Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. “Honour your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, “so you will live well and have a long life.”
Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. (THE MESSAGE)
One of the problems in applying the Bible to our lives is focussing on one text or truth to the detriment of others. This passage is an example of what we might call ‘mutual ethics’, a common teaching in Scripture that tells us how various people are to behave. Each party has a responsibility; it is not all one-way. Parents can’t just read the first part and demand obedience from children. Nor can children just read the second part and stand up for their rights no matter what.
Even then, we need to guard against misunderstanding. Children are to obey but only up to a point when they make their own decisions in life. Demanding our grown-up children obey us is to deny them their God-given freedom. Wise parents know when to insist on obedience and when to let children go their own way. Not at all easy: there is no set time and place when the command to obey no longer applies.
And then wise parents distinguish between harsh control and loving discipline. Note that while our text only mentions fathers given the patriarchal nature of that society, we need to apply the teaching to both parents. These parents aren’t to make it hard for their children.
Our homes can be places where the grace of God is regularly demonstrated or where the tyranny of mere religion becomes a weapon of oppression.