Ephesians is a book written by Paul to believers encouraging them to, by the grace of God, pursue unity and maturity in the faith. When we get to Ephesians 6, Paul addresses children specifically as a responsible part of the Christian body. My question regards Paul’s specific address to children. What place do children (what we would call youth) have in the body of Christ and how does God see them regarding their own responsibility and capability to live by faith?
Ephesians 6:1-4 HCSB
Children, obey your parents as you would the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Unity and maturity in Ephesians
Firstly, Paul addresses this letter to all the saints at Ephesus (or to all the saints, period). As one body, each Christian is to receive this instruction (1:1). Each Christian is chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in love before Him (v. 4). So, all Christians exist in unity because they have been chosen in Christ. God’s goal is to bring everything together in Christ for His own good pleasure (v. 9-10). All things are subjected to Christ and He is head over everything (v. 22-23).
No person is of special consideration, for we are saved by grace through faith and not by any work of our own (2:8-10). Jesus has brought together the Jews and the Gentiles as one unified body in Him, that both might be reconciled to God (v. 13-15). In Christ, God’s people are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit (v. 21-22).
The Gentiles are coheirs, and partners in the promise in Christ (3:6). God is to receive all glory from all generations forevermore (v. 20-21). This is the first time in Ephesians that different generations are mentioned as one family created for the glory of God. All generations, then, in the theme of unity presented throughout the letter, have the same purpose: to glorify God and to glory in God. Already we have seen that God brings different people together as the body of Christ for His own glory and for the good of those who love Him (applied from Romans 8:28-29). One generation is not more important than the other, but all are valuable. This means something significant for youth, just as it does for the elderly on this earth.
The single body of Christ, every generation, is encouraged to live worthy of the calling that we have received in Christ with humility and gentleness and patience, bearing with one another in love, and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (4:1-6). Here, we might notice the calling of the Gospel on the generations. It is a calling to gentleness and respect. It is a calling to bear with one another so that we might live worthy of the single calling that we have as the body of Christ: to glorify God and glory in God. The generations are together one body in Christ for God’s glory. When we separate out the generations, for whatever reason, we become guilty of glorifying ourselves, one generation, or the differences of the generations. If God is a God of unity, we are one church. Ephesians gives us this instruction explicitly. Those in Christ, members of every generation, are to be trained by those God has gifted to train so that every Christian, from the youngest to the oldest, might do the work of ministry (v. 11-13). When we approach our role in the church body like this, we will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching (v. 14). Every part of the body, from the youngest to the oldest, has its place because Christ is the one who fits the body together (v. 16). Every Christian has gifts and passions to be used in the body of Christ without exception. Will we waste our lives, or use those gifts as God designed for His glory and our good? Youth are not in church to be entertained or to be babysat. They are part of the body to fill a very real and meaningful role in the Kingdom.
Finally, Paul addresses children specifically in Ephesians 6:1-5, which means that they are responsible for their actions, their sin, and their participation in Christ. Youthfulness is not an excuse before the God of the universe and God will never indicate that someone is too young to do something. Paul challenges children to strive for obedience to God’s instruction and to willingly train in righteousness under their parents (who have been given the responsibility to disciple their children by God). Primary discipleship, then, is the responsibility of the godly parent and families should ideally be involved in the church body together (unity). What we see in Scripture is what we would refer to as an integrated family ministry and not what Baucham would call a cottage industry of subculture ministry where any group is separated from the church body and have their own separate church.
God sees youth, then, as a valuable part of His kingdom and part of the Christian body. He saves youth by grace and prepares them to serve Him just as He does with adults. From every generation, God has chosen people according to the counsel of His own will that He would be glorified and that we might, together, glory in Him. There are many terrible ways that churches treat youth. Ephesians gives a very clear indication about what sort of ministry we ought to pursue and why: a ministry in which Christ is preeminent and where we portray unity and maturity in Christ through genuine discipleship through the generations.