“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
As a child, there was no room to argue against the command to honor my parents. It was clear that I was to be obedient and respect them. But as an adult, the lines became blurred and little by little, the weight and glory of God’s Word began to erode away in my heart. I walked in darkness and did not know the way I was going (John 12:35b). In the pride of my “own understanding” (Prov 3:5b), I determined the way I should go and often resisted the counsel and wisdom of my parents.
You know the battle–the war that goes on in your heart as a young, unmarried adult: you know what you want to do, but your parents counsel you otherwise. You resist. You might even become resentful or embittered towards them after awhile. You no longer see them as image-bearers of the living God, but as individuals who have their own agenda and appear to want to make life hard for you.
We all come from different backgrounds. Some of us have parents who desire to be intricately involved in our lives, others don’t want anything to do with us, and others stand somewhere in the middle. As we seek to understand what it means to honor our parents, we may not always be able to spell it out, practically, in black and white. Scripture does not give us an explicit set of practical steps to take in every situation and circumstance, but it does set the highest standard through the law of Love.
I will be the first to confess and admit that I have not obeyed the Lord faithfully, or willingly, in this command throughout my life, especially my early adult years. The Lord has brought me a long way–through many difficult trials–and while I cannot say I have become perfect in this, or have it all figured out now, I can say that by God’s grace, I desire to continue to seek and to know and understand the heart of God through His Word. If it is true that He does not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11), then I want to walk in the righteousness of Christ–trusting Him for His great grace and strength. I want my life to bear the fruit of the Spirit in all my ways.
My own story is unique and flows against the norm. I am thankful that God’s ways are not confined to the limits of man’s tradition, or tainted by our many cultural influences (Isaiah 55:8-9). Throughout the years, my parents and I have had many disagreements, arguments and points of conflict–especially during my young adult life.
One particularly painful area of conflict between us surrounded relationships and interactions with the opposite sex. My parent’s counsel often came across to my embittered heart as harsh, too strict, unkind and unloving. I often listened to the voice of my flesh which reasoned and justified my feelings of resentment. I brooded in bogs of self-pity, which often led me to sin in other ways. I wanted to do things my way, and I wanted to pursue whomever I was drawn or attracted to (within the community of Believers, of course). It seemed that everywhere I turned, I faced their opposition in some form or another. No, this wasn’t true, and yes, my deceitful heart greatly exaggerated and warped my view of their motivations and love for me (or lack thereof). I know today how unconditionally my father and mother love me–even when there are times of trial and conflict.
But God, in His great grace and mercy and steadfast love and faithfulness, graciously brought me to a breaking point in my life, and since that day, He has been teaching me and showing me that this life is not about me, but about Him. He saved me. He delivered me from death and darkness and transferred me into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, Jesus. He gave me the grace to believe through faith on Jesus and turn to walk in the path of righteousness.
What is Honor?
Simply stated, honor means to manifest the highest reverence for, or to esteem. Honor is a reflection of a heart-attitude that is living and active. “Honor your father and your mother” (Eph. 6:2) is a broader and deeper command than obedience (Eph. 6:1). Genuine obedience is the practical outpouring of a heart that is seeking to love and to honor. Do you obey simply out of duty (or to get your own way), or do you obey out of reverence and love for your parents?
A few good questions we should ask ourselves as we consider what it means to honor our parents might be: Do I truly love my parents unconditionally? Do I understand the depths of my depravity, know the great grace of God through Christ, and love my parents likewise? How am I pro-actively showing honor to my parents? How often do I consider the things I appreciate about my parents? Or are my thoughts towards them resentful and embittered? Am I indifferent towards them? Do I pray for them regularly?
Perhaps we might even put ourselves in their shoes and ask the question this way: How would I want my own children to respond in the face of my own failures and inadequacies?
Lord willing, someday I will be a father too. I know that I have many weaknesses, some I may not see until then, but I know I would want my children to extend grace and love to me through it all. And as a child–a son–I have this opportunity to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” I have this opportunity to love my parents even through their failures and shortcomings by continuing to bless them, and not revile them (1 Peter 3:9).
The command to honor is not conditional. Our parents are God-given, and He has called us to love and honor them, regardless of how they speak, act or otherwise treat (or neglect) us.
This can seem discouraging for many, especially to those who may not feel right now that their parents love or care about them, but what we must be reminded of–and this is where faith comes to work–is that God Himself is the rewarder of those who seek Him. God is the one who gave the commandment. God is the one who will bring to fulfillment the promised reward and blessing for obedience to His Word. Do you believe that? Then love and honor your parents boldly and confidently with the assurance of God’s promises. Honor your parents as unto the Lord.
Deep down at the heart of all this relational conflict we face, not only with our parents, but others also, is that in our flesh, we desire our own way–we need to be in control–and when someone else comes in the way of that, we are tempted to react out of pride and selfish ambition.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1-3)
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6a)
A Better Way
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
At the heart of our relationships with our parents (or any relationship), God has commanded that we love. In other words, the command to honor your father and your mother is summed up in the command to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s how God wants us to relate to others, and particularly in this case, to our parents.
While I am not a theologian and can’t claim to fully grasp the implications here, I do believe that there is particular significance in the relationship of children and parents because that family structure is a reflection of His own image and relationship within the trinity. We see this explicitly demonstrated by Jesus on the Mount of Olives when He prayed to His Father.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Think of the implications here. Jesus, the Son of God, perfect and without sin–fully righteous– honors His Father by saying, “not My will, but Yours, be done.”
What excuse do I have? The example of Christ is what we are to follow. We are commanded to imitate Him. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1)
There it is: Walk in love…as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us. We are told exactly how to love our parents–by giving ourselves up for them. Do you love your parents like this? Does the Gospel of Jesus and His death and resurrection have such an impact on your life that you are willing to radically love your parents, even when it’s hard? I pray for God’s grace that it be so in our lives, because it is right (Ephesians 6:1).
Are you willing to go so far as to lay your life down for your father and your mother? “Yes, of course!” you might say, but what about when they ask something of you, or counsel you in a manner that you strongly disagree with? What about when your own desires are in conflict with theirs? What about honoring and loving them then? Which is harder–to die to your own desires, or say you are willing to lay your life down for them?
In order to truly love sinful people (yes, your parents and mine are sinful too…as we know well), our love cannot be conditional to anything they say or don’t say, or do or don’t do. Our love and decision to honor them must be solely based on the love of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Don’t miss what’s being said here: Jesus died so that we would no longer live in a manner that seeks only our own interests and desires, but in a manner that lives for Christ! We have hope in this: that He gives us grace to love as He has loved us.
“For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
We must choose to honor our parents, not based on who they are, but because of who Christ is, and what He has done for us, and for them. Sometimes that means doing hard things. Sometimes that means making life-changing decisions. And rather than responding with an arrogant, self-centered attitude towards their counsel and advice, or even words that hurt and wound us, we should listen whole-heartedly, and act in faith towards God’s promises and entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23), and He will reward in due time.
Is God sufficient in our hearts and minds? Is His promise of reward and blessing valuable to us? Do we want it? Do we long for Him? Do we delight in Him? If our trust is in the Lord, then we will be able to have peace and relate to our parents in steadfast love and honor, even through conflict.
I know that everyone’s situation and circumstances are different, as I acknowledged earlier, but we serve the same God whose character is unchanging. We love the same Savior who shed His blood for our parents. My challenge and encouragement to my fellow brothers and sisters is this:
Learn to delight in God. Seek to know and understand Jesus. Ask the Lord to teach you how to love and honor your parents well.
Gracious Father, Your Word is piercing and convicting. I confess that I struggle with what it means to honor and love my parents when we don’t see eye to eye. I know that my reactions are most often born out of self-pity and pride, and I ask for Your forgiveness. Please teach us all Your ways. Show us how to love and honor our parents in our respective families and situations we each find ourselves in, because we know that it is really about You–this is all about loving Jesus. I pray against the temptations that will come to so many of us to justify our own selfish ambitions over living as You have called us. Grant us the grace to take up our crosses daily and to become a living sacrifice for You. Open our eyes to the hope and reward in humble obedience and consider it all joy in every trial we face. Teach us to bless our parents and love them as You have loved us. In Jesus’ Name I ask these things, Amen.