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How can I grow up when you treat me like a little kid?

Ephes. 6:1-4 


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 be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. [4] And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

I wasn't fast enough to run track when I was in High School. It's not that I didn't try to run fast, I always ran hard, it is just that I ran a long time in the same place. My football coach asked me to be the equipment manager for the track team my freshman year. And since many of my friends were on the track squad, I agreed. My job was to make sure the team had all their supplies, run errands for the players and do things like tape their ankles and rub lineament into their sore muscles. Basically, I was a gopher. Not exactly a glamour job.

I didn't enjoy parts of the job, which explains why I didn't do it more than a year, but I did learn to appreciate the grace, strength, quickness and agility of the track and field athletes. I still marvel at pole vaulting. How do they do it? How do they throw their body higher than a roof top with nothing but a flimsy pole? 

Long distance runners have always fascinated me. How do they do it? What discipline. They spend hours in solitude, pushing their bodies beyond its limitations to run a little further.

Primarily, track and field events gauge individual achievement, that is, except for the relay runners. Four runners, run a leg of the race, handing off a baton to the next runner, until the anchor leg completes the race for the team. All of the runners are fast. In many instances, the difference between winning and losing is in how well the baton is passed from one runner to the next.

Relay teams practice handing off the baton daily. Giving the baton is easy. The runner can see the person in front of them and can place it in their hand, but grabbing the baton is a different story-it isn't always so easy. The runners of the second leg watch as their teammates approach and begin running when their teammates reaches a mark. Because the handoff must occur within a predetermined range, they can't start too early, and because they want to be at full speed when they get the baton, they can't start too late. Timing is everything. There is a zone where the handoff can occur, it can't happen too early or too late, it must take place "in the handoff zone."

The critical years in the parent/child relationship occur "in the handoff zone." There is a time when the children begin to run to pick up speed so they can begin their turn around the track. The parents are still holding the baton, they are still the runners in charge, but they are running with a purpose-to hand off the baton.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I love my children so much, that I'd be happy for them to stay young and dependant upon me for the rest of my life. There is a part of me that doesn't want them to grow up. But, there's another part of me that loves them so much that I want them to have their turn around the track, and I want them to finish well! 

Our text today, Ephesians 6:1-4 gives instruction for how the parent and child should behave while they are running "in the handoff zone." To the children, Paul gives two pieces of advise. First, he tells you to obey your parents. His only justification for the command is that it is the right thing to do.

Why is it right? It is right because your parents have your best interest in mind. To stick with our analogy, they don't want you to step outside of the lane and be disqualified. They don't tell you what to do to be mean, they tell you what to do to help you.

Remember, this isn't your parent's first race. They were in the lane before, when their parents handed off to them. Your parents use their past experience as a point of reference to guide you.

Another reason it is right is because God ordained it that way. He set your parents in authority over you and when you disobey them, you are sinning against God. For some, sneaking around and being disobedient is an enticing game, but it always results in pain for you and your family.

The second thing Paul instructs you to do is "Honor your father and mother." It is a reference to the fifth commandment. The meaning of the word honor is quite complex. In the Ten Commandments, it is clear that it has financial ramifications as does our word "honorarium." In the ancient near east, the only means of support an aged parent would have is from their children. That's why the command has a promise. To paraphrase, "your children are more likely to provide for you if you will provide for your parents."

But it is clear that honor in this text has other meanings too. William Barclay explains it like this, "The only way to honour parents is to obey them, to respect them, and never to cause them pain." (Barclay, p. 210)

If you want to have a smooth handoff, obey your parents, (we've already talked about that). You also will need to show them due respect. The only time I remember my father slapping me was a time I spoke with disrespect to my mother. I do not allow my children to speak to me or my wife with "the wrong tone of voice." Much of our problems in society today is that we have parents wanting to be their children's "friend" instead of their parent. My children can have other friends, but I'm the only chance they get to have a father. To continue with Barclay's explanation, children should not bring pain on their parents if they can avoid it.

Children, your job is to obey and honor. But Paul doesn't stop here, he gives instruction to the parents too, specifically to the fathers. In verse 4, he said, "And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

Paul instructs the fathers not to do something and then to do something. We are not to provoke our children to anger-to discourage them or to have such a critical nature that we crush their spirit. And second, we are to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

But it isn't always so cut and dried is it? It is hard to keep from crushing their spirits at times. How do we know when it is time to ease up and when to tighten our grip? I mean, when we see our children running from us, we don't always know if they running under our authority or away from our authority. 

If they run from our authority, we've got to be willing to exercise discipline and control. Even if it means pulling them out of the race for a time.

If all they are doing is beginning to run to facilitate a smooth handoff, then it is wrong to break their stride and hamper their initiative. In this case, they are running under our authority. That's why Paul said, "do not provoke your children to anger." We've got to let them grow up, and if we don't, we will hamper their development.

A compassionate man once noticed an emperor moth struggling to emerge through a small hole in its cocoon and decided to assist it. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the cocoon. The moth emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. Later the man learned the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening was God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it would be ready for flight. By depriving the moth of a struggle, he deprived the moth of health. (From FreshIllustrations

The struggle was necessary. A father must allow his children to run "under his authority." Especially when he is tempted to carry the child.

I am nostalgic about the time I ran next to my father. I pray daily that I may run well next to my sons, and I look forward to the time when I stand on the sidelines and watch my sons, hand off to theirs. And I pray for our congregation, that we may each run the race in such a manner that it brings honor to God.

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