Giving & obeying instruction

Principles of Obedience

Memory verse:

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Col 3:20 - NIV

This week’s principle: God requests us---expects us---to obey the first time He commands. Why should our children be any different?

Children rise to the level of expectation of their parents. Many parents expect little and receive exactly that. ---Ezzo

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Eph 6:1 - NIV

Why obey?

Children’s obeying their parents is commanded many times in the Bible. In order to honor their parents, they must obey. No matter how many things you teach your children, if they do not obey rightly, their hearts will always be hardened. It is understood in Christian culture and in our society that children should obey their parents; our society depends on this.

Training to the standard. God expect us to respond to His commands in a certain way, and we should expect our children to do the same. There are 3 components of obeying a command:

  1. Obey the first time a command is given.
  2. Obey immediately.
  3. Obey with a good attitude and right heart.

Our children should be taught that doing a task, etc., alone is not obedience in itself. It should be done when it is asked, not put off until some other time. There should be no bad attitude, complaint, or challenge. God loves cheerful obedience, and this should be demanded of our children, too. This is not as hard as it might seem, and if they learn it correctly in the first place, it will be something very natural to them. This process is usually much easier for the child to learn than it is the parents! First time obedience may one day save your child’s life; we know stories of how not obeying the first time has caused extreme consequences—yes, even death.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. I Sam 15:22-24 - ESV

We must take care in our commands to our children that they are able to perform and understand the tasks requested; otherwise, they may become exasperated. This takes only a little time and experience to know how to avoid this.

NEVER count to 3, threaten, bribe, or accept defeat. > ---Frank Saucier

How to undermine the process

There are many things that we may do as parents to undermine this teaching, and they must be avoided. Some children learn that they only have to obey the third time you say something, only if you threaten, or when you get mad enough. They are taught to sin by these poor parenting techniques. When held to a standard of true biblical obedience, the child alone determines whether he will be punished; it is clear that the burden is on him to obey as instructed.

  1. Threatening & repeating. There should be no reason to threaten or bribe a child in order to make them obey. Telling them that they will be punished, other than when training a new concept or command, is not necessary as they should know this. Repeating your command multiple times or counting to 3 only lets them know that your words don’t mean anything the first time you say them; they learn to obey only when you repeatedly tell them.
  2. Bribing. Bribing them with gifts or rewards is not obedience at all but payment for services rendered. They learn only to obey when something—that they want—is in it for them. This is not obedience at all. This does not mean that children are not to be rewarded for their obedience, but they should obey regardless of the reward, not in order to get one. Children who obey for reward tend to become self-oriented and learn to manipulate others. They limit their ability to serve others by their ability to gain reward for themselves.
  3. Negotiating in conflict. Some parents allow the child to argue and work out a compromise of obedience. The parent does not stand up to their original command enough to enforce it. If all things are negotiable, absolutes do not exist. There may be times to accept a humble request for negotiation, but this should be the exception, not the norm. If children become accustomed to negotiation, they will be frustrated with the standard of obedience. Choose your battles well so that you do not fall into repeated negotiation; take care that you mean what you say before you say it. (And if you decide that you erred, apologize and fix it immediately.)

Loving your child It seems that our current culture truly wants to “love” their children, and feels that forcing the child to do something other than what the child wants is hurtful and harmful to them—it may hurt their self-esteem or their creativity and initiative. When we study scripture, we see that this is not true at all. What is hurtful is to allow your child to go on in their sinful ways, and what is loving is to teach them what God expects of them.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Is 53:6 - NIV

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12 - ESV

Obviously, you love your children—that’s why you are taking this course. Learn to love them by teaching them God’s way of doing things. This is what is best for them. And it is a great deal of work for you.

Principles of instruction

Proper communication is essential in order to help your child understand what is expected of them and avoid “exasperating” them. Following a few principles will help avoid these issues.

  1. Immediate response. When speaking to your child in a way that requires action, you should expect and require an immediate response. Children will rise to whatever level is expected of them with very little hassle—depending on how ingrained bad habits are.

  2. Words have meaning. Don’t say what you are not ready to mean and back up with whatever means necessary. When giving instruction, always seek to be very clear and exact in your words so that there is no confusion. Say precisely what you mean. (I have found this is much easier for fathers than for mothers.) One sure way to get a child to not obey is to teach them that you will not enforce your command. If commands are not followed and the parent does nothing in response, the child will quickly develop contempt for parental instruction altogether. Instruction must be clear and consistent.

    There are 2 types of instruction: directive, telling your child to do something and restrictive, telling them not to do something. Both normally require immediate responses. 3 things may help in this regard in certain circumstances:

    • Provide an appropriate time warning. Your child may be in the middle of something they are enjoying or working on. Providing them with a few extra minutes (e.g. 5 minutes) helps them plan an end to their activity and prevent frustration. Try to understand what they are doing and how you would feel in a similar situation.

    • Providing a door of escape. Children may have to disobey a rule sometimes in order to obey an even more essential rule. They might (rarely) be caught between a “rock and a hard place” and make a decision which may cause you to react negatively. Be ready to hear an explanation as to why they did what they did. Open, honest lines of communication assist in this way.

    • Consider context. What you are asking of your child might be reasonable most times but be unreasonable at others. Be ready to hear what they have to say.

  3. Disobedience is sin, and so is continually allowing it to happen. Vigilance on the part of the parent is required, and this, in our experience, is probably the toughest aspect of proper parenting. It takes energy and time (that you were normally not expecting to use!) to be a good parent. Judicial parenting requires that sin be punished accordingly. For a small fault or, of course, simple error, lesser consequences apply, but outright disobedience is an act of the will and is sin, thus mandating a standard of response.

How to give proper instruction

Eye contact and verbal response are very beneficial in giving and receiving instruction.

Whenever possible, seek and get eye contact with your child when giving instruction. This helps with the skill of focus and helps them process information as well as pay better attention. Children can be very focused on what they are doing (like men!) and not hear anything they are told. If they don’t hear it, they can’t do it. Getting their attention is critical in order to expect obedience.

Just as important is a proper verbal response. After hearing instruction, they should respond “Yes, Ma’am” or something proper (you decide) in order to show that they understand and are willing to comply with the directive. Should they repeatedly respond properly verbally but then disobey, they are then not only disobedient but potentially lying/deceitful also. Be aware of what you child is doing, what their level of awareness would likely be, and adjust accordingly. A louder or more stern voice is sometimes required to get their attention in the first place. Generally by getting eye contact and a verbal response, this assures that your child understands the instruction.

Consistency is hard work. Inconsistency in parental resolve only brings about contempt for the standard and exasperation on the part of the child. Inconsistency will lead to their gambling regarding obedience. Gambling itself is addictive because we all have that desire to win, to beat the odds. If you are inconsistent in demanding and achieving obedience, your children will begin to gamble—and may become addicted to it! They may find it fun to see when or how often you will force them into submission.

In case you haven’t yet figured it out, this course is not about training the habits and behavior of your children—it is about training you! You must learn to be a steady rock, consistent, and tough.

“For I, the LORD, do not change;” Malachi 3:6a

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. Psalm 102:25-27 - ESV

Levels of initiative

  1. Self-generated. This is when a child, without any prompting, sees what needs to be done and simply does it on their own accord. This requires a higher level of maturity and is what is ultimately being sought to become a responsible adult. A child doing this should receive high verbal or other affirmation!
  2. Prompted initiative. When a child receives instruction, then obeys quickly and with a good attitude, this is prompted initiative. This also earns praise from the parent, especially when a good attitude is present. Children learn that participating in family chores and activities is essential and rewarding, and they will soon be doing (a few!) things without prompting. This level is the benchmark of proper response.
  3. Forced initiative. This is present when there is right behavior but wrong attitude. This certainly does not merit praise, and many times should bring about some sort of correction response. This is not true obedience. A child will not rise above this level if they are allowed to persist in this type of response. They will go through life obedient but grumpy, whiny, and irritable.
  4. Suppressed initiative. (I don’t know why they call this initiative at all.) This is downright disobedience as the child ignores the parent and does what he pleases. This should bring about a distinct response. A mother (or father) who tells her child to do a chore and then ends up doing it herself is not only taking the easy way out but also doing a disservice to the child—teaching them that it doesn’t matter if they disobey. This only affirms the child’s disobedience—but it is easier.

Disobedience is not a mystery—we all want to do what we want to do. However, training a child in proper obedience is not only Biblical, but the best thing for them and for the family. Many children are led into insubordination by well-meaning but poorly behaving parents!

A child’s sense of approval (and often their sense of self-worth) is directly related to the standard of behavior required by their parents. We have found that our children (praise God!) tend to be more mature, more self-confident, and more well-adjusted than most of their peers. Children thrive when they know what is expected of them and what to expect from us in all circumstances. Consistency leads to security and confidence. A child who obeys and receives proper rewards will be happier and feel more loved than by being parented by any other method. High standards bring about high rewards. Children learn that actions lead to consequences, that words have meaning, and that proper behavior leads to reward. You can only achieve the goals at which you aim.

Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have children who tread on their toes. — Chinese Proverb

Provoking to Anger, or Exasperating, Your Child

Ephesians 6:4 states, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger (exasperate), but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV) John MacArthur believes that this verse alone can be the key to good parenting. There is a lot packed into this verse. Here we will only concentrate on provoking to anger.

What makes you angry or exasperates you? What did your parents do that made you angry? There are multiple things, but here are a few of the major ones to consider.

  1. Being overprotective. This shows a lack of trust in your child (and God!). It requires a constant readjustment as children grow to understand what they can and cannot do. If you do not trust them in things they can handle, it takes away some of their freedom and does not allow them to grow and change. Keep your children challenged by giving them tasks and freedoms that they can handle to help gain independence. Allow them to grow up, to mature, to be responsible. One of your goals in parenting is to produce a totally independent person who is not forced to rely on others. The decisions on how much freedom and responsibility to give your children are some of the toughest you will face as a parent, especially in the teen years. You will probably find that as you carefully and lovingly give your child more freedom, they will surprise you with what they can accomplish. They seek to please you.
  2. Setting the standard too high. The opposite of being overprotective is requiring too much of a child, asking them to do things which they cannot possibly do, then expressing your disapproval. We all have limits, and when we have unrealistic expectations for our children, we set them up for failure. They will be very upset if there is no way to make their parents happy. Be sure to express your love and appreciation when they do their best; be patient with them in failure; encourage their valient efforts. In addition, don’t ask them to participate in hobbies, sports, or activities that they do not enjoy because you want them to do it—to make you look better or to live out your dreams.
  3. Expressing favoritism. If we compare children, especially making statements of comparison, or we clearly treat them differently, even allowing one (but not others) to be rebellious, etc., we will provoke anger. While God has given us different talents and abilities to do the work of God, He only asks that we do what we can and not what someone else should be doing.
  4. Being overindulgent. When you repeatedly give in to your child’s demands or do not let them suffer the consequences of their actions, you are enabling them to avoid responsibility. This may make them happy in the short-term, but it will ultimately lead them to strife and failure when they are forced to perform. They may develop a victim mentality and never learn otherwise.
  5. Failing to sacrifice for them. Children perceive when they are an inconvenience or an afterthought. This can be crushing to them. Never let them think that you do not love them as God loves His own. God has sacrificed greatly for us; be Him for your children also. You may not want to go to all those games or recitals, but it means a great deal to them. Time spent with them is critical; they see how you spend your time, and they discern your priorities. Don’t kid yourself. They know.
  6. Abusive words or actions. Both verbal and physical abuse have great, lasting impacts on children. They are depending on you to love them more than any other person on earth, and when you are cruel or overly harsh, it can crush them for a very long time. There are always better ways of discipline than belittling or being overly physical in response to their failures. Take time out, seek God’s wisdom, and proceed more slowly if you find yourself becoming too angry or out of control to be loving. Even attempts of loving discipline when done in excess or overly harsh can exasperate.
  7. Being hypocritical. Your children hear what you say, and they can clearly see what you do. When these two do not jive, they learn that whatever you say has no real meaning, including what you might teach them about God. You must exemplify whom you expect them to be as a child of God. They will never be obedient to a falsehood—nor should they be. Your words do have meaning.
  8. Being inconsistent. While it is extremely difficult—no, impossible—to be consistent all the time, we must try to always be consistent. If your children are trying to “hit a moving target”, they can easily become frustrated and give up hope. Just as God is immutable and is our Rock, we should be that to our children also. They should never have to guess or gamble what we might do next.

While Paul addresses fathers here as translated, the Greek word used, pateres, is often used for both parents together. Both parents share in the responsibility to not provoke anger, but as the spiritual and family leader, the greater responsibility falls on dad to be cognizant of this problem. Roman fathers in Paul’s day had extreme power over their young children, even the right to let them die, to kill them, or to sell them as slaves. We are to be parents as God is our Father.


  1. What 3 aspects of response are essential in biblical obedience?
  2. What poor parenting techniques undermine proper training?
  3. Situations will vary drastically at times. What are some proper ways of considering a variation in our child’s response? What is essential for these to work?
  4. What response should parents receive when giving instruction?
  5. What are some ways to exasperate your child?


  1. Explain to your children how you expect them to respond to instruction. You may need to do this several times. Encourage their questions.
  2. Make a game out of having your (small) child come immediately the first time you call with the proper verbal response. How did this go? Consider small rewards (M&M) initially.
  3. Observe parents and children around you this week. What proper and poor parenting techniques do you see? How about your efforts at home?