rebelling against low expectations

Honor Your Father and Mother: What Scripture says about Your Relationship with Your Parents

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You’ve probably heard the fifth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:12a, “Honor your father and your mother….”

It’s repeated throughout scripture in both the Old and New Testaments—see Deut. 5:16, Leviticus 9:3, Matthew 19:19, and Mark 7:10.

Obviously, honoring parents is something God is serious about.

Yet, it’s something many people struggle with—young and old. I say this because no matter how old you are or where you live, this command is addressed to everyone. There’s no caveat like, “until you turn eighteen”, or “until you move out of your parents house.”

So, whether you’re five, fifteen, or seventy-five, all Christians are to honor their father and mother.

But, how?

Why Should We Honor Our Parents?

Before diving into the how, let’s be sure we understand the why. We already covered that honoring our parents is an explicit command in scripture. We could stop there—God commands it, we should do it. But let’s dig deeper.

1. Because it Pleases the Lord.

Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

Here we see that the reason we are to obey our parents is for the Lord’s pleasure, not theirs. We honor them to honor Him.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t seek to please your parents, or that it’s wrong to do so. But it’s important to remember that as Christians, the purpose for doing anything, including honoring our parents, is to please the Lord.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you, do all to the glory of God.”

Remembering this truth is imperative. Because all parents are sinful people. This means they make mistakes, lose their temper, make bad decisions, and do the wrong thing. Even good parents mess up. That can make it difficult to honor them all the time. But, if we remember we’re honoring them to honor God –Who is always worthy of honor—then our perspective shifts, and honoring our parents becomes easier. It becomes less about us, less about them, and more about glorifying the good God who made us all and established their parental authority over us.

2. Because Jesus Honored His parents

In Luke 2, Joseph and Mary lost Jesus. After the Passover feast, they were headed home from Jerusalem, when they realized He wasn’t among their group. Cue panic. After three days of searching, they found Him in the temple, asking questions of the teachers and listening to them. There’s a short exchange between Jesus and His parents, then scripture says,

“And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” – Luke 2:51

When God asks us to honor our parents, He’s not asking anything of us that He was unwilling to do Himself. Jesus—God incarnate—submitted Himself to imperfect, human parents. Think about that. The only One everything is rightfully subject to, submitted Himself to two of the very lives He came to redeem.

Friends, you can be positive that Jesus understands the difficulty of honoring one’s parents. Because He lived it. He set for us the ultimate example in humility and obedience.

We are called to be like Christ, according to Romans 8:29 to, “conform to His image.”

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” -Philippians 2:5-8

We are to have the same attitude of humility in us that enabled Jesus to demonstrate perfect, radical obedience.

An Important Distinction

Before moving on, I want to address the difference between honor and obedience.

While we are always called to honor our parents, we are not always called to obey them. A young child must honor and obey their parents, whereas a grown adult must honor their parents, but are not obligated to obey them.

So, what’s the difference?

Honor – The command in Exodus 20:12, “honor your father and mother,” was given to the whole people of Israel—not just the children. The word translated honor means, according to Strong’s concordance, “to be heavy or weighty”. The idea is to esteem the position of a parent with great weight or importance. In his commentary, Matthew Henry describes this as an “inward esteem of them [parents] outwardly expressed upon all occasions in our conduct towards them.”

Honoring our parents is something we must do in every season of life:

– Regardless of age or location.

– Regardless of whether they’re living or not.

– Regardless of whether they’re estranged from us or not.

– Regardless of whether they’re believers or not.

In short, no matter what our individual situation with our parents looks like, as Christians, God calls us to honor them.

Obey- The command in Colossians 3:20 is directed at children: “Children obey your parents…” The word translated obey means “to listen or attend to.” Matthew Henry expounds on obedience saying, “come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, refrain from what they forbid you; and this, as children, cheerfully, and from a principle of love.”

God, in His wisdom and goodness, has ordained parental authority over children, therefore, it is good. Children honor that authority through the act of obedience. The only exception is when obedience to our parents necessitates that we act in disobedience to God. God never calls us to break one command in order that we might fulfill another. Christians are to obey the whole of God’s Word. Matthew Henry describes the biblical obedience required of children as, “Obedience to their [parents] lawful commands.”

While honoring our parents is something we should always do, the requirements of obedience to our parents change over time as we age.

For example, say your parents forbid you from dating at fifteen years old. You need to obey that rule, and honor your parents by exhibiting a good attitude, not complaining about their rules, or slandering them to others.

Now, say you’re nineteen years old, living on your own, and in a serious relationship. Your parents might advise against marriage until you’re older and more established. In this case, you’re not obligated to obey them, but you’re still obligated to honor them. That might look like engaging in respectful discussions with them, listening to their concerns, considering their advice, or making a sincere effort to answer any questions they have.

Why Do We Dishonor Our Parents?

There are three reasons we struggle to honor our parents that, if identified, can help us determine how to overcome this struggle:

1. There’s something dishonorable in them.

Like I mentioned, parents aren’t perfect. Some parents are toxic. Maybe your dad’s an alcoholic, or your mom uses foul language all the time. Both things are dishonorable. But it’s possible to honor the position of a parent, even if that parent’s behavior is dishonorable.

For example, maybe your parents regularly break their word. They make promises but never keep them. You may be tempted to think, “why should I keep my word to them? If they ask me to do something, like clean up the kitchen and I say I will and then don’t, what does it matter?”

Have you ever heard the expression “two wrongs don’t make a right”? That’s the case here. Others’ bad behavior doesn’t give us a license to exhibit bad behavior, too. We need to hold ourselves to the standard of God’s Word, regardless of what standard others have for themselves.

“If others do not do their duty to us, yet we shall have the comfort of having done ours to them.”- Matthew Henry

A quick side note, if your parents are exhibiting ungodly, dishonorable, or even abusive behavior, please tell somebody—a pastor, teacher, counselor, any adult you trust.

2. There’s something dishonorable in us.

All people have a sinful nature, and sin naturally rears its head at authority. There’s a reason “rebellious teenager” became a stereotype—because teenagers who allow their sin to rule them tend to be rebellious. The only way to get rid of that rebellious attitude is to nail it to the cross of Christ. Daily picking up our cross and following Christ doesn’t just mean speaking up about hard topics, starting a grassroots organization, or going on a mission trip with your youth group to serve halfway across the world. Daily picking up your cross and following Jesus also means choosing to hold your tongue when you’d like to snap back at your parents, not giving vent to your anger by speaking disrespectfully about them to friends, it means choosing to go the extra mile by not just doing what they asked you to do, but doing it with excellence.

3. There’s an external source.

Sometimes, external sources can trigger a certain response from us. That’s not to say that we’re not responsible for our own actions, we are. But if we can pinpoint the things that elicit specific reactions from us, we can address them better.

If the only time you disrespect your mom is when she makes you sit down to do your math lesson, maybe your mom isn’t the problem. Maybe you’re frustrated at your inability to grasp the concepts she’s teaching. Maybe the problem you have isn’t with your mom, maybe the problem is algebra. Knowing that enables you to better communicate with your mom, and while she can’t change algebra into chocolate, maybe she can help you in another way, such as praying with you before your lesson.

How Do We Keep God’s Command?

Now that we know why we should honor our parents, and we know some reasons why we struggle to do so, how on earth do we put it into practice?!

1. We Honor in God’s Strength

Like with everything else God commands us to do, we’re not supposed to honor our parents in our strength, in our own ability.

Ephesians 6:1-2a tells us, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother….”

Colossians 3:23-24 says, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

-We honor our parents in the Lord’s power, not our own. Our heart and flesh fail us, but the Lord’s strength is abundant. His Holy Spirit enables us to keep His commands.

– We honor our parents for God’s glory and honor. Whether our parents are worthy of honor, God always is, so we honor their station to honor His design.

– We honor our parents as an act of obedience to God, knowing that our ultimate reward comes from the Lord.

2. We Honor by Praying for Them (and Ourselves).

1 Thess. 5:16-17 says, “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “first of all I urge entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority…”

Pray for your parents regularly. Pray they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him (Colossians 1:10). Pray for them to have wisdom as they train you and your siblings up in the way you should go. Pray that the Word of God would dwell in them richly. Pray that God would give them the grace to parent well.

Pray for yourself. Daily humble yourself, submitting to God so you can resist the devil. Ask that God would give you a love for all His ordinances—including that of parental authority. And pray that you would honor God and sequentially your parents, in every thought, word, and deed.

Good Parents are a Good Gift

“My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8).

“My son, comply with the commandment of your father, And do not ignore the teaching of your mother” (Proverbs 6:20-22).

“Listen to your father, who fathered you, And do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22).

These are just a couple examples in Scripture that speak to the value good parents add to our lives. They instruct us and shepherd us. They pass down hard earned and painfully learned wisdom that can benefit us for the rest of our lives. Their discipline offers protection and shapes our character, helping us grow. Their encouragement, comfort, and support help us flourish and become all God created us to be.

Parents are a good gift. Parental authority is a good thing—a God thing.


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About the author

Tabitha Bell

Tabitha Bell is a writer, Managing Editor of The Rebelution, co-host of Do Hard Things with The Rebelution Podcast, and a "natural" redhead. Her passion is encouraging others to live in faithful obedience and to abide in Christ regardless of their circumstances. She resides in South Texas with her rescue dogs, Jane and Millie, a pair of gentle giants. Hobbies include singing, cross stitching, studying theology, trying new recipes, and tending to her sourdough starter, Fitzy. To hear snippets of her ever-growing Peace Playlist, and receive encouragement, follow Tabitha on Instagram.

3 comments

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  • That was really good! Thank you, Tabitha!
    And I also pray that God will lead you in this next phase of life, guiding your feet wherever He wants you to go! (Proverbs 3:5-6 & 20:24)

  • Wow, this was so detailed! I love how all the little points you made contributed to your overall message. This was so powerful! Thank you!

rebelling against low expectations

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