Honoring Parents – Doing What Is Expected
The practice of honoring parents expresses itself within cultures and creeds. China’s culture considers honoring one’s parents to be of highest regard.1 The Talmud states that parents are to be treated with extreme reverence.2 In the USA, holidays are set aside for the purpose of expressing appreciation to parents.
Many people believe that honoring parents provides compensation for their years of feeding and clothing. Therefore, depending on what your parents provided, determines the extent to which honor is extended. Following the Exodus from Egypt, an entire generation of Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert. During this period, the parents didn’t feed or provide clothing for their children. God provided manna to eat, their clothes grew with them, and their shoes never wore out (Exodus 16:35; Deuteronomy 8:3-4). Yet, it was precisely this generation that stood on Mount Sinai and heard God’s command, “Honor your father and your mother.” Honoring your parents is not contingent upon what they did for you or even if they were good parents. God expects us to honor our parents simply because they gave us the gift of life.
Honoring Parents – Doing What Is Deserved
There are those who have parents who have behaved miserably, abusing or abandoning their families. It seems impossible to extend respect to someone that is so undeserving. Perhaps that parent is imprisoned. We might think, “If they could have at least made an effort to do something redeemable, then some measure of decency might warrant a positive response.”
There are numerous roadblocks to honoring parents. While God commands us to honor our parents, He never expects us to imitate their ungodly behavior (Ezekiel 20:18-19). If a parent demands a child to act in a manner contrary to God’s commands, the child must choose to obey God rather than their parent (Acts 5:29). The rapid increase of divorce often forces children to honor one parent and to disrespect the other. Psychologist Sigmund Freud provided an excuse for a generation to blame all of their problems on their forbearers. Does this entitle us to practice bitterness, contempt, and negligence towards our parents?
Honoring Parents – Doing What Benefits the Family
Why would God exhort us to honor our parents? The family represents the basic building block of society. The stability of the family defines the community. The principles of honor, respect, and obedience are first expressed in the home. These principles contribute to a healthy society that fosters development of the whole person. The Bible gives examples of families that honored God and were greatly blessed (Genesis 7:1, 9:8-10; Acts 10:1-3).
There is a relationship between honoring parents and honoring God. Parents are God’s representatives, who are given the responsibility of wisely disciplining their children in His place (Proverbs 1:8; 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). A father’s care for his child is likened to God’s care for His children (Deuteronomy 8:5). A mother is to be a wise and loving counselor to her children (Proverbs 31:26-28).
Honoring Parents – Doing What Honors God
Honoring parents is a vitally important obligation that Jesus practiced. Every year, Jesus accompanied His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. After the Feast, Joseph and Mary left to return home by caravan. After a day’s journey, His parents realized Jesus was missing. It might seem that Jesus did not honor His parents’ wishes that He remain with the caravan. Yet we know Jesus never sinned. Even His rebuke towards His mother was gentle and respectful. Jesus clearly made the distinction between His relationship with His Heavenly Father and His earthly parents. Yet Jesus “went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient [giving honor] to them” ...even though He was committed to being in His Father’s house (Luke 2:43-51).
One of Jesus’ last acts upon the cross was done in fulfillment of our Lord’s obligation to honor His mother. As the oldest son, the care of His mother was His responsibility. Apparently Mary was widowed, therefore, Jesus released her to the disciple “whom He loved” to be part of his household (John 19:25-27).
We never outgrow God’s command to honor our parents. Both our actions and attitudes should reveal our real motive for honoring our parents—to bring honor to God. When a child honors an unbelieving parent, the parent is honored by a believing and obedient child. The child trusts in the loving purposes of a Sovereign God (Romans 8:28). By caring for our elderly parents, we also follow Jesus’ example. Honoring parents requires that we preserve their dignity as much as possible. Assisting them with household matters, errands, and health issues should never be considered burdensome, but an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, honoring the One who comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The Greek word for honor is timao which means “to prize; to fix a value upon; to revere.” Honoring parents may not always be simple, pleasurable, or even reasonable. However, denying service or relief to parents is the same as cursing [speaking evil of] them. God will not honor those who disobey Him (Proverbs 20:20; Matthew 15:4). Yet, our obedience to God’s commands yields great kingdom rewards. When we choose to honor our parents, our Heavenly Father promises that we will enjoy an abounding, long life on earth (Ephesians 6:3).
1 “China's Civil Affairs Ministry in January 2011 proposed a law that required adult children to regularly visit their elderly parents or risk being sued.” – Hanson, Jody. “How to Honor Chinese Parents” [online]. Available: http://www.ehow.com/how_8461820_hono-chinese-parents.html#ixzz26r0PXBMV (9/18/12).
2 “Honoring one's parents, that is, keeping their dignity, continues after their deaths . . . by mentioning them prominently in conversations. During the first year of mourning, one should say each time a parent's words are recalled, ‘that is what my father, my teacher said’ and ‘let me be an atonement for him (or her).’ After the first year, a child adds the words ‘may his (or her) memory be a blessing’ each time the parent is mentioned (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 240:9).” – Amsel, Rabbi Nachum. “How to Show Respect for a Parent–A Jewish View” [online]. Available: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Relationships/Parents _and_Children/Childrens _Responsibilities_to_Parents.shtml (9/18/12).
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