Obeying one’s parents is a direct command from God. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). The word obey in this verse is linked to the idea of “honoring” them in the next verse. Ephesians 6:2–3 continues: “‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first command with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth.’” Honor has more to do with one’s attitude of respect toward one’s parents, and it’s understood that the obedience is to be done with an attitude of honor toward one’s parents. Grudging obedience does not conform to the command.
In studying the Bible’s command for children to obey their parents, it’s good to know what is meant by “children.” The Greek word used for “children” in Ephesians 6:1 means, in its singular form, “a little child.” Thus, the word specifies a young age. Those who must obey their parents (both father and mother) are children who are under the care and authority of their parents. In other words, obedience to one’s parents is required until one is of age. The command to “obey” is not given to adults but to minors.
It may be challenging for children to learn to obey and honor their parents—for some children, it’s harder than others! But there is a very good reason for this command. Proverbs teaches that those who listen to their parents gain wisdom: “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes” (Proverbs 13:1). God’s design is for children to learn to honor and obey their parents as they grow up so that they can live wisely. As they learn respect at home, they will respect others appropriately when they leave the home. Even young Jesus, though he was the Son of God, obeyed His earthly parents and as a result grew in wisdom (Luke 2:51–52). The Bible says that children who are not disciplined or who fail to obey their parents are much worse off in life (see Proverbs 22:15; 19:18; and 29:15).
As children have a responsibility to obey their parents, parents have a responsibility to instruct their children in the ways of God. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). But even if one’s parents are not following the command directed toward them, children in the home still have the command to obey and respect their parents.
Our ultimate responsibility is to love and obey God, above all else. He has commanded children growing up to obey their parents. The only appropriate reason for disobedience of one’s parents would be if the parents were instructing a child to do something that clearly goes against one of God’s commands. In that case, the child must obey God instead (see Acts 5:29).