Ephesians 6:1-9 Bible Study - Right relationships in the Lord

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Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle

Ephesians 6:1-9 Bible Study - Right relationships in the Lord

by I Gordon

Today's message from Eph 6:1-9 is about right relationships in the Lord. We're talking parent-child and master-slave relationships today. Now you might be asking, 'well, are you qualified to speak on such matters?' It is a fair question for I have not had the privilege of being a father. Nor for that matter, have I ever owned slaves. But on the other hand, I have been a disobedient child so I guess you could say I am partially qualified. Now this is the last message in the 'walk' section of Ephesians and it follows on from the message concerning the beauty of submission that we looked at last time. What we'll see as we go through these verses is that whatever position you find yourself in, you should do it 'unto the Lord'. So... what are we going to explore? Well, we will look at:

  • The importance of a child's obedience 
  • The prophetic implications of this command
  • The importance of fathers and the results of a fatherless society
  • The need to do all things 'unto the Lord' - in the light and in the dark

Ok... let's begin...

The first command with a promise!

Eph 6:1-3 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (2) Honor your father and mother--which is the first commandment with a promise-- (3) that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.

As I mentioned, in the previous study we looked at the beauty of submission. Scripture tells us to submit to one another. It says that wives should submit to their husbands. This passage speaks of submission in the child-parent relationship and also the servant-master relationship. It begins with a very import command for todays age. Children obey your parents. Simple right? Well, not as simple as you would hope and certainly not in this age it seems! Four reasons are given for why children should obey and honor their parents:

  • It is their way of obeying the Lord. This is what it means 'obey your parents in the Lord'. An obedient child is in effect doing it unto the Lord. And this pleases Him. Col 3:20 states 'Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.'
  • It is 'right' - Scripture says 'this is right'. It is right for all of society whether it is a Christian family or not. It's not exactly rocket science to see that the basis and strong foundation of any society is a strong family unit. Later in this study we'll see some results of what happens when that falls apart. But a big part of a strong family unit is for children to honour and obey their parents. It is just right... no matter what society, what culture, what religion (or lack thereof) or what age. It is just right. 
  • It is a command of the Lord - In fact it was so important that it was placed right in the heart of the 10 commandments - 'Honor your father and mother'.
  • It is a command with a promise! - None of the other 'top 10' commandments gave a promise to those who obeyed. In fact large parts of the law speak about what happens if you disobey! But this command comes with a promise with good results. It says honor your mother and father 'that it will go well with you and you may enjoy long life on the earth'.   

Unfortunately this obedience of children to their parents is declining. What a parent expects from their child has changed so much in the last 40 years or so... and not in a good way. As a very stark contrast, in the Old Testament days there were consequences for a disobedient child. Like, serious consequences. How serious you ask? Yeah... this serious:

Deu 21:18-21 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, (19) his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. (20) They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." (21) Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.1

Now, breath easy... we don't live under the Old Testament law and no one is calling for this type of punishment! Your rebellious son may be especially relieved! But it does give a glimpse into the importance that was placed upon the obedience of children within a family in ancient Israel. When it says 'You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid' it is saying that the punishment and judgement literally scared the rebellion out of other children! What a contrast all this is to the many nations in the world today (mine included) where a parent is not even allowed to lovingly discipline their children with a smack anymore.      

The prophetic implications of this command

Unfortunately, the disobedience of children towards their parents is one of the signs of the end times. There is an interesting passage in Proverbs that I will draw your attention to. 

Pro 30:11-14 NKJV There is a generation that curses its father, And does not bless its mother. (12) There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, Yet is not washed from its filthiness. (13) There is a generation--oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. (14) There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, And whose fangs are like knives, To devour the poor from off the earth, And the needy from among men. 

This speaks of a generation that is against its parents yet thinks of itself as pure, being lofty and lifted up in their own minds. Of what generation could this be pointing to? Well, we certainly know from other scriptures that this is a sign of the last generation before the Lord returns. 

2Ti 3:1-2 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. (2) People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy...

A similar list, including disobedience towards parents, is seen in Rom 1:28-30 which gives a list of things to look for when a society has abandoned God and He, in return, has given them over to their own ways:

Rom 1:28-29 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. (29) They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are... God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents...

It struck me as a slightly odd thing to include in this list of signs that God has given over a society... disobedience towards their parents. But it show: 

  1. The importance that Paul (and God!) places upon obedience to your parents. I've said it before but will say it again... the strength of a society as a whole is traced to the strength of the family unit. Break that down and the society falls with it. 
  2. That disobedience to parents is a prophetic sign. God had shown Paul where things would go in the last days. And yes, we are there now. 

As an interesting prophetic side note - this is specifically said to be the key role of Elijah when He returns (also spoken of John the Baptist as he came in the spirit of Elijah - Luke 1:17). 

Mal 4:5-6 See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (6) He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

So the Old Testament ends with this promise of Elijah's coming where he is specifically said to come and restore the family unit. And obviously the key part in this will be restoring the hearts of both the fathers and the children back to the God of their fathers.

So what are we to do? Well the next verse gives give instruction here.

The critical role - Fathers 

Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Our passage now turns to the fathers. It was apparently Mark Twain who said: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years." 

Every child needs a father and specifically one that can bring them up in the ways of the Lord. 

A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.
Billy Graham

This is a true statement which has the facts to back it up. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly a quarter (23%) of children under 18 live in a single-mother household without a father2. Ok... so what are the results? Consider the following statistics in the image below.  

That is obviously horrendously high figures for the 23% of children who grow up without a father. They make up 80% of rapists and 85% of the youth in prison! Yes, fathers are one of the most valuable assets in our society as Billy Graham said. Second only behind mothers! So what instruction does Paul give to Fathers in raising their kids correctly?

  1. Don't exasperate your children - this means don't provoke your children by being unduly harsh and unreasonable.
  2. Do instruct them in the Lord - teach your children about the Heavenly Father. Train and discipline them in the ways of the Lord, that they should honor God and seek to please Him. Instruct them about His love and care for them.    

Pressure, pressure, pressure

We need to remember and acknowledge the tremendous pressure that is upon children today. I grew up in the 70's and 80's and while I came from what was, in a lot of ways, a dysfunctional family, I still didn't have to face many of the pressures and issues young children face today. I often think that if my heart goes out to the young children, and I'm not even a parent (though an Uncle many times over), what must it be like for mothers and fathers to see the pressures and immorality that is getting pushed upon kids at such an early age? What must it be like to place your child in an education system that brings in drag-queens to teach them on sexuality and gay education? Or that your gender is fluid and can be whatever you would like it to be. Talk about confusion! It is an incredibly difficult age for our kids and more and more are not coping. So if you are in the position to do so, teach the young about the Lord. Teach them His word, about His love and care for them. Teach them to find their position, purpose and identity in Him... not in the fickle changing thoughts of social-media or their peers.  

A personal example from our family

I've mentioned before in a previous study about the relationship my brother and I had with our father growing up. Looking at those two points above for what a father should do, I think our dad just got a little mixed up so did the opposite. He exasperated his children and didn't instruct them in the Lord! That is not said to put him down or think ill of him. I don't think of him that way. He came to know the Lord in the last years of his life and I can't wait to see him totally free from all the health and mental issues that he faced right through his life. Thankfully God can still bring good out of bad situations and upbringings as He did in our family. 

So even if you haven't had a good fatherly role model yourself, don't think that automatically means that you will be a poor father as well. I have seen the opposite with my brother. He was picked on a lot by our dad. More so than the rest of us. There was physical and mental abuse, resulting in his own rebellion especially in his teenage years. There was drug abuse and even thoughts of suicide. Yet God turned his life around and he has gone on to raise two wonderful kids. He was and is a father that is there for his kids. Growing up, story time for his kids wasn't Harry Potter or the like but about the life of Joseph, David, Daniel and many others. Today, 20 years or so on, both of his children are believers, active Christians who love the Lord. It is awesome to see the difference that having a heavenly Father, along with a desire to be a good father yourself, can make... even if your own start in life and treatment by your own father wasn't so good! 

So we can't overemphasize how important it is to teach the young about the Lord. This is seen right in the Jewish 'Shema'. The Shema is a well-known passage from Deuteronomy which became both an ongoing prayer and a confession of faith for every Jewish person throughout all the ages. And look at the importance it places upon teaching the children the word of God. 

Deu 6:4-7 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (5) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (6) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Our work is unto the Lord - in the light and in the dark

Eph 6:5-6 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. (6) Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.

The attention now turns to another relationship that was prevalent in the first century and beyond... namely slavery. It is estimated that of the 120 million people living in the Roman Empire, approximately half were slaves! Gulp. And among them were many Christians. That is why you find more instruction in the Bible towards the slaves than you do the masters. The good news of the Gospel always found a more prepared heart and home in those that were the weak and poor (1 Cor 1:26-29) and thus had a great reception among the many Roman empire slaves. 

J. Vernon McGee makes a few comments about slavery in general, drawing parallels with the ongoing slavery of men and women today:

Christianity never attacked the evil of slavery. Rather it reached down to the slave in his degradation and lifted him up, assuring him of his liberty in Christ. The very nature of the gospel condemned slavery. It eventually broke the shackles of slavery from the bodies of men and cut the fetters from their minds and souls... What can break a man's shackles? Only the power of the gospel of Christ. He will make you free. "If the Son therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (Joh_8:36). It is Christ who offers freedom. Think of the thousands today who are trapped by drugs and by alcohol. There is slavery on every side of us. We should be slaves to Christ and to no one or nothing else. Saul of Tarsus was a slave to an ideology. He was a Pharisee. When he came to Christ, he was made free. However, immediately he yielded to a new Master and said, "… Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? …" (Act_9:6). He had become a bondslave to Jesus Christ."

Character is what you are in the dark Eph 6 Bible studySo what does Paul say to the Christian slaves of that day? He says obey you earthly masters as you would Christ for we are all slaves of Christ. And did these words have an impact? They sure did! I read that Christian slaves were frequently brought at higher prices than non Christian slaves because their masters knew that they would be hard workers and trustworthy people. Now in most parts of the world today slavery has thankfully long gone... but not all. There is still an estimated 46 million people in slavery around the world today.3 But lets go out on a limb and say that you are not one of those. How then do we apply this passage? Well, what about your work? Whatever we find to do (and this applies equally today in any employee - employer relationship) our work is unto the Lord. We should work hard as a good witness to those around us, and to our bosses. Paul says to obey and work for them as you would Christ... and not just when their eye is upon you!  

D.L Moody had it right when he said 'character is what you are in the dark'. That is what Paul is telling the believers here in Ephesians. We are not to be people that act well when people are watching and then get up to who knows what when no one is watching. Christians should make the best employees today. They should be honest, reliable and trustworthy whether the eye of their boss is on them or not. This is all part of the Christians 'walk'. It is part of doing your work 'unto the Lord'. This applies to all aspects of our Christian life. As Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Php 2:12-13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Illustration - what dogs do in the dark

I've mentioned this story before but it seems applicable here. I remember seeing a really interesting experiment on TV with man's best friend - our four legged buddy. They had several owners with their dogs and they placed a piece of tasty delicious sausage in front of their salivating dog who was then told, quite clearly, 'No! Wait!' In each case, the dog obeyed its master and refrained from taking the sausage until given the 'ok then!' They then repeated the experiment, but this time, after being told 'no, wait' they turned off all the lights so it was pitch black. And yet they had a special camera that still tracked the dog. Little Rover knew he had been told to wait, but he also knew he couldn't be seen by his owner. In each case the dog moved slowly forward, gave the sausage a few sniffs and quietly cleaned the floor of its tasty treat. And, like a nimble dog burglar they quietly moved back into their original position so that when the lights came back on, and with the tasty morsel missing, they could say 'What? What? Don't look at me... I've been here all the time... haven't moved a muscle!' Finally, they did a third test. Like experiment two, they placed the sausage in front of the dog, removed all the lights so that it was pitch black, but this time they shone one light on the sausage alone. So the dog knew that the owner couldn't see him but he also knew that he, and his doggy burglar deeds, would be exposed if he came into the light to take the sausage. On each occasion, the dog remained where he was and didn't take the sausage. He was happy to polish off the sausage when the lights were off and no one could see him, but didn't want who he really is (in his little fallen doggy nature) to be exposed by coming into the light.

The takeaway? Remember this - Character is what you are in the dark! It is what you are when you think no one is watching. That's why Paul told us to obey our earthly masters (and thus the Lord) even when their eye is not on us.

The God who watches

Eph 6:7-9 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, (8) because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (9) And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

This passage reminds us that there is of course One who always watches. Our scripture tells us that He not only watches but also rewards everyone for whatever good they do. It doesn't matter who you are or what position you hold. Unlike men, God shows no favoritism or partiality. He is not impressed by worldly wealth, position, status or power. That is not what He is looking for. But He is looking. In the case mentioned here Paul is reminding the slave owners that they should treat their slaves well because God watches and both the earthly master and the earthly slave are equal before God. What impresses Him is their character. The fact of the matter is that whether you have the lowest menial job or the highest paying executive role... it doesn't matter to God and shouldn't matter to us. We should work unto the Lord. J. Vernon McGee gives the following illustration about the great Christian missionary William Carey which I liked:

William Carey was a shoemaker who applied to go as a foreign missionary. Someone asked him, "What is your business?" meaning to humiliate him, because he was not an ordained minister. Carey answered, "My business is serving the Lord, and I make shoes to pay expenses." He was a servant of Christ. Oh, that men were that kind of worker today—it would change the whole labor scene.

Me... the most qualified lawn mower?

As a personal example, in the early 1990's I studied at University and got a Science degree majoring in Computer Science. I had become a Christian during those University days so once finished (and after a wee gap) I went and did a one year Bible College course. After completing that, it was now getting close to two years since I had done my computer science training and I wasn't sure what to do. I felt at the time like it had been too long since my University training and part of me was saying that I had blown my chance at getting a job in that field. So I ended up on a ride on mower for the summer mowing parks and curb edges for the city council. Now, at the time I really thought I had failed. I really thought that I must be the most qualified lawn mower in the city! I was actually getting quite down about it... until I decided 'you know what... I'll work unto the Lord and try make use of my time.' So I would be on this ride on mower all day, racing around the parks, and at the same time I would be singing to the Lord or even practicing sermons in my mind and heart! I would literally preach entire messages in my head as I rode my mower around. (As a side note that may be why I broke a couple of letterboxes and rolled the mower once... but that's another story!) Looking back now it was a great summer. and God did have something else for me that was in keeping with the training I had done4. But I had to change my attitude and trust God with my future and just do what was in front of me unto Him... with joyfulness and thankfulness, knowing that He could find me something else to do if that is His will (which He did).

So the moral of the story is whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (as Solomon said), knowing that you serve the Lord and not men. Do it joyfully, whether it seems important or not, knowing that He watches, He knows and He rewards. And when, and if, you are due for a promotion, then He will see to that as well. 

Psa 75:6-7 For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south. (7) But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.


This message has been about right relationships in the Lord.  It is the last message in the 'walk' section of Ephesians and really hits home where it matters - in everyday life whether that be in the home or while at work. We've seen that it is expressed within the family in the submission and obedience of a child to their parents. It is seen in the parents care, instruction and training of their child. It is seen also in the everyday employer-employee relationship. Whether it is a family relationship or a work relationship in matters not. The word of God tells us to bring the Lord into all things and do all things unto Him. He is a God who watches and a God who rewards. There is no favoritism with Him but He judges and acts justly. As the Psalmist expressed well:

Psa 33:13-18 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; (14) from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth-- (15) he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. (16) No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. (17) A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. (18) But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love.

So the next message beings the final section in Ephesians. We've looked at the Sit. We've just finished the Walk. Finally we have the Stand. 

Eph 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

We shall look at this battle against the enemy which is heating up on all sides around us in this day! 

  1. As another example, upon entering the Promised Land, the tribes of Israel would read both the blessings of the law (from Mount Gerizim) and the curses (from Mount Ebal) and the people would say' amen' to both. Among them is this one - 'Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother. (Deu 27:16). Sadly, we live today were there are many cases where it is the child that rules the roost and sets the rules!

  2. From https://www.thefirmformen.com/articles/20-disturbing-facts-about-fatherlessness/

  3. Slavery today (2020 figures): Slavery today still affects 46 million people world wide. The greatest offending countries are as follows:

    India (18.4 million)
    China (3.4 million)
    Pakistan (2.1 million)
    Bangladesh (1.5 million)
    Uzbekistan (1.2 million)
    North Korea (1.1 million)


  4. You could say that God used both the training I did in Computer Science and the Bible College training in this website! But I certainly didn't know what the Lord was doing at the time... thankfully He has a plan and simply asks us to commit our ways to Him and trust Him!