This series of blog posts will be subsequent chapters and section of a book titled, For the Going Well. These will be rough versions (i.e. not a final draft), but the substance of the book will be faithfully communicated. We want this piece to be accessible for children from ages 8-17. Also note: this article has been updated from the original to provide more Scripture references.
This book is about obedience. Though it may be a topic you are less than thrilled to learn about, obedience is worthwhile. In fact, it is necessary. In this book, we will answer many questions, including the following:
- Why should children obey their parents?
- What happens when children obey their parents?
- What happens when children don’t obey their parents?
- What does obedience look like?
Another thing you should know about this book is that we will talk about obedience quickly. I don’t want to waste your time, if it can be helped. I would much rather you quickly learn what obedience is and start obeying, than slowly learn what obedience is and never actually get around to obeying. Therefore, the ultimate goal of this book is not to simply help you know what to do, but to help you start doing it.
Chapter One: The Duty of Obedience
At Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. These commands teach us how God wants us to live. They explain what our responsibilities are. The fifth commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). This means that every child should honor his parents. God wants it to be this way.
This command should be kept by every parent and all of their children – no exceptions. Even adults should honor their parents (Malachi 1:6). You never get too old for this command. You can’t outgrow it by eating enough green beans. You can’t run away from it by moving across the world. “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent” (Proverbs 15:5).
But this does not mean that everyone honors their parents in the same way. For a child who is grown-up, honoring parents means things like being polite, helping with needs, and asking for advice. For a child who still lives with his parents, honoring them involves some of these things too, but most of all, it requires obedience. An adult child does not have to obey his parents; a young child must obey his parents. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
What About Teenagers?
When I say, “young child,” some teenagers object. “I may not be an adult, but I am not a child!” First of all, I am using the phrase “young child” to refer to anyone who hasn’t left home, typically younger than 19 years old.
Second of all, our culture has twisted the meaning of “teenager” into something untrue. You are often told that you are neither a child nor an adult, but some kind of odd, in-between creature. You are still legally a minor, but you are clearly not a child – right?
Wrong. In the Bible, there is no middle ground between child and adult. There are boys, and there are men. There are girls, and there are women. Teenagers in America are allowed to enjoy the rights of adulthood without the responsibilities. You are allowed to have the benefits of being a grown-up without having to consider the obligations. You get the trophy without the race. This is getting the cart before the horse, and it is wrong.
For example, teenage boys assume that they should have the right to pursue a teenage girl in a romantic relationship. They are told that this is their right. At the same time, they live with their mother, have no legal standing as an adult, could not afford a downpayment on a house, and haven’t given the first thought to how children should be raised. These are responsibilities a man must step into, by which he may enjoy the blessing of courtship and marriage. Even Christ could not enjoy privileges without hard work and maturity: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
So, teenagers need to read this book too. Until you are out of their parents’ house, you are a child, and children must obey their parents.
That being said, teenagers are not toddlers, and they should not be treated as such. To be a teenager is to be on the far-edge of childhood. You are not grown, but you are nearly grown. This means that you should already be stepping into the responsibilities of adulthood in preparation for leaving the house. What was said of Christ as a child should be said of you, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
In the end, that means this book is especially important for you, because an adult has to know how to submit to authority. Obedience is an essential way of life. If you don’t know how to obey, then you are not prepared to be a grown-up.
Why Should I Obey?
You may ask, “Why must I obey my parents?” The rest of this book answers that question. For now, I will say six things.
- You should obey your parents because God says to.
- You should obey your parents because they are wiser than you.
- You should obey your parents because they have authority from God to rule over you.
- You should obey your parents because they are servants of God to help you learn how to love and obey God.
- You should obey your parents because God curses disobedience.
- You should obey your parents because God blesses obedience.
Obstacles to Obedience
Obedience can be hard. There are several reasons why this is so; I will call these “obstacles to obedience.” An obstacle is something that gets in your way. Bad storms can cause big trees to fall down, sometimes in the middle of a road. A tree that falls in the middle of a road is an obstacle for cars. Before anyone can drive on the road, the tree must be removed. This is the same way with your obedience; there are several obstacles that stand between you and obedience.
First, there is the obstacle of popular sin. A popular sin is something that most people enjoy, but that God hates. A popular sin is something God has forbidden, but which most people try to do.
Many cartoons and movies show an out-of-date parent who just needs to learn that “times have changed,” or that, generally speaking, the child is right in the end. This is a ridiculous idea, but even parents have believed it. As a child, you are not meant to be independent or autonomous.
Autonomous means “self-law.” You are autonomous when you can govern or rule yourself. This is part of what it means to be an adult, that you can discipline yourself. God wants children to learn discipline, but not all by themselves. He wants them to learn discipline under authority. You are not supposed to be in control. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t know what is best for you, or how to live in God’s world as God’s creature. You need time to learn these things.
The world says, “Your parents hold you back. Your parents don’t understand.” Disobeying parents is a popular sin, and that popularity is an obstacle to obedience. God says, “Your parents are wise. You don’t understand. Listen to your parents and obey them.” God says, “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent” (Proverbs 15:5). God says, “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures” (30:17).
Second, you face the obstacle of parental sin. Your parents are sinners. Their parents were sinners, and their parents, and their parents, on and on, all the way back to Adam and Eve. Every human is born a sinner (Romans 3:9-18). We are all born with a desire to sin. Disobeying God comes natural. This is an obstacle to obeying your parents, because it means you must obey sinners – your parents. God has commanded you to obey imperfect people. He has called you to honor and serve parents who break His law and make mistakes. This can be very frustrating.
When you are frustrated by the sin of your parents, remember how Jesus obeyed His parents. Jesus was the only perfect child who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15). But even Jesus submitted to His parents. “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51).
Third, you face the obstacle of personal sin. Your parents are sinners, but you are also a sinner. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). For any sin you see in your parents, there are at least three more to see in yourself. You must deal with pride when you think you know best. You sometimes think that your parents are ignorant. Pride can even be disguised as humiliation, like when you sulk in the thought, “They just don’t understand me…” This is sin.
You must say “no” to rebelliousness, which is a simple spirit of disobedience (1 Samuel 15:23). This raw energy for sin has little to do with your parents. Rebelliousness means you don’t like submitting to authority. This is sin. If you don’t repent of it soon, rebelliousness against your parents will turn into rebelliousness against pastors or police officers.
You must run from selfishness. You have needs, but your parents do too. Have you ever thought about that? In a store, in church, at the playground, or anywhere else, have you every stopped to think, “How is my Mom doing today?” or “How can I help my Dad today?” You have a tendency to think that everything in life is about you, but it isn’t. Even Jesus put the needs of others before His own (John 13:1-20; Philippians 2:5-11).
Pride, rebelliousness, and selfishness are all personal sins that present an obstacle to your obedience.
So, what does obedience look like, exactly?
First, obedience is submissive. It honors and fears the parent. Children like to wait until the last possible moment to obey. You might wait until your parents start counting – or finish counting. You might wait until they repeat their command two or three times. The time to start obeying, however, is long before a command is even given. The time to start obeying is the moment they call your name. When your father or mother calls your name from across the room, church, or house, your usual response might be to yell, “What?!” That is disrespectful. When your parents call your name, it is a summons, a command, an order to come close.
“Will, put cups on the table for dinner.” “Jessica, make your bed before you come to breakfast.” “Marshall, put gas in the car this afternoon.” When your name is called, immediately begin submitting yourself to your parents. If you are playing a video game, then you hit “pause” and go find your parents. If you are talking with a friend, then you stop talking and go find your parents. If you are wrestling with the dog, then you get up and go find your parents. This is because you know that you are under your parents’ rule and authority, even when you are busy. You must learn the discipline of obedience, which is to submit even when you don’t want to.
Second, obedience is immediate. It does not pause. Delayed obedience is disobedience. When your parents give a command, the time you spend before you hop-up and obey the command is time spent doing what you want to do and not what your parents instructed you to do. This is disobedience.
Third, obedience is all-inclusive. It is not shallow; it is deep and wide. It involves your whole self, not just your hands or your feet. We are talented sinners, and we find ways to obey with half of ourselves and disobey with the other half. We need to remember that disobedience sometimes pretends to be obedience by doing the bare minimum while keeping a rebellious spirit. Your mother tells you to feed the dog, and so you go about it huffing and puffing, throwing the dog bowl on the floor, pouring too much food, slamming the door shut… You fed the dog, but you did not really obey your mother.
I am not saying that you must feel like obeying. Feelings come and go; emotions always change. I am saying that, if you are going to obey, let your obedience be whole and complete. Don’t do your chores like a grumpy dwarf. Don’t get in the car like it’s Christmas Eve and you’re the Grinch. Don’t take your elbows off the table while rolling your eyes. Obey your parents, and obey all the way. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9).
Fourth, obedience is honest. It stays the same no matter where it goes, no matter who is (or isn’t) around, and no matter what the consequences are. First of all, honest obedience means you must obey your parents even when they can’t see you obey. You should obey even if they will never know whether or not you obeyed. There will be times when you will have a chance to disobey without facing consequences – maybe at a friend’s house or at school. In those times, remember that your heavenly Father sees and knows everything.
Second of all, honest obedience means you must remember the instructions of your parents. Did you know that forgetfulness is a sin (Psalm 78:5)? Telling your parents that you “forgot” to turn the oven on is not a good excuse. You are responsible for remembering and following your parents’ instructions. You may ask, “What if I don’t have a good memory?” Being a good remember-er is not about how good your memory is; it’s about how well you record what you need to know. Use the world around you to create an account, a testimony, a report of what you must remember. Writing the instructions down is usually the best place to start. You can also make-up a poem or a song, or find a one-of-a-kind object that can serve as a symbol of what you were told (e.g. Joshua 24:26-27).
Third of all, honest obedience means you must keep full obedience when you are away from your parents. You must not gossip. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). When you hear your friends complain about their parents, do you join in the fun? You belong to your parents and are a member of their household. To slander them in front of your friends is disloyal; disloyalty is dishonest. It is not a good excuse to say, “I just need to let off some steam.” No, you just need to practice self-control.
Obedience is submissive, immediate, all-inclusive, and honest. This is what it looks like to obey your parents. When your parents give instructions, you submit to them, immediately and fully, you keep at it when they aren’t around. Obedience is prompt, comprehensive, continual submission.
 See also Leviticus 19:3, “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father.”