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We must honor our father and our mother. We must do so when we are young and they are inexperienced. We must do so when we are middle-aged and our parents are old and sometimes cantankerous. We must do so when they behave right and when they behave poorly. The command is not qualified by anything other than the fact that they are our parents and we are their children.

Just ask Canaan

Noah was drunk and naked but that did not justify the disrespect shown by one of his family. Shem and Japheth had the good grace to cover him up, but the line of Canaan suffered a continual curse because Noah was dishonored.

Isaac must have been greatly disturbed by his father’s actions. Here was his aged Dad stacking wood on his back with no animal around for the sacrifice. When they arrived at the altar, the situation became all too clear – Isaac was to be the sacrifice. But because he honored his father and submitted, he became the great type of the Messiah and the son of promise.

Eli was old, overweight and ineffective. His sons were no Isaacs and despised his admonition. As a result they lost the priesthood for themselves and for their descendants forever.

In Ezekiel’s day, when few parents would be worthy of respect because of the rampant idolatry in Israel, it was still a great iniquity that “Father and mother are treated with contempt in you” (Ezk. 22:7 NRSV as all references unless noted).

A young candidate was being interviewed for baptism . He despised his father and refused to have any relationship with him. From the son’s point of view, he was justified in his attitude; but we’re not dealing with human standards, we’re dealing with divine wisdom and divine commands. He must honor the relationship, stop the despising, and disagree, when necessary, in a respectful manner. Further, there might come a time when he would have to shoulder the temporal care of his father simply because of God’s command to do so.

The Lord’s penetrating words

When the Lord Jesus wanted to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, this was the very command he cited. Using the cunning deception of giving honor to God, they had devised a way to despise the command of God to their own benefit. The funds which should have been available to assist their aged parents were pledged to God so all that could be used was the interest income. They thus protected the capital from being expended on their care of their parents, but the interest income would still continue long after their parents had died.

The Lord’s words are bitingly incisive:

And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God’ then that person need not honor the father or the mother. So, for the sake of your tradition you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you… ‘In vain they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’(Matt. 15:3-7).

Now there can be little doubt the Pharisees said with their mouths that they honored their parents, but their actions proved otherwise. Do we look with scorn at the Pharisees or do we take the point to heart? Do we find ways to justify despising our parents because they annoy us, or are too demanding, or are worldly? Do we honor God with our lips, while our heart is far from Him?

Paul’s powerful reference

When citing this fifth of the ten commandments to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that “this is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’” In a day like ours when respect for others is on the wane and fathers are often portrayed as inept and out-dated, we might well ask why this command should be the first with a promise. It was preceded in the ten commandments by great words dealing with idolatry and monotheism. Furthermore blessing in the land was also dependent on right worship, just dealings and general obedience to God (Deut. 4:25-26; 25:15; 32:45-47).

What’s so basic about honoring parents that makes it a foundation principle to the blessings of God?

With little children, it’s fairly easy to see the point. They have little concept of God and His commands, while the guiding forces in their lives are their parents. Many times, the parents directives may seem arbitrary to the child, just as God’s commands may seem arbitrary to us. Thus in being required to obey his parents, the child is being prepared to obey God.

Further, this is not a relationship that is of the child’s choice; it is imposed upon him by the very nature of things. But he must learn to honor the ones who have given him life and health and things needful to his existence. He is thus being prepared to render honor and reverence to God as he learns the meaning of accepting authority in his life.

As the Lord Jesus made abundantly clear, however, the command applies when we have reached adulthood or have matured into middle age. Our candidate for baptism, whose actions revealed he dishonored his father, was still under command to give filial respect to his parents – father and mother alike. Until the situation could be straightened out and he was prepared to obey the command, we had to suspend the interview and postpone the baptism. We were faced with an absolute dictate by the Lord God of heaven and earth, one that was reinforced by His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This parent doesn’t deserve respect

When we looked at the situation of our candidate, we had no trouble entering into his thinking, we’d all been teenagers ourselves. We knew he did not think his father deserved to be honored, respected and certainly not obeyed. But the command is not a qualified one. It is straight-forward and unambiguous. Our candidate must obey it.

Yet how could he act in a respectful manner if he did not in his heart respect the person?

Were there school teachers in his life whom he must respect while not agreeing with their behavior or their ideas? Yes, of course there were. In all of our lives, there are officers of the law, officials of the land, supervisors at work, superiors in every sphere of life whom we treat in a respectful manner although not always agreeing with their approach.

The fact of the matter is that the more spiritually mature we are, the more we are aware of our own faults and weaknesses. We have trouble respecting ourselves, let alone teaching our children to honor and respect us (we say this as the father of four, grandfather of 13 and great grandfather of six and two 1/2s).

But the believer needs to remember that it is God’s will our children act toward us with deference and respect. We are to teach them obedience to that command as well as to any other. By insisting on proper respect toward their parents, we are developing in them attributes that will greatly help them to submit to the authority of God throughout their lives.

We may feel we do not deserve their respect. Hopefully such is not the case, but it is quite beside the point. The command is to honor one’s parents, not just honor when child and parent agree such honor is deserved. In thus insisting on a respectful attitude from our children, we are helping them ultimately to respect God and hopefully have a successful walk toward the kingdom of God.

Don Styles

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