We resume our series on the Ten Commandments today, and as the title suggests, we are thinking about the command to honour our father and mother. I feel I should point out that in the UK, we spell “honour” with a “u” so apologies to anyone who doesn’t!
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12 (ISV)
When thinking about the Ten Commandments, one thing we must ask ourselves is “Why these commands?” Not committing murder makes sense, as does the command to worship only God alone. But what about the others?
There are many ways we could answer that, but for now let’s at least assume that God was very intentional about the ones He chose to give to the people of Israel. If God thought them important enough to be included in the “top ten” then we should take them seriously indeed!
Dishonouring ones parents may not seem equivalent to murder or theft, but it is clearly important to God. Part of the reason, I believe, is because God sees His people as a family and our earthly families should model our spiritual one. If we are not willing to honour our earthly parents, then how could we be willing to honour our Heavenly Father?
What does it mean to honour one’s parents? In this case, to “honour,” means to “respect,” or “revere.” Essentially God wants us to treat our parents well. They brought us into the world, raised us and so, in return, we ought to treat them with proper respect and kindness.
If our parents are elderly, then they may need care and support, and it is our responsibility to provide that. Now that may not mean we provide that care ourselves in person, but it may mean organising support in various ways.
Paul offers some instruction for children, and quotes this very commandment. His advice, of course, is likely aimed at non-adult children in this case.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honor your father and mother…” (This is a very important commandment with a promise.) 3 “…so that it may go well for you, and that you may have a long life on the earth.”
Ephesians 6:1-2 (ISV)
At least one way then, to honour our parents, is to obey them. While we are young enough to live under their authority, we should do what they ask of us.
Paul points out in Ephesians that this commandment comes complete with a promise attached. Those who do this, will live long in the land. Are we to take it that if we do honour our mothers and fathers that God will bless us with a long life? The words speak for themselves. I read recently that Japan has one of the highest life expectancy in the world. In that culture, parents are very much revered so perhaps that’s why.
What about bad parents?
A natural objection might be, “My parents did not treat me right, so why should I treat them with any respect or honour?” That may be true, and perhaps your parents were even abusive or neglectful. The commandment does not specify “good” fathers or “responsible” mothers, only the ones that we have.
I am not suggesting you just ignore abuse or neglect, and go and try to have a wonderful relationship with your parents. Such parents are still to be honoured but of course that may look very different in cases without such a difficult past.
The key is to do the best you can, even if they don’t deserve it.
For those reading this who are without earthly parents, for whatever reason, how might you go about fulfilling this commandment?
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I can be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 I do not have anyone else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For all the others look after their own interests, not after those of Jesus the Messiah.[a] 22 But you know his proven worth—how like a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.
Philippians 2:19-22 (ISV)
Not all of our parents are earthly, and some in fact are spiritual.
Paul considered Timothy to be a “son in the faith” or “spiritual son,” and I do not think it a stretch to believe Timothy felt that Paul was a father to him as well.
We can fulfil this commandment by honouring our spiritual fathers and mothers also. Those who have taught us or encouraged us, those who have raised us in our faith, and those who loved and cared for us as part of the family of believers – all are spiritual parents.
If you think back over your journey of faith with Jesus, I imagine there will be those who have made a real mark in encouraging you in some way. These people should be celebrated and honoured. If they are still a part of your life now, then reach out to them today and tell them what they mean to you.
Honouring our parents, whether earthly or spiritual, is not always easy, but it pleases God. How can you fulfil this commandment today?