Τὰ τέκνα, ὑπακούετε τοῖς γονεῦσιν ὑμῶν ἐν κυρίῳ· τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν δίκαιον. Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right.
After having addressed the marriage relationship in light of the instruction for all believers to submit to one another, Paul turns to the child and parent relationship next. He addresses the children first. He instructs the children to obey their parents. This word, ὑπακούετε, “you obey,” is somewhat synonymous with submission, but it bears the idea of willful obedience to requests more so than it does willfully placing oneself under someone else. Nonetheless, willful obedience implies willful submission.
Note the textual variant here. The prepositional phrase, ἐν κυρίῳ, “in the Lord,” is omitted by several witnesses (B, F, G, b, the original hand of D, Cyprian, Ambrosiaster, and apparently Marcion according to Tertullian). However, this phrase is included by the rest of the textual witnesses (Papyrus 46, א, A, 33, 1739, the first corrector of D, the Majority Text, the Vulgate, and the entire Armenian, Syriac, and Coptic traditions are some of these witnesses). If Marcion’s reading is correct, then the earliest support omits the phrase. But Papyrus 46 is not far behind Marcion, and it includes the phrase. If it was not part of the original text, it is easy to see why it would be added. Both wives and slaves are instructed to submit or obey “as to the Lord” or “as to Christ.” For stylistic reasons, it would have been tempting to add in something similar to these phrases regarding the instruction for children to obey, if the phrase was originally omitted. However, if it was added in at a later date for stylistic reasons, why not then use a similar formula (ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ/Χριστῷ)? The prepositional phrase in question in Eph. 6:1 does not bear a striking stylistic connection as it is a different construction. Why then is it there if it does not bear a striking similarity with the other constructions? In all likelihood, it is probably original. It does have early support, it has widest support, and the phrase itself is not inconsistent with the style of Ephesians. Since the explanation that it was added later is not satisfactory, and given the other factors previously mentioned, we can accept the prepositional phrase to be the original reading.
Just as wives were instructed to willfully submit as to the Lord, i.e., in service to the Lord, so also are children instructed to willfully obey in the Lord. Children’s service to the Lord is seen in their obedience to their parents. Paul adds that this obedience is right, meaning that it is the fulfillment of certain legal or social obligations (“lawful,” “just,” or “right”).
Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right.
It’s important that children learn to obey their parents. It is a social obligation. If children are unruly in the home, they will likewise be unruly in public. But from a religious perspective, their obedience is essential, for it is part of their service to Christ. They can serve Christ by obeying their parents. When their parents make requests of them, they should listen to the request and then do as requested. This action should not be done with a sour attitude. It is an opportunity to serve Christ, and therefore it ought to be done with a cheerful heart! Doing household chores, following quick instructions in public, even following a parent’s discipline are all examples not simply of obedience but also of service, for to obey one’s parents is to serve Christ. What an opportunity!