“Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20)

With the introduction of “Children” the Apostle begins a new couplet.  He singles out “Fathers” (v.21) to be paired with “Children,” but makes no mention of mothers and their role.  In beginning with the “Children” he again (cf. vv.18-19, 3:22-4:1) initiates the pair by mention of the deferential one in the relationship.  The noun translated “Children” refers to offspring without regard to their sex, but simply designates them according to their origin.  There is no hint here of the age of the one under consideration though it would seem that it is children still under the protection and provision of their parents that are in view.

The duty laid upon the children is to “be obedient.” The word means simply “to obey,” “to follow” and “to be subject to.”[1] The present imperative demands this become an ongoing disposition of life (cf. Eph. 6:1).  The same imperative will be laid upon slaves in verse 22.  With regard to children the command is limited in its application: “to your parents.” Paul only uses this noun five times in his writings, but two of those describe disobedience to parents as characteristic of the last days (Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2).  While only the father is instructed in verse 21, both parents are under consideration here.  This clearly implies that both mother and father are expected to be giving directives to the children.

The extent of the child’s obligation to obedience is cast in the broadest possible terms: “in all things.” The preposition translated “in” is used here to denote relationship to something and should be rendered as “with respect to” or “in relation to.”  Thus here with the neuter plural adjective (“all things”) it has the connotation of “in all respects.”[2] In a day and age when abuse is so prevalent wisdom urges us to clarify that this does not remove all limitations.  A child is not being obligated to carrying out a parent’s sinful wishes.  But, having said that, it should be noted that the first place a child learns to relate to authority is in the home.  If the parents fail to teach the lessons of submission to and appreciation of legitimate authorities, the society as a whole will never be able to right the ship.  Such a child will meet with difficulty at every turn.

The reason for such obedience is “for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” The justification for the child’s obedience is cast similarly to that of the wife’s submission to her husband (“as is fitting in the Lord,” v.18).  The use of the conjunction (“for”) signals the foundational rationale for the directive just given.  By “this” Paul means the broad ranging obedience just called for.  The adjective translated “well-pleasing” is used by Paul eight of its nine times in the NT (Rom. 12:1, 2; 14:18; 2 Cor. 5:9; Eph. 5:10; Phil. 4:18; Col. 3:20; Titus 2:9; Heb. 13:21).  The word describes that which is acceptable or pleasing and always in reference to God (except perhaps Tit. 2:9).  Here that divine orientation is signaled by the expression “to the Lord.”  The use of the preposition with the dative form of the noun indicates “a close personal relationship with Christ.[3] The believer’s union with Christ, so richly spoken of in this chapter and throughout this book, is the foundation upon which the actions are seen to rest and thus “the expression is equivalent in meaning to by virtue of spiritual fellowship or union with Christ.”[4]

What are we to make of the fact that the Apostle grounds the motive for the obedience of children to their parents in the intimacy of their relationship to Christ and their longing to please him rather than the intimacy of their relationship to their father or mother and the innate desire to please them?  At least this much: a child’s feelings of love may vary from moment to moment and their desire to please their parents may flee when a difficult directive is given, but their love for Christ should remain a steady constant in their hearts at all times.  Then also it is a sad fact that some parents are never pleased, no matter how well the child performs.  A parent’s affirmation may be an unattainable goal, while the Lord’s is not.  Even if a parent is not pleased with a child, God may be.  The authority of a parent is a delegated authority, handed down in measured form by God Himself.  It is a good and wonderful thing when a parent is pleased with their child’s obedience and affirms them in it.  But that is a secondary standard.  The primary standard lies with God Himself from whom the authority to exercise parental authority arose in the first place.

[1] BAGD, 837.

[2] Ibid., 407.

[3] Ibid., 260.

[4] Thayer, 211.