Hi kids. I usually write a few lines each day for your Mom and Dad, but today I thought I’d write something for you.

I was doing a Bible study about children the other day, and discovered that the most common word God uses when talking about children is “obedience.” Here’s a couple of New Testament verses for you (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20). You can also find this word lots of times in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Proverbs.

Whatever else you want to be, you must aim and strive to be obedient. That’s not too complicated, is it? It simply means doing what you are told by God, parents, teachers, and others in positions of authority over you.

But obedience is not a very fashionable or popular idea today. In fact, we’re in danger of losing this whole concept from our families, our churches, and our culture. So here’s a quick summary of the kind of obedience God requires from you, and we’ll focus especially on obeying our parents.

1. Total obedience: Do everything your parents say unless it’s clearly contrary to God’s Word. Underline “all things” in Colossians 3:20.

2. Speedy obedience: Delayed obedience is disobedience.

3. Cheerful obedience: Not with sullen face and resentful spirit but willingly and happily.

4. Unquestioning obedience: As you get older, there may be times when you might ask for an explanation for why Mom and Dad are asking you to do something. But that questioning should never be rebellious and a way of avoiding obedience, but rather to help obedience.

5. Unseen obedience: This means obeying even when your parents are not there to see.

6. Initiated obedience: Don’t just wait passively until you are asked to do something but actively volunteer to help, ask in what way you can obey your parents better.

7. Happy obedience: Paul says that obeying our parents is not just right, it’s pleasing to God (Col. 3:20), it makes Him happy. But it also makes us happy too. Psalm 1 celebrates how a life lived in the study and practice of the Bible is the happiest life there can ever be.

8. Life-extending obedience: If we honor our parents by obeying them, God promises to extend our life (Ex. 20:12). Of course God sometimes wisely decides to make some exceptions to that, but in general we can say that obedient children live longer, not just because their lifestyle will be safer, but because of God’s blessing.

9. Temporary obedience: When does the obligation to obey our parents end? Some say 18, or 21, or when we go to college. However, these are all cultural norms. The Bible points to marriage as the game-changer. Although we should never stop honoring our parents, obeying them does undergo a change at marriage. We “leave” our father and mother, and “cleave” to our wife or husband. Although we would be wise to continue to consult our parents and seek their blessing on our decisions, marriage sets up a new family unit and a new center of authority. (What this means for adult singles is another subject).

10. Revealing obedience: Your parents are God’s representatives in your life. He has appointed them to rule you in His name. The way you talk and listen to them reveals how you talk and listen to God. The state of your relationship with them reveals the state of your relationship with God.

  • Valerie Jacobsen

    Our children should understand that obedience becomes more complex as they grow past the toddler and preschool years and develop a greater ability to question,think, and consider. Obedience is voluntary “as unto the Lord”, when it pleases God.

    1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys are sexually molested in childhood, and much of this happens in Christian homes and in good churches, where children have been left feeling that they have little recourse but to submit and that they have no definite place to turn for help. The child most at risk is the one who has been taught to obey in a way that is effectively blind and unconditional. “Unless it is clearly contrary to God’s Word” needs more emphasis before it is really understood that obedience is only appropriate when it pleases God.

    Children may be unaware that God has built various kinds of authority into His world, for the benefit of all, including His little children. Children need to understand that parents may do evil or suggest it; elders may do evil or suggest it; governments may do evil or suggest it. They should also know that sometimes these suggestions will come as requirements, that Christ is the head of all these governments, that any of these governments may serve as a check upon the others in their evils, and that it was for all these sins, by children and by grownups, that Jesus came to die on the Cross for us.

    Parents may say, “I am an excellent parent. Therefore, all my children need is unquestioning obedience”, but how does that honor Christ as almighty over all? How do we teach our children that we parents are also under the authority of others and that we are in many ways subject to the counsels of even our equals? How do we help them see that ultimately we obey Christ, that His delegated authorities should and often do serve as a help to that end, but that they may also be a hindrance and a hazard at times?

    Various kinds of abuse against children are rampant in the church, not at all rare. “Do what I say” has a lot going for it, in that it is simple. It takes no thought, or consideration, and observes no nuance. But simplicity isn’t necessarily Biblical. Hundreds upon hundreds of verses teach us how a child or an adult obeys “as unto the Lord”. The Bible includes numerous accounts of people responding to conflicts between the commandments of men and the rule of God, which can be very helpful for teaching our children true obedience to God, following our authorities where they help us follow Him.

    • David Murray

      Good points Valerie. I especially appreciate your emphasis on the parents (and others) building awareness in the children that they too are under the authority of God’s Word. It’s horrific that something so holy as obedience has been so abused to the damage of many children.

    • HER

      Thank you for saying this. As one who was sexually abused by her father (a respected man and Sunday school teacher in a sound denomination but very weak church) this obedience was used against her. In the years following the abuse, as I eventually tried to put an end to it on my own by cutting off any contact with him and practically ignoring him, I was confronted (as a young teen) by others in the church over whether I was honoring and loving my father and therefore obeying him because of my lack of affection for him. Now they did not know what he had done and what I was trying to prevent as I had not had the courage to say anything at this point. It was simply they observed I did not have a close and loving relationship with him and therefore blamed me. Now obviously the “right” thing would have been for me to say something. But I “knew” I wouldn’t be believed. And even when I finally did (because I observed him to be going after my younger sisters) the goal of those who knew was to keep it quiet and to quickly bring “reconciliation” which meant I was to forgive and believe “the best about him” (that he was repentant and would not do it again) even though there was no evidence of repentance and his apology was repeated word for word from what the pastor told him to say (all occurring in front of me). So this teaching children about not obeying unholy orders is VITAL but then as adults we MUST be willing to quickly and really deal with the abuser no matter who he is. Covering it up and hiding it does not protect the name and witness of Christ!

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  • Pui-Yan Chung

    Hi Dr. Murray,

    Great post! I enjoyed its entirety thoroughly. Are you planning on writing another one addressed to adult singles and how their obedience to their parents should look? I’m assuming that many of the components are the same as listed in this post, but with some minor differences? Would much appreciate your help in articulating any differences there are. Thanks!

  • Kimberley Suchta

    May I respectfully comment, that there is something really important missing here that we need to be telling our kids as Christian parents along with these 10 points. First, what is their ‘primary’ motivation for obeying? (We love, because he first loved us.) And then secondly…where do we point them when they don’t obey? You have called them to obey here, which they should be called to obey…but it cannot stop here.

    Our kids need the message of the cross, the gospel, just as badly as we parents do. And I don’t see that message here. Even as an adult, I read through this list and was getting really anxious…thinking…I could never live up to what this is telling me to do. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be told these things…God has given me instruction on how to live because he loves me and knows his ways are better for me than my ways.

    But our kids need to be told that Jesus lived these 10 points perfectly for them. And that he died on the cross to take the punishment they deserved for NOT following the rules like they should. And out of their great love for him in doing that for them…it will cause their hearts to want to obey in all of these ways you listed above.

    • David Murray

      Hi Kimberley. I agree with you. Hang around the blog another day or two and you’ll get what you’re looking for. This is one part of a longer sermon that I preached on The Godly Child, the last point of which is that there was only one, and He lived and died for ungodly children.

      • http://kimberleysuchta.com/ Kimberley Suchta

        Awesome, David! I am so encouraged. Thank you so much!

  • Nathan

    Yes marriage is the game changer and we will leave adult singles to

    another discussion that will never happen, leaving everyone to think singles are immature and incomplete…

  • Guest

    My mom is sad all the time and is on the computer a lot. How can i help her?

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  • George Douglas

    David, great post. and all valid reminders to children. But is this really just for children?

    Aren’t these points what our obedience should look like as well if we are children of God? I expect you intended us to make that connection. Very subtle. Thank you.

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