One of the most challenging parts of being a parent is learning how to navigate those areas of life where you and your child disagree. Because my wife was leading an event at church I was Mr. Mom last night. After we played outside I looked at my boys and said, “Bath time!” When mom says that there’s not usually an argument, just simple obedience. They hop up and get in the bath. But last night we enjoyed a guy’s night together and they weren’t done playing. My oldest son whined, my middle son pouted. My youngest son informed me that the Hulk doesn’t take a bath! Clearly that’s reason enough for him to skip his daily splash down!
When children are young parents can get away with influencing their kids using flimsy reasons like, “because I said so”. We can enforce our will by restricting privileges, removing certain toys and activities or using some form of loving corporal punishment. But as children grow older the effectiveness of each of those tools is diminished. There comes a point where our children begin to make a choice. They either believe we know what we’re talking about and follow our influence or they don’t.
In the past I’ve asked the question, “Is the quality of my parenting measured by the character of my kids?” To learn more read, “The Parent Trap“, a brief look at some of my answers to that question. But there’s another question here that is more practical. “How do I get my kids to believe me?”
There’s a pattern in Scripture. In some places we see the Bible say, “Children obey your parents.” In others we read, “Honor your father and mother.” I believe these instructions represent stages in the life of a child. When a child is young the goal is, “Children obey your parents.” When kids are young there is so much they don’t know. They need instruction and guidance. They need protection from the harsh realities of the world. They need the filter of their parents to help them understand right from wrong, good from bad, safe versus dangerous. When a parent yells, “STOP!” at a young child about to run into a busy street instant and complete obedience is necessary to save their life.
But as children grow older the goal changes. Today, I’m a father, but I’m also a son. I have incredible parents. I am blessed by them in ways too numerous to count. There’s never been a time in my life when they’ve failed to support and encourage me. I know I can trust them to provide wise, godly advice for any decision I have to make. But because I am an adult ultimately the decision is mine. At this point in our relationship together the significance of the Biblical instruction has changed from, “Children obey your parents”, to “Honor your father and mother.”
And that’s the goal. When children are young we want them to obey their parents, not for the ease, comfort and pleasure of the parent, not because ‘father knows best’, not because ‘I said so’, but because children who obey their parents when they are young grow into adults who honor their father and mother when they are old. As children grow older and eventually become adults our relationship with one another matures. What once was a matter of simple obedience now is a matter of mutual respect. What began with the hard and fast rule now is the guiding principle and precept.
Here’s how this applies to 1 Thessalonians 2. Paul talks to the people of the church at Thessalonica as though they were his children. He doesn’t say, “Do what I say because I’m an apostle and I command you.” Instead, he pleads with them as a loving father would his adult son. He lays down clear principles and precepts. He doesn’t pull punches, but he also doesn’t demand blind obedience. On the contrary Paul takes the time to lovingly convince, persuade and instruct them in the ways of God. I believe the affect of this approach is clearly seen in verse 13.
1 Thessalonians 2:13, “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.”
That’s what I hope happens with my children. To some degree I’ve already seen it. What began with “because I said so” is maturing into conversations about how we make decisions on our own, what guiding principles and precepts help us choose wisely and why some things are simply right and others completely wrong. Ultimately the reason they make the choices they do has to be bigger than pleasing mom and dad. It has to be because they are convinced it is the wise, the right and the best choice to make.
And that’s what God wants from us. Certainly simple obedience is important. God really does know best so we should do what he says. While God honors blind obedience I don’t believe that’s what he wants from us in the long run. I think he wants us to mature past “children, obey your heavenly father,” to “children, honor your heavenly father.” Obedience out of compulsion is fine. Honor out of respect is better. Choosing to follow God out of honor and respect for Him is more admirable than choosing to follow God out of fear of punishment. Both may lead to the same outcome, but one is an expression of character and love, the other an expression of submission and fear.
Paul finishes the chapter the way every parent wants to be able to talk about their children. 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.”
Will you be the pride and joy of your Heavenly Father today?
Thank you for my parents. Because of them I am blessed beyond words. Thank you that they have given me a remarkable example and pattern to follow as I raise my own children. Thank you that as I grew older they didn’t settle for demanding that I obey them because they said so, but they took the time to help me understand the differences between right and wrong, wisdom and foolishness. Now, as an adult, I can make right choices that lead to my success, that honor them and help me follow God. I pray that today you would bless my parents with your favor and loving-kindness. Let them know they are loved and appreciated – not just by me, but by so many others.
Be with my kids. Protect them from sin, temptation and harm. Help me to train them up in the way they should go. Give me the patience to help us move beyond “Children obey your parents,” to “Honor your father and mother.”
More than all these things help me to follow your word. Help me understand your will for me and my family. Help us become your pride and joy.
I love you, in Jesus name –