Not Answering Again

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on Sept. 7, 1997

by Glenn Conjurske

“Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering again.” (Titus 2:9).

I am aware that this scripture speaks of servants, but I intend to apply it to children. We have no servants, but we do have children. The same principles certainly apply to both. Both are under authority, and children certainly owe that obedience to their parents which servants do to their masters.

The text says, “not answering again.” “Again,” you should understand, is used here in its old sense of “back.” “Not answering back,” or, as the common phrase is today, not talking back. If servants are responsible not to talk back to their masters, certainly children have the same responsibility not to talk back to their parents. Both are under authority. That authority is ordained of God, and is the same in its essence, though its workings may be diverse in different spheres. I am not perfectly clear as to how to differentiate between the different sorts of authority, but it is plain to common sense that a man does not exercise authority in the same manner over his wife as he does over his children. Whether the difference is in kind, or in degree, or in some other thing, may be difficult to determine. Yet we all know there is some kind of difference, and every man of sense will grant that there ought to be. Still authority is authority, and these words “not answering again” have something to teach us about the nature of authority.

Authority is the right to rule, which implies the right to determine, and the right to enforce. “Answering again” is a challenge of that right. You may as well settle it in your mind that any child that talks back is not subject to your authority, and this is a very serious matter, for you have that authority from God, and stand in God’s place in the exercise of it. You have no more right to allow your children to trample upon your authority, than they have to trample on it. In so doing you wrong your God and you wrong your children—-for it is a certainty that a child who will not submit to your authority will not submit to God’s.

It may seem strange to us that God addresses such an admonition as “not answering again” to servants, and no such admonition to children. It may be that there was less need for this in Paul’s day. It is a characteristic of the last days that children are “disobedient to parents,” and but a couple of generations ago children would not have dared to speak to their parents as they commonly do today. There are no doubt reasons for the change. The devil is of course opposed to parental authority. Why? Because it is of God, and that is the only reason the devil needs to oppose anything.

Democracy, you understand, is the sacred cow of America, and of the West in general, but democracy is not of God. The foundation of democracy is the principle that authority is the creation of the people, whereas it is one of the most elementary principles of Scripture that authority is of God. According to democracy authority comes up from the people. According to the Bible it comes down from God. At any rate, the devil has made an all-out endeavor in these last days to introduce democracy into the family—-first in what is called feminism, and then in that darling of all the liberals, “children’s rights.” Not that the devil cares anything for the rights of children, any more than he does for the rights of women. He is only determined to overturn the rights of God. He only seeks to transfer the authority from the parents to the state, so that he may take it into his own hands.

Meanwhile children are under parental authority by the appointment of God. They have a responsibility to respect and submit to that authority. But I want you to observe another possible reason why Paul commands servants not to answer again, and gives no such command to children. The servants are assumed to be responsible adults. Children are another matter. They have the same responsibility, but young children do not have the same understanding. Therefore the greater responsibility falls upon the parents, and it is the parents to whom I am preaching this morning. Your children have a responsibility to honor and submit to your authority, but what two-year-old has the understanding and ability, unaided, to perform this? If your children have a responsibility to honor your authority, you have the responsibility to maintain it. Remember, this is no democracy. You were not elected to your place of authority, and if your children held an election today, you might find yourself out of office tomorrow. How long do you suppose your place of authority would be maintained if you left it entirely to your children to maintain it? That is your business, and it is a solemn trust from the Lord, who gave you that position of authority.

An indispensable ingredient in authority is the right to enforce, and that certainly includes the right to maintain its own position. When Paul says, “What will ye, shall I come to you in meekness, or with a rod?” he certainly indicates that he means to maintain his place of authority. It is useless to dream of authority enforcing its determinations, if it has no right to maintain its position. It is the parents’ place to maintain their authority. But understand, every time your children talk back to you, they challenge your authority.

That challenge comes in various forms and degrees. Children who are bold and open in their rebellion will simply say, “No, I won’t,” or when they are older, “If you want it done, do it yourself,” or “I’m not your slave.” No child will come to that unless his discipline has been long and seriously neglected, but still there are children enough in this land who answer their parents that way every day. No parent who understands his responsibility will ever allow it to come to that, but it is when the parents allow softer and subtler forms of back-talk that children become so bold in their evil.

Those softer and subtler forms usually begin early, for children are born depraved. One of the earliest forms of answering back usually comes in the form of the question “Why?” There are some little children who by the time they reach two years of age have already acquired the habit of answering every command with “Why?” And some parents are foolish enough to excuse and justify this. They refuse to believe that that “Why?” is a challenge to their authority. They contend that little children are not that intelligent. I have known some parents—-moved by passion, not reason—-who denied that a six-year-old boy had intelligence enough to manipulate his parents, and yet I had watched that same boy very subtly and very successfully manipulate his parents when he was three. I won’t contend that a two-year-old who asks “Why?” has thought the matter out, but he acts instinctively against your authority. In the first place, he gains time by answering back. He delays the unpleasant task—-and the unpleasant submission to you.

But it goes deeper than this. His “Why?” is a challenge to your authority. It is an attempt to remove the matter from the ground of authority, and put it on the ground of reason. His “Why?” says in essence, “Give me a reason to do this: otherwise I won’t. I will submit to reason, but not to bare authority.” And the effect of this, if allowed, can only be to overturn your authority altogether. Instead of requiring anything of your child, you will be discussing everything with him, to persuade him that what you ask of him is reasonable. And you may have rough work of this—-to persuade him that work is better than play, that self-denial is better than self-indulgence, that it is better to eat vegetables than candy, that it is better for him to do your will than his own.

And the fact is, you have no right to allow your child to take the matter off the ground of authority, and put it on the ground of reason. Yet some parents habitually anticipate their children in this, and put all their orders on the ground of reason instead of authority. Every command they issue is immediately followed by a reason. “Don’t do that, or you may get hurt.” “You can’t have that now, because it will spoil your appetite.” I don’t mean to say this is never legitimate, but parents who do this habitually manifest the weakness of their authority, while they contribute to weaken it further. God gave Adam no reason when he commanded him not to eat of the forbidden tree—-except only this: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” That reason told Adam nothing beyond the fact that God had the right to command and the ability to enforce.

Reason is very good in its place, and an unreasonable use of authority is a great evil, but still your children are required to submit to your authority, not your reason. But there are two sides to every question. All rebellion is not entirely the fault of the rebels. The Bible admonishes fathers not to provoke their children to wrath, and with good reason. An unreasonable use of authority will provoke them not only to wrath, but to open rebellion, and this will not be all the children’s fault. A proud and insubordinate spirit will of course regard almost every expression of authority as unreasonable, but even when the spirit is right it requires faith to properly submit to authority—-faith in the wisdom and goodness of that authority. This is true even of the authority of God. An unreasonable use of authority, whether in the church, the state, or the family, invites rebellion. Bare authority, untempered by goodness and love, provokes rebellion. We must trust in order to properly submit, and it belongs to the one in authority to earn that trust, by a reasonable use of that authority.

But this much being understood, it remains that your children are required to submit to your authority, not your reason. To put reason in the place of authority is to destroy the very essence of authority. Why does authority exist in the first place? Precisely because men will not, of their own will and reason, do as they ought. They lack the understanding, or the will, or both, to do as they ought. Therefore God places them under authority, to require them to do as they ought. Parents, by their years and experience, of course know better than their children do, and better than their children can. We know that there are evil parents—-–parents who are very corrupt in heart and life—-–and yet it is a certain fact that children are much better off under the authority of corrupt parents than they could be with no authority at all. Fallible and erring authority is better than none.

So likewise in the church. God puts men in authority in the church. Those men are called elders, being men who by their age and experience have a better understanding of what ought to be done than the younger saints can have. Their authority is a benefit to the church, and the authority of parents is a benefit to their children. But the human race is rebellious in heart—-does not like to submit to authority—-and beyond that, the prevalence of democratic principles has made authority of every kind very unpopular in this land. A number of people have left this church during the past few years, and—-aside from those who have left for no better reason than their personal resentment—--I believe a major issue with most of them has been authority. They leave here and scour the country to find another church as much like this one as they can, but without the authority. They want the kind of standards which we have, for those standards bespeak devotedness and commitment, but they want those standards to be optional. They want to submit to those standards which they understand, and none other. They want reason, but not authority.

Yet it is God’s way to rule by authority, and this is good for the church, and for the child. If the prevalence of democratic principles has blinded the church in America to that fact, yet there are few who would question it in the family. The Bible says, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” (Lam. 3:27). To bear the yoke is not to submit to reason, but authority. When a man puts a yoke on the neck of the ox, this is not to convince him that it is better to pull the plow than to eat the grass, but to compel him to pull the plow. And whatever we may think concerning the ox, that yoke is a benefit to the child. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”

On the other hand, it is evil, it is harmful, to allow a child to remove your commands from the ground of authority, in order to put them on the ground of reason. Yet that is exactly what he is asking when he answers back with “Why?” But with a good many even of very young children this is an inveterate habit. Every parental requirement is met with an immediate and reflexionary “Why?” Thus your child challenges your authority, delays submission, denies your position above him, and engages you as an equal in discussion. That habit ought to be nipped in the bud, and not by your child, but by yourself.

Another manner in which children commonly “answer again” is by making excuses. Every one of those excuses is a challenge to your authority, and perhaps worse, a stab at your character. You say, “Johnny, it’s time to bring in the fire wood,” and he “answers again” with “It’s too cold out,” or “I brought in enough yesterday,” or “I’m too busy right now.” This is another way of removing the matter from the ground of your authority, and putting it on the ground of reason. But there is something worse in this. It challenges not only your authority, but your reason also. Every one of those excuses in effect charges you with being unreasonable. Every one of them says in effect, “Your requirement is unreasonable, for this reason.” There is no excuse for these excuses. Most of them are not even true, and all of them are presented as a direct challenge to your authority. You have no more right to allow such excuses than your child has to make them. You are the representative of God in the exercise of your authority, and you have no right to allow your children to challenge it, or to set it aside. You have no right, therefore, to allow them to “answer again.”

Glenn Conjurske