The fifth of these Words to Live By brings us to a fundamental responsibility in human relations. The commandment says: Exodus 20:12 (ESV) “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Our own common sense tells us that we need some rules for preserving and strengthening family life.
The family is being challenged for its right to endure. Many are choosing to forego marriage. Others are substituting life together without marriage for the traditional marriage relationship.
Those who do choose the traditional arrangement are having problems keeping things together and achieving stability within their marriages.
The family is primary to God as a means for blessing and guiding human lives. With the failure of so many homes in the different ways already identified, the will of God is being thwarted too frequently. One of the rules for right living points to the need for keeping the family strong through proper relationships between children and their parents.
What does it mean to honor our mother and father? To honor means more than demonstrating sentimental feelings. The word “honor” literally means to give weight or heaviness. To honor someone then means that we take them seriously.
Mark 7:9-13 (ESV) 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
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 be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.'”
There are some things that commend themselves to us as proper and right. Surely one of those things is showing honor to the man and woman responsible for bringing you into the world, feeding you, getting your cavities filled, nursing you when you were sick, and doing the million other things that go with being a parent.
Children can always derive great personal benefit from seeking and heeding the counsel of their parents. A child who has finished high school or a few years of college may already have more education than his parents; what he may not realize is that he is not yet as smart as his parents. There are some things that nobody learns except by living, having experience, failing at some things and bouncing back. The best lessons about life come from the good counsel of godly parents. If you have a relationship with people who have lived long enough to learn those lessons and who will share their wisdom with you, your life will be blessed.
We should honor our parents because the day will come when we cannot show them the honor we would like to give. Some don’t have your parents with you any longer. I hope you don’t have to look back with regret. I once told my parents that I appreciated all they had done for me…my mother promptly said this: “Do you know what you can do? Do it for your own children.”
Respect Is a Two-Way Street
The Bible teaches that children need discipline. “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). The sort of discipline spoken of here is administered with patience, tenderness, and love.
Severity of punishment in dealing with children violates the teaching of Paul: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Obedience must be learned, and it is the job of parents to teach it to their children. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Children need to cooperate with their parents in creating a good home. Parents should not have to fight their children for control of the family.
In America, several factors tend to undermine honoring parents.
(1.) There is the impact of technology. In previous generations fathers were often craftsmen, who had learned their trade from their fathers. It took a son years to match his own father in skills, and he would only gradually pass him up.
Now, a child in elementary school may be learning things that parents never heard of. Who of us, for example, would want to try to explain some of the math our kids are being taught in school? Thus, each new generation quickly surpasses the preceding generation in the knowledge it possesses. There is much temptation for the younger generation to think of its parents as out of date, antiquated in thinking. In a society where knowledge is prized more than wisdom, the older generation is fortunate to be respected, let alone honored, by the younger generation.
(2) Because of the rapid increase of divorce, children are often called upon to honor one parent and to despise the other. Neither parent can seem to tolerate the thought of the former mate having the respect of their child. If this were not bad enough, Freudian Psychology has provided each generation with an excuse to blame all of its problems on family members from our past. Countless expeditions into the parental past has provided many individuals with an expensive excursion into past history in order to pin the blame for their sins on someone else, often one or both parents.
(3) If it is possible to pin the blame for our problems on someone else, it is also easy to pin the responsibility of caring for aging parents on someone else. Perhaps more than any other time in history, we are looking to the government to carry much of the burden families have borne in providing for the needs of their aging parents. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs are viewed as the means for handling our obligation as children to our parents.
1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV) 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.
(4) Honor is due to more than just parents. The New Testament requires the Christian to honor all men (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 2:17). Learning to honor parents is thus a significant step in the direction of honoring others.
(5) If children must give honor to their parents, then parenting must be an honorable occupation. One should hardly have to make such a statement, but in today’s world it is necessary to do so. The fact that women line up at abortion clinics around the country and in various parts of the world suggests that bearing and raising children is viewed as something far less than a blessing. This rejects the clear teaching of the Bible. Those who would leave the home and seek fulfillment in the working world in order to gain dignity and respect have also turned from the truth of God’s Word. Let those who would seek to avoid parenting be reminded that in God’s Word parenting is a most honorable occupation.
(6) The way in which one relates to parents changes with conversion. When a person comes to Christ through baptism, there are a number of significant changes. When a person becomes a child of God by faith, God becomes a Father to them in a new and previously unknown way. While God was once denied, and His authority rejected (Ephesians 2:1‑3), now He is our Heavenly Father, with final authority, authority which has priority over all others, including fathers and mothers. As we have seen from our Lord’s teaching, faith in Christ may alienate children from their parents.
(7) The way in which one relates to parents changes with marriage. Marriage is usually the first of several dramatic changes in the child’s relationship with his parents. In the Book of Genesis, God revealed that marriage was to bring about a change in the way a child relates to his parents: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
- First, the son leaves the authority structure of his parents home to establish a new home, under his authority. This passage draws the son out from under his parents’ authority, as he had once been. My parents or Terry’s parents no longer had authority/control over us when we married…but of course are available to offer counsel when we asked for it.
- Second, the son is to leave home so that his devotion and affection will be primarily focused upon his wife. Certainly the son’s affection toward his parents is not terminated, but leaving his home lessens the competition between a man’s father and mother and his wife for his devotion and attention.
- Third, the instruction in this text suggests to us that the parent‑child relationship is temporary, the husband‑wife relationship is permanent.
(8) We honor our parents most when we obey and honor God in our lives. The highest goal of parents is to raise the child God has entrusted to them in such a way as to encourage and promote trust in God and obedience to His Word. Whenever a child trusts in God and obeys His Word, He honors his parents. Even an unbelieving parent is honored by a believing and obedient child.
(9) Honoring parents does not always mean that the child does what his parents want. Father and Mother are not to be honored because they are perfect, but because they are parents. They, like their children, are plagued with the frailties of mankind. They, like their children, sin. They will therefore make many mistakes in the parenting process. They will command that their children do the wrong things, at times. At times they will also forbid their children to do what is right.
(10) Honoring parents may someday require parenting parents. It is an irony indeed, but those who were once parented by fathers and mothers often find themselves parenting their parents in their final years of life. The parent that once fed and diapered the child may in the last days of their life be fed and diapered by their children. The child who was once parented now becomes his parent’s parent, making decisions for them, sometimes having to make choices against their will, even deciding how long to allow artificial, life preserving devices to maintain some semblance of life. There is no thought less pleasant than this, but for many it has been, is, or will be a reality.
(11) Since we must honor all men, this means that parents must honor their children. Much has been said and written about developing self‑esteem in children. I think I would differ with some of this teaching, based upon the fact that much self‑esteem is simply renamed pride, and the Book of Proverbs has more to say about the need for humility in a child than self-confidence (and certainly than self‑love). We must, however, deal with our children in a way that not only manifests our own dignity (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4), but also reflects the dignity of the child as a creation of God, one for whom Christ died. Thus, we must honor our children, as we must honor all others.