God has designed all of His creation to be under authority: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:6). God’s authority structure defines different roles and responsibilities; it does not represent superiority or inferiority. When fulfilled properly, God’s authority structure is a blessing, providing protection and comfort.
Those in authority are required to nurture, guide, guard and provide for those under their care (Ephesians 5:25-28; 6:4). Likewise, those under authority are required to trust, respect and submit to those over them (Colossians 3:18-22; Hebrews 13:17). And since all authority comes from God, each individual is ultimately responsible and accountable to God the Father for his or her response to this duty (Romans 14:12).
God expects each generation to teach His truths “to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Out of His perfect love, God has therefore placed your child under your authority. Because you have experiences and knowledge that will protect your children and lead them toward God’s righteousness, they need to learn to obey you (Ephesians 6:1-2). Your children need to understand that you are working on God’s behalf to provide instruction, direction, correction and protection for their benefit. God has entrusted you with leading your children to understand and embrace His authority in their lives.
Shepherding the quality of obedience within your child’s heart will require a tremendous amount of resolve, perseverance and nurturing.
What does it mean to be obedient?
Regardless of the age or temperament of your child, it will be imperative to have a clear, solid definition for your family to rely on as you begin focusing on the foundational attribute of obedience. Shepherding the quality of obedience within your child’s heart will require a tremendous amount of resolve, perseverance and nurturing.
A good workable definition for obedience is “doing what I am asked, when I am asked, with a willing attitude.” Since instructing your child for biblical obedience is an ongoing task, refer consistently to this definition to help. Take the necessary time to guide your children in understanding that they need to do what you have asked them to do. It is not for them to decide the manner in which the task will be accomplished. Additionally, guide your child to understand that he or she will need to respond to your request promptly. The child is not the decision-maker: that is your God-ordained duty as parent.
The attitude of the heart is the greater requirement and concern in biblical obedience. If the attitude is right, the behavior of obedience will follow.
When teaching the essential quality of obedience, it is important to be mindful that biblical obedience is twofold. Not only will your children need to respond accurately and promptly to your request, but more significantly, they will need to understand that they should respond willingly to your request. The attitude of the heart is the greater requirement and concern in biblical obedience (Psalm 37:31; 40:8). If the attitude is right, the behavior of obedience will follow.
Your children will never fully yield to your authority if they do not know that they can trust you.
Trust and obedience
The most urgent prerequisite for instilling the desire to obey within your child is establishing trust. Your children will never fully yield to your authority if they do not know that they can trust you. When your children are confident that you are unconditionally invested in their lives—knowing them, understanding them, loving them—they will normally respond rightly. Your words and example will have significant influence upon the attitudes of their hearts when they completely trust that obedience to you (and of course God’s laws) is for their benefit.
You will obviously need to work with your child in guiding him or her to develop a trusting relationship with God as well. It is important that your children know and understand where you place your complete trust and confidence (Psalm 73:28; Proverbs 3:26). Liberally share the glory of God (Psalm 145:4-7). Talk with your child about God’s majesty and excellency, about His purpose for humanity, about His unconditional love and abiding commitment to your family. Share how you trust and obey God and how He provides (Proverbs 3:5-6). When children continually see their parents’ absolute faith and trust in God, they are seeing a pattern of behavior that will encourage them to develop that same trust and faith in God in their lives.
In every situation and under every circumstance, your child needs to know that your family’s standards are the standards of the one true God—the Almighty!
As you engage your children in this manner of rich, meaningful communication, they will come to understand that you do not require obedience arbitrarily, but rather because it is God’s mandate (Colossians 3:20). They will come to trust that you extend instruction, direction and correction not for your own purpose, but for God’s. They will come to trust that you base decisions not on your own desires, but on God’s. In every situation and under every circumstance, your child needs to know that your family’s standards are the standards of the one true God—the Almighty! Constancy to God’s standards will build trust.
Samuel returned to his bed and lay patiently ready to follow Eli’s instructions.
Samuel: “Here I am”
A wonderful example of a youth consistently responding—accurately, promptly, and willingly—can be found in 1 Samuel 3. Three times Samuel was called. Each time, without objection or frustration, he obediently went to Eli. Not perceiving that the Eternal was calling, Samuel returned to his bed and lay patiently ready to follow Eli’s instructions. When the Eternal called, Samuel responded rightly (1 Samuel 3:10).
Samuel’s life vividly displays the benefits of training a child early to obey those in authority. His mother Hannah did not neglect her responsibility to prepare her son for submission to the Eternal. That initial training laid the foundation for a life of significant service to God and all of Israel (1 Samuel 3:19-20; 7:15-17). Hannah and Samuel’s willingness to submit to God’s authority impacted Israel profoundly for generations.
Samuel’s life was one of integrity—he was without blame (1 Samuel 12:1-5). Share with your child the full account of Samuel’s life and the extensive roles that Samuel fulfilled (1 Samuel 1-25). Highlight the scriptures where Samuel stresses the absolute necessity for complete obedience, as in 1 Samuel 12:14-15 and 15:22-23.
Obedience is in the details
You can use a valuable phrase with your child that we learn from Samuel’s life: “Obedience is in the details.” Samuel served as a priest, prophet and judge. Consider the precise instructions that God gave to the priesthood in fulfilling their roles. Consider the care required when proclaiming a prophecy from God. Consider the attention to God’s law needed when delivering wise judgments. It was vital for Samuel to be meticulous in obeying the details that God pronounced.
The Scriptures are filled with examples of detailed instructions given to the people of God—details that God fully required to be obeyed. Moses erected and arranged the tabernacle “according to all that the LORD had commanded him” (Exodus 40:16). Noah built the ark “according to all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22). Christ provided clear guidelines to the disciples as He sent them out to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 6:7-11). Detailed obedience clearly matters to God.
Consistently and patiently work with your child to listen carefully to your direction and obey correctly.
Learning to obey in detail is an urgent and essential quality to shepherd within our children. The word obey implies attentive listening. Consistently and patiently work with your child to listen carefully to your direction and obey correctly. Be mindful of the cognitive ability of your child. Giving directions beyond his or her capability will only frustrate your child—and you (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Small, manageable tasks based on developmental level and understanding will produce joyful success.
Blessing of discipline
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?
If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!
They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. —Hebrews 12:5-11, NIV
The moment arrives for every parent when correction must be given to his or her child. Perhaps the initial occasion was overlooked due to the parent’s disbelief or uncertainty, but there is an unmistakable point when disobedience must be directly confronted. How will you respond? What will you teach your child?
Will you choose to submit to God? Based on God’s instruction and authority, you must be prepared and willing to discipline your child for disobedience (Proverbs 19:18; 29:17).
As parents striving to follow biblical principles, we can be greatly encouraged by God’s purpose for discipline. God disciplines His children with the intent to promote righteousness, procure peace and produce holiness. It is through the mercy of God’s discipline that we are restored to Him. Godly discipline is an expression of love and denotes sonship! We must therefore strive to meet God’s standard when disciplining our children.
Highlight God’s eager desire to grant forgiveness to those who sincerely repent of disobedience.
Share the story of Jonah with your children (Jonah 1-4). What was the result of Jonah’s disobedience to God’s command? Stress God’s mercy toward Jonah upon his repentance. What was Nineveh’s response to God’s warning? Stress God’s mercy toward the Ninevites upon their repentance. What kindness did God extend to Jonah after warning Nineveh? Talk with your children about Jonah’s attitude. Highlight God’s eager desire to grant forgiveness to those who sincerely repent of disobedience.
Sowing and reaping
God has generously provided a clear principle that we can actively apply in the biblical discipline and correction of our children—that of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7-8). The principle of sowing and reaping is distinct and plentiful within the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, narratives and prophecies illustrate the reaping of blessings or curses based upon the actions and words sown by individuals and nations.
Returning again to 1 Samuel, review two separate examples of sowing and reaping in the parent-child relationship. Eli, who honored his sons above God, had the priesthood removed from his family and suffered the death of his sons, then died himself (1 Samuel 2:27-34; 4:12-18). Hannah, who dedicated her son to the Lord, was blessed with four sons (including Samuel) and two daughters after being initially unable to conceive (1 Samuel 1:5, 24-28; 2:20-21).
The sowing and reaping principle is a scriptural absolute that underscores God’s authority. Parents need to structure the outcomes of their children’s behaviors upon this same guiding principle. We must consciously, consistently and patiently work with our children to discern “sowing to the flesh” from “sowing to the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8). With your attentive guidance, your children can learn to make choices based upon godly principles. Steadily increasing in sowing seeds of holy, righteous character, your child will reap the lasting fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Be encouraged! Alongside your children, you will reap the blessings based upon your faithfulness (Proverbs 23:24-25; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:9).
From your life experiences, you know that reaping—whether of blessings or penalties—is often not immediate. Therefore, you will need to shape and provide outcomes that guard your child’s heart from being deceived and mocking God (Galatians 6:7). It is imperative that our children understand that they are not exceptions to this biblical principle. There are no “spiritual crop failures.” Righteousness reaps blessings while sin reaps sorrow and penalty (Job 4:8; Proverbs 22:8; James 3:18).
Take the time to marvel at the remarkable amount of fruit and seeds produced by one small seed.
A great way to provide a concrete example for your little one is through gardening. One does not sow tomato seeds in the ground one day and reap a tomato fruit the next day. Time is required to produce fruit. Emphasize that tomato seeds do not produce peppers. One reaps what one sows. And eventually one reaps an increase. Take the time to marvel at the remarkable amount of fruit and seeds produced by one small seed.
Every day your child is sowing small seeds of his or her future character. Seemingly inconsequential daily choices in childhood will produce a harvest of deep-rooted character in adulthood—whether positive or negative. Your children will suffer the consequences of not having God’s truth planted into their habits of thought and behavior early on in their lives. The pattern of your children’s responses to everyday life situations is shaping their character. For their own sakes, do not permit your children to cultivate the habit of disobedience.
Earnestly and persistently seek God’s guidance and insight into discerning the matters of your child’s heart.
The heart of biblical discipline
Because “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15), the majority of outcomes that parents will need to shape for their children will be consequences. Consequences serve to shield and dissuade your child from sowing to the flesh. These consequences need to be established upon the enduring truths and principles of Scripture if they are to instruct the heart—biblical consequences based upon biblical absolutes.
Parents must be mindful that all behaviors are connected to attitudes of the heart. Since your goal is long-term character growth, not short-term behavior change, your child’s heart is the battlefield. When we only correct behavior and fail to address the attitude behind the action, we leave the heart open to idolatry, putting self before God. Before correcting our child’s disobedient behavior, it is important to uncover the intent of the heart so we (and our child) can understand and address the heart attitude behind the misbehavior. Heart change must be our most urgent concern. (For more on why this is important, please refer to our introduction at the beginning of this Shepherding the Heart section of this Manual.)
Although a parent cannot ever fully know the heart of his or her child (because only God truly knows our hearts), every effort to gain understanding must be made. Earnestly and persistently seek God’s guidance and insight into discerning the matters of your child’s heart. Additionally, with an older child, take the time to ask probing questions to reveal his or her inner struggle (practicing wisdom so as not to disintegrate trust). Although never condoning or ignoring a sin, we need to seek to understand why our child is responding disobediently. Provide scriptural correction at the heart level.
Your child needs the supreme truths and principles of God’s Word to learn pure wisdom. If we discipline our children according to a standard of behavior apart from God’s standard, we fail to uphold their need for an omnipotent God and we fail to uphold their need for a perfect Savior. God’s Word convicts the conscience, revealing the critical need for His mercy and forgiveness. Our children will fail to recognize their earnest, intrinsic need for God the Father and Christ the Redeemer if they are given a standard of conduct that teaches them to trust only in self.
A final word
Satan is continually striving to gain a major foothold in the battle for your child’s heart by discouraging, distracting and deceiving you about your responsibility to train your child for biblical obedience (1 Peter 5:8-9). Do not succumb to his tactics! Commit yourself to humbly seeking God’s guidance through prayer and His Word so you can gain the necessary insight and encouragement that is essential for shepherding your child’s heart to obedience.
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
Here are some suggestions to help you take the initial steps in training your child for long-term character growth, not just short-term behavior change, in the area of biblical obedience:
- Write out a clear, workable definition of obedience and display it prominently.
- Write out one or two key scriptures that will actively guide your family’s attitudes regarding obedience.
- Study at least one individual within the Scriptures who displayed or lacked obedience to God’s authority. Highlight the sowing and reaping principle in that individual’s life.
- Identify and discuss examples of sowing and reaping as you encounter them in everyday life and in Scripture. Guide your child’s thinking in discerning the attitude of the heart as connected with the concept of sowing.
GUARD AND GUIDE SCRIPTURES
Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right. —Proverbs 20:11
This scripture is a fantastic verse to use to encourage your child forward as he or she yields to God’s commands and laws. Obedience is not a matter of age; it is a matter of the heart! Children do not “outgrow” disobedience. Let your child receive the praise and honor due one who willingly submits to authority in his or her life. Guide your children to see that their actions and attitudes directly affect how others perceive and interact with them. A good reputation is worthy of honor.
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
This scripture is overflowing with blessings for your family! Depending on the age of your child, this passage can easily be adjusted for memory work. Since your child is the direct beneficiary of obedience required from this scripture, do not neglect to share its components with him or her:
- Obedience and honor summarize the whole duty of a child. Although linked together “obey” and “honor” denote two distinct responses to God’s authority. Obedience is submission, whereas honor is a heart attitude. Obedience is the fruit of honor. Honor springs from the disposition of the heart.
- The sphere in which obedience is to be carried out is “in the LORD.” The Eternal has ordained you to represent Him in your child’s life. God’s name should be glorified by the prudent manner in which you lead your child to Him. You are a reflection of God’s authority.
- “This is right” reflects righteousness—the will of God by His perfect design.
- A promise means we can have complete confidence—absolute certainty—that the Almighty will grant what He has declared (Titus 1:2).
- “That it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth” promises stability and longevity—quality and quantity. Obedience enriches one’s life, providing fullness of life.
So Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. —1 Samuel 15:22
This scripture addresses human reasoning that can so often justify one’s disobedience. King Saul provides an important and powerful example of selective obedience. Saul claimed twice that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions when he clearly had not done so (1 Samuel 15:13, 20)! When Samuel confronted Saul, he responded by excusing, blaming and rationalizing. Saul tried to justify himself. Partial obedience or delayed obedience is disobedience. Nowhere in scripture is one granted permission to decide how and when to obey God or to question the authority structure He has established.
Since obedience to parents will mold the habit of a child’s later obedience to God’s authority and guidance, guarding against justification of disobedience is crucial. It is easy for child and parent alike to excuse, blame and rationalize disobedience. Permitting disobedience during certain situations or times serves to convey that obedience is only required when it is convenient for you or your child. But God is more concerned about your child’s heart. Obedience to parents is a matter of obedience to God—for both child and parent.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
We also recommend these additional (but certainly not exhaustive) scriptural passages that are relevant to the topic of obedience:
- Internalizing the concept of God as our ultimate authority (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
- Examples of immediate obedience (Psalm 119:60; Matthew 4:19-20)
- Willing to yield (James 3:13-18)
- Doers of the law (Romans 2:12-13)
- The context of obedience to civic authority (Acts 5:29; Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17)
- Accepting what God has established (Deuteronomy 4:2)
- Disobedient to parents (Romans 1:28-32; 2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Further Your Study
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