TLP 493: Are Older Children in Charge of Younger Children, Part 1 | birth order and authority
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I’m your host AMBrewster and today we’re going to talk about something that occurs in nearly every home across the globe. In one way, it makes sense, but when we look at the Scriptures, this common practice starts to reveal some holes.
What is this common practice of which I speak?
It’s the habit of putting older children in charge of younger children. Sometimes this happens when the parents are around, but often this occurs when neither parent is going to be present.
Now, don’t jump to any conclusions about what we’re going to discuss today. I’d hate for you to leap before you look.
Over my 15 years of family counseling, I have found that this practice can work very well, but it can also backfire in a big way. So, since sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, there’s obviously more involved than mere age and authority.
Therefore, we need to look at the factors, the consequences, and the wisdom of God in order to know if our kids should be given authority over each other and how we can teach our children to view themselves and their siblings in such cases.
So this two-part series is going to look at the age of our children as it relates to their authority and admonition. But before we dive in, please follow Truth.Love.Parent. on your favorite social media sites. We love curating only the best verses, quotes, articles, and images to equip you to parent for the glory of God. And remember that we always provide free episode notes, transcripts, and related resources with each episode so that you can continue your study.
Okay, now, by way of transition, let me ask you, did your parents ever put you in charge of your siblings? Were you ever the low-man on the totem pole? And how did all of that work for you?
Let’s start by considering . . .
1. The Nature of Maturity
The vast majority of people in the world equate maturity with age.
I think this is probably the reason we tend to put older siblings in charge of the younger ones. I get it. It makes sense. The older the person is, the more mature they should be. They should have more knowledge and understanding, they should have more experience using that knowledge and understanding, and therefore, older people should be able to make better decisions than younger people.
And that’s right. They should. In fact, the Bible assumes this progression.
I Corinthians 14:20 equates immature thinking with youth, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”
I Corinthians 13:11 should be very familiar, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
Proverbs 16:31 teaches us that “A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.”
And Job 12:12 observes, “Wisdom is with aged men, with long life is understanding.”
And this is why Leviticus 19:31 commands the Children of Israel, “You shall rise up before the grayheaded and honor the aged.”
But though it could be easily taught and expected that the older you are the more mature you should be, does the number of years traveled around the sun always equate to increased maturity?
And the answer is indubitably, “No.”
We all know people who are far more immature than many people younger than they.
Let me throw out just a couple shocking examples from Scripture: Martha and Mary, Joseph and all of his older brothers, how about Cain and Able? Each of the couplets were made up of a younger sibling far more mature than the older ones.
I Corinthians 3:1-3 reads, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”
You see, maturity has nothing to do with age, and it’s not guaranteed to increase as a person grows older.
So, the question has to be asked, if age does not equate to maturity, what is the mark of maturity? Maturity is simply a measurement. Whereas age is the measurement of the length of your life, maturity is the measure of how wise a person is.
You should remember what wisdom is. If someone learns something, understands it, and puts it to Christ-honoring use in his life, he is mature.
Ephesians 4:13 tells us what the standard of maturity is, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
This is why Hebrews 5:14 tells us, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
And now let’s be reminded of I Corinthians 14:20, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”
The same word translated mature in this passage is translated “perfect” in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking in nothing.”
And this is the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 5:48 when He sets this High Biblical Expectation, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So, yes, it would be appropriate to assume that since your oldest child has been taught and reproved more often, they should know and understand more. And it would be right to expect that they would therefore apply that knowledge to their lives in a wise way, thereby being mature.
But is that really what happens? Is that the reality in your home. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not.
Just because a child has been taught and reproved more often than the others doesn’t mean they’re mature. However, the degree to which the child has participated in the correction and training stages of parenting are indicators of true wisdom and maturity. Along these very lines, I’d strongly encourage you to check out our Parent’s 5 Jobs Series and episode 94, How to Train Your Child to Stay with God. They’re all about how parenting is designed to increase maturity in our kids, but also how it’s not just about our parenting.
A good example from my past is my sister and I. I’m three years older than she is, but my sister was far more spiritually mature than I was for many, many years. When we were in high school, if you needed to trust my sister or I to make wise choices for themselves and the other . . . you wouldn’t have chosen me.
“So, Aaron, which of you is more mature now?”
Well, I suppose you’ll have to figure that one out for yourself. :-)
And I believe — if we contemplate hard enough — we can all think of examples where the younger sibling would have been a better authority figure than one of the older siblings.
But — of course — we probably wouldn’t have put the younger one in charge because we knew the older kids probably wouldn’t have submitted to the younger sibling anyway.
And that is one of the very damaging consequences of believing that authority has anything to do at all with age.
Now before we move on, let me make this application. Please, if you have to leave your kids alone for any amount of time, do not put the older one in charge simply because they’re older. Whatever child you put in charge needs to be mature enough to do the job. And the job of any good authority is to make it easy to do right and hard to do wrong — to keep everyone as physically and spiritually safe as possible.
If no child in the family is really capable to accomplishing those tasks, they probably shouldn’t be left alone without a mature leader.
You want to entrust that kind of leadership to the one (or ones) who are actually physically and spiritually mature enough to lead by example.
Now all of that is really important, and though I wish we could simply teach these concepts to our kids and be done, we can’t. There’s still one really huge issue that needs to be addressed. In fact, it’s a far bigger issue than putting a spiritually immature child in charge, and it has to do with . . .
2. The Nature of Authority
A. The World’s Understanding of Authority
Merriam-Webster defines an authority as a person in command, and it defines to command as “to exercise a dominating influence over.”
Well, who exactly deserves to have a dominating influence over anyone else?
In our world, authority is viewed as an inherent right tied to any number of factors. As we’ve already observed, many people believe they have the right to lead and/or command others by virtue of their age. However, we know that finances, popularity, titles, physical strength, ownership, and the like are all used to exercise authority over others.
“Don’t touch. That’s mine.”
“I’m the father/police officer/president/boss; do what I say.”
“I’m a superstar; I don’t have to listen to you.”
“My army is bigger; surrender.”
And each of these applications all tie back to power. Because of my size, age, weight, influence, title, bank account, etc . . . I am more powerful than you. And because I’m more powerful than you, you have no choice but to do what I say lest there be negative consequences in exchange for your resistance.
When you really step back and look at the world’s understanding of authority, you see that it all boils down to “Might Makes Right.” Whoever can exercise the most power gets the most power.
This is why wars are fought, riots ensue, yelling matches start, murder occurs, and the innumerable other examples of a sinful exercise of strength.
Now, please understand, strength is not inherently sinful. It’s not bad to have any of the things that people use to justify their authority. If we use those things to the glory of God, they are beneficial and helpful and necessary. Therefore, the real question is, what is . . .
B. God’s Understanding of Authority
The true nature of authority actually does have a lot to do with power, but it’s far more than that. As it happens, the One true authority of the entire cosmos does happen to be the most powerful Being in existence. But He’s not in charge simply because He’s strong and can bend everyone to His will — whether He’s right or wrong; He’s in charge because He’s holy.
God is set apart from all that is wrong, wicked, false, destructive, and fatal. He’s in charge because He’s perfectly equipped to always be right. And isn’t that the person you want in charge — the person who’s always going to make the right decision for every other person?
And — as I said before — it just so happens that God is also the most powerful being in the cosmos. But His power doesn’t put Him in charge; His perfection does.
This means that, again — biblically speaking — authority (as defined by God) goes back to maturity, not might. Maturity is defined as holiness which is in agreement with God.
As I often say, “If you want to be right 100% of the time, just agree with God 100% of the time.” And if you are right 100% of the time, then you definitely should be in charge.
However, though agreeing with God definitely makes you mature enough to be in charge, God does give authority to people who don’t agree with Him.
So, let’s consider . . .
3. The Nature of Inherent Authority
Something that is “inherent” is there by nature or habit. For example, by nature of his highly superior intellect, the Wizard of Oz believed the Scarecrow had inherent leadership ability.
Well, the biblical concept of Inherent Authority is quite simple. By God’s design, there are people who He deems should be in charge simply because of the nature of the position in which they serve. For example, at the beginning of time God put husbands in charge of the family by virtue of the fact that he’s the husband. Since then God has given authority to kings and presidents precisely because to be a king or president is to be in a position of authority. And He’s put high priests in charge of the children of Israel under the Old Covenant and pastors in charge of local assemblies under the New Covenant.
All throughout the Bible we see clear examples that groups of individuals need a hierarchal authority structure at the tip of which is a singular man.
Now, we are not going to delve into all the questions and complaints this conjures at this time. We’re simply stating the biblical reality, and I’ll devote a number of episodes to these concepts more in the future.
However, when it comes to Inherent Authority and children, you can search the Scriptures high and low, and you will find that no child is ever granted Inherent Authority over any other child by virtue of any character trait — be it age or intellect or birth order. In fact, our wonderfully counter-cultural God more often than not has chosen the younger and the weaker to rule over the older and the stronger.
4. The Consequences of Inherent Authority
When you teach your kids that birth order or size or financial status or any other tangible reality imbues Inherent Authority in someone, you’re not only lying to your kids, you’re setting them up for lots of issues.
A. You’re setting the older children up with very dangerous concepts of leadership. You’re teaching them that their might makes right. You’re also setting a precedent for how they look at the authorities above them. Are they going to view their necessary submission to you, the parent, as a simple consequence of the fact that you’re older and bigger than they are? What happens when you’re no longer bigger than they?
B. You’re setting your kids up to obey bad leaders. Hopefully you’ve taught your kids that they need to obey their authority. But what if the older sibling clearly isn’t mature enough to have the job, and they’re telling the younger ones to do things they shouldn’t? For example, anything that precedes, “Don’t tell mom and dad.” The younger children may believe they have to obey simply because the older child is “in charge.”
C. Inherent Authority — more often than not — makes it about me versus you, instead of us following God. “You need to do what I say, or else,” instead of “Let’s please the Lord together.”
When anyone — a husband, father, mother, pastor, sibling, teacher, president, or king — tries to exercise mere Inherent Authority based off power, they’re often exercising the wrong authority for the wrong reasons. This neither sets them up for success nor makes it easy for the people under them to follow.
It’s hard to follow people who do this because the individual is ultimately making it all about them, and we’re not supposed to worship anyone other than God. Either that or the individual is demanding that we do something wrong, which we shouldn’t do.
So, no, your kids don’t have Inherent Authority over their siblings, but even if they did, Inherent Authority isn’t enough. There is no Inherent Authority on earth that has to be obeyed all of the time under every circumstance.
Peter told the religious leaders of the day, “We obey God rather than man.” This means that when someone on whom God has laid Inherent Authority by virtue of their position expects the people he’s leading to sin, no one has to obey him because he’s not submitting God.
During our Pilot Season I did an episode called “Stop Being the Leader!” which dealt with this very reality. God is the authority, and as we follow God, He expects for us to call others to follow us. Like Paul said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”
And this is what we call Inherited Authority.
So, now let’s consider . . .
5. The Nature of Inherited Authority
Inherited Authority is anything but inherent. There is potentially nothing in the individual themselves — no power of any kind — that would qualify them (in an earthly sense) to lead.
The authority is merely passed on to them — for a time — and is an extension of another, higher authority.
For example, in the martial arts, I — the 5th degree black belt — has all the knowledge, experience, power, and so on to lead the class. Each student is expected to do what I say. That’s my Inherent Authority.
But sometimes I’ll split the class into smaller groups for more personal training, and — when I do that — I will call one or more students to the front of the class. I then have the class bow to me (showing me the honor and respect of my position), and then we all turn to the student I’m putting in charge, and we bow to him or her.
In that moment I have transferred my authority to them. They’ve inherited my authority until at what time I take it back from them. And my students understand the significance of this transition. The class realizes that they are to obey this student in the same way they would obey me, and the student who has inherited my authority recognizes the significant weight that rests on their shoulders to lead in the way I would lead — otherwise they’re abusing the authority.
Now, in order to lead as I would, the student must have knowledge of the nature of Inherited Authority, how I exercise my authority, as well as a ton of humility to make it about the my authority and not about the student’s authority.
That’s exactly what God expects from us with our kids, and I would argue that this is exactly what we should expect from our kids.
My son is two and a half years older than my daughter, but my wife and I have never left the house and had to proclaim that “Micah’s in charge.” I’ll explain why later.
But if we did have to do that, I would teach my son that it’s his responsibility to not to boss his sister around, but to remind her of my expectations in the exact same way that it’s my responsibility not to boss him around, but to remind him of God’s expectations.
Now, before we continue, you might be thinking, “Well, Aaron, based off that definition of Inherited Authority, wouldn’t you say that parental authority is more Inherited than Inherent?” And if you’re making the observation, you’re understanding the most important part of all of this.
Yes, parents are given by God Inherent Authority. Even if we don’t submit to God, and we demand that our kids obey us for our own carnal reasons, our children still have the responsibility to obey us — as long as we’re not asking them to sin. But the best kind of human authority is Inherited Authority. And it’s our submission to our Inherited Authority that gives our Inherent Authority any power.
But, back to the kids.
So, if we put this into practice in our homes, what are . . .
6. The Consequences of Inherited Authority
When we teach our kids about Inherited Authority, they should learn the following lessons:
A. Any authority they may be given is not inherent in them. It has nothing to do with their power over their siblings.
B. When the parent gives Inherited Authority, it has everything to do with which child will most maturely exercise that authority the best. And this means . . .
C. The one in charge is not leading for themselves, they’re leading as the parent would, which should be exactly how God would. In fact, hopefully . . .
D. The child with the Inherited Authority can skip the parent’s authority all together and simply lead in the Inherited Authority of God. We’ll talk more about what this looks like next time.
E. The siblings who are not in charge need to recognize that the one in charge is not more special than they or more powerful than they, they’re simply more trustworthy to submit to God’s expectations for their lives and lead others to do the same.
This understanding completely changes the standard and shows that anyone can achieve that level of maturity. Therefore, you’ve removed the temptation to “disobey my bother or sister” because it all comes back to choosing to disobey God. The weight is more significant because the weight should go back to the original Authority Himself. And . . .
F. The one who inherits the authority has the opportunity to mature in the humility necessary to submit their authority to God’s.
Now, I mentioned earlier that my wife and I have never put either of our children in charge of the other. Why is that?
First, neither child has any Inherent Authority over the other. It doesn’t matter that Micah’s older.
Second, the Scriptures are clear that both children are expected by God to submit to Him, lead by example, and to admonish and rebuke sin in others. That means that when we leave the house, both children have the responsibility to use their Inherited Authority from God to lead the other in Christlikeness. And since neither of them has Inherent Authority over the other, Lord willing, it’s God’s will that wins out, not the capricious will of either child.
And when you have a family of children who are all doing their best to submit to God and their parents’ authority, you actually don’t really need to put anyone “in charge” because they all have the same inherited responsibility from God.
“But, Aaron,” you say, “That’s not how it works in my family. I have at least one child who is not interested in pleasing the Lord.”
Okay, so when we’re done with this two-part episode, we’re going to discuss giving consequences to our kids. But since that idea often plays into the role of authority, I do want to mention it briefly here.
Biblically speaking, your children do not have the Inherent Authority to ground, give corporal punishment, or hand out any kind of consequences to their siblings. And I would argue that parents should rarely — if ever — give that Inherited Authority to their children.
When parents throw the mantle of authority on the oldest child — often tacitly expecting that the older will hand out punishments as necessary — they invite so many problems. But we’re going to discuss this in more detail on our next episode.
Either way, we definitely need to equip our kids with a correct understanding of biblical consequences and which ones they have the Inherited Authority to dispense — if any.
Again, when it comes to having to put a child in charge because one or more of the others aren’t going to seek to do right on their own, how does that work? Again, we’re going to talk more about this next time, but I will say this — when it comes to our children and the authority we give them over their siblings, we really need to carefully evaluate what we’re asking our child to do.
I would never put a marital arts student in charge of the class who was incapable or ill-equipped to deal with any issues that may come up.
It would be unloving for me to put a well-behaved student at a boys’ home in charge of the other ten rebellious teens in the room.
And it’s really often the result of laziness and lack of love when we saddle our more mature kid with one or more siblings who absolutely will not listen to the more mature sibling without threatening and punishments.
The question you need to ask is whether whatever you’re about to go and do really that important?
I’m going to argue that we the parents are not using our Inherent or Inherited Authority well if we put our kids into a situation where they’re guaranteed to fail.
Now, before we discuss the next point, I hope you’re seeing the massive benefits of Inherited Authority. It roots the child’s authority in God and His earthly representatives — Dad and Mom — and the right application of this authority will call the entire family to a higher plane of leadership and obedience.
Now, let’s look at a couple quick examples of this Inherited Authority from the Bible.
7. Biblical Examples of Counter-Cultural Inherited Authority
First, as I mentioned before, there are all the times that God chose the younger children to rule over or have special place over the older children: Shem, Isaac, Jacob, Ephraim, Moses, David, Gideon, and Solomon are all easy examples. But, honestly, these examples occurred when the children were already grown.
And there are non-familial examples of this as well. Both Timothy and Titus were younger men whom the Lord put in charge of their respective churches. They were both expected by the Lord to exercise their Inherited Authority from Paul and God over the older men and women in their congregations.
But, still, that’s adults interacting outside of the family.
So, I think the best example of this is likely Joseph and his brothers.
According to Genesis 37:2, Joseph was 17 years old when his father put him in charge of his older bothers — men who already had families of their own. There are a number of contextual clues to the fact that Joseph likely had a supervisory role over his siblings including the coat his father had given him and the expectation that Joseph provide his father a report on his brothers.
And all of this is further substantiated by the fact that God had already given the teenage Joseph two dreams that he would one day exercise authority over his whole family.
The fact of the matter was that Jacob knew that Joseph was more mature than his brothers. His brothers had proven their rampant, sinful immaturity over and over, and — though we know Joseph was a sinner just like us — he’s one of a very short list of people about whom the Bible doesn’t speak negatively in any way, shape, or form.
It makes perfect sense that Joseph was trusted to supervise and lead his siblings. In addition to that, even though he was so young, Potiphar put him in charge of his whole house, the jailer put him in charge of the jail, and the Pharaoh but him in charge of the country all before the age of 30.
Joseph may not have been as old as many people who could have been considered his competition for authority, but because he exercised his Inherited Authority so well, even unbelievers recognized Joseph’s maturity.
So, let’s review.
1. Authority is a question of maturity, and maturity is a question of submission to God.
2. According to the Bible, no child has been given Inherent Authority over their siblings.
On the other hand . . .
3. All of God’s people have been given Inherited Authority to speak the truth in love — to admonish, rebuke, reprove, train, teach, and the like.
4. Our children will thrive much better when we teach these concepts to our kids and expect them to function within them.
Now, as I mentioned, next time we’re going to look at some really practical examples of this. As we consider what this Inherited Authority looks like in your hose, we’re going to focus on your children’s responsibility to admonish each other, and we’re going to see many ways that works itself in your family.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets because this is a very real and necessary issue we need to address in our homes.
And I hope you’ll join us next time as we once again open God’s Word to discover how to best worship God with our parenting.
To that end, we’ll be discussing birth order and admonition.
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