Did you ever watch Sesame Street? Every episode included a lesson on “same/different.” They began with a version of a little chorus, “One of these things is not like the other.” They showed four pictures, and by the end of the song, you had to pick which item didn’t belong. As an adult, it was obvious but for a young child just learning to put together concepts, it was a fun challenge.
That song goes around in my head as I read Romans 1:28-32. Paul has described the deteriorating moral condition of people who reject the knowledge of God. It begins with a suppression of the truth about God that is clear and evident to all, as we see God’s eternal power and divine nature in the created world (1:18-20). Instead of recognizing and worshipping the Creator, men attribute the glorious creation of God to random chance and evolution, worshipping instead the created things, including themselves (1:21-23). This progresses to impure, lustful hearts that give way to every kind of immorality, as unchecked by God, the human heart pursues whatever sin appeals to the flesh. Unnatural affections, homosexuality, and lust result (1:24-27).
At the end (1:28-32), Paul gives a list of the evidence of a depraved mind which not only does the things listed, but knows they are wrong and gives hearty approval to those who do them. Listen to the list.
Unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hating God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.
In the middle of this laundry list of evil behavior is “disobedient to parents.” I suppose it stands out to me because I think of the other behaviors as adult choices and obedience to parents as a child’s choice. It doesn’t seem to fit. Why would John include this as a characteristic of a person who has completely rejected the authority of God over his/her life?
Perhaps because honoring our parents and learning to obey them is the very foundation of a life that obeys and honors God. The first authority in our lives is our parents. How important it must be that as parents, we teach our children to obey! A child who is never corrected or challenged or disciplined or yes, even punished for his willful, wrong choices will grow up to be an adult who disregards authority in all aspects of his life. Human nature is naturally bent toward selfishness. We want our own way. We assume that our feelings and desires must be met in order for us to be happy. Unless we learn early and well from our parents that the universe does not revolve around us, but God, we will struggle our entire lives with His authority and commands. We will find it difficult to recognize our own sinfulness, which is imperative for salvation.
John’s “laundry list” of undesirable outcomes should make us stop and think as parents and grandparents about how we are teaching our children to obey. Children need grace and love. They need understanding and patience and kindness and mercy. But we do them no favors if we make obedience optional. Instead, as we instill a respect for authority, and nurture hearts of obedience and humility, we will be laying a foundation for understanding who God is and their need of a Savior. We will give them a heart that is ready for salvation.