A little before our son turned three, my husband and I had a parenting revelation. The word ‘obedience’ was enitrely absent from our thinking about parenting and from our communication with our son. We weren’t permissive parents and tried intentionally to parent well, be appropriate firm, and train in good behavior. And we implied obedience when we told our son that we expected him to “mind us” or “do what mommy (or daddy) said.”
But all the primary parenting texts in the New Testament (Eph 6:1-4, Col 3:20-21, 1 Tim 3:4-5) hinge on the concept of obedience, and each of them explicitly uses the word “obey.” The concept is pivotal to a Christian understanding of parenting. Why? Because God’s design is for parents to be the authority in the lives of children for their good – to lovingly lead them, protect them, train them, and build wisdom into them (ultimately that they may know and follow God themselves). If a child does not accept his parents’ authority – which is to say, if he doesn’t obey them and his parents permit this – the child is in danger. And the parent is failing to fulfill the parental duty that God’s entrusted to him or her.
At the time we realized that we’d not incorporated biblical notions of obedience into our parenting, our son’s willfull spirit and rebellious nature were coming to a head. His behavior was deteriorating and our disciplinary efforts were proving ineffective. We explained the concept of obedience to him: “God has given you an important job to do, and that job is to obey your mommy and daddy. So you need to make sure you are doing that job.” Then we began to consistently expect and enforce his obedience, and things changed noticeably. That simple message provided the framework (for parent andchild) in which behavior and disipline issues could rightly be addressed.
Our culture dislikes and avoids the terms ‘obedience’ and ‘obey.’ It smacks of constraint and heavy-handedness, even a dictatorial style. And since society at large doesn’t value or promote children’s obedience to parental authority and doesn’t care to quench a defiant spirit when it emerges – these concepts will not characterize parenting or be built into childrearing unless parents intentionally seek to understand and employ them.
God requires us, his children, to willingly (even joyfully) obey him with a spirit of submission – which we accept with the knowledge that He’s wiser than us, loves us deeply, and has our best interests at heart. This is the model that we are to employ with our children. We’re God’s agents when we act in authority over our children; this is the significance of Paul’s instruction to kids to, “obey your parents in the Lord.” (Eph 6:1). So we are to lead our children righteously and wisely in the ways and manner of God – a high and sobering calling for us parents! But as we accept this role and play it out fully in our expectations, communication, and discipline with our children- both they and we will see fruit. Indeed, as Paul points out, children honoring their parents is “the first biblical commandment with a promise, ‘that it may go well with you and that you many enjoy long life on the earth.'” (Eph 6:2)
What mother wouldn’t want life to go well for their kid and for him to enjoy long life? So our requiring obedience from our children and knitting obedience into the fabric of our childrearing is really a blessing that God has given to the whole family unit – to us as parents and to our children.