God our Father has placed the principle of honoring our parents within His Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12 Exodus 20:12Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long on the land which the LORD your God gives you.
American King James Version×, Deuteronomy 5:16 Deuteronomy 5:16Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
American King James Version×). So we know it’s a highly important matter to Him. Yet it’s sometimes hard to be certain of exactly what is expected in fulfilling God’s Fifth Commandment.
Honoring parents under ideal circumstances
If one’s parents are among those who live according to the principles of godly living and we get along well with them, the idea of honor toward parents is more straightforward.
When we are young we should obey our parents and pay attention to their instruction. Later, when we are older, we leave and set up our own household. We then make our own choices and are responsible for those choices. When we marry and have children we then assume the role of parents ourselves. But that does not mean we have no further responsibilities toward our own parents.
Work to overcome the negative elements of your relationship with your parents and follow God’s command to honor your mother and father. You will be rewarded for it by God your true Father and creator.
If our parents become incapable of taking care of themselves through sickness, disability or the natural decline of old age, we should help and assist them.
Whether we are young or old we should never hit our parents in anger or frustration. We should not speak harshly to them. We should not speak about them to others in a manner that is hateful, dismissive or demeaning.
An affectionate, harmonious relationship with your parents certainly makes following God’s command to show honor to parents seem a lot more natural. However, following this command still requires self-control and sacrifice even when you both share the same faith towards God.
What about parents who make bad choices?
Lots of parents out there do not live godly lives. Even parents who try to live according to God’s way can make terrible mistakes. Some people’s parents are abusive, some are neglectful, some are addicts, selfish, foolish, lazy or unfair. Under such circumstances following God’s command to honor parents can seem strange and difficult to do.
God wants us to respect His authority
God’s command to honor our parents establishes a root concept of respect for and honor towards authority in what we say and do. All authority, whether in heaven or on earth, begins and ends with God. For now, we experience this authority as it has been delegated to others both spiritual and human.
The command for children to honor parents is established to begin teaching us this attitude from our earliest formative years. It is built around the most fundamental and universal of all human relationships: parent and child. In other areas of Scripture, God expands His expectations regarding our approach to authority. He desires that we also show respect for and show honor to human government, officials, kings, rulers, etc. God requires us to show respect for authority whether the person wielding it is righteous or not (Romans 13:1-7 Romans 13:1-7 1 Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that does evil.
5 Why you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay you tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually on this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
American King James Version×; 1 Peter 2:13-19 1 Peter 2:13-19 13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or to governors, as to them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the fraudulent. 19 For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
American King James Version×).
God’s program is that we learn to show honor toward fallible and flawed human authority. These situations can be difficult and trying. However our efforts show Him we can be trusted to respect God’s own righteous authority if and when we are granted eternal life within God’s own family. Challenging and questioning God’s authority disrupts peace and harmony and has no lasting place in eternity.
Showing honor and respect in difficult situations
A favorite example of showing honor for human authority that is not acting in an honorable manner is David’s dealings with Saul, the king of Israel. For no good reason, Saul declared David his enemy, called David an enemy of the state and tried repeatedly to kill David. Yet David continued to speak and act with honor and respect towards Saul because of Saul’s position as king of Israel. While he showed respect and honor toward Saul, David wisely kept away from the man and removed himself from harm and danger.
Honoring parents in difficult situations
Showing honor and respect does not demand that we subject our self to abuse, violence or harm. Like the practical example of David mentioned previously you may find that for various reasons you need to practice respect and honor toward your parents from a distance in order to protect yourself emotionally or physically.
As a young person still under your parents control your responsibility to obey your parents does not require you to do anything that is contrary to the express will of God. If you are ever compelled to do anything disobedient to God, the responsibility for such actions will be upon your parents, not you. Neither should you feel compelled to obey parental instructions that put you in danger or are exploitive. If you find a way of escape you should take it. But be careful you don’t use this as a clever argument to avoid legitimate requests made by parents.
Healing the breach through forgiveness
When you reach the point of adulthood and have established your own household you may find yourself still struggling with how to show respect and honor towards your parents. Emotional scars may run deep, bad parenting may have left you bitter, or deep divides in respective lifestyles may divide you. The only effective solution begins with forgiveness. Forgive your parents for whatever mistakes they have made. Let go of the condemnation you feel in your heart and mind and leave the matter with God.
Forgiveness does not mean you must agree with or approve of whatever your parents have done. Forgiveness means you are willing to put the past behind you and move on to a better future.
You may be able to repair a damaged relationship with your parents through gestures of kindness and a gentle humility. You may find that for your own well being you still need to keep some distance between you and your parents. Restoring an affectionate relationship with parents is a desirable goal but not necessarily the same as showing respect and honor.
You too can show honor to your parents by taking care of their needs if they become incapable of taking care of themselves through sickness, injury or old age.
You too also show respect and honor towards your parents by what you do not do. Do not treat your parents harshly. Do not speak of your parents, or speak to your parents, in a manner that is disrespectful, insulting, demeaning, dismissive or impolite. In this way, you will avoid showing contempt for the authority God has delegated to parents.
A commandment with a reward attached
Work to overcome the negative elements of your relationship with your parents and follow God’s command to honor your mother and father. You will be rewarded for it by God your true Father and creator (Ephesians 6:2 Ephesians 6:2Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;
American King James Version×). With this promise of reward, the Fifth Command is unique among the Ten Commandments God has given us to live by. Honor toward parents is a fundamental principle of God’s way of thought, which He wants you to learn and practice. Respect and honor toward parents lead to more harmonious relationships within human families, but most importantly it will lead to harmony within the eternal family of God.
If you want to learn more about how you can use all God’s Ten Commandments to live a fuller and more satisfying life, read our Bible study aid The Ten Commandments.
If you want biblical guidance on how to be a better parent yourself, take a look at Marriage and the Family: The Missing Dimension .