Obedience is the Door to Joy

Reformation begins with a Spirit-given desire to submit fully and completely to the Scriptures. It does not matter whether this reformation begins in the home or the church or in the community. Sitting humbly under the Word is an essential ingredient.

In my home one of the ways I have worked towards reformation is by getting my children to obey me. This is not easy in our culture where both authority and submission are despised. By getting my children to obey, I am learning to obey. But as with any good thing there are dangers. One of the great dangers of teaching my children to obey is to view their obedience as the goal instead of the means to a greater goal. The Westminster Shorter Catechism very succinctly names the goal we should have in life:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: The chief  end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

In a delightful phrase that I, unfortunately, just found, The Belgic Confession says that God is the “overflowing fountain of all good.” (Article I) The goal is enjoying God, not obeying him. Now, you cannot have joy without obedience. But it is possible to have a type of obedience that does not lead to joy. It is possible to teach our children to obey without ever leading them through the door to joy.

Do we teach them to obey so they might enjoy the goodness of God? Do we view obedience as a door to a mansion where all the rooms are filled with the wonders of God or do we view it as the last stop on the train? Is teaching our children to obey a way setting them free or a way controlling them? Let me use the dinner table and bedtime as examples of what I mean.

At our table we have rules. These are not written in the Bible, but they are “house rules” that my wife and I have set up for our table. If I was going to use a Bible verse to justify these rules it would be Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another.” Manners at the table are a way of being kind. Some of these rules are: wait until mom and sisters are seated before the men sit, chew quietly, do not interrupt, do not eat with your fingers (with exceptions for pizza, fried chicken, and PB&J), etc. The point of having and enforcing these rules is not just to keep our children under control. These rules make our table a place of joy. (Needless to say it does not always work out this way.) We sing at the table. We tell jokes and puns. We tell stories. We listen to stories, even from the littlest ones. We ask questions. We discuss world events and events in our homes. We learn what our children are thinking and what they care about. None of this is possible without obedience. But obedience is not the goal. The goal is joy around the table.

Bedtime is the same way. I do not make my children obey at bedtime so I can simply say, “Bedtime” and they all snap to it. I teach  my children to obey at bedtime so we can pray together, talk a bit, maybe sing. In other words I teach them to obey so we can end the day enjoying God and each other.

The goal in all of life is to find great joy in God, his people, and his world. Obedience is a door to this goal, but it is not the goal itself. To stop and sit in the door of a great house would be an insult to the master of the house.

Here are three questions to consider:

First, are you teaching your children to obey? Do you know that by allowing them to disobey you are keeping them from enjoying God and this world? Disobedience brings bondage.

Second, you parents who are trying to get your children to obey are you leading your children to joy through obedience or are you sitting in the door examining the hinges? Is your house filled with joyless obedience? If you have obedient children, but no joy then neither you nor your children are being obedient, no matter how well they listen.

Third, parents how do you view your own obedience? Do you view obedience as a means to enjoying God? Or do you view obedience as the end, the goal itself?