Q: #56. I am 17. At what age do we no longer need to obey our parents?
A: Many may not agree with this answer, but I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that says there is an age when we no longer need to obey. Obviously, you must be aware that the Bible says in a number of places that we ARE to obey our parents (Eph 6:1)(Col 3:20)(Prov 6:20)(Prov 13:1)(Prov 23:22). In addition, the 5th Commandment (Ex 20:12) says we are to honor our parents, and comes with the promise that if we do, our “days may be long” (Also see: Eph 6:1-3). Part of honoring is obeying.
When this question arose, I was curious to see if the Bible gave examples of children, especially older ones, who obeyed their parents. I mainly focused on the book of Genesis, where many of the Bible’s parent/child interactions occurred. I found a number of instances where they DID obey, but I am unaware of ANY instances where they did not obey, and God blessed that disobedience. Here are some of the examples I found.
(Gen 6) When God told Noah to build the ark, his sons spent 120 years (Gen 6:3) helping him build it.
(Gen 11:31) Abram and Sarai were married, and Abram’s brother Haran had a son named Lot, but they all followed their aged father Terah out of the land of Ur to go to Canaan.
(Gen 19:12-21) Two of Lot’s daughters were married, but obeyed their father when he warned them they must leave Sodom and Gomorrah with him and his wife. Their husbands refused to leave with them, staying behind, and were killed in the destruction of those cities.
(Gen 22) Isaac, who most scholars believe was probably in his 20’s at the time, was going to allow his father Abraham to kill him as a sacrifice to God.
(Gen 28) Jacob was over 40 years old (See: Gen 26:34 – Jacob and Esau were twins) when Isaac told him to go to Padan Aram, to his wife’s brother, to get a wife for himself, and not to take one from the Canaanites. He obeyed.
*** Note: I would also remind you that a large majority of marriages in those days were pre-arranged by the parents at the birth of the children. The children later obeyed their parents by honoring these commitments, and getting married.
These are just a few examples. It is also wise to keep in mind two other Biblical concepts pertaining to this issue: submission and head coverings.
When we obey our parents, this is an act of submission. We are told to submit to our elders (1 Pet 5:5), which includes our parents. Jesus said that He obeyed His Father (Jn 14:31)(Jn 15:10)(Lk 22:41-42). There is no evidence He has ever stopped obeying.
In addition, it says in (1 Cor 3:23)(1 Cor 11:3) “Christ is God’s and “the head of Christ is God.” These are telling us that Christ is under the authority of the Father. The latter verse is found as part of (1 Cor 11:1-16), where the Bible speaks of “head coverings.” Explaining “head coverings” fully takes more time than we have here (go here for more), but in short, it simply lays out an order of God given authority. The head of the man is Christ, the head of the woman is man, the head of Christ is God (The Father)(1 Cor 11:3).
The man is responsible for the woman, and the woman is to be covered by the man. Women, most agree this means that you should be “covered” by a male. If you are married, this is your husband. If you aren’t married, this is your father. If you have neither (my opinion here), you should have an elder or pastor or some other church leader “covering” you.
I should add here, that if you are married, the Bible tells us that “two are to become one” (Mt 19:5)(Mk 10:7-8)(Eph 5:31). Once we are married, the primary responsibility of the man and woman is to each other. “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother” we are told in these verses. Sometimes, the decisions of the married couple may conflict with the counsel of the parent. In these cases, the husband is ultimately responsible for making the right decision for his family. This should be done by prayer, being “covered” by Christ. I believe this is a part of what the verse above means when it says “leave father and mother.” The husband is now the head decision maker for his family. Certainly, we should prayerfully consider the parent’s request, and I believe obey if possible, but sometimes we may need to go a different direction.
For the wife, she is responsible for submitting to her husband’s authority, and therefore, she is “covered.” This often seems to be more of a conflict for a female, when she is torn between obedience to parents or husband. However, it seems quite clear in the Bible that God desires submission to the husband over the parent, when there is a conflict.
Sometimes the husband or parent is not a Christian, therefore, they don’t have God-given wisdom, nor do they make Godly decisions. What do we do in this case? Should we obey them anyway? I believe we should. There is one important thing to keep in mind though. We obey “AS LONG AS IT DOES NOT CAUSE US TO SIN.” If the husband or parent is asking us to do something we clearly know is sin, our responsibility to God comes before our responsibility to them.
We should always keep in mind that parents have a God given responsibility to train up a child in the way they should go (Prov 22:6). They are to teach their children about God, and His laws and commandments (Joel 1:3)(Deut 6:7)(Ps 78:5-6). A good parent should always be preparing their child to live life as a God loving, God fearing adult, who will eventually leave home and start their own life and family. A good parent will love, care for, and nurture their child.
Not all parents do these things though. Some abuse their children, some leave their children, some never show their children love, etc… Many have never known the Lord. As difficult as it may be, we need to know that God has allowed these situations for some reason. I speak in detail about this in my study Why Does God Allow Suffering? We honor God if we strive to obey Him in the midst of suffering. When we obey our parents, even when we don’t agree with their decisions, we are honoring God and obeying Him, and one day we will be rewarded for that.
Solomon, the wisest man in history said in (Prov 3:1-2) “My son, forget not my law; But let thine heart keep my commandments: (2) For the length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add unto thee.” If we obey our parents, we will have long life and peace! God says to stand up in the presence of the elderly and show them both honor and respect (Lev 19:32). (Also see: Prov 16:31, Prov 20:29). This includes, of course, our parents.