Honor your father and your mother

Exodus 20:12
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”

Ephesians 6:1-4
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:


Deuteronomy 5:16
“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.


Matthew 5:43-48
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.


John 15:10
“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?


John 17:4
“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)


Matthew 10:35-39
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.

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About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and husband to a beautiful wife and the father of four lovely kids. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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6 Responses to Honor your father and your mother

  1. Joshua says:

    [Edited for content]
    Honor Thy Father and Your Mother

    Hey Jimmy (12)

    Yes Father? (37)

    Go over there and [dishonor] sister Suzy… while your uncle and me record it.

    Yes Father, I shall honor you.

    Jimmy gets to work…………

    All that I am saying is that, literally, this is what can happen if you truly believe in the Bible.

    • First of all, Joshua, you plainly did NOT read my article here. That’s too bad, because, if you had read it, you would see that honoring our parents is NOT equal to blind obedience. Such obedience is just plain slavery, and Christ died to free us from such bondage in this world–bondage to idols, to addictions, to oppression, and even to abusive parents.

      Second, in reading this article, you will see what I DO mention as the perfect way to honor our parents: by being obedient to God and reflecting the love and will of Christ. By being honorable ourselves, we reflect honor to our parents.

      The Hebrew word translated as “honor” in this commandment is a word that means to give weight to or to treat as worthy. Again, that does NOT mean disobeying the commandments of God, nor does it mean to demean oneself or others at our parents’ whim. Remember, we are to have NO other gods nor idols before our LORD–and that includes our parents. As I said in the article, Christ told us that He came to set family members against each other in that some would believe in Him–and thus follow and obey God–and others would not believe in Him–and would defy and deny God. But even if one’s parents are horrid monsters, we can STILL give them some of our honor by forgiving them, by loving them, and by being honorable ourselves.

      Next time, I would suggest you read and reflect on the article before you comment.

      By the way, I do not “truly believe in the Bible.” I truly believe in the one true and living God and in His Son who lived and died and rose again on the third day. THAT leads me to obedience to His commandments–but NOT to blind faith in ANY human being, not even my parents.

  2. Lydia says:

    I live 12 hours from my mother. My brother lives 6 hours away. My sister lives next door.
    Last summer my mother was ill so I left my husband and children to spend a week with her.
    Last month I drove home to attend my uncle’s funeral.
    My mother and I disagree about politics and religion because we don’t believe the same things about God.

    After the President announced that he supported gay marriage I called my mother to ask her if she was still going to support him. During the conversation we discussed the Democrat support of abortion and the health care bill’s requirement that employer’s provide for birthcontrol and abortafascias (spelling?). My mother told me that she hoped that if my daughters were raped and became pregnant that I would get them an abortion. I told her that the baby would be my grandchild whether or not I was happy about how it was conceived.

    For several days after our conversation I remained upset. So I wrote her a letter.

    “Dear Mom,

    Did you choose your parents?
    Did you choose when or how you were conceived?
    Did you choose whether or not you were handicapped?
    Did you choose to be male or female?

    When someone makes a “choice” to kill another person, God calls it “murder.”

    Murder was illegal in Nazi Germany unless you were killing people the government considered less than human. Tens of thousands (correction – millions) were murdered legally.

    Would you have given money to or voted for the politicians who justified or endorsed killing those people?

    Murder is also against the law in our county except for the people our government considers less than human. In the past blacks and native Americans were legally murdered. Now babies are legally murdered. How many tens of thousands have been murdered legally here since Roe vs. Wade?

    “Shall the throne of iniquity,
    which devises evil by law,
    Have fellowship with You?
    They gather together against the life of the righteous.
    And condemn innocent blood.”
    Psalms 94:20, 21

    No one is more innocent than a child in his mother’s womb. Scripture teaches that God knows a child and has a plan for his life before he is born (Psalm 139:13-167 and Isaiah 49:1, 2). The child in the womb is not less than human in His eyes.

    We all choose to follow God or men.

    Can you follow Jesus and give money to or vote for a politician who justifies or endorses killing the innocent?

    Grace be with you,
    Lydia”

    The next week I found out from my brother that my mother had gone to a cousin’s wedding shower and announced that she was giving all of her land (100 acres) to my sister because my brother and I don’t do anything for her.

    My mother goes to church three times a week. She is a moral woman. But she doesn’t want to see the truth. I asked her if she would rather be cheated (that’s what she accuses Republican’s of) or killed? She told me she didn’t know. When I pressed her she said if she was killed she’d go to heaven. I thought of when Christ asked the Pharisees whether John’s baptism came from heaven or men and they wouldn’t answer. And I realized my mother has a dishonest heart.

    I have lost all respect for my mother. The fact that she calls herself a Christian but isn’t concerned about what our Lord would want makes it worse.

    My mother and my sister think that because I disagree with my mother and try to show her the truth that I am not honoring her.

    We are also commanded to honor the king but John the Baptist publicly criticized Herod for his immoral relationship with this brother’s wife.

    At this point I think all I can do is give her space and have a shallow relationship of birthday cards, etc. If my mother needed something, I would happily give it to her. But I’ve lost respect for her.

    • Glenn Pettit says:

      Lydia,
      Honoring our parents when we feel they have departed from God’s Word is one of the hardest things we can do–and it’s even harder if they have wronged us directly. But as I mentioned in this essay, God did not place conditions on this commandment, and it is not up to us to choose which parent we shall honor. We are to honor our parents no matter what. We didn’t choose them the way we choose our friends, and we didn’t raise them like we do our own children, and so we really have no control over how our parents behave or what they do. Or do we?

      I am truly blessed to have good parents. Sure, my dad doesn’t attend church regularly or go on mission trips or do the big “religious” things we associate with Godliness, but he loves the Lord and he has taught me to be a man of integrity, to be truthful and disciplined. He honored me by teaching me to be honorable. My mother was born again after I left home, but she prayed for me for decades before I came to the Lord and was baptized. I am lucky to have honorable parents, and I know many people don’t get that–especially the younger generation being born into single-parent homes with no father to lead their household and teach them. But I had to learn to be honorable, and I continue to learn that as I read and study the Bible. Right now I am leading a study of the book of Joshua, and I see honor written everywhere in that man’s actions. But who is he honoring? Like his namesake Jesus, Joshua honors God Himself.

      So what are we to do with recalcitrant parents? Honor them by being honorable, and pray for them always. Do not give in to the spirit which tells us to argue and be contentious, but also do not ever back down from defending the Gospel. I come back again and again to Paul’s admonition to “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29) In other words, rather than being argumentative or critical of other people (including our parents), we must show them the grace and love of our Lord, teaching them what it means to honor our Father in heaven.

      I pray that God will bring you the strength to continue being honorable, to bring honor to your mother by being true to the Lord your God. May your speech be seasoned with the salt of love. Peace be with you always.

      G.

      • Lydia says:

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. I know I can’t do this. I don’t even know how. I need the Lord to work in me both to will and to do. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

  3. Nikki says:

    I am very happy that I found your site and this message because I was conflicted about this situation because I have always had a horrible relationship with my parents mainly my mother and I would always end up putting my self in a situation where she would hurt me over and over again! Verbally that is. She always made me feel like I was worthless and never did anything for her and after I was born again I tried everything to have a relationship with her even after my father passed away I knew that he would want me to try to help her and she kept comming back to hurt me! This message was so wonderful when I found it because it made me realize that I dont have to put my self in that situation to be able to honor them I just have to live my life the way GOD wants me to and always put him first and live my life in honor of him and that will honor my parents!!!

    Thanks so much for such a wonderful insite!

    Nikki

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