Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).
In the final days of his life, W. C. Fields was seen reading a Bible. Given that Fields was an avowed atheist, it was a strange sight. Someone quipped, “What are you doing . . . cramming for finals?” Fields replied, “No, I’m looking for loopholes.”
We’ll leave the veracity of that tale for biographers to debate. What can be said with confidence is that most Bible readers, even devout readers, will sooner or later look for loopholes. The Bible has a way of confronting us with truths that make us uneasy. It makes demands that we can’t fulfill and commands things we’d rather not do. We may have the words printed on a page or a screen – but the Bible is a book that reads us.
The search for loopholes is quite common when it comes to the command to honor parents. Paul’s application of the command in his letter to the Ephesians is pointed: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
For those who want to find a loophole, John Calvin seems to provide one. Calvin commented on Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 6:1 as follows:
We are bidden to obey our parents only “in the Lord” . . . for they sit in that place to which they have been advanced by the Lord, who shares with them part of his honor. Therefore the submission paid to them ought to be a step toward honoring the highest Father. Hence, if they spur us to transgress the law we have a perfect right to regard them not as parents but as strangers who are trying to lead us away from obedience to our true Father . . . Their eminence depends upon God’s loftiness and ought to lead us to it.
Is this a loophole? Sounds like it. Calvin seems to understand that the honor owed to parents is qualified by something higher, namely the extent to which parents point their children to love and honor and obey God.
But Paul and Calvin are not providing children with an excuse or an exemption from God’s commandment. Rather they are stating clearly the vocation of the parent. Parents represent God’s authority and share in God’s honor. Parents are called to point children to God, to engender love for God. The honor owed to parents is derivative, flowing from its source in God.
Yesterday we asked what makes parenting “weighty?” The short answer is “God.”
The practical implications of this are huge. Parenting involves plenty of tasks, but at the top of the list is the pursuit of God. Draw close to God daily. Seek to know God. Model a life that enjoys and delights in God. This is weighty parenting. This is worthy of honor.
And when kids are blessed to have parents like this, they won’t need to look for loopholes.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the gift of Godly parents. Thank you for those who taught us your ways and showed us what it means to love you. Empower us by your Spirit to parent in that same way, pointing our children to you who alone is worthy of honor and glory. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.