the kids to obey. He gives a command directly to the children. This means that the children were together with the rest of the church.
To put it another way, Paul did not expect the children to be separated out as the church gathered. He clearly expected the kids to be paying attention to what he said. Remember that Paul wrote this in 6:1, so he assumes that the children will be able to listen through at least the first five chapters. Paul's giving a command to the kids in general shows us that he presumes that the gathering of the church will be the entire church.
So as we look at Ephesians 6:1, we see two important things. First, Paul commands children to obey their parents and expects them to do so. Second, Paul assumes and expects children to be with their parents (or at least with the church as a whole) as the teaching takes place.
We should think through the significance of this as we think about our own church gatherings. Do we expect our children to be with us as we gather as church bodies, or do we separate the children out? Paul's expectations should make us ask ourselves uncomfortable questions such as, "Why do we have children's church if Paul expects the children to be with the adults?"
As difficult as it may be, we should allow scripture to inform the way we exist and function as church families.
Paul, as an apostle, certainly knew how Jesus wants the church to operate. Shouldn't we follow Paul's expectations?