“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise:
3 “That it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Yesterday was my son’s thirteenth birthday. I really enjoy being a parent, but I know there are limits to what I can do to keep my children on the straight and narrow. I cannot be with them 24/7 to guide them and admonish them, to protect them and to encourage them. As Paul says in the verse above, my goal is to train them in the ways of the Lord so that they will make the right decisions on their own. After all, the proverb does say, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Of course, the danger in that proverb is also a subtle truth about raising children: if we train them the wrong way, if we allow them to go wherever they will as children, then surely they shall not depart from that evil way as they grow older. Our best hope is to train and admonish our children without wrath nor malice, so that they grow in the knowledge and faith of the Lord.
God’s command to the Israelites–in particular, the adults–was that they should honor their parents. It seems a simple enough thing to respect, revere, and be loyal to one’s parents. We like to think that it is their due, that our parents have raised us and made us who we are, and so they deserve our honor to them. But what if our parents have NOT raised us well? What if they were abusive, provoking us to wrath? What if THEY did not honor US, but instead dishonored us before others? What if our parents abandoned us, showed no love, gave no admonishment nor training in the Lord? What if their foul instruction led us to broken lives of sin and darkness, keeping us from a proper relationship with the Lord? Should we honor our father and our mother then? Look at the commandment again:
“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
Do we see any conditions in there? Is there a clause that says, “Honor them–but only if they have been good to you”? No, there is no such condition. The commandment is simple and direct: Honor your father and your mother. That is what we are commanded to do, and so that is what we must do.
Why must we do it? Can’t we just skip this commandment and go on to the prohibitions–“Thou shalt NOT…”? If we have had awful parents, why should we even bother honoring them?
We should do so for two reasons, as shown in the words of Moses above:
1) The LORD our God has commanded it.
2) Following the commandment will bring us long life and blessings in the place which our Lord gives us.
“The land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Now, isn’t that an interesting phrase? Think about that for a second. The Lord our God is GIVING us something, taking us to a place where it might actually be worth living a long life. God is fulfilling His promise to our fathers. (Exodus 6:2-8) So we can see from this commandment that if we honor our parents as the Lord commands, then we will flourish in the place where the Lord leads us. And, by implication, if we do NOT honor our parents, then it will NOT go so well for us.
But we still might wonder why there are no conditions. I know quite a few people who refuse to honor parents who abused them or who abandoned them, who refuse to honor parents who seem to have been less-than-stellar examples of good parenting. When we do that, we are placing OUR OWN conditions on God’s commandment! Remember the first time someone did that? It was back in the garden of Eden, when Eve misquoted the commandment of the Lord not to eat of the fruit of the tree. (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:2-3) We all know how that ended! We might not want to go that route.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
48 “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Jesus tells us “love your enemies, bless those who curse you.” Why? “That you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” You see, it’s not about just “doing the right thing,” as some would have us believe. Honoring and loving our parents is about being more Christ-like, it is about being perfected in the image and in the love of God, about being children of our Father in heaven.
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
God puts no conditions upon His love for us, and nothing can ever separate us from that love. (Romans 8:38-39) And when we love as He loves–loving even those who curse us, loving those who spitefully use us, loving those who seem so unworthy of love and honor and respect–then we are perfected, made complete, as sons and daughters of God. And as children of God, are we not heirs of His promises? Are we not co-heirs with Christ of the blessing of eternal life? When we keep His commandments, do we not abide in His love?
I love my father and my mother–and my step-mother and step-father and my in-laws–even though I may not talk to them much, even though I may not visit them very often. Life itself gets in the way of so much we want to do in this world. But I DO honor them, respect them, love them. I listen respectfully to my parents’ advice and admonishment. I often mention my parents in my conversations with friends and even in my preaching. I talk about my father’s great integrity and my mother’s great faith. I talk about how, despite setbacks along the way, they both made me who I am today. They all are deserving of such great honor! What should I do, pin medals on their shirts, call parades in their honor, plaster their faces on billboards with a huge slogan about how great they are?
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.”
Do you see how Jesus honored His Father? He honored Him by being obedient, by doing the work He was set to do, by glorifying His Father’s name through His own actions. Jesus honored His Father by BEING HONORABLE.
When was the last time you heard someone say “You’re a credit to your parents”? When was the last time you had the chance to do something questionable and then stopped yourself with the thought that it wouldn’t reflect well on your parents? Honoring our parents does mean that we should not curse them, not revile them, and it also means we are to respect them. But honoring our parents actually has more to do with our own present behavior than with how our parents raised us. No matter how awful our parents may have been, we can still honor them on this earth by being good and noble and honest and loving and, above all, obedient to the Lord our God.
If we are such people–people who love the Lord and who live up to His commandments and His righteousness–then we can expect that life will go well for us wherever we are. And we can also expect that His blessings will come to us, that He will lead us to the Promised Land and show us long life and prosperity among fellow believers. You see, the prosperity that God promises in this commandment is not simple worldly prosperity, not a prosperity that comes to us despite the brokenness of the world, but it is a prosperity that abounds because we all are working together in the name of the Lord, honoring our parents and honoring the Lord our God by caring for one another. It will go well for us in the place the Lord is giving us because we all are going to that place together, we all are adhering to the Word of God, we all are seeking His righteousness and finding that, indeed, all these things are added unto us. (Matthew 6:33)
35 “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’;
36 “and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’
37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
39 “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
The opposition of which Jesus speaks in this passage is the opposition between believers and unbelievers, between those who love Christ and those who do not. And yet, in loving Jesus more than we love our parents, in being obedient to God over and above our parents, we can yet bring honor to our parents by being the very ones who pick up our crosses daily and follow our Lord. In losing our life for Jesus, we bring glory and honor to our Father in heaven AND to our earthly parents. What greater honor could there be?
I am blessed to have two wonderful children who are not stereotypical modern teenagers. They are loving and respectful, and they bring me great honor simply by being the children they are. They are not perfect and neither am I, but we all are working at being perfected in the Lord. We care for each other and love each other and respect each other, and we bring honor to each other in the way we act among others. That is what God is commanding us to do: to honor our fathers and our mothers by reflecting the character of our Father in heaven, by being honorable ourselves and thus bringing honor both to our parents and to the Lord our God. If we love the Lord Jesus and act so honorably in His name, then it surely will go well for us in the place the Lord is giving us, and there we shall surely know eternal life.
Blessed God and Father, I pray simply that my life may be glorifying unto You, that all honor and praise may be Yours. Then I know that my parents will be honored by my life, that by putting You first I shall bring more honor to my parents than I ever could with empty praise and selfish obedience. You have blessed me with great parents, Lord, and great children, too. May all our lives reflect more honor to You. Amen.