Throughout the Bible, children are viewed as a blessing to their parents. Such is the case in Psalm 127:3-5 where children are referred to as “a heritage from the Lord” as well as “a reward,” and it indicates the one “who fills his quiver with” children is “blessed.” However, in order for children to truly be a blessing to their parents, they must understand the proper relationship they are to have with their parents. That is where the biblical command to “honor your father and your mother” comes into play.
When we hear this command, we tend to think of the Old Testament because the first time this command is mentioned is in conjunction with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12). However, this command is not relegated to Mosaic Law. When Paul gave instructions to children as part of his household code in Ephesians 6:1-3, he appealed to the fifth command and said, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’” The fact that this Mosaic command is repeated in the New Testament indicates that it is just as applicable today as it was when given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.
Before you read any farther, it needs to be noted that there is no excuse for parental abuse, manipulation, and abandonment. However, it is not the objective of this article to address those unfortunate situations. Instead, it is the goal of this article to help us understand God’s instruction to honor our parents, particularly in Christian family scenarios. For those experiencing such unfortunate situations, please understand that our Father in heaven is not a reflection of such parents; He is the perfection of such parents.
Why did God instruct us to honor our parents?
First, God instructed us to honor our parents because they are imperfect. Parents make mistakes, and, unfortunately, some parents completely fail at their parental responsibilities. Since parents are not perfect, God instructs us to honor the position rather than the person. In other words, honoring one’s parents is about respecting the role rather than the individual. It is the same principle that is often applied to the President of the United States. You may not like his agenda, his policies, or his character, but you are expected to respect the office that he holds. Therefore, by instructing us to honor the position of parenthood, God established a precedent for the parent-child relationship that supersedes the inadequacies of parents.
Second, God instructed us to honor our parents because respect for authority begins at home. Scripture presents three spheres of human authority that Christians are instructed to respect. The first is the home where parents serve as the authoritative figures (Ephesians 6:1-3), the second is the church where elders serve as the authoritative figures (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17), and the third is the civil government where a variety of individuals and/or institutions may serve as the authoritative figure (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Before one can learn to respect church leaders or government officials, he or she must first learn to respect his or her parents. By honoring the position of parenthood children learn to honor other positions of authority that God expects them to recognize.
Finally, God instructed us to honor our parents because obedience is temporary. You may have noticed that Paul instructed children to “obey your parents“ in Ephesians 6:1. Obedience is an aspect of honoring our parents up until the point one begins his or her own new home. From the beginning of creation, God expected children to eventually leave the home. In Genesis 2:24, after God introduced Adam to Eve, the following command is presented: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Notice the emphasis on leaving in this passage. Once a child leaves the home, in order to start his or her own home, the obedience aspect of the parent-child relationship is annulled, but the honor aspect persists. Thus, obedience is only a temporary trait of the parent-child relationship while honor is a permanent one, and, for this reason, God instructed us to honor our parents.
How do I honor my parents?
The answer to this question may actually depend on your stage of life because each stage of life may require you to fulfill this command differently.
As children under the care and supervision of our parents, we honor them by obeying them. This appears to be the context of Paul’s instruction for children to “obey” their parents in Ephesians 6:1. Of course, obedience to parents will always be secondary to obedience to God, just as obedience to government officials is secondary to obedience to God (e.g. Acts 5:29). However, God expects children who are under the supervision of their parents to obey and submit to their parents as long as it does not cause them to disobey Him. Jesus exemplified this aspect of the parent-child relationship when, after His parents found Him in the temple, “he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51).
As young adults who no longer live in the home, we honor our parents by accepting and appreciating them. Acceptance does not mean pretending they are perfect. Acceptance does not mean ignoring the mistakes they make. Acceptance does not mean agreeing with everything they do. Acceptance means realizing that God used them to bring you into the world. Without your parents you would not exist. God made an intentional choice when He chose those people to be the one’s who brought you into the world. For all of their mistakes, for all of their flaws, for all of their problems, they were still God’s choice. Thus, we need to realize that regardless of how we feel toward our parents, God used them. Appreciation means listening to what your parents have to say. You are not required to heed every instruction or piece of advice that you receive from your parents, but Proverbs routinely indicates that a wise person does not despise the teaching of their parents.(Proverbs 23:22-25). Thus, appreciation means you listen to what they have to say because you recognize that they have some level of experience and/or wisdom to offer.
As older adults with aging parents, we honor them by not abandoning them. In 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul wrote, “if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” In other words, Paul expected Christians to care for their elderly parents. In fact, Paul considered this to be so important that failure to care for one’s parents was equated by him to a denial of faith. Just a few verses later in 1 Timothy 5:8, he wrote, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Scripture presents an expectation that we will honor our parents in their later years by providing the care they need just like they provided for us when we were younger.
As you consider the responsibility of honoring your parents, remember that your goal as a Christian child should be to, “Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice” (Proverbs 23:25).