Is My Boyfriend Obligated to Obey His Parents?

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Scott Croft

Is My Boyfriend Obligated to Obey His Parents?

Mar 01, 2016 |Scott Croft
Question

My boyfriend and I are 22-year-old students who both love the Lord. We have been together for three years, including a year where we were long distance while he was in Italy and I was in the UK. I am now working on my master’s degree and he is in his final year of university.

We have been ready to get married — or at least to get engaged — for seven months but have not been able to go ahead because his parents will not give their blessing until he has graduated. My parents and our mentors are on board with us. We have sought God on the matter and it all pointed toward going ahead with our engagement.

Even if we wait until his graduation, I don't feel that changes much. It's not as though graduating will guarantee a job or result in someone giving you property. I know his parents want what's best for us and also that another six months isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things. I have been very respectful and tried not to put pressure on him to choose between his parents and me.

At the end of the day, is he obligated to obey his parents when he knows what God has spoken over us?

Answer

Thanks for your question. The situation you are in is a tough one, and one I’ve heard frequently. As I’ve written before in this space, in situations like this it is possible — and often advisable — for adult Christian men and women to honor parents without necessarily “obeying” them.

Before I get into the issue of your boyfriend’s parents, let me offer a quick theological side note.  Your phrase that God has “spoken over” your relationship caught my eye. In the face of big life decisions, it is especially important to remember that the way God normally speaks to his people is not through mystical, authoritative, special revelation, but through His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (emphasis added). In other words, in order for everything I’m about to write to apply to your situation, you don’t need special revelation from God, “commanding” that you get married. You only need to be genuine believers (1 Corinthians 7:39) of marriageable age and maturity — which according to your description, you are — who want to marry each other.

So how can God’s Word instruct us when two believing adults are ready to marry, but some, or all, of their parents are (at least temporarily) against it? The fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12) does tell us to “honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” That command is repeated in Ephesians 6:2, right after the command for children to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).  Colossians 3:20 is even stronger: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

So, do these passages mean that as adults we have to “obey” parents in their directives regarding marriage? Not necessarily. To take one example, the Bible is also clear that we are to obey the authorities God has set over us — in the church, the family and the government — unless they direct us to clear sin. For example, in Acts 5:29, when Peter and the other apostles were ordered not to preach the gospel, they refused, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” And Paul directed the Galatians to reject any leader or authority who led them to embrace a false gospel, even if that leader were Paul himself or “an angel from heaven.” (Galatians 1:8).

Your question didn’t mention whether your boyfriend’s parents are believers themselves, but that’s also a relevant point. We should “honor” our parents whether they share our faith or not, but it’s important to remember that the letters I quoted above about “obeying” parents were written to the church. So when Paul is telling children to obey their parents, he is presuming that those parents are believers, whose directives to be obeyed would presumably be given in a desire to submit to the commands of Christ and His Word and to bring glory to God.  Also, the word “children” as used in those letters meant non-adult children still living in their parents’ home and still formally under their authority — not a financially independent adult living on his or her own.

Finally, keep in mind that even when parent are believers, biblically “honoring” our parents, especially as adults, has a wider definition than obedience. As I’ve said, there may be times when biblically, we simply cannot obey our parents’ directives, but we can always “honor” our mother and father. We can humbly acknowledge their position in our lives as parents, and we can treat them with respect with our tone of voice and our manner toward them as we gently explain why, in a particular situation, we cannot obey their advice or directive. “Honoring” our parents also means continuing to show them the love of Christ in our ongoing relationships with them.

So how does all this apply to your situation?  Well, for your boyfriend’s parents to require that the two of you wait most of another year before marrying may not be “directing you to clear sin,” but I would argue that it is unsound advice that, if heeded, will cause great temptation to sin for both you and your boyfriend. Your question mentioned that you have been together for three years. If that’s true, you are almost certainly interacting — emotionally and physically — in ways that are reserved for marriage.  (If you’re not, congratulations. You would be the first couple I’ve ever seen to be together that long, knowing that you want to marry, and not interact in at least some of those ways!) In other words, following the directive of your boyfriend’s parents here would extend by almost a year a situation that either already involves sin or involves a great temptation to sin. It’s also important that your parents (especially if they are believers) and those mentoring you spiritually are comfortable with your moving forward.

The bottom line is that, as a theological matter, you are not required to obey your boyfriend’s parents and refrain from marriage until you have their blessing. You are on solid biblical ground to proceed with marriage. That said, make sure that as you relate to his parents on this issue, you honor them (and honor Christ) by treating them with respect and humility, and by loving them well no matter how they react to your decision.

I will pray for both of you to have wisdom as you continue to think through the wisest way to proceed.

For his glory,
Scott Croft

Copyright Scott Croft 2016. All rights reserved.

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