Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. “Honor 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)
It might not seem this way at first sight, but this is one of the more radical teachings of Paul. The first part of this reading would raise no eyebrows. Children were supposed to know their subservient place. While things are a bit different today, children are still rightly taught to respect their parents. And at least till they grow up, to obey them.
But what is radical is Paul’s instructions to fathers. Again in our less patriarchal society, this statement would be directed to both parents. But in Paul’s time it was simply addressed to the one who held power in the household.
It is radical because parents could basically do what they like in relation to their children. The obligation was all one way. Children had responsibilities but no rights. And so then, as now, a child could be harshly raised and have no power to correct the situation. At least till they grew up and took their unhappy childhoods out on all and sundry.
This is what we know as a mutual ethic. Paul applies such an ethic to husbands and wives, masters and slaves. He is not trying to overthrow established social orders of his day. He is trying to bring love and grace and truth into them. And so a child is to respect his or her parents. But the parents have to be worthy of that respect.