What Does it Mean to Obey?
- Thursday, September 14, 2006
Has your mom ever told you to do something that was the last thing in the world you wanted to do? My sister Janelle can relate. It happened when she was in the ninth grade.
She was hanging out with some friends. They had all recently returned from the youth group summer mission trip the week before. As they talked, some of the kids began to speak critically about a pastor in the church. The most outspoken was a guy named Mike.
When Janelle told Mom about Mike’s slander, Mom insisted that she go back and ask him to apologize to the group for his comments. Listening to slander, Mom said, was by God’s standard the same as doing it yourself. Besides, slander is like poison in a church.
Janelle really didn’t want to confront Mike, but Mom wasn’t asking her. She was telling her. So Janelle called him.
Mike took it okay. He didn’t see what the big deal was, but he said he was wrong, and he was sorry. The whole thing was over in less than five minutes. Janelle tried not to worry about what he thought of her now. What mattered was that she had obeyed her parents.
Ephesians 6:1-2 backed Mom up in this situation. It says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother.’”
Honor and obedience are inseparable. In fact, you honor your mom by obeying her. And as much as you might want to find a loophole, there is none here in Ephesians 6:1-2. Obey your parents. In the Lord. This is right. When we were little, my parents taught us to obey “immediately, completely, and willingly.” This about sums it up.
But obedience isn’t measured by mere outward compliance with the rules. Do you remember the Pharisees—those uppity guys in the Bible who thought they were so holy because technically they kept the law? Well, Jesus exposed them for the hypocrites they really were. He rebuked them: “For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25). Imagine drinking out of a cup that had never been cleaned on the inside. Yuk! Worse, Jesus compared them to whitewashed tombs—attractive on the outside but with a decaying body hidden inside.
These illustrations were Jesus’ way of telling the Pharisees that their outward conformity didn’t cut it. That was simply a show. Their superficial actions weren’t true obedience because true obedience comes from the heart. Likewise, we’re only modern Pharisees if we do all the right things, but our hearts are not in it. That’s not to say that we wait until we feel like it to obey. But simply doing what we are told is not enough. Genuine obedience isn’t measured by politeness to elders, a facade of compliance, or statements about our love for God. True obedience starts in the heart.
To develop a heart of obedience, we must first understand that God has put our parents in charge. Parental authority isn’t a conspiracy of society to oppress children everywhere. It isn’t an outdated, repressive, backward idea. And it isn’t a scheme of our parents just to keep us under their thumbs. In fact, our parents haven’t even been given an option. They’ve been ordered by God to lovingly act on His behalf to guide us in His ways.
So when we obey our parents, we are obeying God. And when we disobey our parents (unless they ask us to sin), we are disobeying God. It’s that simple. There is a direct link between our attitude toward our parents’ authority and our attitude toward God’s authority. Obedience to our parents isn’t an “us versus them” issue. It’s an “us versus God” issue. That raises the stakes considerably, to say the least. Not only does our disobedience take on a whole new level of seriousness, but our obedience becomes that much more important. It not only pleases our parents, but it is pleasing to God Himself. Obedience is all about God.
When we take this in—that God has set up Mom’s authority—it also gives us faith for her wisdom. (In keeping with our mother-daughter theme, we will focus on obedience to Mom in this chapter. However, we trust it goes without saying that this command applies with Dad as well.) You see, as daughters, we often think we’re the ones with all the smarts and that Mom doesn’t really know what she’s doing. This common malady is called pride. Paul Tripp makes this observation:
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