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Colossians 3:20  (ID: 2493)

One distinct sign of a crumbling society is that children no longer obey their parents. Today, many perceive the notion that parents have authority over their children as anticultural or “old-fashioned.” In this message, Alistair Begg challenges this belief, reminding children that sincere obedience comes more easily when they are captured by the love of Jesus Christ. By honoring and respecting their parents, children testify to the wonder of God’s amazing grace.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Christian Family

Colossians 3:18–21 Series ID: 24701

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now, we’re going to read from the Bible. Although our text this evening is in Colossians 3, we’ll read from Luke chapter 2—Luke 2:41:

“Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’

“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”


I read that purposefully; I don’t think I’ll comment on it again, but this is the fulfillment of one of the prophetic psalms where it describes the one who is wiser than even his teachers,[1] and it is pointing forward to Jesus. And this interchange between he and Mary is a significant one, given the nature of his wisdom and understanding. And that’s what makes all the more remarkable verse 51, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” And the reason that he was obedient to them was because they were his earthly parents, and God commanded obedience on the part of the child to the parent. And Jesus in this instance was doing what the right thing to do was, in the same way as in his baptism. You’ll remember when John the Baptist says that “We have this really the wrong way around; I should be getting baptized by you, not you by me,” and Jesus says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.”[2] In other words, “This is the right thing to do, and I am committed to doing the right thing.” That is, of course, an important principle and a fundamental piece of the puzzle when it comes to the matter of interpersonal relationships, in terms of the family.

And now, Father, “What we know not, teach us; what we have not, give us; what we are not, make us,”[3] for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, we come to the third of these four brief studies in this matter of what the NIV refers to as “Rules for Christian Households,” and we get directly, once again, to our text this evening, which is the twentieth verse of Colossians 3—Colossians 3:20—and our text this evening is “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

The gospel doesn’t simply alter our relationship with God. It actually alters our relationship with everyone and with everything.

Here in one concise sentence Paul provides this clear and comprehensive instruction on the upbringing of children. And it is quite remarkable when you ponder how many books are out there—both secular and Christian—how many thousands of books and how many millions of words have been penned, utilized in endeavoring somehow or another to get to this issue of children and their parents. And here we find, in what is just really one sentence, that Paul has expressed the essence of what multiple books on child-rearing struggle themselves to express. 

It’s important for us to keep in mind in this third study what we said in our first study and didn’t reference in our second—namely, that the context in which Paul delivers this instruction is the context of this letter that he has written to those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has, in Colossians 1, addressed them in these very specific terms, thanking “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “We … thank God … when we pray for you,” he says in 1:[3–]4, “because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” That is very important for us to keep in mind. In chapter 2:6, he refers to those to whom he writes as those who have “received [Jesus Christ] as Lord.” And then in 3:1 he addresses them in the context of having “been raised with Christ.”

In other words, he has been teaching them that the gospel doesn’t simply alter our relationship with God, which it does, but it actually alters our relationship with everyone and with everything —that the gospel is a life-changing transformation. And in the context of this letter, as in the other letters that Paul writes—interestingly, Colossians and Ephesians and Philemon, Philippians too, written from the Roman imprisonment—in each of these letters, he labors very, very hard to make it clear to his readers that what is true concerning them will work itself out in the everyday events of life. And so, for example, when he says in 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” he says, “as you do, you will then be teaching and admonishing one another.” In other words, the fellowship of God’s people is an instructional environment—that God’s people are learning not simply from the instruction of the pastors and teachers, but they are learning in the context of one another, because we instruct one another, both verbally and also graphically in the way we live our lives.  And it is in that context that our singing, our psalms and our hymns and our spiritual songs, are edifying things, that they speak to us about life, and they reveal God to us, and we speak to ourselves sometimes when we’re singing, and we speak about one another and to one another in our hymnody.

And then in the context of that, he goes on to say—and really, in a comprehensive statement—“Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s in word or in deed, I want you to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.”[4] Then he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands.”[5] So, in other words, this doesn’t drop out of the blue in the way that this little series, in one sense, does, as if somehow or another we simply picked it off the shelf and could deal with it in abstraction from the rest of the instruction. We dare not do that. And that’s why I’m taking a moment to reinforce this for us.

So, having addressed wives and, in turn, husbands, he now turns to children in verse 20, and as I said, next time he will put the second wing on the plane, as it were, as he comes to give instruction to the fathers.

I wonder, might we just observe in passing that since Paul wrote these letters to, for example, the believers in Colossae, and he wrote these letters in order to be read, that we might safely assume that Paul anticipated the presence of children in the assembly when the letter was read? So that the context for the reading of the letter was not some rarified adult gathering, but actually was a family gathering where a variation of ages and types and interests and abilities, and some who were able to grasp more than others, were all present so that in the reading of it children sitting next to their parents would learn from the reading of the letter their part in God’s plan for them. And they would be able to listen and learn that the wives—that their mums—were supposed to, in the way they responded to their husbands, model the response of the church to Jesus. And they would learn that their dads were supposed to love their mums with a sacrificial kind of love. And they would then learn that it was their privilege and their obligation and their responsibility to be obedient to their mums and dads.

I think we do better than many congregations in this, but we are certainly not exemplary. And we may as parents inadvertently send a message to our children concerning the nature of gathering for praise and for instruction in this larger room—a message that says to our children, “This really isn’t for you,” or “This isn’t something you would enjoy,” or “This isn’t something you would understand,” or “This is something that you can get later.”[6] And suddenly our children have gone from kindergarten to seniors in high school, and despite all we say about the blessing and the benefit of the teaching of the Bible, we have allowed our children to pass through our fingers without the benefit of that being their portion. If you got it wrong as parents, let’s get it right as grandparents. Paul assumes the presence of children in the gathering of God’s people in the reading of this letter. 

A Clear Obligation

Now, let us notice, essentially, two things. First of all, the obligation that it speaks to. And we may observe a couple of things by way of the obligation. First of all, that it is clear: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” It is certainly not difficult to understand. One commentator says, “It would be hard to find any practical family instruction more rooted in every part of … Scripture than the importance of children’s obedience to their parents.”[7] I think that’s well observed. There’s virtually no place we can go in the panorama of Scripture, save perhaps Song of Solomon, in which we will not find this constant, recurring emphasis.  

So the clarity of the verse is there: the Scripture’s calling for children to listen to their fathers and to see that they don’t despise their mothers. Proverbs—Solomon—helps us in this, doesn’t he? I won’t weary you with a lot of cross-references, but I am turning just for a moment to Proverbs [23], in case you want to try and track me. Proverbs 23:22: “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” That’s not hard to understand. Those of you who are young people who are here tonight, “What am I supposed to do? Supposed to listen to my dad.” Okay? “What else am I supposed to do? I’m not to despise my mother when she gets old.” “May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice! The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him.”[8]

So the Bible makes it very clear that children are, in obedience to their parents, to listen to their dads and not to despise their mothers.  Equally so it makes clear that it is the fool who spurns his father’s discipline—it is always the fool, in the Bible. Again, Proverbs is littered with this. It is the foolish child who neglects what his father says, it is the foolish daughter who despises the instruction that comes her way. And the discipline of the parents is the discipline, first of all, of correction—that our parents discipline us to correct us, to bring us into line, to make sure that we stay within the confines that God has laid out for us so that we might enjoy the benefits that accrue to us and so that we might avoid the pitfalls that are present in the gullies and the nooks and crannies that often appear so attractive to us. The corrective influence of our parental jurisdiction is vital to the well-being of our children.  And many a young man, many a young girl, will be saved from manifold stupidity and heartache by simply paying attention to Colossians 3:20—whether you feel like it or whether you don’t feel like it. The clarity with which it speaks is unavoidable: “Children, obey your parents.” So when you undergo the discipline of correction, it is there to drive out faults, so that you’re able to come and say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, and I accept the consequences.”

But part of our obedience is not simply to the discipline that comes to us by way of correction, but it is the disciplines that comes by way of instruction—and that, as we will see next time, it is laid upon the parents to instruct children, to train them up in the way that they should go,[9] to teach their children skills that are useful and are necessary in life. That is why it is such a daunting challenge to be a parent! Because you say to yourself as you go down the road, “How many times am I going to have to say this?” And the answer is probably, “Oh, about another thousand, maybe seventeen hundred.” And that’s before they even get out of junior high! “How many times am I going to have to say this?” Time without number, probably! And it is the equally foolish parent who bails out of the responsibility prematurely who may join the disaster zone in the company of the disobedient child.

To accept the discipline of training is simply to say to our mums and our dads, “I agree that what you are training me in is necessary, and I agree that it is useful, and I agree that it is biblical, and I want you to know that I accept your instruction.” And when’s the last time one of your children called you into the bedroom just to say that to you? Well, you know, it may only come much later—but, please God, it will come.

There’s virtually no place we can go in the panorama of Scripture in which we will not find a constant emphasis on children’s obedience to their parents.

When a child resents and rejects parental discipline—when a child is disobedient and is not trained by such discipline—he or she begins to develop what we might refer to as emotional calluses. When we talk about the hardening of people, and when we talk about a child being hard and indifferent and cold and calloused, we may be sure that that has not happened simply as a result of a moment in time, but it has almost inevitably happened over a period of time, in the same way that a person may listen to the gospel being proclaimed, and it is either softening their hearts or it is hardening their hearts. That is why it is such an awesome and dreadful thing to be in a Bible-teaching church where the gospel is faithfully proclaimed and to be on the receiving end of it and to do nothing with it: because an individual may develop those same kind of spiritual calluses to the truth of God’s Word, to the point that they become cynical and disinterested and almost reach the point where they are impervious to its truth.

A child that develops those kind of emotional calluses grows increasingly antagonistic to all kinds of authority. You will get the calls from the schoolteachers, you will get the calls from the youth group leaders, you will get the calls from anybody in a position of authority—the coach of the soccer team, or the football team, the baseball team, whatever else it is—he’ll be on the phone to say, “I really don’t know what it is with Billy here, but he just… he doesn’t seem to listen to a single thing that anybody says, myself and everyone else included.” Well, he’s a disobedient boy, and he’s disobedient to his parents and to the instruction of Scripture, and he has now begun to make it a hallmark of his character. Such a young man or a young woman unchecked, unreached by grace, will become inevitably a menace in any community, and ultimately a menace to themselves. The Bible teaches that. “I went past,” says Solomon, “I went past the garden of a lazy man. The wall was broken down, all overgrown and riddled with weeds,”[10] a silent testimony to a failure to consistently do what is right when it’s right—equally true in the realm of children.

You see, real obedience—and the Bible addresses this—real obedience is a matter of the heart. Real obedience is a matter of the heart, in the same way that real respect is a matter of the heart.  I met somebody this week from Georgia. (“…in Georgia.”[11]) And I said, “Oh, I like people from Georgia!” I said, “There’s a sort of respect in Georgia, isn’t there?” And he said, “Well, I hope so.” And I said, “No, I like it, they say ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘Yes, sir.’” And then we talked about how it’s possible to say “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir” and not really mean it. It’s possible for our verbiage not to be an expression of our hearts. And children can become adept at this, and the children who are listening to me tonight know that there is a huge distinction between an obedience that is heartfelt, God-honoring, and sincere, and a spirit of sort of reluctant external subservience , which provides only a thin disguise for what is an increasingly stubborn and rebellious heart.

Now, in each evening we’ve cross-referenced our verse with what Paul says in Ephesians. I don’t want to do that so much tonight, but you’ll notice, if you do turn to Ephesians 6, that he says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. [And] ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”[12] In other words, he doesn’t provide as an incentive a threat; he provides as an incentive a promise. The Old Testament had plenty of threats that went along with this. There were lots of things that were going to happen to children if they failed to comply with the instruction. But here, when Paul frames it, it’s as if he stands back from the text and he says, “Children need to understand that the whole motivation in this is their well-being; it is that things might go well with them; it is that they might enjoy the privileges and opportunities of their childhood.” But it will not happen absent the obedience which reveals itself in respect.

For a young person to respect his parents or her parents means at least this: that they speak kindly to them and they speak kindly about them.  In fact, that is true of all respect. The real test of respect is to overhear a teenager talking to his mother or his father on the phone and to watch his eyes, because the eyes will give him away. Listen in the mall as the girl holds the cell phone to her ear and you see her saying, “Yes, mom”—but it’s not “Yes, mom”; it’s “Yes, mom…” There’s no respect in that response: “I hear you…” All the seeds of indifference are built into that interchange, even though the phraseology is accurate; it does not express the heart attitude.

And genuine respect for an individual when you speak to them demands that you look at them. That’s not simply a cultural issue; that is a pressing emotional, psychological, interactional issue. That’s Business 101: look the guy in the face when you shake his hand. And how many times do parents have to take their children’s little faces in their hands and kindly say, “Look at me, look at me,” or “Let me see your eyes,” because the eyes have it; the eyes are the gateway into the soul, into the psyche, into the heart of the individual. It is imperative that we instruct our children: “Look at me. I don’t want you looking anywhere else; I want you looking at me, because when I see your eyes, I see you.” It’s much harder to disguise things when someone’s got to flat-on gaze into your face. Children know that. That’s why they look down.

Well, Solomon actually has a startling image in relationship to this. I’ll just read it for you, and then we’ll move to our second and our final point, which should be an encouragement to some. Proverbs, once again: “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.”[13] How does that sound? A fairly graphic image, isn’t it? What he is saying here is exactly what I’m trying to convey: the eye that mocks a father, the eye that scorns obedience to a mother, will eventually become an eye that is useless.

A Comprehensive Obligation

So, the instruction is absolutely clear. And secondly, the instruction is absolutely comprehensive, isn’t it? “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” “Oh, but,” says somebody almost immediately, “surely there are exceptions to this!” And, of course there are, in the same way that there are exceptions to all of these aspects of interpersonal relationships. But aren’t you always a little wary of yourself when you want to immediately sidestep the comprehensive nature of a word of instruction to find the exception clause? “Let me find out the things I don’t have to do in relationship to this.” Don’t let’s go there first. Let’s just look at it face-on. Don’t be so quick to look for exceptions. “Children, obey your parents in everything.” In other words, in terms of the comprehensive nature of the responsibility of parents to children, as it relates to bedtime, as it relates to diet, as it relates to hygiene, as it relates to schooling, as it relates to friendships, as it relates to purchases, as it relates to finance and the developing of financial skills, and everything else, “Learn to obey your parents across the board.” That’s what it says. Let your instinctive reaction be, to parental instruction, obedience—that that is the default, that is the screen saver; the screen saver goes immediately to Colossians 3:20. “I’m going to obey my parents in everything”—unless, of course, our parents instruct us to do something which is a clear contravention of what the Bible says. If our parents demand of us some practice which would be untrue to the Bible and offensive to God, then at that point, of course we have to exercise the Acts 4:19 response: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right for us to do this, but I have to obey God in this.” That is clear.

Real obedience is a matter of the heart, in the same way that real respect is a matter of the heart.

For example, you take the issue of baptism, just in passing. Say a young person is thirteen or fourteen years old, and they’ve been coming around Parkside, and they have listened and observed and watched and have come to faith in Jesus. Their parents have begun to notice a little difference in their lives—hopefully, an increasing difference in their lives. Their parents are good people, but they do not believe in Jesus, they regard what has happened to their son or their daughter as a little bit weird, and they’re hoping that everything doesn’t go completely off the tracks. And then the child comes home and announces that two Sundays from next he or she is going to be baptized at Parkside. And the father says, “No, you’re not.” What does the child do then? My advice would be, obey your father. Obey your father. Because there is clear instruction concerning your obedience to your father, there is clear instruction concerning the nature of baptism, but there is no specific instruction given in terms of the timing of the baptism, particularly as it relates to your life. And therefore, there will come a day when, in your age of freedom, you no longer need to exercise that same responsibility of obedience to that instruction, because you’re up and out and gone. But for the time being, probably it would be wise to obey your parents.

An Obligation under Jesus’ Lordship

The third thing to notice is that this is in the context of the lordship of Jesus. I’ve tried to labor this every time, and with this I will finish tonight as well. The instruction is clear, it is comprehensive, but it is also within the context of the lordship of Jesus. Remember we said on the first night that ultimately the reason for the wife’s submission, the submission of love to love, the submission of equals to one another, is an expression of her submission to Jesus as Lord. She says “Jesus is Lord,” and therefore this is how she lives within the framework of the family. The husband says “Jesus is Lord,” and this is therefore how he lives within that context. The child says “Jesus is Lord of my life,” and this is how he or she then lives within the framework of the family.

In other words, this little phrase brings child obedience specifically into the realm of Christian duty. It lays upon children the responsibility of obeying their parents because of their own personal relationship with Jesus. In other words, what Paul is saying is, “This is within the framework of the lordship of Jesus. So in everything, everything that is compatible with your loyalty to the Lord Jesus, obey your parents. Learn to obey your unseen heavenly Father by obeying your earthly father whom you can see.”

And it seems patently obvious that it is in the home primarily, and not in the church, where this lesson is to be learned. I mean, here from behind a pulpit it is one thing for me to stand up and say these things this evening. It’s relatively easy; it’s much harder with our three children. It’s always harder in the home. Because it’s in the home where the instructions are given:

“I thought I asked you not to do that.”

“Yes, I know, but I didn’t like the idea, I didn’t like the suggestion.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion. I thought I asked you to come home at eleven.”

“I know you did, but I thought twelve sounded much better.”

“That’s disobedience!”

“It is? Carl’s dad”—not Carlsbad—“Carl’s dad, he doesn’t care when Jim comes home.”

“Pity you don’t live in Carl’s house. You live here! Here’s the framework.”

That’s hard. All that I can do in this role is, if you like, frame the discussion, frame the context. But it is within the home, it’s within the marriage bed, it’s within the kitchen, that husbands and wives work this out. It is within the framework of the warp and woof of interpersonal relationships that all of this is hammered out. The youth group can do so much: they can give instructions, they can provide videos, they can go on camps, they can reinforce this. But it is within the home that this thing needs to be put together.  The lesson is learned, ultimately, primarily there.

So that’s the obligation. It is clear, it comprehensive, and it is within the context of the lordship of Jesus.

Obedience Is Right

Finally, what of the motivation? Well, the motivation is, first of all, because it is right. “Well,” you say, “it’s not there in Colossians.” No, but it is in Ephesians, so if you just turn once again back a couple of pages, Ephesians 6: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”—“for this is right.”

This, of course, is a peculiar challenge, isn’t it, in an environment in which nothing’s wrong and nothing’s right? Where everything’s on a sliding scale? Who’s to say anything is right or anything is wrong? Anybody who introduces moral rectitude, anybody who says, “This is the standard,” somebody says, “Well, where did you get your standard?” And that’s why, you see, the distinctive nature of Christian living in increasingly countercultural. And it is about to get even more countercultural. I mean, we haven’t even addressed, and deliberately have not addressed, the prevailing impact of feminism and the homosexual agenda on these verses as it relates to parents, husbands, wives, and certainly as it relates to children—the legal things in the European courts which are not only opposed to this very teaching, but which seek to do everything they can to turn the family on its head and prevent parents from exercising any kind of jurisdiction over their children.

But the Bible has no such ambivalence: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Paul doesn’t argue from the passing cultural norms of the first century. That is one of the arguments that is always leveled against this: “Oh yes, but Paul was in a patriarchal society. Paul was in a hierarchal society. And if he’d been in our contemporary society, he would have never said these things.” Wrong! Completely wrong. Because he argued the principle into the culture, he did not argue the principle from the culture. He argued from creation. He went back to Genesis, and he says, “This is how God made it in the beginning, it is a creation ordinance, and that is why it is an abiding principle.” It may apply in different cultures in different ways, but the principle is never deviated from. Therefore, when he says, “I want you to obey your parents because it’s right,” he’s saying it is right because God says it’s right, and he has written it down, and he’s written it down in the Ten Commandments, and he has worked it out in the rest of the Scriptures. And he has provided the motivation for it not only in the law by nature, but also in the supernatural element of Christian experience, and he has reinforced it by the instruction of the Bible.

The youth group can do so much: they can give instructions, they can provide videos, they can go on camps. But it is within the home that Jesus’ lordship needs to be put together.

Now, that is why Jesus did what he did. That’s why I said what I said earlier. Why did he obey his parents? Because it was the right thing to do. You know, you’ll save yourself, young people who are listening to me—trust me, I’m an old man now—you will save yourself a tremendous amount of heartache if you just do what is right, if you ask yourself not “What feels good?” not “What gets me out of this problem easiest?” not “What allows me to wiggle out of an obligation or responsibility?” but “What is the right thing to do?” And in the answer to that question you will be saved many, many, many sad nights.

I guarantee you that any child who has been reared in the instruction of the Scriptures will, when the lights go on—when, having trained them in the way they should go, they finally settle on it—any child will honestly come and tell you, “The stupidest, dumbest, biggest mistake I ever did was in just being disobedient to you, Dad. Everything flowed from that, because I learned to not look you in the eye and do what I wanted, and having failed to look you in the eye, I paid no attention to a Father in heaven who watches over me, loves me, and provides the instruction of his Word for my protection and for my correction and for my instruction and for my encouragement.”

And if you doubt this, you need not stay even within the realm of Scripture. Just read history. Just read the most superficial anthropologies. I was thinking about it again this week in dealing with Calabar. Remember Calabar? (“No, it was Mrs. Calabash.”) You remember Calabar, the structure of society hinged—even in all of its bizarre elements there in Nigeria—hinged on certain things. And one of the things that was vital to any form of stability was the responsibility of the minors within the home to be obedient to their parents.

In fact, every organized and stable society is built on this. Greek and Roman pagans, moralists, affirmed the necessity of the obedience of children. They did it to an extent that was horrible and [shameless], and instead of there being a filial, loving response to parental jurisdiction that was kind and constrained, it was often a servile, fearful, cringing response to a brutality that was pronounced upon them. And what Paul is saying is calling into question all of those brutal elements of it. But nevertheless, the Stoic philosophers were the same: they saw the obedience of a son as crucial to the structure of society. And those of you—and some of you know this by firsthand experience—those of you who have lived in an Oriental culture, or who come from an Oriental culture, or who have read the impact of Confucius on those cultures, know that Confucian thought had as an absolute cornerstone piece of the puzzle filial respect—hence the bowing of the Japanese to this day. It can be superficial, it can be externalized, of course, but it was to be an expression of filial respect. And the same is true in China, and the same is true in Korea. And although it is dissipated by the impact of Western nonsense, which we have sent to them via MTV and various junk from over here, nevertheless the cultures still bear testimony to the fact that this truth—albeit, a biblical truth—is not only written in the law of God but it is written in the moral nature of humanity. It is, if you like, part of natural law. Parental jurisdiction has been regarded as absolutely fundamental and indispensable to any civilized, stable society. 

Now, when you lay that down as axiomatic, then you begin to understand why it is that in these lists in Romans 1 and in 2 Timothy 3 you come to the phrase “disobedient to their parents.” Don’t you ever look at that and say, “How did ‘disobedient to their parents’ get in here?” I mean, I did! I do. Maybe I just missed it completely. Paul talks about the turning of a man’s back to the truth of God’s Word, the exchanging of what has been known about God for that which is a fiction, and the judgment of God on that, “giving them up” because “they didn’t feel it worthwhile to retain a knowledge of God,” so “he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.”[14] This is Romans 1:29: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” This is not a good list. “They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit … malice.” How’s it going? “They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant … boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they [are disobedient to] their parents.”[15]

“Oh, come on! What’re you throwing that in there for? I mean, you throw in something as trivial as that in the midst of all of these ‘biggies’?” No. One of the ugly signs of a decaying culture is disobedient youth. In fact, in 2 Timothy 3—and I won’t turn you to it—but in 2 Timothy 3, when Paul says that “there will be [perilous] times in the last days” and “people will be lovers of themselves … rather than lovers of God” and so on, right there again in that list, he puts the same thing: “disobedient to their parents.”[16] Why? Because a culture will testify to the topsy-turvy nature of its lifestyle not only in extravagant and bizarre behavior, but at the most endemic, foundational level of interpersonal relationships, as young mothers vie for the attention of their children, are paralyzed by their children in restaurants, because they have so consumed themselves with the notion that they have no jurisdiction over them—that this child has as much right to a say as they have, they just happen to be a little taller or a little older or perhaps a little brighter, but not necessarily—and the father doesn’t know what to do, and he’s completely hamstrung, and the child longs for a framework, longs for direction, longs for the very things they fight against, longs for somebody to be brave enough to say, “You’re not doing that. You’re not going there. I love you too much for that. God says it’s wrong to do that. I can’t let you do that. Do what’s right for once, would you?”

I say to you again, this is not some slick methodology you can go in there and get a book on and do five principles and three Hail Marys and run ’round the block and it’ll all be fine. It’s not going to happen. It may be blood, sweat, and tears—and more—to make these kind of discoveries. And that is why disobedience to their parents is at the very cornerstone and heart of these instructions. Disobedient children are one of the ugly and alarming signs of a crumbling society.  And that society is crumbling exponentially when the legal system puts in place legislation which undermines the parental jurisdiction and gives to children a role in society that they are neither prepared for, nor able for, nor were constituted to exercise.

Obedience Pleases the Lord

What’s the motivation? First, because it’s right, and finally, because it pleases the Lord—because it pleases the Lord. I mean, this is what it comes down to, doesn’t it, kids, young people, teens? Do you want to please God? If you want to please God, obey your mom and dad. Do you want to please God, or do you want to please yourself? Please yourself: skulk around, don’t look ’em in the eye, do whatever you want; lie to them, cheat, hide, tell ’em you were over here when you were over there. Sow to the wind, and I guarantee you, you will reap the whirlwind.[17] God has not put this framework in place to spoil you or to mar you or to inhibit you, but in order to make you. Isn’t that what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5? He’s talking in a different context, albeit, but he’s talking about whether we live or whether we die, whether we’re within the earthly tent or whether we go to heaven, and he says, basically, “No matter where we are or what’s going on, we make it our goal to please him.”[18] “We make it our goal to please him.”

I think sometimes young people say to themselves, “You know, I don’t really know if there’s anything that I can do to serve Christ or to commend Christ.” Well, let me tell you, here’s an area that is clear and obvious. Here’s one for you. Try this. Families are fractured; you know that, ’cause you have friends. Parents are completely paralyzed by their failure to have any guideline or context in which to exercise their privileged responsibility. Do you realize what an impact your life can have if you’ll take seriously the simple instruction of Colossians 3:20? If you’ll make a commitment from your heart to be an obedient boy or an obedient girl, God being your helper? Do you know that the light will shine out of your eyes? Do you know that other families will have occasion to ask, “What is it about that family?” Not because you walk around with a thumping great Bible all the time; not because you do ostentatious things that highlight your religious credentials. None of that will be necessary if you’ll just obey your mom and dad, because you will be so markedly, so radically different that you will shine like a light in a dark place.

Well, our time is gone. Perhaps it doesn’t need said, but I’ll say it anyway, and that is that our obedience to our parents is obviously completely altered once we’re married. That’s another sermon altogether, about cutting the apron strings between a kid and his mom, and the untold havoc that is there because parents have never let go of their children in the bonds of marriage and played a heavy-handed role here, relying on passages such as Colossians 3. It’s absolutely wrong. The relationship changes. The husband-and-wife relationship takes priority over the parent-child relationship. There’s no need for any lessening of affection, and there’s no need for any lessening of care.

We haven’t been outdoors as much lately as we would like to. The thing that put a stop to it was the fact that people complained about our music when we did the evening services. And, you know, what a dreadful thing to have to cope with in the evening—the sound of people singing! Admittedly, we’re not great singers, but we’re not particularly bad singers, but I guess they don’t want any people singing and drowning out the noise from Six Flags, you know. We wanna keep it nice and quiet so that we can hear the clang and the bang of the roller coaster, whatever it might be.

Children who obey their parents become responsible citizens. Responsible citizens make strong communities. Within the framework of strong communities, it’s possible to live in freedom and in safety and in health.

But one of the evenings when we were out there sometime ago, there was a centenarian came. I think that’s what you call somebody who’s a hundred years old. Is it? If not, I invented it. There was an old lady there. She was a hundred. Her family brought her; she’d listened to the radio program, she wanted to come. She sat in her wheelchair in the sunshine. I knelt down beside her and spoke with her. I remember she was a kindly lady and had her faculties about her. I was so excited to meet this lady of a hundred that I rounded up my children and said, “I want you to meet this lady. This lady is a hundred years old, come over and meet this lady. Then you’ll always be able to say, ‘I know somebody who’s a hundred years old.’” And I remember going home in the car, and out of the silence one of the girls announced, “That lady, Dad, must have really honored her mom and dad.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, you know that thing in the Bible where it says, ‘Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the earth’?[19] She must have really taken that seriously.”

Well, the point was well made. But, of course, that’s not a categorical promise to an individual. If it were, then how would we explain children that have died in infancy? But it is a general promise. Society is made up of individuals. Children who obey their parents become responsible citizens. Responsible citizens make strong communities. Within the framework of strong communities, it’s possible to live in freedom and in safety and in health. 

So young people, obey your mom and dad. Honor them as you seek their guidance about your friends—they actually do know best—about your schooling; about whether Brenda is a beautiful girl that you should marry, or whether she’s really somebody that you ought to chase down the street; about whether you should be a brain surgeon or a disk jockey; about whether you should have twenty children or four children; about how to grow old; about how to know God; about how to face eternity. Because you know what? Your parents have been given to you by God. They’re not the best, they’re not infallible, they don’t get it all right. If they’re honest with you, they’ll tell you when they don’t, and they’ll ask for your forgiveness too. But in the general scheme of things, they’re in charge.

Father, as we try and work our way through these verses we are confronted again and again by the joys and sorrows of our lives. Some of us make application of these things and it stings because we know we have made a hash of things in the past. And for some of us, it’s painful because the Evil One comes, and he’s the accuser of us, and he just digs around and tries to rummage up garbage from the past and sins that have been forgiven. We resist him, firm in the faith, Lord.

But some of us are at the infancy of these things, and we’re already seeing the impact of carelessness. Some of us have begun to lie to our parents. Some of us are developing deceitfulness as a pattern. Some of us use respectful words, but it’s not true from our hearts. We look everywhere except into the eyes of our mom. And when we read this verse we say, “How are we supposed to do this?” And your Word comes back with one resounding crescendo: by your grace, by your enabling, by the work of your Spirit in our repentant hearts, by our submission to the truth of the Bible, and by our desire to follow the example of Jesus.

So I pray tonight for the families of our church—those that are here and those that are represented. I pray specifically for young people, who are bombarded from every side with the invitation to do everything but obey their parents, who are chided by their friends on the basis of the fact that they’re just afraid of their parents, or they’re just whatever it is, or they’re too weak willed, they’re afraid of what their parents will do to them. And may it be that our young people are more afraid of what they will do to their parents, as it were, by their foolishness and rebellion than of any discipline that might come their way.

We pray, Lord, to this end and commend each family into your custody this night in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Psalm 119:99.

[2] Matthew 3:14–15 (paraphrased).

[3] Quoted in William Barclay, A Barclay Prayer Book (London: SCM, 1990), 238.

[4] Colossians 3:17 (paraphrased).

[5] Colossians 3:18 (NIV 1984).

[6] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 158. Paraphrased.

[7] Dick Lucas, The Message of Colossians & Philemon (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 163.

[8] Proverbs 23:25, 24 (NIV 1984).

[9] Proverbs 22:6 (paraphrased).

[10] Proverbs 24:30–31 (paraphrased).

[11] Reba McEntire, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” (1972).

[12] Ephesians 6:1–3 (NIV 1984).

[13] Proverbs 30:17 (NIV 1984).

[14] Romans 1:21–24 (paraphrased).

[15] Romans 1:29–30 (NIV 1984).

[16] 2 Timothy 3:1–4 (NIV 1984).

[17] Hosea 8:7 (paraphrased).

[18] 2 Corinthians 5:9 (paraphrased).

[19] Exodus 20:12 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.