Authority is the right to give instructions and require obedience.
Our age generally rejects and even despises the concepts of authority, rules, law, and duty.
People insist on doing their own thing, being their own person, and having their own way. As one man said to me, “I don’t want anybody telling me what to do.”
So people demand “freedom” from restrictions. They object when government is firm with criminals or when schools enforce strict rules toward children. They want to loosen the application of God’s laws: they object when strict obedience to truth is taught and when those who do not obey truth are rebuked and disciplined. They even object to the concept of a firm God who hates evil and punishes evildoers!
This rejection of authority is especially obvious in the modern concept of the family. How often do you see TV shows, books, movies, or cartoons that portray a father as a capable, responsible family leader? Generally, either he shares authority equally with the wife, or else he is a bumbler, dominated and manipulated by his wife.
Likewise society denies that children should be required to submit to parental authority.
Parent Effectiveness Training, introduced by Thomas Gordon, advocates that parents give up all use of authority. Family conflicts must be resolved by finding a course that is mutually agreeable to both parent and child. Neither is permitted to “impose” his solution on the other. (See the high school text Parenting and Children, by H. Westlake, pp. 46-50.)
The Children’s Liberation Movement leads young people to rebel against parents like the Women’s Liberation movement led women to rebel against their husbands.
- We want the power to determine our own destiny. We want the immediate end of adult chauvinism … Age might once have led to wisdom, but the old have proven themselves unable to deal with present reality … the young must take the lead… – “Youth Liberation,” Youth Liberation Press, via Christian Inquirer, 10/79
Child welfare agencies are often staffed by social workers who believe these modern views. They try to convince parents that they have no right to exercise firm leadership and will be subject to government prosecution if they do!
As a result, many children have their own parents “buffaloed.” Parents are afraid that, if they cross their children, they will throw a fit, run away, get into drugs, report them to the government, or be taken away by government agencies. The children, not the parents, end up being the dominant influence in the home.
Nevertheless, we affirm that proper use of authority is an essential key to successful parenthood.
I. Why Is Authority Important in the Home?
A. Authority in the Home Is Ordained by God.
Husbands have authority over wives.
Ephesians 5:22-24 – The wife should obey her husband as the church should obey Christ. Can the church please God if it disobeys Jesus? No, and neither can the wife please God if she disobeys her husband. This applies in “everything.” The only exception would be if her husband required her to sin against God (Acts 5:29).
1 Corinthians 11:3 – The head of the woman is the man, just as the head of man is Christ.
1 Peter 3:1,5,6 – Women should be subject to their husbands as Sarah was to Abraham. [See also Tit. 2:5; Col. 3:18.]
Consider this quotation from Judge Samuel Leibowitz who was a Senior Judge in Brooklyn Criminal Court:
- Young people in Italy respect authority … That respect starts in the home – then carries over into the school, the city streets, the courts.I went into Italian homes to see for myself. I found that even in the poorest family the father is respected by the wife and children as its head. He rules with varying degrees of love and tenderness and firmness. His household has rules to live by, and the child who disobeys them is punished.
- Thus I found the nine-word principle that I think can do more for us than all the committees, ordinances and multi-million-dollar programs combined: Put Father back at the head of the family.
- The American teen-ager has been raised in a household where “obey” is an outlawed word, and where the mother has put herself at the head of the family. – Reader’s Digest, March, 1958, via Plain Truth about Child-Rearing, p. 7
This description may not accurately describe modern Italy, but the principle is still true, because it agrees with the Bible.
Parents have no basis to expect children to respect their authority, until the parents correct their own relationship toward authority. Children will not respect the father’s authority, if he cannot maintain authority over his wife. Nor will they respect the mother’s authority, if she refuses to respect her husband’s authority.
As it was with love, so it is with authority. To relate properly to the children, parents must begin by relating properly to one another.
Parents have authority over children.
Proverbs 1:8 – A son should hear his father’s instruction and not forsake his mother’s law.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 – Under the Old Testament, a stubborn and rebellious son, who would not obey his parents, was to be stoned.
Luke 2:51 – Jesus set the example for children by being subject to His earthly parents.
Romans 1:30,32 – Disobedience to parents, like other sins, causes those who practice it – and those who justify others who practice it – to be worthy of death.
Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20 – Children should obey their parents.
Isaiah 3:12 – Describing the wickedness of Israel, God said that children would oppress them and women would rule over them. Likewise our society errs when these oppressive conditions prevail. [Cf. 2 Tim. 3:2; Jer. 35; Phil. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:14; Prov. 30:17.]
Such teachings make some people (even in the church) feel extremely uncomfortable, but it all comes from the word of God. God made both parents and children. He knows what is best for all. If these views seem overly strict to you, then you should seriously ask yourself whether you have been too influenced by our permissive society.
B. Authority Produces Cooperation and Organization in the Home.
When people work together, organization and cooperation are needed in order to accomplish good. But organization and cooperation require someone to be recognized as a leader with authority. This explains why God ordained authority in every human relationship that He ordained.
Citizens must submit to civil government
See Romans 13:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13,14.
Imagine what a country would be like if there were no rules, so everyone did as he pleased. We could not even drive down the street: no one would even know what side to drive on or who had the right-of-way at intersections!
Employees must submit to their employers
See Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Peter 2:18.
Consider what a business would be like with no supervision. If everyone came and went when they pleased, did whatever they pleased whenever they pleased, how would any business function?
So authority among humans is necessary in order to achieve cooperation. Someone has to be in charge. Without proper leadership, every effort to work together would be ruined due to indecision. Likewise in the home, someone has to be in charge. God has ordained that the husband is the head, and the children are to submit to the parents.
C. Authority Allows Children to Benefit from the Parents’ Wisdom and Experience.
By reason of experience, parents generally have more wisdom than children.
Proverbs 29:15 – A child left to himself (unsupervised) will cause shame. But the rod and reproof will give him wisdom (gained from the parents).
Proverbs 4:10-12 – Because of his parents’ instructions, the child is wiser. He can avoid problems and mistakes he might otherwise have.
This gives children a sense of security.
Children generally know their parents are wiser than they are. They know they need guidance at times. They may act confident, but behind the false front they are often insecure. Parental guidance assures the child that he is doing what is best. As a result, children actually have greater respect for adults who enforce fair rules than they have for permissive parents.
To illustrate, consider driving a car across a bridge over a deep chasm. If there were no guardrails, we would be very fearful. With guardrails, we are confident, even though we may be just a few feet from the edge. So the limits set by parents give children security. They know their parents will not let them do anything that would be seriously harmful.
D. Authority Molds Children’s Character and Habits.
Training children develops character they will maintain even when older.
Proverbs 22:6 – Properly trained children will not depart from their training even when they are old. We are people of habit. We live according to our character and habits.
If we train children to develop good character and habits, they will probably maintain those habits. But habits come by repetition. So parents should insist that children practice what is right till it becomes ingrained.
How can parents get children to practice and develop good habits?
Reasoning with children, by itself, will not always work, even if parents have a good relation with their children. Sometimes the child is simply too young or too rebellious to understand and appreciate our reasons (cf. 1 Cor. 13:11). But if we wait until he understands and agrees with what is right, it may be too late to ingrain the proper habits.
1 Samuel 2:22-25; 3:12,13 – Note that Eli told his sons they were wrong – he instructed them. But it wasn’t enough. They still would not obey. God rejected Eli’s house because Eli did not restrain his sons.
What was Eli missing? Authority! He did not properly enforce the rules so as to control his sons and require them to practice good habits and character. Proper control (restraint) will mold the child’s conduct so that good qualities and habits will tend to stay with him even when he is mature.
E. Parental Authority Teaches Children Proper Attitudes toward All Authority.
Adults must regularly relate to all kinds of authority.
We discussed earlier that authority organizes people so they cooperate and work together. This is true in government, work, and the home. To become well-adjusted adults, children must learn how to relate to authority: how to submit to others who have authority, and how to exercise authority when they themselves have it.
If parents seek to prepare their children to be well-adjusted adults, we must teach them proper understanding and submission to authority. How can we accomplish this? The best way is by developing a proper authority relationship between our children and ourselves. This teaches children how to properly submit to authority, and they see by their parents’ example how to properly use authority.
Many “psychologists” teach the opposite of this. They say use of authority makes children maladjusted, destroys their self-image, and makes them more likely to rebel against you. So parents become fearful and think, “I don’t want my children to rebel and reject me,” so we let them have their way. That is drivel! It is manipulation and emotional blackmail. God’s word says just the opposite. Does He know best or doesn’t He?
The main reason so many children today grow up rebellious and maladjusted is simply that they have not been properly required to submit to authority. They manipulate their parents, and the parents don’t know what to do about it. They get away with rebelling against their parents, so they proceed to rebel against the whole “establishment”: parents, government, employers, church, and God. Instead of teaching them submission, we have taught them rebellion by allowing it to apparently succeed.
The truth is that parents are the primary authorities that children must relate to for their first twenty or so years, and especially for their first five years. If parents do not teach their children to get along with parental authority – if they allow their children to manipulate them and get their own way against their parents’ better judgment – most likely those children will always have difficulty relating to authority and will live a miserable life.
People must especially learn how to relate to the authority of God.
If children do not learn respect for God’s authority while at home, likely they will never learn it.
Dr. James Dobson points out: “When a child can successfully defy his parents during his first fifteen years, laughing in their faces and stubbornly flouting their authority, he develops a natural contempt for them …” The result is that they lose respect for all the parent stands for and believes in, including their religious faith (DTD, p. 12).
God Himself is an “authority figure.” To receive eternal life, we must obey Him (Matt. 28:18-20; 7:21-27; Ecc. 12:13; Heb. 5:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; etc.). But if a child grows up without learning respect for authority – if he is permitted to rebel against his parents’ restraints and get away with it – he will naturally rebel against God’s limits and think he can get away with that!
This is exactly the point at which many Christian parents lose their children to the world. This is usually the “bottom line.” If you do not restrain your children but let them manipulate you and evade your authority, they will most likely grow up to disrespect God and His will – just like Eli’s sons did (1 Sam. 3:13). And God will hold you accountable, like he did Eli.
It follows that proper exercise of authority is not something the parents do to please themselves, but something they do for the good of the child. It teaches lessons that will benefit the child both now and for eternity. This is why use of authority is not contrary to love but is a proper exercise of love.
II. How Should Children Show Respect for Authority?
Some parents don’t seem to realize that they have disrespectful children. So what is included in the respect we seek to teach our children?
A. Children Must Act Obediently.
This is the essence of respect for authority, and this is what many passages previously listed require.
Ephesians 6:1 – Children obey your parents in the Lord. God says, “This is right”! [Cf. Col. 3:20.]
Romans 1:30,32 – Those who disobey parents are worthy of death. [Cf. Deut. 21:18-21; 2 Tim. 3:2; etc.]
In all areas of life that we have studied, respect for authority requires obedience. So a child who persistently disobeys in the home is a child who simply has not learned respect for authority. Yet in home after home – even the homes of Christians – children repeatedly refuse to obey, but parents apologize for it, laugh it off, or simply ignore it like it’s an everyday occurrence.
Parents, you are trying to raise godly children. The ultimate goal of your authority is to teach your children respect for God’s authority. You should expect your children to obey you like God will expect them to obey Him. Do they?
Do your children obey promptly, or do they procrastinate, make excuses, manipulate, and seek to evade your instructions? Do they obey with an attitude of love and good will, or do they groan, complain, and whine? Do they obey exactly, or do they try to bend the rules and justify partial obedience? Do they obey when you are not watching or only if they know they will get caught? What kind of obedience does God expect of us? If your children have not learned to obey you like they should obey God, then you have work to do. God says it your job to teach it to them!
B. Children Must Speak Respectfully.
Our permissive age allows children from pre-schoolers to teens to say anything, in any tone of voice, and with any attitude. One high school parenting text says parents should allow “children the right to have all kinds of feelings and wishes and to express them freely” (Caring for Children, Draper and Draper, p281). Whatever your child feels or wishes is fine, and he has the right to say it.
That’s why we hear little children say to their parents, “No, I won’t! You can’t make me! You leave me alone! You shut up!” They yell and scream at parents, mock them, and backtalk (“sass”).
We are told this “gets it out of their system.” But remember, what we repeatedly practice becomes our habit. What such conduct really does is ingrain the habit of disrespect for authority. It makes rebellion a fundamental part of their “system”!
Consider the Teaching of Scripture.
Ephesians 6:2,3 – Children should honor their parents. This includes many things, such as supporting the parents in their hold age. But one thing included is speaking respectfully. [Cf. Ex. 20:12; Lev. 19:3; Deut. 27:16; Ezek. 22:7.]
Matthew 15:4 – Jesus contrasted “honoring” parents to speaking evil of them. He who cursed his parents should “be put to death” under the Old Law (cf. Ex. 21:17). To curse means to express a desire for harm to befall someone. Cursing does not necessarily involve using profanity – though we sometimes hear children do that too! When modern parents refuse to allow children to have their way, children may say, “Oh, drop dead.” “Go jump off a bridge.” If that isn’t cursing, what is it? Is it “honoring” the parent?
Proverbs 30:11,17 – Destruction will come to a son who curses, mocks, or disobeys his parents. Yet parents often tolerate children who rebelliously make fun of them and disobey them.
1 Timothy 5:1 – Do not rebuke an elder, but exhort him as a father. This implies that all people should understand that there are respectful ways to speak to a father, and there are disrespectful ways.
Specifically, parents should never, never let their children say “No” to the parents instructions. This does not refer to when the parent simply asks what the child wants, but when the parent has given the child an instruction. Does saying “No” express honor to the parent? Does it express obedience? May we say “No” to God?
We should train our children to speak respectfully to us, not for our own selfish pride, but because they need to learn respect! [Cf. Ezek. 2:3-7.]
May a Child Ever Express Disagreement with a Parent’s Decision?
Some parents refuse to ever allow a child to express disagreement. This builds rebellion because it is simply unfair. Such an approach assumes parents are always infallible, which is simply not true.
1 Timothy 5:1 said Timothy could speak to an elder as to a father – including telling him he was wrong. But the manner he did it must be respectful. If a child speaks calmly, but simply thinks he has a better idea or just does not understand the parents’ decision, discuss with him. Maybe he does have a better idea, or the discussion may help him understand the parents’ views. Let the parent consider the child’s view, but it must be clear that the child must live with the final decision whether or not he likes it.
But if a child speaks with a rebellious, defiant, disrespectful attitude or tone of voice (parents can tell the difference, and so can children), parents must punish the child’s defiance, regardless of the worth of his ideas.
We must teach children that we are willing to discuss if they have a humble, respectful attitude; but rebellion will not be tolerated. [Cf. Matt. 19:19; Mk. 7:10; 10:19; Lk. 18:20.]
C. Children Must Never Strike or Hit Their Parents.
When a child becomes angry or frustrated because the parents don’t let him have his way, he may strike them in anger. Sometimes larger children injure or even murder their parents.
Exodus 21:15 – He who strikes a parent would be put to death under the Old Law. (“Smite” does not necessarily mean to kill – cf. vv 18,19).
Proverbs 19:26 – He who does violence to (“assaults” – NASB) his parents is a shame and reproach. [Cf. 1 Tim. 1:9.]
Parents must begin early to teach children such conduct will not be tolerated. If your little child hits you in defiance and disagreement with your wishes, you must punish that child severely and teach him he never has the right to strike you.
III. Some Specific Suggestions for Controlling Problem Areas
We earlier discussed some of the major forces that often influence young people away from God. Consider some suggestions regarding how can we use our authority as parents to control these forces.
What should parents do about immoral entertainment? This applies to television, movies, music, computer games, the Internet, etc.
Realize that the nature of our entertainment does matter.
1 Thessalonians 5:21,22 – Prove all things. Hold fast what is good; abstain from what is evil. God’s people must examine what they do and take a stand against evil. [Cf. 2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1]
Ephesians 5:11 – And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Is this entertainment a work of darkness? If so, may we enjoy it and promote it, or should we oppose it and speak out against it? [Cf. 1 Tim. 5:22; Deut. 7:25,26; Prov. 22:3; Rom. 12:1,2; Matt. 18:6-9; 1 Cor. 15:33; Prov. 13:20; Prov. 4:23]
Philippians 4:8 – Meditate on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, etc. Does the entertainment we have studied fall in these categories? If not, why allow our minds to be filled with it? [Cf. also Psa. 1:1; 26:5; Prov. 23:17,20,21; Psa. 101.]
Evaluate and correct your own entertainment.
Matthew 7:1-5 – Before we rebuke the sins of others, we must correct our own. Are we setting the proper example for our children? Or could it be that the reason they see nothing wrong with immoral entertainment is because of our example? (Matt. 5:16; 18:6,17; 23:1ff; Rom. 2:21ff)
Train children from early years to examine entertainment, and to enjoy wholesome activities.
Proverbs 22:6 – Train children in the right way so they will continue that way throughout life. If from the time children are small, we insist that the family avoid corrupt entertainment, and if we provide wholesome alternatives, children will develop the habit of examining their entertainment, enjoying what is wholesome, and rejecting what is corrupt.
If our children learn enjoy and appreciate what is good, they are far less likely later to enjoy what is corrupt.
Participate as a family and discuss entertainment with your children.
Too often parents and children enjoy different kinds of entertainment, so they just go their separate ways. Parents don’t watch TV with their children and don’t listen to their music, so they don’t know what their children are involved in.
Ephesians 6:1-4; Proverbs 22:6 – Parents are required to train the children to serve God. We must examine what they do, so we can guide them properly. Sit down together, play their music, play their computer games with them, watch their TV programs, watch movies together, then evaluate them according to Bible standards.
Avoid allowing children unlimited access to TV or radio.
Develop rules so you are in control. Consider eliminating the TV altogether. Or keep it in a closet and bring it out only for special occasions to watch as a family. Do not use TV as a baby-sitter.
Buy, rent, or record video movies, CD’s, etc. (these are much easier for parents to control). Preview these with your children. If a song, movie, etc., is unacceptable, tape over it or teach children to turn it off or skip it.
I strongly urge that children not be allowed to have a TV or computer in their own room and not a CD player or radio until they are old enough and prove themselves to be responsible in using it. Then take it away if they abuse the privilege.
Install child-access controls on the Internet and TV. Use TV-Guardian or other such controls to eliminate foul language on TV.
Allow no entertainment that the parents have not specifically previewed and approved. Make sure children know exactly what specific TV programs, tapes, albums, and radio stations are permitted. Try to attend movies as a family. Before allowing any family member to watch a movie, investigate it for profanity, sexual suggestiveness, etc. There are web sites and other sources that evaluate movies (www.screenit.com).
Limit the number of hours per day or week your child may participate. Initiate a system whereby children must work to earn the privilege of watching or listening. Require all chores and homework to be done first.
In short, control the music and the TV with a vengeance! Use the off button! If you cannot control them, then get rid of them altogether. No entertainment is worth your child’s soul.
Remember that you are at war with the forces of evil.
Satan is out to get your children. He succeeds far too often.
Genesis 13:12,13 – Remember the story of Lot. For the sake of material gain, he chose to associate with evil people. Though he himself was grieved by the evil, he did not protect his family from evil influences as he should have (2 Pet. 2:7,8). In the end he lost not only all the material possessions, but also his wife, children, and sons-in-law to sin (Gen. 19).
The same is happening to many families today, and one of the main evils that causes many children to be lost is corrupt entertainment. We can overcome the problem. But we must realize we are at war and take adequate defensive measures!
Suppose you lived in the age before television, movies, and tape recorders had been invented, and you knew nothing about them. Then someone came to your home and showed you a typical evening of modern TV or music, or movie videos. What would you do? Throw it out! But today we often allow in our homes that which we really know to be immoral, because we have gradually come to accept it!
Parents need to have a plan, how to deal with this problem.
Here are some suggestions. (You may find other ways, but these are some suggestions that harmonize with Bible principles.)
* Get to know your children’s friends. Have them visit in your home.
* Never let your children go anywhere, including dates, unless you know the people they will be with, where they are going, when they’ll be back, etc.
Illustration: If a stranger asked you to borrow your car, wouldn’t you want to get to know the person first? Wouldn’t you want assurance where they were going, what they would do, who they would be with, and when they’d be back? Aren’t your children more valuable than your car?
* Train your children, from a very early age, to choose the right kind of friends. Especially teach them the importance of marrying a Christian (and that dating leads to marriage).
* Give your children opportunities to associate with good young people. Have get-togethers for good children to be together. Don’t expect the church to do it. You do it for the good of your children.
* Train your children to talk about the gospel with their peers. It is not wrong to associate with people who are not Christians. Jesus did so, but He did it so He could have opportunity to teach. Children should learn to invite other children to Bible classes, discuss right and wrong, set up Bible studies, etc. If they date non-Christians, let them be these kinds of dates.
* Exercise your authority as parents to determine who your child may or may not be friends with. Young people think, “My folks have no right to tell me who my friends will be.” But God says, “Children obey your parents…” (Eph. 6:1) and says parents must train up children to serve God. If parents determine some young person is a harmful influence on their child, they have every right to intervene, just the same as they can make any other decision for the good of their child.
There may be other ideas that help. But the parents are obligated to plan ways to deal with problems caused by peers.
Parents must plan how to effectively deal with these problems.
Here are some suggestions. Again, there may other ways than the way we chose. But we are obligated as parents to deal with it, not just throw up our hands and do nothing and hope the children turn out all right anyway.
* Investigate what’s happening. Visit the schools. Get to know your child’s teachers and administrators. Read your child’s textbooks. Volunteer to work at school activities. Read books that will help you know what problems to look for in the schools. Investigate school activities before your child gets involved. Find out if a class or extra-curricular activity will involve missing services, immodesty, false teaching, etc.
* Make it clear to all involved that your child will not participate in certain activities. Write out a list of areas of concern and talk to your child’s teacher about them, or have them put in your child’s school record: sex education, evolution, abortion, homosexuality, etc.
* If a problem exists in a class or activity, talk to people in charge and work out an arrangement for your child to be excused or given some other activity, etc.
* Talk with children at home about matters of concern. Try to get open communication. (But don’t rely entirely on this because sometimes children don’t talk about their problems).
* Teach your children the truth diligently and regularly about the concerns they are facing in the schools. Have regular studies at home, etc.
* Limit your child’s involvement in school activities. Schools are increasingly dominating children. They get them younger and keep them longer. They promote day-care, pre-school, kindergarten, after-school activities and sometimes before-school activities. All this strengthens the school’s influence and weakens the family’s influence.
Instead of this, de-emphasize school involvement and emphasize family and church activities. Have recreation and work together as a family. Worship God together, study His word, and pray, visit in homes of other Christian, attend all church assemblies and classes, visit area gospel meetings, clean the building, do personal work together, help them learn to teach class, etc.
* Stand for the truth regardless of the consequences. If it means your child’s grades suffer or he faces ridicule or embarrassment, so be it. First-century Christians went to prison, were beaten and even died rather than participate in error. Parents must teach children to sacrifice and suffer for the cause of Christ.
* Choose alternative forms of education. Perhaps your family needs to consider a private school or home schooling. These may not work for everybody, but for many people they are a true blessing.
* Remember God gave you the responsibility for training your children to serve Him (Eph. 6:4). And he will hold you accountable. Even when your children are at school, you (not the school) have the ultimate responsibility for seeing that your child is rightly trained. If the schools cooperate with your authority, wonderful. If not, then it’s your job to take whatever steps are needed for the good of your child.
Luke 6:46 – But why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and do not do the things which I say? The issue of authority is a critical issue facing our society. But the proper attitude toward authority will generally be learned – if it is ever learned – by children in their homes as they relate to the authority of their parents. The way we exercise authority toward our children will very likely determine their eternal destiny.
Are the children in your home learning proper authority relationships?
The Gospel Way