We considered the principle of obedience in our last article, where we were encouraged to be godly parents who show God to our children when we teach them how to obey.

We can set up a list of arbitrary rules and expect blind obedience to them, but Paul calls this parenting “after the flesh”; discipline “as seemed best to them” (Heb 12:9-10 NKJV). If we are godly parents, we should be expecting obedience to God’s rules first.

For a young toddler, we will just expect obedience, as they are learning the meaning of a definite yes and no. And that no means no, without tantrums or other misbehaviour. However, we have an obligation to reach our child’s heart as they grow and develop. Consider carefully these words in Deuteronomy 6 (NKJV )—an- other key instruction to godly parents:

v6: “And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.”

v7: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise.”

So God’s Word is to be in our heart—and along the way in life we need to get God’s Word into our children’s hearts, not just when sitting down at the readings. We do this, while teaching obedience, by providing our young children the moral reason and the ‘why’ behind our instruction. Most times it will be educating them to think of others, such as, “Don’t poke holes in the watermelon on display, other people want to buy and eat that”.

The benefit of making our children think of others is that we start to orient them in life as thoughtful and helpful and not just automatons to a word or command. It also prevents us from being “parents after the flesh” and giving arbitrary commands. If we can link a biblical command from God as a good reason for a specific action, such as loving our neighbour, respecting other people’s property, respecting elders and those in authority, then we are less likely to give a capricious and futile command. In this way, we can show God to our children, and uphold the principles of His Word, by passing on His instruction when we give a command.

Of course, there are times when we will expect obedience from young children who are too young to understand the reason, and we can give a command because, “I am your parent and I said so”, but the older our children get, the less we need to do this.

The example in Scripture is that God expected commands to be given with instruction, and in many cases He provides both. Think of the Passover meal. This feast allowed the children to ask why they do things, and this gave the parents the opportunity to tell them. Also at the crossing of the River Jordan, God made them construct two piles of stones, with the explicit intention that it would prompt children in years to come to ask questions, to which He provided the ready answer.

Of course this is not an opportunity to encourage debate or negotiation with our young children. Although we are giving a reason, we are not encouraging disagreement. They still need to learn obedience. However, it behoves us as parents to be diligent in providing practical and age-appropriately worded reasons for many of our commands. Perhaps as husbands we could make a project with our wives as part of the “washing of the Word” that we are responsible for, to help in providing sensible, understandable and good reasons for the common commands we give our children.

This instructing of our child’s heart is not just an Old Testament concept. We also have an insight into godly instruction from Paul where he tells Timothy that godly instruction has the goal of love from a pure heart, and what’s more, it has the additional objectives of seeking a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5).

There is a practical benefit outlined here that far outweighs any inconvenience of having to come up with reasons for our instructions, and that is, by doing this, we are developing our child’s conscience. We are filling their internal moral warehouse with practical principles of why we do things. If they have a reservoir of values, they will be well equipped for whatever they encounter. If they have a store of godly wisdom placed in their hearts by dedicated parents, they will know the difference between right and wrong, and hopefully this will lead to principles of right behaviour.

Our children will encounter temptation and be confronted with opportunity to make choices in life, when they will not have either you or a Bible to look up chapter and verse. We cannot pack a conscience into our child’s lunchbox when they head off to high school for the first day. We have to diligently develop that godly conscience day by day, by providing the moral reasons why. It needs to be undertaken along the way, in our house and when we sit or rise.

There is an additional blessing for this kind of education. It is the wish of every godly parent that one day their children may grow up and enter a relationship with God through baptism. We cannot choose baptism for our children, but we can be a big influence on them for good: by teaching them to obey us, so that they can transition to obeying their heavenly Father. Crucially, if we can develop their heart and train their conscience early, we can have a far greater influence on their decision-making, because as we know, baptism is “the answer of a good conscience” (1 Pet 3:21)

May God bless us as we seek to put His Word in our heart and then with diligence break small and teach what is in our heart to our children. May God be glorified in all that we do, as we seek to show forth His character and to develop a conscience in our children based on His Word.