Paul applies the new life in Christ to the family in these verses. He gives instruction to children and parents in the context of verse 17: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Paul begins with children: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” We see that Paul addresses children. He assumes they will be among those present when his letter is read. He expects they will be at the worship service. 

The Lord considers the family of a believer to be his. Children need to be taught their sinful condition and to look to Christ alone for their salvation. They must exercise their own faith. Nevertheless, Paul is counting all children of believers as part of the covenant community of Christ, and he gives them specific instructions as such.

When Paul says obey your parents “in everything,” he does not mean things contrary to the word and therefore the will of God. He is pointing to the wholeheartedness of devotion to the Lord. He also doesn’t mean children can attain perfection in their obedience. Rather, he is instructing them not to look for reasons to ignore or disobey their parents, because it is the Lord they are serving. 

The word “obey” has the meaning of placing yourself under something, to “hear under.” It is intentional submission. Children are to listen to their parents with a heart to comply with their direction and commands. Submission is necessary in the Christian life.

The incentive the apostle gives is the highest we can receive; “for this pleases the Lord.” The Lord misses nothing. The Lord looks upon the heart. Whenever a child obeys his parent because of the Lord Jesus, it is remembered. Anything done in the name of the Lord Jesus is pleasing to God.

If you are young, you might think there is little you can do to serve the Lord. But the Lord gives you encouragement here. He is watching for obedience to your parents and counts it as honoring him when you honor your parents. What can be a better use of your efforts than pleasing the Lord?

Paul also addresses parents, specifically the father. The father is the head of the household and has the most responsibility for the “discipline and instruction in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)” of children. Paul says to fathers, “Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

By “provoke” Paul means causing rebellion in your child. In Ephesians 6 Paul says not to provoke children to anger; here he says do not provoke them unto discouragement. Paul is not discouraging godly correction. We have plenty of accounts in the Bible of fathers who did not correct their children, and the children became rebellious to the ways of the Lord. 

In this case, Paul is cautioning fathers against correcting, punishing, or being demanding of children in a way that causes rebellion. Plainly, it requires grace and wisdom. On the one hand, the Bible tells us foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child (Proverbs 22). We don’t start off with wisdom in the things of the Lord. We start off bound up in rebellion and sin toward the Lord.

So children must be disciplined and corrected. But on the other hand, correction without love and grace is detrimental to the child. Perhaps nothing can humble us as much as being a parent. Parenting exposes our flaws and worse. Nevertheless, as Christian parents, we are required by our Lord to bring up our children to look to the Lord and serve the Lord, without being severe.

John Davenant, a 17th century Christian leader in England, said: “Our age truly is more in danger of spoiling our children than too much severity toward children.” You wonder what he would say about our age. However, Davenant also gave causes of “provoking” children to anger or discouragement.

Among these was severity over small failures or things a child cannot help; using unbecoming language, being disparaging, displaying fits of rage, as well as immoderate punishment for an offense. Davenant said gravity and prudence were different from bitterness and severity. 

Davenant told parents that sin was the greatest enemy of their children, but love and grace were the best weapons to use. Showing the gentleness of your heavenly father to your children was as vital as teaching them the fear of the Lord. The best work any parent can do for their child is to point them always to the Lord Jesus and make sure they know God’s word.