When we consider how God has ordered His creation, we see that He has established various levels of authority and submission. For example, Romans 13:1–7 tells us that our Creator has established the civil authorities to punish evil and reward good, so we must submit to these authorities insofar as they do not forbid us to do something God commands or command us to do something God forbids. Ephesians 5:22 explains that wives must submit to their own husbands as unto the Lord. Each wife is to follow her husband’s leading unless he asks her to break God’s law.
Paul gives us another description of authority and submission in the home—children are to obey their parents (6:1–4). In saying this, he repeats the fifth commandment, which appears in Exodus 20:12. He also makes special mention of the unique promise attached to the fifth commandment—when we honor our mothers and fathers, things will go well for us “in the land.”
The promise is an interesting addition, and it reflects a basic reality of human civilization: a given society will be only as strong as its family units. We first learn what it means to honor and respect others within the context of our families, and those who learn to honor their fathers and mothers learn also how to respect and honor the other authorities God has given us. Thus, in commanding children to honor their parents, the fifth commandment also gives instruction to mothers and fathers. Parents are not to allow their children to be disrespectful, but they are to teach their children how to honor them and other rightful authorities. Paul picks this up in Ephesians 6:4, where, in the course of exhorting children to obey their parents, he urges fathers to bring their children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Of course, this does not mean that mothers should not be doing this as well; it means that when both mother and father are believers, the father is to take a leading role in disciplining and instructing the children to love and serve the Lord. He may not be uninvolved with the training of his children.
Teaching children to honor their parents and other authorities is not only right according to God’s law, but it is also good for society. Studies have shown that many social ills cannot be divorced from the fact that too many children lack parents who demand honor and respect from them. May we as parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and friends teach children to obey their elders.