Must children always obey their parents? And who, exactly, is a child? While the answers to these questions may seem straightforward, there is actually a bit more to them than may appear.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is rightful”. (Ephesians 6:1)
Most of us would agree that children should obey their parents under most circumstances. A problem arises, however, when the situation is unusual. If, for example, a parent conducting criminal activity demands their child break the law. is the child under an obligation to obey?
The truth is that God has created a certain structure in society, and anyone who violates that structure triggers consequences, rightly or not. Citizens, for example, are to submit to their governments; when that authority structure is violated, there are consequences. Lawbreakers are punished whether they are true criminals or godly people like the martyrs, who refused to obey laws requiring them to deny Christ. There is a consequence for disobedience–rightly or wrongly. When the consequence is unjust, we call it persecution for the faith.
And that is what typically happens to all who refuses to obey the authority in their life–whether citizen, employee, wife or child. Doing right still generates consequences, even if they are unjust and unmerited–yet the people of God must not sin. That, however, is the rarer case. Most parents do not demand their children disobey Christ–to the contrary, they try to get them to do what is right.
Another issue with this imperative is one of definition. When this verse refers to children, does it mean a person of any age who is is an offspring of another, or simply those who are still clearly children? Is, to use an extreme case, a seventy year old obligated to obey a ninety year old parent if he or she believes they still have the authority to control their life? Before you dismiss this situation, consider that while it may be unusual, situations such as these do occur with adult children of various ages and their parents who fail to let go. Are these mature individuals Biblically under bondage to do as their parent demands?
I believe the Bible is reasonable, and that God’s intent is straightforward–that it is directed toward minors, who are to obey their parents so as to gain wisdom from them, and prepare for adulthood.
Interestingly, another command which is not age-directed concerning the patent child relationship is found in Exodus and is restated in Deuteronomy:
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”(Deuteronomy 5:16)
The meaning of the word translated “honor” is “to give great weight to.” In other words, we must take our parents’ teachings seriously–regardless of how old we are; we must give great weight to them, rather than lightly dismissing them as insignificant or irrelevant. And why are we to do this? The reason we are to take their teachings seriously is so that “things may go well with” us and so that we “may live long in the land.”
Thank You for our parents and the wisdom we learn from them. Help us grow in our knowledge of You and be pleasing to You. Amen.