Ephesians Sentence by Sentence: 6:2-3

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τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἐντολὴ πρώτη ἐν ἐπαγγελίᾳ, ἵνα εὖ σοι γένηται καὶ ἔσῃ μακροχρόνιος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. Honor your father and mother, which is the first command in a promise, that it might be good to you and you will be long-lived upon the earth.

Paul qualifies his instruction for children to obey their parents with this quotation from the Septuagint. He is quoting Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. However, the quotation is not exact. The last clause, καὶ ἔσῃ μακροχρόνιος ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, is more of a summary and does not quote the Scriptures verbatim. In any case, Paul is drawing on the authority of Scripture to qualify his instruction. Scripture teaches children to honor their parents. Obedience and honor are therefore synonymous for Paul. A son that obeys his mother is also honoring her. Paul adds his own commentary amidst the quotation with these words: “. . . which is the first command with a promise, . . .” There is a benefit to honoring one’s own parents. God has made a promise to those who honor their parents. Those who honor their parents do so for the purpose that their lives will be well and that they will live a long life upon the earth. A lifestyle of dishonor, constant disobedience, to the parents was punishable by death (Deut. 21:18-21). God was concerned with purging evil from the people in Deuteronomy. Dishonor was punished. Honor was rewarded. He had a behavioral economy set in place to help motivate their actions. By mentioning that the command for children to honor their parents was the first command with a promise, Paul is effectively emphasizing the benefit of the command. God has promised blessings, not curses, for those who honor their parents.

“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first command with a promise, “in order that it might be well with you and you might live a long life upon the earth.”

When God gives us instructions, it is not to spoil the party. God instructs us for our own benefit. By following what he has commanded us to do, we are placing ourselves into God’s blessings. Likewise, children who obey God’s command, to honor their parents, place themselves under God’s blessings. It’s for their own benefit. Life will go well when they obey. They can avoid being grounded. They can avoid harming themselves. They can receive full rewards for their obedience, such as fulfilling chores. But when they disobey, they can hurt themselves, they can be punished by being grounded, or losing some of their weekly pay for not doing their chores as they were instructed. If they are not keeping their parents happy, then their life will likewise be distraught. It is a reciprocal relationship. God has, in his wisdom, stated that it will be well for children who honor their parents, and has promised that they will live long upon the earth. It is simply in the children’s best interests to obey their parents.