The way we teach our kids obedience will naturally flow out of our own relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Do we obey what God commands because of fear of punishment?
Do we obey in order to win approval or to earn brownie points with God?
Do we lower God’s standard by trying to justify our own disobedience and by making light of sin?
Or do we obey out of a heart of love that is freely submitted to the One who knows what’s best for us?
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)
“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
The way we teach obedience to our children will also flow out of what we believe about the authority God has given us over them.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
How do we communicate to our children about why they need to obey?
Because I said so. I’m the Boss. You better listen to me or else.
Or, Could you please obey me this time? I’ll buy you some ice cream.
In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp says: “Children must learn that they have been made for God. They have a duty to Him. He has the right to rule them. They owe Him obedience.
Your children will never submit to you without understanding this truth. They will never see living in terms of bringing glory to God. They will be self-absorbed—the prime objects of worship in their own world.
Submission to earthly authority is a specific application of being a creature under God’s authority. Submission to God’s authority may seem distant and theoretical. Mom and Dad, however, are present. Obedience to God is reflected in a child’s growing understanding of obedience to parent.”
Tripp describes a circle of safety that our children live within when they submit to our authority. When they rebel against that authority it is our job as parents to “rescue” them, to bring them back into the circle of protection and blessing.
He says: “The circle of submission to parental authority is the place of safety. By implication, being outside that circle is a place of peril. Your child is in danger if he is rebellious and disobedient. You, therefore, must move swiftly to return him to the circle of protection and safety...The child has not just disobeyed Mommy or Daddy. He has disobeyed God. He has made himself liable to the discipline and correction that God has appointed for disobedient children. The function of discipline is to restore him to the safety and protection of the circle.”
“Obedience to parents is not a parent-child issue. If it were, the parent could be selective about when he wished to be obeyed. Obedience is not simply an issue between the parent and the child. It is an issue between the child and God in which the parent is God’s agent in drawing the child back within the circle of blessing.”
“Bad behavior represents a failure to obey and is, therefore, the occasion for correction—but the focal point of correction is not behavior. The focal point is the heart of the child that is called to submission to God’s authority. The goal of correction is not simply to modify behavior, but to bring the child to sweet, harmonious, and humble heart submission to God’s will that he may obey Mom and Dad. The heart is the battleground. The spanking comes only because it is God’s method of driving foolishness far from your child’s heart.”
“You inevitably train your children in obedience. You may train them to obey only after you’ve yelled, pleaded or threatened. You may train them to obey only when they wish to. You may not train them to obey at all. Even this is a type of training in obedience.
When your directives are met by a discourse about why what you have asked is not fair, your children are not obeying. When you are met with excuses or explanations, they are not obeying. Submission to authority means that they obey without delay, excuse or challenge.”
Tripp’s description of obeying “without delay, excuse or challenge” sounds quite similar to “first time obedience:” which was the goal of the early parenting material that our family followed. Shepherding a Child’s Heart helped me understand a very critical difference in how we approach this high standard of obedience—whether our focus is on the outward behavior or on the heart.
Tripp says: “Your focus must be what it means for you to honor God in your family life, not how to get your kids in line. Getting your kids in line is a by-product of honoring God.”
He pointedly asks: “Could it be that you are confronted with disobedience all day because you tolerate it? As long as you are unwilling to require precision in obedience you will have sloppy responses to your directives. Consistency is the key...There may be days in which nothing much gets done because of the demands of consistent discipline. But, faithfulness will yield a good harvest.”
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, 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 12:10-11)
May God help us to train our children, with a focus on bringing their hearts to Jesus, so that God receives the glory through the harvest that He produces of righteousness and peace.