The Priority of Obedience

Hearing and Doing

The word obey means doing something in response to hearing something (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20). More specifically, it means to hear what you are told to do and do it. In the most literal sense, the word is a combination of two words, hear and under, meaning to place yourself under the authority of someone else by doing what they tell you to do. In Acts 12:13, the word translates as “answering the door” when someone asked to enter, which vividly portrays what it means. Knowing this, God expects parents to give good instructions to their children, and he also expects children to do what their parents tell them to do.

Learning to Listen

The first step in the process of teaching children to obey is teaching them to listen to the voice of their parents. Parents should teach children to hear their voice when they speak to them or give them instructions. The young boy Samuel provides us with an excellent of example of this (1 Sam 3:1-10). He had learned to obey the voice of his surrogate father, even in a late-night hour from bed.

This kind of hearing involves more than listening to the sound of a parent’s voice. It requires a child to “pay attention” or “listen attentively” (Prov 1:8; 4:1). It also requires a child to understand what a parent is telling them. Children do not naturally listen to their listen to their parents this way. They may hear the sound of a parent’s voice, but they respond with, “I couldn’t hear you,” or “I didn’t know what you were saying,” or, “I didn’t know that you were talking to me.”

While it is true that a child may not always hear well, a lack of hearing is not usually the problem. If a parent mentions that there is some chocolate dessert in the kitchen using the same volume and tone of voice, the same child who couldn’t hear a previous instruction will run to the kitchen immediately for the dessert. In this way, children suffer from a chronic case of selective hearing. Parents need to discern when a child has willfully refused to pay attention to instruction and provide proper consequences when the child has indeed refused to hear.

Responding to Instruction

In addition to listening, children should learn to respond to what they hear from their parents as well. And how should they respond? They should respond right away, all the way, with a joyful heart. Delayed obedience is incomplete obedience. Children need to learn to dothis first, and they need to learn this early (Psa 119:60). They also need to learn to obey instructions completely. The moment when God rejected Saul as king over Israel vividly illustrates this point (1 Sam 15:14-23). God had commanded him to entirely eradicate the Amalekite nation, but he only obeyed partially. God did not accept this partial obedience. Finally, children need to learn to obey parental instructions joyfully (Psa 100:2; 1 John 5:3). As children learn to obey immediately, they can then learn to obey completely. As they learn to do this, parents may then teach them to obey joyfully. Teaching this requires patience on the part of parents, in tandem with clear teaching and consistent child-training consequences for disobedience.

Focusing on the Goal

The goal of this child-training process is first to raise children who will learn to make regular, voluntary decisions that please their parents without parents telling them what to do (Prov 1:8; 6:20-22). The second and ultimate goal, then, is to raise children who learn to obey the Word of God properly – immediately, completely, and joyfully.

Paul described these objectives in the context of spiritual growth when he urged the Philippian believers to obey God not only when he (Paul) was present as their spiritual mentor, but also when he was absent. In fact, he urged them to obey God “much more” when he was absent (Phil 2:12). John shares a similar sentiment when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

Being Consistent

As you teach your children to obey, you should be careful to avoid unnecessary commands, focusing on what really matters. Furthermore, you should be careful to respond to disobedience consistently, not offering veiled threats like, “If you do that one more time, then I’ll…” Doing this does not teach immediate obedience. In the earlier years of development, perhaps it is wise to insist on immediate obedience. Once children learn this, they perhaps they should learn complete obedience, and then joyful obedience.

In the way that you choose to guide this process, be sure to be consistent. Expect your children to hear what you say. If they do not respond, then evaluate whether their failure to hear is legitimate and respond accordingly. God has delegated to you the authority to give your children instructions, and he expects them to obey you. It is your responsibility to train them to do so.

Review Questions

  1. Did your parents train you to obey them immediately, completely, and joyfully?
  2. Are you teaching this to your children? If not, what is preventing you? If so, then what challenges have you faced in doing so?
  3. How can your family put into practice what you have learned from this lesson?
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