Should children obey their parents? Or, perhaps more to the point, should parents insist upon their children’s obedience? The culture around us seems perplexed, so focused on personal autonomy that in many families it seems clear that the children rule the roost. Many parents doubt their ability to direct their children and may even doubt their right to demand obedience.
Yet the Bible insists that children are to obey their parents and that parents are to enforce their children’s obedience. At one time or another just about every Christian parent has quoted this verse to their disobedient kids: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). This is about as straightforward a decree as you’ll find in the Bible. But as we ponder that verse and the two that follow—“‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’”—, we quickly find there are three important reasons why children need to obey their parents. There are three important reasons why parents must insist that their children obey.
Children need to obey their parents because nature demands it. Children are to obey for the simplest of reasons: “this is right.” God has created human beings in such a way that his law is written on our hearts. There are certain truths we know simply because we are human, because we are created in God’s image. One of these truths is that children are to obey their parents. Every people of every time have known this and insisted upon it (even though today it seems that many people are actively suppressing this knowledge). So the first and most foundational reason children are to obey their parents is that this is just how it works, just how God intends it will work.
Children need to obey their parents because the law demands it. Children are also to obey because it is a particular requirement of God’s law, the ten commandments. This is a law that even has a great promise attached to it: “Honor your father and mother … that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” This commandment bridges the first four, which reflect our relationship to God, and the final five which reflect our relationship with others. Most scholars agree God placed it here because of the unique role parents play, a role in which they represent God to their children. To honor and obey parents is to honor and obey God. And those who give such honor and obedience to their parents open themselves to special blessings.
Children need to obey their parents because the gospel demands it. Best of all, children are to obey their parents “in the Lord.” Even children are to put their faith in Jesus and then, because of their personal relationship with him, to joyfully do all that brings glory to his name. The gospel assures our children they can joyfully obey their parents and the gospel gives them the motivation to actually do so. This is why one of the very first evidences of a child’s conversion is obedience to mom and dad. As Stott says, “Christian children learn to obey with gladness, ‘for this pleases the Lord’. They remember the loving submission which Jesus himself gave as a boy to his parents. Now this same Jesus is their Lord and Saviour, and the creator of the new order, so they are anxious to do what pleases him.”
Children are to obey, and parents are to insist upon obedience, for three very good reasons: Nature, law, and gospel. James Boice offers a crucial word for parents: “The obligation is not merely on the side of the child, who must obey, but also on the side of the parent, who must enforce the obedience. This is because the parent stands as God in relationship to the child. To teach the child to obey the parent is to teach the child to obey God. To allow the child to defy and disobey the parent is to teach the child to defy and disobey God with all the obvious consequences.” For, as Bryan Chapell says, “If we love our children too much to require them to do what is right, then we have not really loved them enough.”