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Lesson 4: Authority

April 29, 2018 Speaker: Kristopher Schaal Series: Parenting

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Last week, we talked about shaping influences and Godward orientation. Were there any influences you decided you wanted to add or subtract from your children’s lives?

How many of you were on the lookout for idols of the heart this week? Does anyone want to share one way that you tried to shepherd your children away from these idols and towards worshipping Jesus?

If you didn’t get a chance to read the notes from last week, please go back and do that. They are very important. However, this week’s lesson may be even more important. So let’s jump in.

Describe biblically the nature of your relationship to your children in one word. I know that question is a bit subjective, but the answer I was looking for is “authority” (Eph 6:1-4).

God has written job descriptions for your family. Whose job is it to be in charge?  (the parents) Whose job is it to obey? (the children) That is very important.

In government, they talk about there being two possible sources of authority. Do you know what they are? (overwhelming force or what is referred to in the Declaration of Independence as “the consent of the governed”) Either I make myself the boss because I’m the biggest and the strongest (as in totalitarian regimes), or I get elected (as in democracy). Which one of those applies to parenting? Neither! Your authority comes from God. That’s a simple truth with profound implications.

Implication #1: You Must Obey God.

Why? You serve on His behalf. When it comes to your children, you’re not the owner; you’re just the ambassador.

Matt and Shaylene are going to be housesitting for us this summer. What if while we were gone, they decided to remodel and redecorate? When we got back, I would say, "What were you thinking? This is not your house! This is our house! You were just supposed to take care of it for a couple of weeks!" Moms and Dads, those kids outside or in the bedroom are not your kids. They’re God’s kids. They don’t ultimately belong to you; they belong to Him. You don’t own them. You’re just the ambassador who’s been called to shepherd them for a while. Because you are an ambassador and not the owner, you have a responsibility to do with your kids what God wants you to do with them.

There’s a tug-of-war going on in governments around the world over the question, “Who owns the children?” Does the government own them, or do the parents own them? Just this week, that issue came up again with the story of Alfie Evans, the two-year-old British boy who was forcibly removed from life support against his parents’ wishes. The biblical answer to that question, “Who owns the children?” is not “government” or the “the parents”; it’s “God.” God owns them; and He has chosen their parents as His ambassadors, to be held accountable by the government.

So the first implication of God’s authority structure in the home I that you as a parent must obey God.

Implication #2: You Must Teach Your Kids to Obey You.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see with parents is when they effectively give up their authority by not demanding obedience.

What are some ways that “those bad parents out there” surrender their God-given authority?

Giving In – “Mom, can we buy a candy today?” “No, we don’t need that stuff.” “Please!” “Okay, fine, you may choose one thing.” What just happened? You just surrendered your God-given authority!

Negotiating – “Son, I want you to get off the Xbox; it’s time to do your homework.” “Dad, just let me finish this level.” “You can have 5 more minutes.” “Fifteen.” “Ten.”

Debating – At times, I could be something of a know-it-all when I was a kid. I remember trying to argue with my mom about drying the dishes. “That doesn’t make sense; we should just let them air dry and then put them away later!” Now, at that point, my mom has one of two options. She can say, “No, Kristopher, I want you to dry the dishes,” and then walk away. Or she can enter into the debate with me. “No, they need to be dried now because if you don’t dry them now, then I’ll have to dry them later.” Of course, how would I as a teenager respond to that? “No you won’t! I’ll come back and dry them!” So now my mom is “in the weeds” with me, as my old administrator would say, and she’s given up her authority.

Begging – “Honey, don’t you want to put your jacket on? Aren’t you cold out here? I really think you should put your jacket on. Please put your jacket on, honey. It would make Mommy very happy.”

Bribing – “If you clean up your toys, I’ll give you a cookie.” Bribing your children reinforces the selfishness that is already in their hearts.

Threatening – “If you don’t put that down by the time I count to three, you are really going to get it, Mister! One… two… two-and-a-half… two-and-three-quarters….” Kids see right through this stuff.

Overlooking Disobedience – “Honey, stop running in the auditorium.” Your child ignores you. But instead of dealing with the disobedience, you just let it go. Or, you repeat the command five more times throughout the course of the evening. Of course, it doesn’t do any good because you’ve taught the child that you don’t really mean what you say. At best, if you repeat yourself often enough, the child may alter his behavior just enough to get you off his back, but he is not treating you as his authority.

Avoiding Confrontation – We don’t want to do any of these other things, so we simply refrain from asking our kids to do anything they probably wouldn’t want to do! You say, “Johnny had a great day of obedience!” Ya, because you let him choose what he wanted to eat, you took him to Disneyland, and he got to watch movies and play games on the iPad for the rest of the day! It’s no wonder Johnny obeyed; he would have to be a moron NOT to obey! He got everything he wanted! If you want a real test of Johnny’s obedience, tell him to clean his room, and then see if he does it quickly, sweetly, and completely. That will give you a real picture of Johnny’s heart.

So if we’re going to require obedience, what does that look like?

My parents always used to say “Obedience means doing 1) what you’re told to do, 2) when you’re told to do it, 3) with the right heart attitude.” You could also say that children are to obey “quickly, sweetly, and completely.”

If you tell Johnny to stop poking his sister, and he pokes her one more time and then stops, is that obedience? (no)

If you tell Susie to do her homework and she does half of it before wandering off to play, is that obedience? (no)

If you tell Frankie to take out the trash and he does it, but he stomps all the way to the door, is that obedience? No, and it certainly isn’t respect!

Some parents feel that this is too high of a standard. I would give two responses to that.

First, it is the biblical standard. If you study the story of Saul and the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15, you’ll get a very good picture of incomplete obedience and how God feels about it. If you want to see what God thinks about complaining, just look at the children of Israel. So when we demand that our children obey us quickly, sweetly, and completely, we are not asking any more than what God requires of us.

Also, practically speaking, children will usually rise to whatever standard is required of them.

But you may be wondering, “Where is the gospel in all of this?” 2 Corinthians 5:15 says that Jesus died for all “so that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Jesus died so that you would recognize His authority. He wants you to stop acting like the king of your life and submit to His lordship.

One of the aspects of man’s sin nature is that we are all bent on self-rule. In fact, your kids come into the world with the false assumption that they are their own bosses, and nobody is going to tell them what to do–not God and certainly not you! So when you require your kids to obey, you are doing gospel work in the sense that you are exposing their sinful hearts bent on self-rule, pointing them to the Savior, who is also the only rightful King, and showing them their need for grace. That means that we should never despise those annoying and sometimes deeply frustrating battles with our two-year-olds. Instead, we must view them as moments of grace. (I’m preaching to myself.)

But in case you’re not yet convinced, let’s talk about a few more reasons why it’s so important that we teach our kids to obey.

Number one, because this issue is foundational. It’s foundational in at least two ways.

First, it’s foundational because it is the first lesson your children need to learn. That’s why when God singles out children for commands in the Bible, what He consistently tells them is to obey. Some parents say, “But if I tell my kids what to do, they won’t develop discernment.” Eventually, your kids need to learn discernment. But first, they need to learn submission. Paul David Tripp goes so far as to say, “You could argue that if you don’t deal with this fundamental heart issue, all the good things you seek to accomplish as God’s tool in the life of your children will not work.”

We parents need to understand very clearly that when my two-year-old throws a fit about eating her peas, it’s not ultimately about peas. It’s about who’s in charge. Even if she’s not able to verbalize this, what my two-year-old is saying is, “You’re not the boss of me. You see, what happens in the moment is that we’re tempted to throw up our hands and say, “It doesn’t really matter. After all, it’s just a couple of peas.” We don’t realize how much is at stake here. It is vital that you win that battle, not for the sake of the peas, but because your child must understand that she must submit to authority, and she must understand that you are that authority.

Second, the issue of authority is foundational because authority is a tremendous discipling tool. If you have no authority over a person, you can still influence him, but your ability to disciple him will be somewhat limited. That’s why God always builds authority structures into His institutions. We surrender the tool of authority when we fail to teach our children to obey.

The second reason we must teach our kids to obey is that obedience brings blessing (Ephesians 6:4).

Now we could have a whole discussion about what this promise means; but for this evening, we’ll just leave it at this: people who obey and honor their parents live longer, happier lives than they would if they hadn’t been obedient and respectful.

The third reason we must teach our kids to obey is to prepare them for life. The fact is that all of us are people under authority. You never outgrow the need to submit to authority on one level or another. Even adults have to obey their bosses, abide by speed limits, and pay their taxes. Proverbs has a lot to say about the consequences of foolish rebellion. If our kids don’t learn to submit, they are in for a lot of pain.

So implications of God’s authority structure–1) “You must obey God,” 2) “You must teach your kids to obey you,” and then 3) “You must teach your kids that by obeying you, they are also obeying God.”

Implication #3: You Must Teach Your Kids that by Obeying You, They Are also Obeying God.

This idea is seen very clearly in that little phrase in Ephesians 6:1, “In the Lord.” “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Your children need to understand that you are operating on God’s behalf and that the reason they must obey you is because God says so. They must learn to see their obedience to you not just a reality that they have to live with but as a means of worshipping God.

These are big ideas, and your kids aren’t going to think this way all at once. But hopefully, over time, they will go from “have to” to “ought to” to “seek to” to “want to” as their consciences are trained and God gets ahold of their hearts.

Safeguards

One of the issues parents take with the Bible’s teaching on authority is that it sounds sort of authoritarian. Also, we know that Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 say that we are not to provoke our children to anger. What are some safeguards that we can employ in order to avoid exasperating our kids, while still requiring them to obey?

Thoughtfulness

One parenting book I read says, “Never give a command unless you intend for it to be obeyed.” Better to say nothing than to say something and not follow through.

Also, be considerate. For instance, if you are planning to leave the park soon, allow your kids to mentally prepare for that by giving them a five-minute warning. This is just thoughtful leadership.

Clarity

If you are going to enforce obedience, it is important that the communication “gets through” to your children. Eye contact helps. Also, requiring a simple “yes Mom” or “yes Dad” ensures that the child received the message.

Consistency

If you try to enforce obedience when your expectations have been inconsistent, you will frustrate your children. I think this is partly where the concept of family rules comes from. I can’t remember any written rules in my home growing up, but I guess there were quite a few unwritten rules because us kids knew what to expect from day-to-day. That’s important.

Mercy

God is merciful with us, and it is sometimes appropriate for us to be merciful with our children, especially when other factors, like hunger, lack of sleep, chaotic circumstances, etc. have made obedience more difficult. However, mercy usually does not mean simply overlooking bad behavior. Instead, it often looks like dealing with bad behavior verbally rather than through consequences. You still want your child to understand that what he did was wrong so that he can grow.

Also, be careful not to go to the other extreme and excuse all kinds of bad behavior. (Again, there’s that Tim Hawkins video, “He has allergies.”)

The Appeal Process

How many of you are familiar with the concept of an appeal? An appeal is basically a safeguard against misunderstandings and the stupid commands that parents sometimes give. It is a way for you to say to your child, “I know I’m imperfect, so here is how to respectfully voice your concerns.”

Let’s say that I tell Anaya, “I want you to feed the dog.” But unbeknownst to me, she just did it half an hour ago. Or here’s another one that comes up often: I tell Anaya, “Go feed the dog,” but Elise just told her to clean her room. Or, your daughter is reading in bed before bedtime. You walk in and say, “Turn out the lights,” but unbeknownst to you, she is on the last page of her book. What should she do?

Here’s how the appeal process would work. Your son would say, “Dad, may I please appeal?” You would say, “Yes.” He would say, “I have one page left in this book. Can I finish it first?” And then you would decide whether to say “yes” or “no.”

Other than the fact that it helps us to avoid frustrating our children, why do you think this process is important?

It accounts for human fallibility.

It makes you as a parent more approachable. You don’t want your children just to be mindless machines. In fact, that doesn’t work. Your children will resist that. Instead, you want them to come to you with their concerns so that you can explain the “whys” to them. The appeal process encourages this kind of interaction between you and your older children.

It keeps parental authority from becoming arbitrary.

It gives you an “out” without compromising your authority.

It prepares your children to interact correctly with other authorities later in life.

So certainly, there are benefits to this, but is it biblical? Can you think of a Bible character who used this process? (Daniel)

Guidelines for Appeals

The appeal process is mainly for older children/teens. A two-year-old is not old enough to appeal. He’s not old enough to understand those concepts. Besides, the with the two-year-old, you are still working on unconditional obedience. The first thing a two-year-old needs to understand is that he or she is a person under authority. Introducing the appeal process before that lesson is learned is getting the cart before the horse.

The child must express a willingness to obey FIRST. So you say “Yes Daddy” first, and then you appeal.

The proper time to appeal is usually when there is information that Mommy or Daddy either weren’t aware of or didn’t consider. “I don’t want to” or “I don’t agree” are not appeals, they are arguments.

The child must appeal respectfully.

The child may appeal only once per issue. Once your appeal has been heard, that’s the end of it. You don’t get to appeal again unless new information comes up.

The child must accept your final decision gracefully, even if he or she disagrees with it.

Discussion

  1. Why do you think God’s institutions always come with authority structures?
  2. What are some ways that you are tempted to surrender your authority with your children (giving in, negotiating, debating, begging, bribing, threatening, overlooking disobedience, avoiding confrontation)?
  3. How does 2 Corinthians 5:15 apply to the issue of authority? How does this affect the way we train our children?
  4. Why is it so important that we teach our children to obey while they are still young?
  5. Why do you think the appeal process is so important?