Imagine you are stuck in a dilemma: God has commanded you to do something, but your parents have commanded you to do the opposite. What should you do?
Maybe they forbid you to attend church, or demand that you disregard the Lord in your life. Perhaps God has given you a personal calling for His glory, but your parents will not have it.
How should you respond?
Should you follow God’s command to “obey your parents” and risk disobeying some other command or His calling for your life?
Or should you disobey your parents’ command so that you can try to walk in obedience to God?
You’re not the first one to find yourself stuck in this dilemma.
Honor or Obey?
Obedience and honor are two different things. To obey means simply to do as you are told. By contrast, to honor means to love or hold in high esteem, bringing value upon another.
In Colossians 3:20, the Word of God commands, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
For children who live under the authority of their mothers and fathers, you are commanded to obey in all things. Being under their authority and stewardship, your inability to obey God falls upon them. God has given them authority to raise you in the way He has prepared for you, and He commanded them to do this. However, if they abuse that authority by inhibiting you instead, the blame lies upon them. You are right to obey your parents in all things. God is well pleased in this.
A child’s obedience is a testimony to an unbelieving parent. Unbelieving parents do not expect a child to obey in all things. One of the best ways a young person can be a light to their mom and dad or guardian is to follow this command of God: obey your parents in all things.
They will have to wonder at what could possibly create such an obedient child. Your faith in God will bring Him glory and bring your parents honor.
There comes a time, though, when obeying parents is no longer required. The task of a parent is not to raise independent children, but to raise their children to transition their dependency away from Mom and Dad, and toward God. We all are to rely on God as a child relies on his parent. He is our Life.
God’s fifth commandment in the Mosaic Law is not “obey thy father and mother,” because obedience to earthly authority has its limits and, at times, can even be sinful. Instead, God’s basic command is to “honor thy father and mother,” because honor never ends and is never wrong.
Often, our first impulse is to put “obey” in place of “honor” in God’s Law, but that is not a fair trade. Obedience and honor are not the same.
Obedience Is Important
Still, it is clear that the Bible places a great deal of emphasis on children obeying parents. Obedience is a child’s display of honor.
While you are under the authority of your parents or guardian, you are commanded to obey. God will deal with the authority figures over the child for any misguided direction.
However, parents will not always be blamed for the child’s disobedience to God. There will come a time when you are not under the authority of your parents, and you answer to God for yourself. You are no longer a child who is commanded to obey in all things. Rather, you answer to God’s Law in that you are to bring honor to your parents, but “ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Becoming a Man
In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” What is the difference between a child and an adult in Scripture? Marriage is not the deciding factor, as Paul was not married. At which point did Paul become a man, putting away childish things?
In John chapter 9, a man’s parents are called upon to answer for their son. The parents respond, “he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself” (John 9:21). Again, there is no mention of a wife, so marriage is not a Scriptural basis for his adulthood. If he is “of age” to “speak for himself,” at what age is he responsible?
Let’s see what the Bible says.
• In Exodus 30:14, God lays out guidelines for giving an offering to the Lord to make an atonement. Every adult is required to make atonement for themselves. The age at which point God deems them personally responsible for their own atonement offering is the age of twenty: “Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD.”
• In Exodus 38, God demands a count of every man. Children were not included, only adults. The age God set for counting adults was twenty: “A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty men.”
• In Leviticus 27, the Lord set age groups to be estimated according to the value of their vow. The youngest group was aged one month to five years, the next group was aged five years to twenty, the next group was aged twenty to sixty, and the final group was aged sixty and above. Again, we find the age of twenty to be a significant age for adulthood.
• In Numbers 1:3, God says that a man is aged for war by twenty years. “From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.” Later in the same chapter, the Lord takes a census of every adult “from twenty years old and upward, by their polls” (verse 18). Throughout the rest of the chapter, we find time and again that the Lord takes account of an adult from age 20.
• In Numbers 14:29-33, God passed judgment on every adult who murmured against Him in their unbelief of Joshua and Caleb’s report. The age at which He held them personally responsible for their own murmuring is again twenty: “Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me… But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.” God makes a distinction between their children and those who are aged twenty and above.
Each of these accounts will demonstrate that God Himself views a child to have become an adult at the age of twenty, at which point they are directly responsible for their obedience or disobedience to God above all.
Consider also the account of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The angel of God came to her personally concerning God’s purpose for her life and referred to her as a woman, not a child. She was of age to marry, but not yet given in marriage. If Mary were still under the authority of her father or already under the authority of her future spouse, God would have been circumventing His own design for authority and order by approaching her directly. Rather, He acted in accordance with His own Word and chose to address the adult who was directly responsible for her life before God: Mary herself. Only after this did an angel appear to Joseph with the message.
Understanding Our Place
The child is commanded to obey their parents in all things. The adult is commanded to bring esteem and value—honor—upon his mom and dad by obeying God’s authority in all things, just as he had at one time learned to do for his parents while under their authority.
Parents are right to expect and demand obedience of their young children, and young children are right to show honor to their parents through that obedience. It is this obedience to parents which trains children to be submissive to every other authority, including God Himself.
What about abuse? If a parent abuses their authority by commanding a child to actively disobey or to go against nature itself, or if the parent is using their authority to abuse the child, it would be right for that child to obey God rather than men. Ephesians 6:1, states, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”
Abuse is sin. It doesn’t matter if it’s physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or spiritual; it is all sin. Titus 2:4 says we are to love our children. Love is to characterize our interaction with children, and there is no place in such love for abuse.
Matthew 18:1-6 and Mark 9:42 explain the consequences for hurting a child or leading a child to disobedience: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” These words were not spoken by the Mafia, they were spoken by Jesus Christ. There is no escape for those who hurt children. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
If a parent becomes harmful and abusive toward a child, he or she has truly forfeited their right to be parents, and it is right and proper for others to come to the aid of the abused child.
This is a touchy subject because many government agencies are now calling proper discipline abuse. However, that does not change the fact that real abuse exists, and it should not be accepted or taken lightly. Children in such cases should be removed from the parents and brought up by those who will love them. A teenager in an abusive situation should seek for help.
Children are an heritage of the Lord (Psalm 127:3); parents are the stewards of His heritage. As a result, adult children are not God’s gift to parents; responsible adults are to be the parent’s gift to God.
As it pertains to parents and their young children, obedience is meant to be a temporary measure that lasts as long as children are under the authority of their parents.
Honor Lasts a Lifetime
Biblically, the word honor refers to personal value. If a father forbids his adult son from going to church, the son’s disobedience to his earthly father and obedience to his Heavenly Father actually brings value (honor) upon his earthly dad. He can bring honor to his parents by walking in righteousness, even if the parents demand that he disobey God.
Thus, to honor our parents, we are to respect and revere them, to speak well of them and to treat them with kindness, gentleness, dignity, and esteem. We are to ensure they are cared for, and even to make provision for them when necessary. Above all, we should follow the Lord.
As an adult, honor is found in the actions which say to your mother and father, “My life will bring value to you.“