In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp talks about the benefits of teaching children to obey. But, as Tedd explains, this obedience is not simply a rote, automatic response. Tedd unpacks the biblical teaching by showing that there are three vital components to obedience. Requiring all three components of obedience is not optional, but essential; more on this in a moment. This understanding obedience is the foundation for the answer to Wendy’s question about how to help her children obey in settings away from home.
I am thankful to Wendy for expressing her concern in such an open manner. Her concern is something that each of us can identify with. Visiting an older widow with four small children is sure to be an adventure! This speaks to the important issue of establishing principle-based behavior—behavior that is dealing with issues of the heart rather than just outward behavior. Following the directions of God’s Word at home will prepare you for whatever situations you will face outside the home. Pia’s comment is right on target in this regard.
Here are those three components: true biblical obedience occurs when your child will do exactly as he is told, immediately, with a good attitude or spirit. In order to answer Wendy’s question, we need to look carefully at this definition. What are its implications?
Requiring exact, immediate, pleasant obedience is a huge blessing. This teaches the child that he lives under God’s authority, not his own.
For example, you ask your five-year-old child to open the front door to let some fresh air in through the screen door. The conversation might run something like this:
Justin, would you please open the front door so that some fresh air can come in?
Mommy, I’ll just turn on the fan instead.
No, I want you to open the door now.
Mommy, please can we just turn on the fan? I like to hear the noise the fan makes.
Well, alright, go turn on the fan.
Thanks, mommy! I’ll do it in just a moment; I want to get a drink first.
NO, Justin, do it now!
But mommy, I am so thirsty that my throat hurts. Please can I have a drink?
Well, okay, you can get some water.
But Mommy, I really want some juice; you said that juice is good for me. Would you get it for me?
Justin, I am really busy, would you just get it yourself!
Mommy, I really am thirsty, please, please would you get it for me?
Please, Mommy, I am so thirsty and my throat hurts, please.
I am sorry Justin, of course you can have some juice; just go have a seat at the table and I’ll get it for you. I hope your throat feels better soon.
Thank you, Mommy. Could you get me the orange juice instead of the apple juice?
Okay, Justin, Mommy is so sorry she spoke sharply. I’ll get your juice as soon as I turn on the fan.
You get the point. Going anywhere with Justin would be a disaster. Actually, just living in the same house with Justin is a disaster. He is in the habit of doing only what he wants, when he wants. This is how he has been trained.
Biblically, the scenario should have gone this way:
Justin, I would like you to you to open the front door to let in some fresh air through the screen door.
Sure, Mom. No problem.
Mom doesn’t ask Justin a question as in the first scenario. She gives him a clear directive that she fully expects to be obeyed quickly and pleasantly.
Training children to respond this way brings a great benefit to the home. It also provides the foundation for being with the children outside of the home. Doing something other than obeying exactly, quickly and pleasantly should be the exception. This type of instruction stretches the heart of both the child and the parent. It also clearly establishes for both the child and parent that God is in authority and that he must be obeyed. Set against this background the children will reference mom and dad first rather than someone else giving them instruction.
Requiring biblical obedience also has another benefit that applies to Wendy’s question. Ephesians 6:1-4 clearly teaches parental authority is derived from God and may not be given to another. While it is necessary to delegate authority at times, the ultimate responsibility for the children remains with the parent. This means when you are in someone else’s home you still have the primary responsibility for your children. To help avoid the kind of situation where a well-meaning person actually challenges your authority, as is the case in Wendy’s scenario, it would be wise to schedule a relatively short visit for the first time. That way you can see how the person or family inviting you to their home views authority. Will they defer to you or will they assume that since you are in their home you must follow their rules? Scheduling a short visit will allow for you to get a sense of what it would be like to be there for a longer time.
If it appears that the home to which you are invited has a different standard than you do, you then can prepare your children for what a longer visit might be like. This precaution will also give you the opportunity to talk with those inviting you and let them know your concerns and parameters. This should be done pleasantly and with gratitude that you have been offered a kind invitation. You must be guided, however, by the reality that God has given you the responsibility for raising your children.
So in Wendy’s case, she could have scheduled a short visit and seen how things would work out. Then she could have thanked the widow for her kindness and let her know that as a family there are certain things that she and her husband believe that God has called them to do with regard to training children. For the sake of consistency and honoring God, she will still need to require those things during the visit. The widow’s response will then let Wendy know about the length of time and the frequency of visits that should be made to see the widow.
One last point. I agree that sometimes it does seem that training will never end. But remember, the Bible describes the Christian life as warfare. To stay with this analogy, the training of soldiers never ends. Constant training helps to insure that in the heat of battle the right actions will be taken. As long as your children are In your home, enemies such as selfishness never go away. I have been married to a wonderful woman for 35 years. I understand what the Bible teaches about selfishness. This doesn’t mean that I have no need of being reminded and taught that I must be unselfish in living with my wife. The heart truths you teach your children are truths for life. Each day they must taught anew. Each day they become more precious. Each day the battle will rage. Each day training is needed. This is why we must not grow weary or shrink back. Your Savior is with you each day. The battle is worth fighting and winning each day!
Thanks again Wendy! Let me know if this is helpful. As always, I would love to hear your comments.