Children Obey Your Parents

February 27, 2011 / No. 3556

Dear Radio Friends,
In our current series of messages we are looking at the teaching of the Word of God as regards the Christian home and family. In the last two messages, we looked at the subject of children: how are we to view our children, as gifts from God and sinners; and our duty towards our children, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Today we turn to the duty of the children themselves. For the Christian home to function properly, in a way that is honoring to God, there is not only a duty for parents toward their children but also a duty on the part of the children toward their parents. We discover what that is from the Word of God in Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” This is a very important message for your children. So if you have children, I ask you to gather them with you around the radio.
It is a wonderful thing that God speaks to children—a sign not only that He cares about children, but also that He saves children, especially that He saves the children who come from Christian homes. You children, and that includes teenagers, in today’s message we want to look at the main calling that you have as God’s children—to obey your parents. This is a very important subject, not only because of the spirit of rebellion that prevails in our day and age, but especially because God puts it before you as your calling.
But parents, if you are still listening, and I hope you are, this is not only a word for children. It also contains a very important message for you. I get to speak to your children today for twenty minutes. But you must speak with and teach them every day. And so you, especially, are the ones who must teach them obedience. Very often when children are disobedient, it is because their parents have not properly taught them to obey. And the text we are going to look at today gives us some wonderful instruction on how to teach obedience to our children.
Children, obey your parents. What is obedience? To obey is to follow a clearly stated command immediately, completely, and happily. That is obedience—to follow a clearly stated command immediately, completely, and happily. Let us go through and break down that definition.
First, if we are going to expect obedience from our children, they must be given a clear and understandable command. The instructions and expectations must be obvious, and we must make sure that they hear and understand them. It is easy for parents to assume that the children know what they mean when they give a command. For example, a parent might say something like this: “Go clean your room,” without ever having taught the child how to do that, without ever going into the room and saying to the seven-year-old: “This is how you clean the room. You put the dirty laundry in this basket. You put these toys over here. You pull the bedcover straight like this. You don’t put anything under the bed. And so on.” The parent never takes the time to do that. And then when the seven-year-old’s room is still a mess, he is disciplined. But the problem was not disobedience, but rather the expectations were too high and there was no clear instruction ever given. If we are going to expect our children to obey and submit, then first we should be clear, so that they understand.
Second, we should expect our children to obey immediately. That is obedience. And that is the kind of obedience we should be teaching our children and expecting from them. But sometimes it goes this way: Dad tells the child once, and then twice, and three times, and four times, and finally the fifth time the child obeys. When we allow that to happen, we are actually encouraging disobedience by teaching the child, “You don’t have to obey me the first or the second or the third time. But only the fifth time.” And only when your dad is getting really hot under the collar. That is not obedience. Children, you must obey the first time. And parents, you must expect that of your children or you do them a disservice.
Third, children must obey their parents completely. If the command is clear, we should expect our children to follow it. If I tell my child: “No playing till all your homework is done,” and then let them play after it’s half done, what have I taught him? Well, I have taught him that partial obedience is enough. And, again, then we do a disservice to our children.
Fourth, children must obey happily. The fifth commandment says: “Honor your father and mother.” What is that? Well, it is more than obedience. It is obedience with the proper attitude toward your parents. To honor something is to treat it as special, to give it a place of respect. It is not enough that a child simply does what he is told. No, he must do it happily and willingly. And if I allow my child to obey with a bad attitude, again, I have done a disservice to my child.
So that is obedience: following a clear command immediately, completely, and happily. And part of teaching our children to do this is using corrective discipline when they do not. There must be consequences for disobedience. It must be clear to our children that they may not disobey and that they may not have an attitude of disrespect. Too often parents just let it go. So long as the child is busy and not bothersome and appears to be obeying, so that I can continue reading my book or the newspaper, then I am happy. But, again, if the child is not corrected, we do him or her a disservice. Children need to know what it is to obey.
Why? Why must children obey? The text goes on to give us reasons. And these, too, are very helpful in teaching obedience to our children. We ought to take the time, as parents, to explain to our children, from the Word of God, why they must obey. Your own reasons are not going to convince your children or change their heart and behavior. But God’s Word will do that. It is living and powerful and will, with God’s grace, effect a change in the heart and life of a child.
There are wrong reasons to expect obedience. If we are saying things like this to our children: “You do it because I said so,” or “I’d be really happy if you’d do this,” or “you should think about all the things that I’ve done for you,” or “if you don’t obey me, there’ll be consequences,” then we are communicating the wrong reasons for obedience to your children. Your children do not have to obey you because you said so or because it makes you happy or because you have earned it by all the good things you have done for them or because they fear punishment. Those are the wrong reasons to obey.
Why must children obey their parents? What reasons does the text give?
First, it says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” Children must obey because it is part of their relationship with the Lord, that is, with Jesus their Savior. The important thing, and the ultimate goal, is not that my children are obedient to me, but that they are obedient because they realize that this obedience is a part of their relationship to the Lord. The Bible says that we must do all things to the glory of God. When I tell my child to pick up his toys, he must obey because he wants to glorify God. That is true obedience. If I expect hard work and maybe good grades from my high school children, I must teach them to do that, not for the reward that I might give to them, but to the glory of God, as stewards of the talents that God has given them, and that what is required of stewards is that they be found faithful. This means that you children, and you young people too, must see that your parents are in the place of God in your life.
Let me draw a parallel to the following verses in the chapter that speak of the obedience required of servants. Paul says that servants are to do their work not as men-pleasers, that is, not just to keep their master happy, but as servants of Christ, working as to the Lord and not to men. We must teach our children to obey, not for us, and not even for them, but ultimately for God. It is a part of their relationship to the Lord. This is the perspective that they need to develop as children. When we drop them off for school and tell them to be good, then we should remind them that God is watching and that they must do it for His glory.
The second reason in the text is this: because this is right. That is, children, obey because God says you must. God is the lawgiver who has determined and set down clearly right from wrong. This is done especially in the Ten Commandments, and you will recognize the fifth commandment as given here in verse 2 as a reason that children should obey their parents. There are ten commandments in all. The first four, which we often call the first table of the law, have to do with our relationship toward God—that He alone must be worshiped. How we are to worship Him, the reverence that we owe Him, and the keeping of one day in seven as a holy day for Him. Then, beginning in the fifth commandment, the Lord deals with our relationship to other people. And the first of these tells children to honor their parents. This is right. God has said it is right. And to disobey is wrong, it is sin, and God punishes all sin.
And that means, third, that our children must obey because they love God. Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” What reason do we have, what reason do our children have, to love God? The reason is His love for us. We must remind our children of the love of God for us—a love in which He chose us to be His people—us, undeserving sinners; us, from the mass of fallen, depraved humanity. We must remind them of the love that God has shown to us in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, who was given to pay for our sins. God so loves us that He has shed abroad His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We love God because He first loved us. Out of thankfulness to God for all that He has done for us, we obey Him and the parents that He has given us.
These are the real reasons that your children must obey. They must obey in the Lord because this is right, and out of love for God. Do you see that, parents? Then use these reasons to teach obedience to your children. And live them yourselves, too. Do not let your children see a rebellious attitude in you towards authority in the state or the church or the workplace or even in the home. Let them see that you live to honor God by yourself honoring authority, so that your children not only do as you say, but can do as you do.
Now, perhaps you are a teenager, and you are thinking, well, this applies to younger children. When I was young I had to obey my parents, but now I’m older and I can think for myself and make decisions for myself, so I don’t need to obey my parents. It really doesn’t apply to me anymore.
At what age does a child no longer have to obey his parents? Let me say two things about this. First, so long as you are in the role of a child, you must obey. When does that change? Well, when you take on the role of an adult. So long as you are living with your parents in their home and are dependent on them, you have the role of a child in relation to them and so you must obey them. Every home needs to have a set of rules. And everyone who lives in that home needs to live by those rules. For example, if the rule in your home is that the family gets out of bed and goes to church together on Sunday mornings, then so long as you are in that home you must obey. If the rule is that no one uses bad language or that everyone joins together for family worship, then you abide by that rule. If the rule is a curfew that you be home by midnight, then you obey that rule. You see, God has given your parents the responsibility and the right to make those decisions for their home. They are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the family. And, generally, when they have expectations like this for you, it is for your good, and it is done out of love and concern for you.
And the time when that changes is the time when you assume the role of an adult, when you become completely independent. Your mother is not cooking your meals or doing your laundry anymore. Your parents are not paying for your education. You are not enjoying a warm bed and fresh coffee in your parents’ home anymore. Until then, you have the role of a child and so you must obey your parents.
Even beyond then, when you leave the home and assume the role of an adult, even till the day your parents die, you must honor your parents.
Parents, this is what you must expect from your older children, too. It must be as clear to them as to the little child, that you expect obedience. When your child becomes strong-willed and wants to rebel, do not let it become a battle of the wills. But make it clear that it is God’s will that must be followed.
Then also, second, as an older child, the responsibility on you to honor and obey is actually greater than when you were younger. It is that for two reasons. First, as you mature as children and become closer to being an adult, greater expectations should be placed on you. This is part of your showing your maturity as a Christian. We should not get the idea that the older a child gets, the more right he has to go against his parents. No, the older a child gets, the more respect and the more honor he should have for parental authority.
Besides, as an older child, you will often have younger brothers and sisters who are watching and learning by example. God has put you in the home to be an example to the younger ones. Do not let them learn disrespect and disobedience from you.
Now, maybe that feels like a lot of pressure on you as an older child. Then remember that spiritually you have an older Brother, Jesus, who sets an example for you. His obedience to His heavenly Father was complete. He submitted Himself to the will of God even though it was difficult. And He did this for the sake of His younger brothers and sisters. The Father’s will for Him was that He become a servant, that He suffer the weight of our sins, that He carry them to the cross, that He allow Himself to die and to be plunged into hell where He experienced abandonment from His Father. In all of this, Jesus never sinned, but continued honoring and obeying His Father.
But, you say, God was never unfair as a Father. You are right. He is never unfair to us as a Father. But now, from your point of view, was it fair that God took your sins and put them on Jesus? Do you not deserve the punishment that He took in your place? Would that not be fair? And Jesus bore all those injustices with grace and with an unwavering submission.
So, look to your older Brother. And then remember, too, that as a child, Jesus Himself submitted to His earthly parents Joseph and Mary, even though they did not understand Him. Just read the story at the end of Luke 2 and you will see that. Though they were sinful parents, not always fair, He went down to Nazareth and He was subject to them. That means He obeyed them and He honored them.
This requirement to honor parents applies even when your parents are sinful. There is only one exception to obedience. And that is when parents require the child to disobey God. Then we obey God rather than men. And even then, we must respect and honor parents.
Most of you, I know, come from a loving home, where your parents love the Lord and love you. So to obey them is not grievous, but joyous and rewarding.
That reward is spoken of in Ephesians 6:2 and 3, where the commandment to honor father and mother is called the “first commandment with promise.” This points to the blessedness experienced by children who obey their parents. What is that promise? This: “That it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the earth.” That it may be well with you means that children who obey their parents will improve the quality of their lives. Things are not going to go well for you if you live in rebellion. There will be tension with your parents. You will be unhappy. And if you continue in rebellion, well, you will probably end up somewhere like the prodigal son who not only had nothing but wasted his life and had no one who loved him. Blessed are obedient children.
And they are blessed also with long life. That is, obedience improves the quantity of your life. Now, I suppose we could look at this from a simple earthly perspective. A person who disobeys his parents will go out and disobey laws and put his life at risk, running a red light or getting involved in life-threatening, risky behavior. That is true. But God adds this promise to the commandment for the children of Israel in the Old Testament. To them the promise was a prosperous life in the land of Canaan. And that Canaan, the Bible tells us, was always a picture of heaven. Hebrews 11 says that they looked for an eternal city that had foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The way of obedience to parents is the way of salvation, the way of life that is honoring to God, and that leads us to the glories of heaven in the eternal kingdom of God. Rebels will have no place in that kingdom.
May God be with you and give you the spirit of submission and obedience that His Son, Jesus Christ, had.
Let us pray.
Father, forgive us and our children for our rebellion. Give us hearts of love for Thee and for Thy commandments. And bless us that it may go well with us and that we may live long, eternally long, with Thee. For Thy glory we ask it, Amen.