“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16).
The commandment to “honor” refers to something that is heavy or weighty; it is giving due weight to something or someone’s position. It is not something demonstrated through someone displaying affection or “tipping their hat” to another; it is demonstrated through a careful listening and following of an authority. It is a desiring of what they desire; it is a living in a way that pleases another.
The honoring of one’s parents is a reverence for them. It is treating them as God expects us to treat Him. Let me give you some examples of how we can honor parents.
- We honor our parents by obeying them. The Bible is filled with verses that command children to honor their parents with their own obedience. Proverbs 1:8-9 – “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. Ephesians 6:1-3 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Colossians 3:20 – “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Or “all things that please Him.” This is a no-brainer when you are living in the home and are under your parents’ formal authority, but I would argue when you have taken on personal responsibility and independence and left that home, your authority structure is no longer present. Therefore, you are still called to honor but that absolute obedience as you become an adult yourself begins to phase out. This happens with marriage. Each mate leaves his mother and father and cleaves to his wife or husband (Gen 2:24). Obedience stops then. It is natural for all of us to move out of the formal authority of our homes and our obedience to our parents will evolve, but until then it is one way we can honor them.
- We honor our parents by caring for them. There is a time for all of us when our parents become physically needy and are more reliable on others for assistance. That is a wonderful opportunity and time we have to honor them during a period in their life when too many people don’t bring them honor or reverence. There are a few passages that come to mind where we see this illustrated. John 19:26-27 – As Jesus hangs on the cross, he looked down to his distraught mother and next to her was the disciple of love – John – and he said, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” Jesus knew he would no longer be able to care for his mother Mary, because Joseph had likely dies, and we wanted to make sure she was cared for. I Timothy 5:4, 8 – “But 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. … 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.” Families have the first responsibility to care for their widowed parents; then comes the church. Because parents brought their children into the world, they now have the privilege of honoring them by caring for them and honoring them in this manner. And if they refuse to do so, they are demonstrated themselves to be no different than one who has no affection for God. Our care for our parents would include doing so – of we are able – in our homes or theirs, keeping them away from dangerous nursing home facilities or isolating them away from friends and family towards the ends of their life or drugging them up to make us have to work less to care for them, etc.
- We honor our parents by listening to what they have to say. Children would do well to take James’ advice and be slow to speak and quick to listen (Jas 1:19). Solomon himself wrote, “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Prov 23:22). This is not the only time Solomon gives such counsel (Prov 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1).When we are young, no matter our age, we always think we know more than those who are older than us … and this always seems to be magnified when your parents are talking, doesn’t it? And yes, sometimes your parents are wrong, but listening to them is a sign of respect and honor. The Puritans says children were to be the echo of the parents. If a parent spoke, the child is to echo back honor by listening to them – not arguing or debating.
- We honor our parents by thanking and being thankful for them. Parents invest and sacrifice so much for their kids. The most conservative estimates I have seen is between 1 and 1.5 million dollars to raise a child until the age of 18! How about thanking your parents they love you more than becoming millionaires? The rides to soccer practice, the presents bought at Christmas and birthdays, the meals provided, the time sacrifices in giving counsel, the vacations, the memories, the life lessons passed on, etc. Be thankful in all things (I Thess 5:18) and that includes what parents do for you.
- We honor our parents by walking in truth on your own. One of the most often referred to verses by Christian parents in III John 4 – “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” This Apostle of love, John, has a strong fatherly affection for his readers just as a parent would for their children that have listened to their godly upbringing and are now living for the Lord that your parents followed.
The worst problem each child has is a wicked heart. And he best and only remedy for such a heart is the truth of the Gospel.
Maybe the biggest problem with young people today is their failure to submit to and respect those in authority over them. And you know what that communicates on a larger scale? Someone who doesn’t honor their parents as they should expose their heart’s failure to also honor God as they should. Because these relationships are so similar and emblematic of one another, you can’t have one without the other. One who struggles with obeying God’s command of honoring his parents is going to find himself struggling frequently with honoring God Himself? Why? Because honoring mom and dad is really honoring God. That’s where it all comes back to, doesn’t it?
These are just some ways we can honor our parents.
As we said earlier, this is an important commandment for the infrastructure of the family, because parents are instructed often in the O.T. to instruct their children regarding God’s law. They are to teach their children what God commands of them and who this God is they serve. But none of this could happen unless children were receptive and respectful of what their parents have to say.