“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” (Col. 3:20)
The primary responsibility God gives to children is to obey their parents. The word “obey” is literally “to hear under.” It means not only to hear with the ears, but to take heed to what is said and to do it. The same word is used to describe how unclean spirits obeyed Jesus (Mark 1:27), how the winds and sea obeyed Jesus’ command to be still (Matthew 8:27), and how slaves are to obey their masters according to the flesh (Eph. 6:5). In each of these cases, we find that obedience involves submission to authority, God-given authority. The unclean spirits obeyed Jesus because they knew who He was, “the Son of God.” The winds and sea obeyed Jesus because He is the Creator of all things. Slaves were to obey their masters because they had authority over them under Roman law.
Children are placed under the authority of their parents by the laws of society, but more importantly by God. The importance of this authority is seen in the fact that it is one of the Ten Commandments, the foundation of the laws given through Moses to God’s chosen people, Israel. The first four commandments spell out Israel’s duties to God, the last six their duties to one another. The first commandment in this second group is:
“Honor your father and mother.” (Exo. 20:12)
While this commandment does not specifically mention obedience, it does emphasize the importance of children recognizing and respecting the authority God has given to their parents.
Even the Lord Jesus, who grew up under the Mosaic law, recognized the authority given to His earthly “parents” including His mother, Mary, and Joseph, even though he was not Jesus’ biological father.
“Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them …” (Luke 2:51)
Hear the Instruction
One of the key aspects of obedience is “hearing.” Solomon was led of God to write proverbs to instruct his children in wise living. One of the things he stressed was:
“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains (necklaces) about your neck.” (Prov. 1:8-9)
The instructions of a godly father and mother, when heard and heeded by an obedient child, will adorn the child’s life with grace and goodness. The same principle is true of believers, as children of God. We have a wonderful Father who has given us instructions in His Word. We are to be obedient to Him. The book of Hebrews describes the obedience of Abraham in this way:
“By faith Abraham obeyed God when he was called to go out to the place he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8)
Abraham obeyed God “by faith.” He trusted God and “went out, not knowing where he was going.” How did Abraham have such faith? The answer is found in this familiar passage:
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
This emphasis upon hearing points out how important communication is in the parent-child relationship. Children need to learn to listen to their parents, to hear the instructions and the warnings they give, and then to take heed to them and do them. Parents need to make sure that they clearly communicate to their children what is required. Don’t just expect them to know and don’t hold them accountable when you have failed to make yourself understood.
Honor Your Father and Mother
While hearing and doing are included in the idea of obedience, there is more. In Ephesians 6:1-2, Paul declares that children are to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right,” but he also quotes the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” Obedience is primarily seen in the actions of the child, hearing and doing, but obedience also involves the child’s attitude. Children are to honor their father and mother. The word “honor” means literally “to fix a value or price on.” To honor is to see as being of great value, to esteem, to hold dear, and thus to respect. Children need to recognize how valuable their parents are, both to them and to God. They need to respect the position and authority God has given to their parents.
Paul points out that this commandment to “honor father and mother” was “the first commandment with promise.” What was the promise? The promise involved two aspects of their life: its quality (“that it may be well with you”) and its quantity (“that you may live long on the earth”). While we may not be able to claim this promise during this present dispensation of grace, particularly the promise of a long life, there is a principle found in this promise we can apply. Our family life affects all aspects of our life. A child who honors his father and mother and is obedient to them is much more likely to have a good life, a life that is blessed by God and can be used for His glory.
Well-Pleasing to the Lord
Why is it so important for children to obey their parents “in all things?” First, because “it is right” (Eph. 6:1); not necessarily right in men’s eyes, but certainly in God’s eyes. Psalm 19:8 says: “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” When a child obeys his or her parents, they are living right or righteously, which is what God’s grace teaches us to do (Titus 2:12).
Second, a child’s obedience to his or her parents is “well pleasing to the Lord;” it brings Him pleasure and causes Him to be filled with gladness or delight. This should be the desire of each of us as believers, to bring pleasure to God, to have Him be pleased with our life and service.
Children are to obey their parents “in the Lord.” What this means is that when children obey their parents, they are actually obeying God. As they submit to their parents’ authority over their lives, they learn the importance of submitting themselves to the Lord and to His authority in their lives. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
Why Do Children Disobey?
As parents, we realize very quickly that obedience and submission do not come naturally to children. It is not in their nature. Proverbs 29:15 puts it this way: “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Children are born with a sin nature. David acknowledged in his prayer of confession to God: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). The prophet Jeremiah was led of God to write: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). The world would have us believe that people are basically good by nature, but this is clearly not what the Bible teaches. When we look at a little baby or a young child, we often speak of how sweet and innocent they are, but we need to recognize that children are born with a sin nature; a nature that makes them self-centered. Even babies or young children are primarily focused on satisfying their own needs or wants, something they can often get by crying. As they grow, they will not naturally develop the trait of obedience; they must be taught.
Another factor that hinders children from being obedient to their parents is the environment in which they must live—an environment Paul referred to as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). John, in writing to the Jews of his day, warned of the danger of becoming enamored with the things of this world.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
The messages our children get from the world, be it from television, movies, books, schools, or their peers, do not encourage them to be submissive to God or obedient to their parents. We need to be aware of, and make them aware of, the dangerous influences that are part of this evil world system they live in. We need to warn them that Satan is presently the prince (ruler) of this world. We cannot isolate our children from the world, but we need to do all we can to ensure they do not become “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).
As parents, we need to understand that our children are just that: children. They lack the maturity, wisdom, and discernment of adults. Proverbs 22:15 says: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” The word “foolishness” simply means they lack fully developed wisdom. They often think, speak, and act in foolish ways. Paul spoke of his own time of childhood in 1 Corinthians 13.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor. 13:11)
We must recognize that our children need to grow, develop, and mature in many different areas. Even the Lord Jesus, as He grew up, “… increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
All of these factors contribute to a child’s tendency to disobey their parents. Obedience doesn’t come naturally. Children need to be instructed, to be trained, to be disciplined.
We now turn our attention to the responsibilities God has given to parents.