Parenting – Obedience in Children

“Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your Father and mother…” 

 – Ephesians 6:1-2

As I continue to work out a set of biblical thoughts on parenting, the next issue I would like to address is that of Obedience.  Obedience is the act of complying with another person’s wishes or orders.  Normally the person is in a position of superiority, however not always.  In the Christian life, obedience is really about service to others and service to God.  This is our greatest calling as believers – love God and neighbor, and love according to James is always a tangible act of service.  Obedience to God is about loving him and serving him.

Now you could argue that obedience doesn’t always involve love or service, it can be strictly compliance with a more powerful person’s wishes and whims, and true, that may be how the world looks at obedience. But as Christians, we shouldn’t be content with simple “do what I say” kinds of obedience, we should go beyond that to “I do what you say because I love you and want to serve you.”  “If you love me, you will obey what I command” are Jesus’ words in John 14:15.  So how do we help our children to grow up with this kind of belief?

First, we need to love our children deeply and communicate it to them often.  We need to instill a sense of security and concern for their well-being that is over the top.  Our children need to know that our love drives our actions.  We do that by words spoken and actions taken.  There is nothing greater than saying “I love you”, “I am proud of you”, “You are special to me”, etc.  And that can be built upon by actions of love – hugs, time to play with our children, reading stories to them, etc.

Second, we need to love our children enough to discipline them.  Children who aren’t disciplined; children who don’t obey the first time, immediately, are being taught that love tolerates selfishness, disobedience and rebellion.  They are being taught that it is okay to ignore those who love you.  As parents we need to ensure that our children get the proper understanding of love – love is grounded in ensuring your children grow up to be the best they can be.  So how does one teach this? It is really very simple, when I speak, you act, now.  No questions.  This is hard for many parents.  We want to believe that our children are angels, that they are good, and do love us, but their actions are stating the opposite.  Instead of saying “I love you” they are saying “I love myself more than you.  I am the most important person, not you.”  This isn’t love, it is the opposite.  And contrary to what you think, the opposite of love is not hatred, it is pride – the love of oneself.  For in the love of self, there is no ability to love or serve others.  We need to teach immediate obedience if we are to root out pride.

Third, as our children grow up, and gain some maturity, we need to talk with them about these two truths  outlined above.  Children age 10 or so are very capable of understanding these realities, especially if they have been trained well at earlier ages.  If not, you may need some more time to instill and correct earlier mistakes in parenting. But rest assured, your children will come to thank you if you truly love them.

You may be asking, “Why is obedience so important in the parenting of children?”  Aside from the typical answers about making your life easier, or the painted scenarios of keeping a child from running into the road, the greater truth is that obedience is the foundation of discipleship to our God.  When we teach our children to obey their parents the first time and immediately, this lesson will not be wasted in their Christian life.  They will grow up to think it is normal to obey the teachings of God.  They will grow up expecting that love and service to God is shown in obedience to his Word and His Son.  How else are we to help our children to be disciples who “obey everything I have commanded you” if they cannot obey their earthly parents whom they can see?  Is it reasonable to assume they will obey their heavenly Father whom they cannot see, if they don’t obey those they can see?

Personally, this is a great struggle for me.  Keeping a diligent watch on my children and ensuring that the obedience of my kids to their mother and I doesn’t wane is a difficult job, and many days I feel too tired to instill loving consequences, but I must.  It isn’t just their earthly lives we am forming, it is their eternal life that is being shaped by the lessons they learn from us.

In conclusion,

  1. Do your kids know you love them?  Have you told them and shown them?  Are they convinced?
  2. How quickly and completely is their obedience?  Do you need to make some changes in your tolerance levels?
  3. Have you communicated the biblical reasons for why you are discipling them in obedience?  
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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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