Last week, we looked at some ways we can easily allow our children to disobey. This sparked some good questions, which will be addressed in next week’s post.
Before we talk about teaching obedience, it’s important to consider why obedience is so important.
Here, as in many aspects of Christian parenting, we should look to the example of our Heavenly Father. Why does God ask us to obey Him? How can we imitate Him as we disciple the children He has put in our care?
God has many good reasons for requiring our obedience, some of which we may not even know or understand. But one thing is clear: when God requires our obedience, it is always for our good.
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut. 10:12-13)
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10-11)
Our Heavenly Father asks us to obey Him because He loves us and wants what is best for us.
And although we do it imperfectly, we too love our children and want the best for them. With that in mind, let’s consider eight reasons it’s good for our children to learn to obey:
1. The instruction to honor and obey parents is the Bible’s clearest and most-repeated command to children.
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Col. 3:20)
The Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20:12) instructs children to honor their parents, a command that is repeated several times throughout the Bible and applied to the children of the New Testament church in Ephesians 6:1. This commandment was accompanied by God’s clear promise to bless children who obey.
The book of Proverbs is also full of admonitions to heed the instructions of our parents:
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” (Prov. 3:1-2)
2. Teaching our children to obey lays the groundwork for the Gospel.
We all come out of the womb self-centered and with hearts pre-programmed to sin. (Rom. 5:12, Jer. 17:9, Psa. 51:5) Until our children learn to see their sinfulness—their desire to set their own agenda instead of submitting to God or His appointed authorities—they won’t begin to understand or value what Jesus has done to save them from that sin. As we point our children to God’s standard of obedience, we’re breaking up the soil and preparing their hearts to receive the gospel.
We could say requiring obedience is “Lesson One” of Christian discipleship.
As early as possible in their upbringing, we need to emphasize to our children their inability to please God apart from putting their trust in Jesus. From their earliest years, we can pray with them that Jesus will give them new hearts that want to obey Him, and thank Him for the love and forgiveness He offers every time we fall short.
3. Teaching our children to obey us prepares them to obey God.
Our child’s conception of God as his Heavenly Father will be formed largely by the example we set as a parent. As our child learns to trust and obey us, he is learning to trust and obey God, his heavenly Father (Heb. 12:9).
If we allow him to form habits of disobedience and disrespect towards us, he will have to struggle to overcome those habits (or he may just persist in them) as he grows to adulthood and develops his own personal relationship with God.
4. Teaching our children to obey gives them the skill of self-control.
Andrew Murray, the 19th Century pastor, says, “Train a child to master his will in giving it up to his parents’ command, and he acquires the mastery to use it when he is free.”
As we teach our young children to obey, they are learning to say “no” to their own desires and to say “yes” to something else, something harder, but something better. Such self-control will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Obedience during this short season will prepare them for greater freedom and responsibility as they grow. (See Prov. 25:28 and Titus 2:6.)
5. Teaching our children to obey prepares them for life in the real world.
A child who learns to obey is ready for other assignments, such as chores and homework. A man or woman who knows how to honor and submit to authority is prepared to take on increasing responsibility and render useful service to others in the world. Only a person who has learned to deny himself and his own desires is able to truly love others.
6. Teaching our children to obey promotes their safety.
Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old boy in California, was killed when he pointed a real-looking toy assault rifle at a police officer who had repeatedly ordered him to put the gun down. Men in the Bible like Amnon, Absalom, Hophni, and Phinehas all met their end because they weren’t taught to obey or to say “no” to their own desires. These are extreme examples, but they show how obedience can literally make the difference between a long life and a short one. The principle also applies to everyday dangers like busy streets, hot stoves, and sharp knives.
7. Teaching our children to obey allows us to fulfill our responsibilities to them.
We spend much of our time as parents teaching our children, caring for their needs, and providing a home environment that promotes their health and growth. For us to fulfill these responsibilities, it’s important that our children learn to respect us and follow our instructions. If we allow our children to decide if, how, and when they will obey us, we’re effectively putting them in the driver’s seat, which makes our job harder and their lives more stressful.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17 ESV).
8. Teaching our children to obey gives them a sense of security.
Often when my children misbehave, they’re testing to find out where the real boundaries are. They want to know “is Dad serious, or can I get away with just a little bit more?” They’ll push until they find the limit. If we’re inconsistent in our standards, it frustrates them as they have to keep testing to find out where the real boundaries lie. But if we set clear limits and enforce them, it allows our children to relax and live happily in the boundaries we’ve established for them.
Obedience is a blessing
We serve a loving God who has built many blessings into the discipline of obedience. God’s blessings are experienced as we obey, not just as rewards He hands out because we obeyed. By God’s design, obedience is often its own reward.
God wants us to obey Him because He loves us and knows what is best for us, and we can have the same attitude towards our children. It is loving, it is showing grace, it is seeking their good, to train our children to obey.
This realization has changed how my wife and I interact with our children. We found we were doing things that undermined our own authority and made it harder for our children to obey. In next week’s post, we’ll look at some practical things to consider as we teach our children to obey.