“Because I said so, that’s why!”
How often do we as parents resort to that when discussing obedience with our children?
It can be tempting to rebuff all of our children’s challenges to our authority with similar edicts, but what exactly does that say about us and what does it teach them?
It can indicate that we are self-conscious and unsure about our leadership and authority role. More importantly, however, it can communicate ideas to our children that contradict the very heart of the gospel.
Don’t read this as a lecture from a parent who has it all figured out. Read this as encouragement from someone who is learning on the journey of parenthood, just like you, and has uttered that infamous phrase more often than I’d like to admit and finds it more tempting than I’d want to acknowledge.
In those two sentences, I framed for you how I wanted you to understand what I have written. It provides you with a guide to interpret the things that you are reading.
The reasons we give our children for them obeying us does the very same thing. It provides them with a framework with which they use to understand what it means to obey.
When we fall back to simply noting our position of authority, unintentionally perhaps, we are framing their obedience us in terms of our dictatorial demands. That can work temporarily, but never permanently and never in a way that gets to the core of the issue.
How did Jesus frame our obedience to God? He wrapped it in the issue of love.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” – John 14:15.
We often read this as a test of love, rather than a result of love. In this passage, Jesus is encouraging His disciples with coming of the Holy Spirit and the announcement that they will do even greater things than He did.
He is not, regardless of how we often use this verse in this way, proposing a way in which we can judge others as not really loving God. He is encouraging them that their love for Him, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will result in their keeping His commandments.
Obedience is the fruit of love, not the root. True love is not something that grows out of obedience. Instead, obedience blossoms from love that has been cultivated.[Tweet “Obedience is the fruit of love, not the root.”]
It is the same for our relationship with our children. When we focus on loving our children and having them love us, we can see obedience emerge from that environment. Instead of demanding our children to bow to our random whims, we teach our children that their love flows out into following our measured instructions.
This is more difficult in the short term. It requires us working to explain our reasonings and rules to our children. However, this allows them to recognize their boundaries and understand that they have been thought out and placed there with love and logic.
Most importantly, it prepares the heart of our children for the Gospel prior to salvation and encourages them in their faith after conversion.
As a parent, particularly as a father, the scariest thought for me is knowing that my children come to understand their relationship with God through the lens of their relationship with me. I am their first authority figure and thus they learn how to relate to authority based on how they understand their relationship with me.
If I teach them that love is based on obedience, then they will struggle to comprehend the true nature of the gospel. They will assume that God’s love for them is based on their obedience of His rules, which may seem entirely arbitrary.
However, if I teach them that obedience flows out of love, then they can see the depth of the gospel and just how radical and transformative it truly is. They will recognize God’s love for them can never be increased or diminished based on their obedience of His rules that were lovingly crafted for their benefit.
I’ve tried to affirm my children’s love for their mother and I, encouraging them that I know they love us. When disobedience occurs, I ask if their actions demonstrated their love. Always reassuring them that I know they love us, but confronting the wrong actions. “Does what you did show love?”
In that way, I’m not questioning their love. I’m challenging their choice and the application of their love to their daily lives.
This seems to be the place from which Jesus is coming with his connecting love and obedience. If you love God, you will obey His commandments. Your love for God will result in obedience. It’s not a threat or a test, it’s a promise.
When we seek to frame our children’s obedience in terms of love, we parent consistent with the gospel as opposed to contrary to it.