The word “Honor” literally means “to make heavy.” When my kids are stressing me out and I drown my stress in ice cream, I somehow don’t think this is what the Bible had in mind by being honored by my kids. What does it mean to honor your parents? This post serves as a general summary of the fifth commandment.
The Fifth Commandment instructs us, “Honor your father and mother, that it may go well in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12). While we can look at this and immediately think about our children, we need to be quick to admit this commandment doesn’t have an expiration date. It doesn’t expire when you turn 18. Many scholars believe this was one way God desired for his people to take care of their aging parents. This commandment is for all of us!
Honoring your parents should begin at a young age. As children, we need to be thankful for the parents God has given us, recognizing they have a tough job. We aren’t perfect children. They aren’t perfect parents. We all need patience and grace.
Honor and obedience aren’t the same thing. You can obey without honoring the person in authority; but you cannot honor them without obedience. We should not obey our parents simply out of fear or manipulation, but out of respect and trust. Honestly evaluate how to you treat your parents, and then consider whether or not “honor” would be a good way to describe your attitude towards them.
When we think about the commandment to “Honor your father and mother,” it’s easy to only think about young children obeying their parents. But we’re all children, regardless of age. Parents, do your children hear you griping and complaining about your parents (their grandparents)? As challenging as it may be, you need to resist the temptation to see your aging parents as an inconvenience. Are you setting an example of how you would like your children to treat you when you’re older?
By learning how to live under authority now, we are learning how to live under authority as adults (teachers, bosses, etc.). I think it’s impossible for someone to live in faithful submission to God’s authority without knowing how to live under humble submission to human authorities. We practice submitting to God by how we treat the people who are in authority over us. If you only follow directions when you agree, then you’ll do the same thing with God – only follow until He says something you don’t like. Being a good follower is a deeply spiritual issue.
This is why Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1–4). We need childlike faith not because children are so innocent and obedient, but because children realize they live under authority. Do you have a habit of fighting authority, or do you know how to follow directions… even when you don’t like it and disagree?
We honor God by honoring our parents. We practice submitting to God’s authority by learning how to live under authority as children. The Bible has some strong words for those who are disrespectful towards their parents. If the Bible treats this like a big issue, so should we! And before God, we are all called to be children who submit to our Heavenly Father.
[Note: this is based off a sermon I preached at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Feb 28, 2016. Audio of that sermon may be found here.]