Teenagers. Parenting them is challenging. They are stubborn, arrogant, prideful and all of the other qualities with which we struggle in ourselves! One day I corrected my daughter for complaining to me about a decision that her father had made. I told her that she was disrespectful, but I was struck by how I would sometimes complain about her father too. Ouch. I realized that I need to intentionally teach my children how to honor your father and your mother.
Honor is an uncommon word and idea in our modern culture. Yet, honor is very important to God. As Christian parents, it is vital that we intentionally shape and mold our children to follow God and not the culture.
I want to share with you what the Bible says about why you need to honor your father and mother. Then, we are going to look at how to honor your parents as a child, how to honor your parents as an adult, and then how to honor your parents after they die. For you see, we too are called to honor our parents. Our children are more likely to do what we do than to do what we say. How well do we model the call to honor your father and your mother?
The Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Father and Your Mother
God led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. They were no longer slaves and were headed to the Promised Land. With their reclaimed identity, the needed new laws to guide them. Moses met God on Mt. Sinai and gave the people the 10 commandments.
The commandments are divided into two groups: those commandments that tell us how to act toward God and then those commandments that tell us how to act towards one another. You would expect either an even split, 5 to 5, or a split more in God’s favor – yet there are six commandments for how we are to treat one another.
The first of those six is the fifth commandment. “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 After God instructed the people as to how they were to treat Him, his next command is how we are to treat our parents.
God, the Father, is instructing us on to how to treat our earthly father and mother.
The family is the basic unit of our lives, and within our families, we are to learn how to honor God and to treat others. One can argue that this is the most important commandment of the those directed at how we treat others because in a rightly ordered and godly home we will be disciplined to follow all the other commandments.
The fifth commandment is the only commandment with a promise. All the commandments are good, obviously, they are from God. We are called to obey all of them because we love, honor, and worship God. Yet, this one commandment is the lone commandment to come with a promise: “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” For the Israelites in the desert, this meant that they were to honor their parents so that they could live a long life in the Promised Land.
What does the promise mean to us today? For us, it means that honoring parents is held up as a way to live a long and good life. Family connections and a heritage of faith are the keys to the godly life or purpose in the Kingdom of God.
How then shall we live out this commandment? We are not just teaching our children to honor us as their parents, but we are also modeling for them how we are to honor parents in adulthood. Eventually, we will also have to model how to honor our parents in death. How we treat our parents will be a model for how our children might someday treat us!
Honor your Father and Your Mother as a Child
When our children are little we are like gods to them. We provide all that they need. We tell them when to sleep and when to rise. We control what they will wear and where they will go. We are their whole world.
From us, they are to learn security and love just as the first man and women did from God in the Garden of Eden. Our children are not really ours but God’s children. We have stewardship over them and it is our responsibility to point them back to God.
Inevitably, our children grow up and start to exert their own independence. The process of discipleship and discipline begins. We teach our children to obey us so that they will be able to obey God. They must learn to honor and submit to our authority so that someday they will be able to submit to God’s authority.
Honor means to respect, to love, to show reverence, to treat with dignity, to value, to prize, to see as weighty and important. These are all of the different aspects of honor expressed for the Hebrew and Greek words used for honor in the Bible.
We are to disciple our children to honor and treat us with these qualities above. While we are at it, we are training them to treat others with respect, dignity, and value as well. It makes sense that if we focus on these traits, then our children will not steal from others, they won’t take someone’s life, they won’t lie, they won’t commit adultery, they won’t be burdened with jealousy for what others have.
What does this look like practically speaking?
- First-time obedience
- Not talking back
- Obeying even when we are not present
- Obedience that is not reluctant
What do our children need from us?
- Consistency in obedience and discipline
- Make decisions that are good for the whole family and not just us
- To be loving and firm
- To extend grace when needed
- To respect them as unique people
- To treat them with compassion
- To pray with them and for them
Teaching our children to be compassionate, respectful, humble, and godly people begins with the foundation of teaching them to honor their parents. In our modern culture, our homes are child-focused rather than parent-focused. Sadly, we see that this shift has not had good results. If we love our children, we must make a return to the biblical instruction to honor parents.
Honor your Father and Your Mother as an Adult
The fifth commandment does not expire when we become adults. We no longer need our parent’s permission to do things, but we are still called to value their counsel and advice. We can honor someone and respect someone even if we disagree.
When we get married, we are no longer a part of our parent’s home and have formed our own. It would be unbiblical for our parent’s instruction to take precedence over the wishes of our spouse. We have to healthy boundaries where our parents respect our new home, and we can still value the wisdom of their home.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37
(Always, always – our first obedience is to God. Honoring God always comes before honoring our parents. If you parent is acting in a way that is harmful and abusive, you are not called to ignore that in the name of honor. You honor your parents by not allowing them to continue to sin against you. You honor your parent by forcing them to get help for their sinful actions. We honor them when we put up healthy boundaries and continue to compassionately pray for their salvation from sin.)
How we treat our parents is how we are modeling to our children how we are to be treated. Do we value speaking with them? Do we seek their counsel? Do we enjoy speaking time with them? Do we make it a priority to visit them? Do we welcome them warmly into our home? Do we seek to help them when they are in need?
Honor Your Parents & Your In-Laws
Loving our parents and our in-laws is not always easy. Some relatives are down-right challenging. By showing our relatives hospitality and compassion, we are modeling for our children how to show love to others when it is not easy. Face it; we are not always easy to love either.
Have you ever thought of the fact that how you speak of your mother in law is how you are teaching your child to allow you to be spoken of someday? Ouch. How you speak of your father’s faults is how you are modeling for your children to speak of your faults someday. We honor our parents when we are respectful with how we speak of them to others. We honor our parents when we choose to focus on their gifts and not their weaknesses. We honor our parents by loving them when they are not very lovable – just as they loved us when we were not lovable growing up.
Honor your Father and Your Mother in their Old Age
How you treat your parents in their old age is how you are modeling for your children how you are to be treated. As Christians, we are called to care for our aging relatives in need.
“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.” 1Timothy 5:8
Denied the faith? Worse than an unbeliever? That is a very forceful rebuke that we must take seriously. Are our aging parents a nuisance to us? Do we have the patience for their physical and mental struggles? Do we treat them like children or do we guide them with honor? Are their financial struggles their own or do we take care of our family so that they can live out their days with dignity?
Honor your Father and Your Mother in Memory of Them
As Christians, we take comfort in knowing that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses as described in Hebrews 11. If we have been privileged to have Christian parents, they are a part of those waiting in heaven to welcome us home.
We can honor our parents by keeping their memory alive for our children and grandchildren. Honor their positive traits and contributions. Remember their anniversary because it is from that love and commitment that you were born.
When we gather together as the church, we are reminded of the generations of Christians that have gone on before us. We are not alone in our worship and our struggles. When we honor our parents, our children are given an opportunity to appreciate the legacy that they have been given. We are modeling for our children that life is both short and long. They have their opportunity to make an impact and to leave a legacy – what will be remembered of them.
Honor your Father and Your Mother: The Promise
As Christian parents, we know that the best legacies are not ones of wealth but of rich relationships. In honoring our parents, we have an opportunity to intentionally shape that legacy of remembrance. Time has not run out for us yet. How can we deepen those bonds? How can we add more laughter and joy? Where do we need to seek healing? And in all things, how can we point our family back again and again to God the Father? No earthly promise compares to the promise of salvation we have in Him.