“i have a problem with my parents but they say they have one with me. they’re very controlling and nosy. i mean come on, i’m the only 20 year old that has a curfew! i have a job and am planning of moving out. does the Bible say anything about that?”
“Do you have to obey abusive parents”
Parent/child relationships are a very sensitive area; the Bible treats the relationship between children and parents as exceedingly important, even promising well being as a result of the child’s obedience (Eph 6:2-3). Most people are also aware that honoring ones parents is also one of the ten commandments. It seems clear cut and straightforward, children are told to obey, and everyone is called to honor their parents. However, we can run into so many life issues such as abuse, divorce, and sin, where more biblical clarity is needed to distinguish when what is more appropriate, both honor and obedience, or just honoring.
WHEN MUST YOU OBEY?
Obedience is an act of respect. It is not the only way to honor or respect, but it is one of the most important ways. The act of listening to and following advice given to you by someone shows that you elevate their position and knowledge above yours. The Bible often calls people to obey and submit to others, to obey God, government, church, to submit to others, to spouses, and etc. This act is not a degrading sign of weakness but a sign of understanding that true authority comes from God. When a child obeys their parents, the child also obeys God by submitting to Gods authority in his written word.
1. When you are a child
Both the Old testament (Deut 21:18-20) and the new remind children that they should unequivocally obey their parents (Col 3:20 Eph 6:1-3). A child in today society is usually defined as someone that is younger that 18 or 21, and then at reaching that age a child becomes an adult and we call them “man” or “woman.” In ancient culture, this was hardly the case, as usually someone became an adult at marriage. With the advent of Christianity, singleness became more normal, and people who chose to live life single weren’t counted as abnormal, slowly over time we began to define adulthood, not by marital status, but by age. While you are still under the legal age of adulthood, this 100% includes every single teenager, you are called by the Bible to obey your parents. It seems harsh and unfair, but as a child and teenager you have your whole life ahead of you to make your own decisions, enjoy this time of relying on your parents.
2. When you are financially dependent
Being able to support a family is one of the characteristics of a man. If you aren’t full time in college, or temporarily unemployed/laid off but still rely on your parents for money, you are a child and have to obey them. A man either goes to college to create a money making ability, or he gets a job and earns money, all this to be able to provide for himself and a wife. If you have the ability to work, but instead leech off of your parents, you cannot complain about not wanting to obey, for that is a child’s complaint. Historically, a woman would always be under the protection of her father’s house until she is married (and I agree it gets messy when contemporary women choose a life of singleness or marry late, in such a case I would still say the woman is under her fathers protection from the abuse of other men, but being an adult and working full time, she isn’t to obey every word from her father.)
3. When they are in line with Scripture
Whether or not your parents are Christian, as a child/teenager, you are called to obey them and honor them. Again regardless of their religious convictions, they are not likely to ask you to rob a store, kill, rape, or in any other way break the law. As long as they stay within the biblical realm and avoid inciting you to sin, you are called to obey them. If they move into the territory of sin, asking you to hurt someone, or even asking you to allow yourself to be hurt, you should not obey. I understand life is not always easy and without problems. In cases of arguments or divorce, one parent may tell a child to hate or lie against the other. In such a dilemma neither parent should be obeyed. The Bible calls children to obey parents, but in cases when they act against true authority, God, obedience should not be given to parents.
WHEN CAN YOU HONOR BUT NOT OBEY?
There are obviously times and situations when obedience is not good, not correct, and indeed even sinful. Obviously we cannot take ten Bible verses about obedience to parents at the expense of ignore all other commands from Scripture. Everyone is called to honor their parents, but not always obey, so these are some situations where obedience is not required by scripture.
1. When you are married
God is clear in setting up priorities, we know and understand that the first priority is always Him. The second priority God created is that we honor the covenant of marriage. In the Scripture we are told that a “man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). The relationships with our parents, church, and government are all below these first two priorities. While married people are still by definition children of their parents (their parents are also children of parents) when a woman obeys her father over obeying her husband she is actually in sin. It is a resifting of Gods order. Also when a husband listens to his mother at the expense of his wife, again he is sinning against his wife. While honoring, listening, seeking advice from our parents is beneficial, having a relationship with them that supersedes the relationship with a spouse is sin.
2. When you are not a child
Sometimes in our culture people don’t get married at all or wait until their late twenties/early thirties, at the same time others are married by twenty. Surely it seems unfair that someone at twenty is considered an adult and someone else at thirty is not. This is indeed true, and if we insist that only marriage makes one “leave and cleave” thereby becoming their own person and an adult, we might even insult someone like the Apostle Paul, saying he did not have a wife, so he was a child, therefore we shouldn’t listen to him. Where and how we define adulthood is a little harder, I think it may be different for everyone, but some general rules may include legal standing, having a serious job, not engaging in rash and stupid behavior, paying rent (either to landlord or parents/relatives), and etc.
3. When they are against God
An acquaintance once told me she was sexually abused by her father, in the event of something so tragically sickening, the police should be called and that abusive parent arrested and jailed. Other people I know have repeatedly told me of parents who incite them to sin, some make their kids lie or cheat, one mother asked her daughter to seduce and sleep with a young man to ensnare him into marriage. Parents are people, and people are sinners, and sinners who speak from sin cannot and should not be obeyed. God is a higher authority than your parents (or government or church or any other authority) and when anybody in this world tells you to obey them, at the cost of disobeying God, politely tell them you cannot.
HOW YOU CAN HONOR WHEN YOU CANT OBEY
Don’t speak ill of our parents
Whatever the case or situation, don’t speak evil or slander you father and mother, the Scriptures are severely against this (Pro 30:11; 30:17). If you have been abused, and truly a parent behaved despicably and hurt you, do get the authorities involved (depending on the type abuse, if emotional, you may want to start with church authority, if it’s sexual do call the police.) However, don’t call them names and don’t use profanity to describe your parents, even if they are truly wrong and act contrary to scripture. Most situations in which children slander their parents are not because of severe abuse but bitterness, don’t let bitterness rule your relationship.
Don’t yell or fight with your parents
Paul doesn’t just tell children to obey, he also tells parents to treat children in a way that would not inflame them with anger. God does not want arguments, hate, and anger to be involved in parental/child relationships. God commands your father and mother to try their best to keep you from getting angry, and you should do your part as well. Even when your parents are wrong (or ignore God and try to make you anger), or seem to not understand you, try your best to speak to them calmly, don’t raise your voice and yell at them. Don’t make personal attacks on them. It won’t be easy, sometimes you will need to just not talk, and you will make mistakes many times, but in the end it will be far more beneficial to lovingly say “mom/dad can I please explain how this makes me feel” instead of yelling “you’re stupid and you don’t understand.”
Do hear them out with love
They may not know or understand you and your young culture, which you should kindly and slowly explain to them, but they have years of life and have seen unchanging human tendencies over and over again. You may not agree or don’t want to hear what they have to say, but give yourself a few minutes before talking back, and truly listen to them with an open heart. You are human and may be wrong. See and hear why they are saying the things they say, it’s almost certainly because they love you and want to protect you, hear them out and try to come to a compromise. If you listen to them, and don’t just arrogantly say they’re wrong, but foster a kind, caring, and open communication, and you may be able to explain your side to them.
Do treat them with honor
Everyone, even adult children are called to treat parents with honor, this is probably the very hardest commandment to deal with. Even your parents have to obey this commandment and honor their parents/your grandparents. It becomes really challenging to honor your parents when they dishonor their parents. In cases where your parents haven’t abused you but have done their best to love you and your relationship is warm, open, and loving, honor them by valuing what they’ve done. Honor them by constantly thanking them for their love and service, honor them by hearing their advice, by esteeming their good qualities, by loving their dedication and service to you.
Honoring is especially hard in cases when your father or mother have not behaved decently or lovingly. First off, all of us are not perfect, and it’s likely that our own descendants may think poorly about us. Perhaps your parents have abused you in one way or another, perhaps they have alienated you and caused you to feel shame and guilt. I understand that the feeling of rejection, abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional) is devastating, and it’s impossible to truly admire a parent after they have done such a thing. In some cases you may need to politely withdraw from them. If communication with them brings you pain or anger, especially if they refuse to be kind and open, but proceed to inflict emotional or physical trauma, you may need to leave them for a time. In the worst cases all I can hope is that you treat them with honor by trying to forgive them, as Jesus did the soldiers who beat nails into his hands. It’s not easy, it may take years of pain, solitude, and healing to forgive, but only when you forgive can you truly live in the love of Jesus. It is only when you take the bitterness out of your heart can you be filled with joy.