Dads and Authority

by Kristopher Schaal

dad holding his infant daughter against his face

When it comes to government, it has been said that there are two possible sources of authority: overwhelming force or “the consent of the governed.” In other words, either I make myself the boss because I’m the biggest and the strongest (as in totalitarian regimes), or I get elected (as in democracy). However, dads get their authority from another source. The Bible teaches that a dad’s authority comes from God. That’s a simple truth with profound implications.

Implication #1: You must obey God.

Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.” There’s a tug-of-war going on in governments around the world over the question, “Who owns the children?” Does the government own them, or do the parents own them? The biblical answer to that question, according to Psalm 24:1 is that ultimately, God owns them!

This truth has massive implications for parenting! Parents do not own their children. Rather, they are God’s ambassadors, specially chosen by Him to exercise authority over their kids for a time, while serving on His behalf. This means that as a parent, you cannot do whatever you want! You will answer to God for the way that you treat your children, because ultimately, they are God’s children.

One of the reasons that people today bristle at the thought of a dad exercising authority in the home is because of the prevalence and horrible nature of child abuse. Child abuse is indeed an abhorrent sin that God will not overlook. It is wicked, has tragic results, and should never be minimized or tolerated in any way. When a parent abuses his or her child, the government absolutely has a right to step in and to bring that parent to justice (Rom 13:1–5).

However, the solution to child abuse is not the minimization of parental authority. Rather, it is parents coming under God’s authority and obeying His commands. In Ephesians 6:4, God gives a specific command to fathers. He says, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath….” Fathers who mistreat their children will answer to God for that sin. Obey God in the way that you treat your children.

Occasionally, when our family has gone on vacation, we have asked some friends to stay in our house to watch it while we are gone. Strangely, we have never returned to find the walls painted or the furniture rearranged. Why is that? Obviously, it is because our friends didn’t own the house! They were just taking care of it for a time.

Parents, you do not own your children; you are just taking care of them for a time. Your authority over your children was given to you by God. Therefore, you must never abuse it.

Implication #2: You must teach your kids to obey you.

One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is surrendering their God-given authority by not demanding obedience. However, this is not an option God affords us, according to Ephesians 6:1! God expects children to obey their parents, which means He also expects parents to demand obedience from their children.

What are some ways that parents surrender their God-given authority?

  • Giving In – Preschooler: “Mom, can we buy a candy today?” Dad: “No, we don’t need that stuff.” Preschooler: “Please!” Dad: “Okay, fine, you may choose one thing.” You just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Negotiating – Dad: “Son, I want you to get off the Xbox; it’s time to work on your homework.” Son: “Dad, just let me finish this level!” Dad: “You can have 5 more minutes.” Son: “Fifteen!” Dad: “Ten.” You just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Arguing – Dad: “Honey, please dry the dishes.” Teenager: “Why Dad? We should just leave them out in the drying rack to air dry and then put them away later!” Dad [failing to correct the disrespect and raising his voice]: “No, they need to be dried now because if you don’t dry them now, then I’ll have to dry them later!” [Debate continues.] You just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Begging – Dad [responding to daughter’s disobedience]: “Honey, don’t you want to put your jacket on? Aren’t you cold out here? I really think you should put your jacket on. Please put your jacket on, Honey. It would make Daddy very happy.” You just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Bribing – Dad [instead of teaching his children to obey because it is right]: “If you clean up your toys, I’ll give you a cookie.” You just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Threatening – Dad: “If you don’t put that down by the time I count to three, you are really going to get it, Mister! One… two… two-and-a-half… two-and-three-quarters….” Kids see right through this prank, and you just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Overlooking Disobedience – Dad: “Honey, stop running in the auditorium.” [Your child ignores you. You do nothing; or, you repeat the command five times and then do nothing, thus reinforcing the lesson that you don’t really mean what you say.] You just surrendered your God-given authority.
  • Avoiding Confrontation – Sometimes, we are afraid to make any of these other mistakes, so instead, we simply refrain from asking our kids to do anything they wouldn’t already want to do! In doing so, we surrender our God-given authority.

Instead of surrendering your authority, you must expect obedience. What is the definition of biblical obedience?

My parents always used to say, “Obedience means doing 1) what you’re told to do, 2) when you’re told to do it, 3) with the right heart attitude.” You could also say that children are to obey “quickly, sweetly, and completely.”

  • If you tell Johnny to stop poking his sister, and he pokes her one more time and then stops, that is not obedience.
  • If you tell Susie to do her homework and she does half of it before wandering off to play, that is not obedience.
  • If you tell Frankie to take out the trash and he does it but also stomps all the way to the door, that is not obedience.

Some parents feel that this is too high of a standard. However, it is the biblical standard. If you study the story of Saul and the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15, you’ll get a very good picture of incomplete obedience and how God feels about it. If you want to see what God thinks about complaining, just look at the children of Israel. So when we demand that our children obey us quickly, sweetly, and completely, we are not asking any more of them than what God requires of us.1

Finally, you may be wondering, “Where is the gospel in all of this?” 2 Corinthians 5:15 says that Jesus died for all “so that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Jesus died so that you would recognize His authority. He wants you to stop acting like the king of your life and submit to His lordship.

One of the aspects of man’s sin nature is that we are all bent on self-rule. In fact, your kids come into the world with the false assumption that they are their own bosses, and nobody is going to tell them what to do–not God and certainly not you! So when you require your kids to obey, you are actually doing gospel work in the sense that you are exposing their sinful hearts bent on self-rule, pointing them to the Savior (who is also their rightful King), and showing them their need for grace.

Christian Dad, God has called you to exercise loving authority on His behalf with your children. Will you obey Him?


  1. Also, practically speaking, children will usually rise to whatever standard is required of them.

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