Honor: it’s a word that we use without much thought, a word that we say without much action. The ESV translators decided to translate the original Hebrew and Greek words into the English word “honor” more than 170 times. It is a sad reality that as Christians we will read about honor, talk about honor, study the word honor, but cease to go so far as to speak with honor or act with honor. Sporadically on this blog, as I have time, I will be writing an article dealing with the biblical concept of honor. After all, the Apostle Paul did write, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,” (Romans 12:10, ESV; italics mine). What better place to start than with the most well known of honor passages: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you,” (Exodus 20:12, ESV)
That’s the go-to verse for parents, isn’t it? If the child is misbehaving or being outright disobedient, it is easy to whip out that verse and say, “God says you are to honor us as your parents.” Grant it, there is a better way to use that verse than as a weapon. Using it as preventative medicine is better than using it as triage care, if for no other reason than while honor includes obedience, honor is more than mere obedience. In fact, it goes far beyond obedience.
The word used in Exodus 20:12 that we have translated honor means weight, heaviness, glorify. There is a reason that this is the fifth commandment, situated between those dealing with loving the Lord with all our heart, strength, and mind and those dealing with loving our neighbor as ourselves. Fathers and mothers are representatives for both sides. Like God, they are to love and protect us. But they are humans, prone to sin and error and “frail children of dust and feeble as frail”–weak and prone to failure. Being the representatives of both parties, they are to be honored, treated with respect, dignity, and gravity.
I am taking for granted that young children are not reading this article; adults are and it is adults that are looking for an understanding as to how they as adults can abide by this command. After all, it is likely you are out of the house, perhaps married, perhaps with children. How does a married, mother of 2, 30-something honor her parents? How does a married, father of 4, middle-aged man honor his father and mother? While every situation is different, here is some general advice:
- Understand this is a heart issue. This is not simply an obedience issue, but a heart issue, as is with all commandments. It is out of the heart that the tongue speaks and the body acts. Therefore, we must spend time in prayer, perhaps fasting, tilling up the soil of the heart, making it fallow if we are to plant the seeds of honor. For those who aren’t farmers, one would till up their land in anticipation of planting, but would leave it unplanted for a time. This would allow nutrients and such to replenish. Once the soil was ready, they would plant.
My advice to you is to pray fervently for God to work in your heart. As each situation is different for every reader, it means that each heart needs to be prepared with the right nutrients it will take to plant seeds of honor. A young woman with a terminally-ill father will need her heart prepared for a certain outworking of honor that a man with a spry 60 year-old mom may not need at the moment. Pray fervently and earnestly that God would prepare the heart for honor. But be careful not to use prayer as an excuse for inaction.
- Be gracious. Easier said than done, I am sure for some. My parents were amazing parents. Like everyone’s mom and dad, they made their mistakes, but overall I could never ask for better parents. Not everyone had parents like that. Some go beyond just bad parents, you had terrible, selfish, abusive parents. How does one honor their parents in that situation? Be gracious. This is why the first point is so important. Grace comes from the heart, and while grace may be in that heart, there is a clod of hard clay blocking grace from sprouting honor toward father and mother. Grace is sprouting in all directions–to husband, to children, to friends, to siblings, to coworkers, but is blocked by a clod of hardened clay that needs to be tilled and broken in order for to grow in that area in that direction. But once it is broken up, grace can grow. It may be small and weak–just a seedling–but in time it will become a strong plant bearing much fruit.
Some of you are like me, your parents were wonderful, or perhaps your parents were at least “decent.” Even so, you must seek to live in grace. They were not and are not perfect. When you’ve been a parent for “x” number of years, it is hard to turn off the parenting switch. They may give unwarranted advice. They may butt in to your life in ways you thought would be over. Be gracious.
- Listen to them. By that, I mean hear them out, give it some thought, and determine on your own (or with your spouse, if married) if they are right. Take action appropriately. Yes, they are from a whole other generation. Things are different now than they were then. In reality, circumstances are different, but principles tend to stay the same. Hence, Solomon wrote to his son “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck,” (Proverbs 1:8-9, ESV).
When listening, listen for the principle, perhaps more than the advice. So when your mom calls and says that your neighborhood is not safe and you need to move closer to her in her neighborhood, you may listen to the principle of safety, and if it is true that your neighborhood is not safe for the family, you may want to move. However, you may not move next door to your mother. Listen for the wisdom over the “advice.” Grown children are not called on to obey their parents; that’s for young children still at home. Grown children are called on to honor their parents, thus we are not to be dismissive of what they say, but neither are we to be submissive to them.
- Seek their good. Again, this can show itself in many ways, and it can be easy for some and harder for others; still others it may seem downright impossible. But there is grace and there is prayer. If your parents were not the best (to put it mildly), this is an opportunity to be Christ to them. Though they sinned terribly against you, you can still show love toward them and seek their good. As Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” (Romans 12:14, ESV).
That good that is to be sought, is ultimately for their welfare. That may mean making difficult decisions that a parent does not believe they need or want. It may mean bringing the parent into the home with your family or if that is not possible, making sure they have all the care they need where they live. It may even mean thinking outside the box, so that they are as comfortable as can be, but still well-taken-care-of. When Jesus was on the cross, he took care of his mother’s needs. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home,” (John 19:26-27, ESV). Since He would be unable to physically care for her Himself, He found someone trustworthy to do it for Him.
- Speak kindly to them. I remember that soon after my dad died, my mother and I would get into shouting matches. I was not being an honorable son, to say the least. We were both grieving and every emotion was raw, but it was no excuse on my part. The same would go for me now. If I have had a bad day at work, and she were to call me up, in honor for her, I should not–must not–speak unkindly to her. I must not speak degradingly to her or even dispassionately toward her.
There will be times that mom and dad will get on your nerves. There will be times when they call at the wrong time. There will be times where they will say the wrong thing or “poke the bear” one too many times. At those moments, you may need to walk away. You may want to tell them that you need to call them back later. If they will not listen (or you can’t get a word in edgewise) you may need to as graciously as you can interrupt them and let them know that you are seeking to be an honorable son or daughter, and therefore need to speak with them later before you say or feel things that are dishonorable. If you can’t do that, perhaps hang up, and immediately send a text apologizing for hanging up, but you tried to tell them you needed to go, and that you will call them back when you are able.
- Speak kindly about them. My personal definition of gossip is any talk that is meant to demean another person in the eyes of someone else. Gossip is never a good thing and must be avoided. One cannot honor another and seek to demean them among family, friends, or strangers.
I am sure there are more ways for grown children to show honor to parents. Again, every situation is different. And again, honor is difficult; it’s a word that we use without much thought, a word that we say without much action. I had wonderful parents. While they made some mistakes, they did not break my heart as many parents have done, and so the issue of honoring is not as weighty to me as it may be to others. I’d love to hear from you on this. How would you counsel grown children to honor their parents?