(Post 1 of a series of 4)
With this post, I begin a four-part series on the subject of parenting. This first entry deals with the importance of obedience in a child. To get us started, I want to cite three passages, each of which addresses the issue of children obeying their parents.
Passage #1 is Deuteronomy 21:18-21:
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you; and all Israel shall hear and fear.”
Please understand that this text is not a word that directly applies to us. It was a part of God’s Old Testament law for the nation of Israel. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that these verses are any less the words of God. Neither does it mean that we can’t study them and be helped by them. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
I’m not advocating the stoning of any rebellious children, but I am trying to show you the incredible importance that God places upon obedience in a child. Obedience is important enough for Him to have once instituted a law that called for the public death by stoning of every disobedient Israelite child.
Not only did God command the Israelites to stone disobedient children, He commanded the parents of those children to turn them over for the stoning. God, in essence, said to each of those parents, “It will be better for your nation if your disobedient child is dead. So shall you put away the evil from among you.”
He also said, “And all Israel shall hear, and fear.” That meant that such public stonings would seriously curtail the disobedience of any little potential rebels. For one thing, the stonings would cause parents to fear, because parents wouldn’t want their children to meet such a fate. For another thing, they would cause children to fear, because children wouldn’t want to lose their lives over a lack of obedience.
Now let’s move on to passage #2, which is Ephesians 6:1. This is a New Testament passage, which means that these words do directly apply to us. This verse says:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”
And then passage #3 is Colossians 3:20, another New Testament passage. This verse says:
“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.”
You see, by stringing these three passages together, we see that God’s holy scriptures have a clear and distinct Old Testament and New Testament word about children obeying their parents.
As for my own upbringing, my parents loved me and provided for me, but they did not break me. I was like a wild stallion that had never been ridden. I had a lot of potential, but like the potential of an unbroken horse, my potential remained unharnessed. I used to think that my staying unbroken was a good thing, but I’ve lived long enough now to find out some of what it cost me.
Why I am telling you this? I’m trying to get the attention of those of you who are either parents now or would one day like to become parents. I’m trying to help you understand that children come wired with a self-will. It is stronger in some children than in others, but every child has a self-will. And if that self-will remains unbroken it can really mess up a child’s life. That’s why the self-will must be broken when the child is young. If a parent waits until the child’s teenage years to try and break it, that parent will be about 13 years and 150 pounds too late.
I’ll be grateful to God forever for the fact that He came to me when I was at the lowest point of my life and said, “Russell, for things to get better you must submit to me.” Up until that point in my life, I had never really submitted to anyone, but at that time I did submit to God. It’s been many years since my submission, and in those years I have learned that submission to God is the only way a person can reach his or her full potential. Through my submission to Him, God has gotten stuff out of me that no one would ever have seen if I had remained unbroken.
Of course, when I talk about breaking a child I’m not talking about breaking the child’s spirit. Parents, the goal isn’t to create some brain-dead robot who lives in terror of you and has no opinion, thoughts, or personality. That kind of a child will grow up to be a complete pushover who never questions anything and submits to everybody. In other words, he or she will be a perfect candidate for a cult. A child needs to have a mind of its own, an opinion, and a personality. A child needs to remain the unique individual he or she is. So, don’t break your child’s spirit. But do break the child’s disobedient self-will.
Let me go back to the illustration of the unbroken stallion. When a cowboy attempts to ride an unbroken stallion, the last thing in the world he wants to do is cripple the horse. He wants the horse to keep its strength, vitality, personality, and nature. That stuff makes for a great horse. But the cowboy understands that the horse’s stubborn, rebellious, disobedient self-will must be broken. All of that strength, vitality, personality, and nature can’t do anybody any good if the horse remains wild and untamed.
And here’s the most important aspect of you breaking your child: If you can bring your child under submission to you, it will be much easier for that child to eventually submit to Christ. The flip side is, if you can’t get your child to really submit to you, that child will grow up with no understanding of submission, a problem that will hinder his or her possible submission to Christ.
Now, having said all that I’ve said, I want to finish this up by speaking directly to those of you who are right now the parents of a small child. I’m going to ask you three simple questions. If these questions hit pretty close to home, just keep in mind that Tonya and I are currently raising two boys. Ryan is twelve and Royce is nine. That’s how I know the right questions to ask. With that in mind, here we go.
Question #1: When you tell your child to stop doing something, does the child really stop doing it? If the child keeps right on going, even after you’ve said, “Stop that,” and even after you’ve repeated yourself, you’ve got a problem right now. If your demands always end up in begging, pleading, and bargaining, you are already way behind in the battle of wills. Listen, if you can’t make a child really obey you, you are doomed when that child becomes a teenager.
Question #2: When you tell your child to come here, does the child come? If you say, “Yes, after I go and drag him by the arm,” you’ve got a problem right now. You’d better look ahead to the time when the child will be too big to manhandle. Then what will you do? A child who refuses to get out of a Little Tikes car and come in the house could easily become a teenager sitting in a real car, ignoring your curfew.
Question #3: When your child wants to do something but you say, “No,” does that child immediately start in with the incessant complaining, whining, and crying? You say, “Yes, but don’t worry, I never cave in.” Well, I’m glad that you don’t, but the problem is that you aren’t really breaking the child’s self-will. If you allow all that complaining, whining, and crying your child will get the idea that the issue of size is the only thing stopping him from doing what he wants to do.
Now, if you were honest in how you answered those three questions, you’ve got a pretty good idea right now how broken and submitted your child is. I wonder if we would dare put ourselves in the role of Israelites in ancient Israel. How comfortable would we feel in our home life if it was actually against the law for us to harbor a rebellious, disobedient child? Could your house pass that test? Could mine?
You say, “Oh, we aren’t Israelites and we don’t live under that law.” That’s true, but does that mean that God doesn’t want us to raise children who know submission and obedience? Of course it doesn’t!
So tell me, are you man enough or woman enough to do this job? Are you tougher than a four-foot rebel with a cowlick? Can you teach submission and obedience to a two-year old hothead? Who’s calling the shots at your house? Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog? Parents, these are vital questions, and I hope that we are up to the task of living out the right answers.