God gives children a responsibility. He expects them to learn to obey.
One of the Ten Commandments was, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land.” (Exodus 20:12)
The apostle Paul repeats this command in the New Testament and expounds upon it: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’” (Ephesians 6:1-3; NKJV)
The phrase, “in the Lord,” used by Paul to the Ephesians reinforces a secondary expectation of the obedience asked for in children: that the obedience will flow out of a godly foundation and subsequently produce righteousness. This is reinforced by the subsequent command to fathers to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (cf. Ephesians 6:4). Parents who teach their children to lie, steal, cheat, and get drunk are not following God’s plan and there is no desire on the part of a righteous God for children to learn such unrighteous behavior.
That being said, the repetition of the command for children to obey their parents, as well as its inclusion in the Ten Commands, which were foundational principles of the Law of Moses, illustrates the importance God places on the subject. To further illustrate the point, we might point out God devotes an entire book of the Bible, the Book of Proverbs, to the subject; for that book is written as a set of wise sayings and instructions, as from father to son, concerning the wisdom and importance of learning righteous obedience and applying it throughout the entirety of one’s life.
Among other things, Solomon urges his son, “hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother;” (Proverbs 1:8, NKJV; cf. 6:20) and exhorts him to wisdom and righteousness, saying, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” (Proverbs 10:1; NKJV)
As the apostle Paul begins his treatise to the Romans, he speaks of the wrath of God upon a sinful world. In cataloging the various activities evidence of that sinful world – things such as fornication, envy, murder, deceit and gossip – he says this about those upon whom God’s wrath comes: “They are disobedient to parents.” (Romans 1:30)
One might well wonder why God cares so much concerning this matter of obedient children. The answer supplied by the Bible is at least two-fold.
Firstly, God cares about it because of His great affection for us. He wants us to have that which is best. He wants our lives to be blessed. As the Scriptures, teach, God is not willing that any should perish, nor does He delight in the death of the wicked man. (cf. 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:32) Therefore, out of that affection He encourages us to be self-controlled and well behaved, making wise choices in life.
While the burnt hand may teach a lesson, the wise child listens to instruction and avoids the burn. Thus the promise connected to the commandment: obey your parents so it will be well with you and your life will be extended. Children that learn obedience early are less likely to end up violently killed, in prison, or in constant trouble. Thus the writer of Hebrews reminds us concerning the discipline and training we receive as children: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11; NKJV) The fruit of discipline, gained at a young age, yields plentiful results, compounded throughout life.
There is a second reason, however, that God wants children to learn to obey their parents. In learning to obey them, they are developing the skills necessary to obey Him. Thus the Bible says, “we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9)
When we obey earthly fathers, there are earthly benefits and blessings that accrue. Much more so, when we obey our heavenly Father, there are spiritual blessings that lead us into eternal life. God wants this obedience, as a sign of our love for Him (cf. 1 John 5:3) and so that we can reap the eternal fruits of righteousness.
The church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us, as we seek to learn better how to serve and obey our heavenly Father. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.
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