Disobedient Obedience

Does this sound familiar?

Mom to son: I need you to empty the dishwasher.

Son to mom: Just a minute. Let me finish this game.


Dad to son: I want you to mow the yard today.

Son to Dad: After this TV show is over.

Even if the command was obeyed, it wasn’t true obedience. I think this is one of the most common mistakes parents make. I know we’ve made this mistake many times. When we allow our children to get by with disobedient obedience, we are denying them the opportunity to learn one of the most valuable skills they will ever have — obedience.

The two examples I gave above are examples of delayed obedience, but that’s not the only form disobedient disobedience takes. Have you ever asked your child to do something and after showing them how you want it done, they do it their own way? For instance, I have told my boys how I want them to take the kitchen trash out. I’ve been very specific and, although it shouldn’t affect their obedience, I have a very good reason for being so specific.

Here is what I have told them: When you take the kitchen trash out, put a new bag in the trash can before taking the full bag outside. Why? About half the time when they take the trash outside before putting the new bag in, they forget to put the new bag in.  They obeyed initially but not completely.

This is a simple command to follow. It is not difficult to obey. But it gets disobeyed frequently. So, what’s the big deal? It doesn’t really matter…does it?

Here is one I have seen a lot during Bible class. Kids are getting a little restless. Before you know it, they have gone from sitting nicely in their chair to sitting on their feet on the chair. I say, “Put your feet on the floor.” Student slowly puts one foot on the floor but not both. I say, “I want you to sit on your bottom.” Student attempts to distract me by pointing and asking about something on the wall. This can go on for quite a while if the child has never been expected to truly obey.

Again, what’s the big deal? He eventually obeyed you. Or, he wasn’t hurting anything. Or, he’s a boy and you know…boys will be boys.

Learning obedience is so very important. Complete obedience. Not delayed obedience. Not altered obedience. Complete obedience. Why? If your child does not learn complete obedience from you, he will grow up thinking either he doesn’t have to obey anyone, or thinking that his delayed/altered/disobedient obedience is obedience. If he hasn’t learned it from you, he will disobey his school teacher. If she doesn’t teach how important obedience is, he will disobey the police. If he doesn’t learn obedience from the police, he will disobey his employer. If, through the years, he never learns how to completely obey, he will disobey God and that is the most tragic of all.

Learning obedience could save your child’s life.  I remember several years ago there was a hostage situation at a policeman’s home.  The policeman and his son were home when someone came in and held them at gun point.  Other police were called.  The father was trying to get his son to escape through the garage.  He told his little boy to run to the policemen in the street.  That little boy trusted his dad.  He ran as hard as he could to the policemen who were waiting for him.  I thought to myself, “I don’t know if my boys would have obeyed like that.  Would they have trusted me?”  Thankfully I never had to find out the answer to that question but it’s something for all of us to think about.  We must teach our children complete, immediate obedience because some day their life may depend on it.

An even more important reason to teach our children obedience is so they will find it easy to obey God.  If the child has been taught that partial obedience is acceptable, then he will assume that partial obedience to God is acceptable as well.  If the child has been taught that delayed obedience is acceptable, then he will assume that delayed obedience to God is acceptable as well.  Well, that’s not how it works.  God expects complete obedience without delay.  Do your children a favor and teach them how to obey so they will find obeying God a natural thing to do.

Here are some things I’ve learned about teaching obedience.

1. Be careful about what you ask your child to do. If you don’t really care whether or not your three year old eats all his food, don’t tell him to do it. If you are too busy at the moment to check the progress of your child cleaning his room, don’t tell him to do it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask your children to do things. Just be careful that what you ask, you are willing to enforce.

2. Give specific instructions.  It’s important that your child understands exactly what you want him to do.  Never just send a child to do a task without giving good instructions or, even better, demonstrating how to do it.  One time I told my then 10 year old to organize the spice cabinet.  This was a pretty good sized spice cabinet that had all kinds of not only spices but other baking ingredients.  I didn’t give him specific instructions.  Who would have thought that something as easy as organizing a spice cabinet would need instructions.  While I would have organized the spices by type and even by container size (larger ones in back so the smaller ones don’t get lost), he chose to organize by cap cover.  All the red caps in one area, the black caps in another, etc.  Since I had not given him specific instructions, I had to accept his way of doing it.   Cooking was a challenge for a few weeks but I survived.  When asking our children to do something a specific way, instructions are important.  Most of the commands we give our children require specific instructions.

3. Once a command is given, make sure it is obeyed.  Okay, here is the hard one.  It’s easy to go around issuing commands.  It’s much harder to make sure these commands have been followed.  Do you want your child to make his bed every day?  You have to look in his room and make sure it is made.   I know how hard this is.  I have 6 boys.  I get tired.  I just want them to do what I tell them to without having to check to see if it has been done.  What happens if I don’t check?  (This is from experience) They might do what I have asked.  They might not.  If they see that I am not going to check in on them, they will have learned that it really isn’t all that important to me so the next time I ask them to do it, it might get done but not as well.  And the next time…you got it, it will be with less efficiency and so on until they know I’m not going to check so why do it at all.

4. There must be an appropriate penalty imposed if the child does not obey.  Of course, this will be different for different families, different aged kids, different commands but there still needs to be a penalty. Sometimes the penalty is withholding privileges but many times the quickest, most effective penalty is a spanking.  Not a hitting, a spanking — the swift penalty of a spanking administered by the parent who issued the command.  The child must be taught that his obedience is expected to be complete and unaltered and immediate.

5. As you go about your day, let them see you obey those in authority.  Do you obey the speed limits? Use a seat belt? Those are fairly easy to let your child witness but what about this one: Are you submissive to your husband?  Does your child see you hiding purchases from your husband?  Doing things behind his back?  Talking negatively about him to them and to others?  Or what about obeying God?  Does your child see you doing things that are spoken against in the Bible? Gossiping? Lying? Being unloving toward others?  I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.  If your children see you disobeying those in authority, whether it is your husband, the government, your employer or, most important, God, they will learn that obedience is not important.

Here are some closing thoughts from God’s Word on obedience:

In Hebrew 3:17-18 we are taught what God thinks of disobedience by the example of the children of Israel’s disobedience as they were preparing to enter the promised land:

Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?

Paul tell us in Ephesians how important it is for children to obey their parents.  Where will they learn to do this?  From their parents.  So it is as much a command to the parents as it is to the children.  We must teach our children to obey us so they will then obey God.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise:  “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3

Of course, God does not give parents a command without giving them instructions how to do it.  Read on in Ephesians 6:

 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

There are many other passages but I will leave you with one of the more familiar ones about how to teach our children:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Teaching obedience, complete obedience, requires consistent, persistent instruction coupled with love for our children and love for our God.



  1. Shekia

    Thank you for this article, it helps to see other parents with the same view of obedience. My daughters (ages 12 and 9) sat down this weekend to discuss what true obedience really means. We went through a weekend filled with many of the comments above and I realized that as they got older I let a lot of things slide that would not have been acceptable to me just a few years prior. I rededicated to what my mother called “saying what I mean and meaning what I say” and the girls rededicated to “doing as they are told, WHEN they are told”.

Thank you for your comment.