Most of us long for a better world – a safer, happier and fairer world. But the question us, ‘How do we get there?’ Most people see a solution in politics or economics: change the leaders; fix the political and economic systems, the courts and the schools, and the world will be a far better place.

But will it?  History is replete with the theories and experiences of various political and economic ideas. Capitalists and communists, monarchists and republicans, insist that their way will create a better world. But history shows that whatever the system, there’s still fraud, injustice, poverty, pillaging, sexual harassment, violence, greed, and war. The systems may change, the faces may come and go, but the scene remains much the same.

The problem is us. What makes the world a valley of tears is not the system, but people behaving in foolish and selfish, insensitive and brutal ways.

So what practical steps can we take to make the world better? Should we get active in politics, in the schools, in industry or in the courts? By all means, yes. But there’s something we can all do immediately: we can play our part in a circle of influence that is open to us all –family. This is one of the implications of Paul’s subject in Colossians 3:20-21.

There we read: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Parents, (literally fathers), do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

In speaking of obedience in everything Paul has in mind a professing Christian family. He is not saying that children must obey their parents when there is conflict with the law of Christ. Paul expects Christian parents to know and practice God’s commandments and Jesus’ teaching. The relationship between parents and children is not simply a matter of kinship but is a relationship framed by God’s law of love and grounded in God’s truth.

As children grow up they are to come to understand the God-given authority of their parents. It is something they learn as they see the way their parents treat one another and live their own lives, teaching about and exemplifying their own relationship with God. Where parents forget that there is a Lord in heaven to whom they are accountable, there is the recipe for spoilt, neglected or ungovernable children.

Indeed, as Dick Lucas observes in his exposition of Colossians (IVP: 1980, p.162), ‘disobedient children are one of the more disagreeable and alarming signs of decay in a Christian culture. It means that biblical sanity is on the way out, and it is particularly distressing when it is propagated in the name of kindness and progress’.

At the same time, we must notice Paul’s injunction that parents are neither to tease and exasperate their children nor give way to their every whim. Rather, they need to treat their children with love and care, commitment and sensitivity, respecting their individuality but curbing their attempts to reject authority.

That said, Paul’s injunction that children are to obey their parents is not a life-long rule. The Fifth Commandment instructs God’s people to honor their parents. Obedience is enjoined during the growing years.

The first four of the Old Testament commandments address the question of our relationship with him. The second six address the relationships of neighbour love. It may surprise us to see that the first of the second set is about the relationship with parents. We might have expected the fifth to address our duty to the State – either to the Head of State or Prime Minister. But this is not the case. The first command concerning neighbor love involves our relationship to parents – to honor them.

From God’s perspective, the family needs to be at the heart of our human relationships. Loyalty to family comes second only to our relationship with God. Many who have had bad family experiences will feel uncomfortable at this, perhaps wanting to deny any responsibility to family. But whatever we may feel, we see throughout the Scriptures that God treats family seriously. Marriage and family are not a stage in the evolutionary development of society.

There are those who consider that human society is evolving from a primitive beginning to some future ideal. The Bible has a different view: it sees humanity as having fallen from an original ideal and being in danger of progressing to a future disaster. Jesus implies that family order is important for the wellbeing of society.

Dick Lucas observes that ‘home, not church’, is where children learn to serve God. He further comments that ‘in the Bible spoilt children rarely learn to serve the Lord’ (ibid, p.163). It is in the home that the foundations of future Christian service are laid.

None us can perfectly live out these words. However, God through the very grace that rescued us from our slavery to self, continues to work within us, changing us from one degree of glory to another, and giving us the inner resolve and power we so much need. And I suggest as this happens we will see others being drawn afresh to Christ, for people everywhere are searching for the truth which is found in Jesus Christ alone.

© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com