“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).
Long before David Letterman invented his Top Ten lists, God Himself wrote a Top Ten list, recorded in Exodus 20. These were God’s ten, bottom-line, get-on-this-today rules for His children. Rule #5 begins with a fascinating word: honor. “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).
Let’s chase this command through the Bible. God repeats this command in Deuteronomy 5:16 and even expands it with a promised reward: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” And this isn’t just an Old Testament custom. So important is this to God that He inspired the Apostle Paul to repeat it in the letter to the Ephesians: “‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Ephesians 6:2–3).
This is a universal command for all people. We never outgrow this command. It’s an eternal, biblical principle. Regardless of your parents’ success rating, God commands all of His people, “Honor your father and your mother.”
“Identify what your parents did right, and sincerely honor them for those specific things.”
Honoring your parents is an attitude accompanied by the action of communicating to your parents, “You have value. You are worthy of my respect. You are the person God sovereignly placed in my life. You may have failed me or hurt me, but I choose to see you with compassion as a person with needs and scars of your own.” When you honor your parents, you sincerely identify what your parents did right and honor your parents for those specific things.
Honoring your parents does not mean . . .
Groveling for their approval. God sets us free from bondage to anyone’s approval but His.
Making yourself vulnerable to their hurtful behavior. Set appropriate boundaries, and don’t expose yourself to more pain.
Ignoring or denying the past.
Honoring your parents does mean . . .
Choosing to place high value upon your relationship with them, knowing that it matters to God.
Taking the initiative to improve the relationship in whatever increments you can. In the stubborn mix of love and pride in families, you can’t wait for your parents to go first; as the follower of Jesus Christ, you go first.
Recognizing that they have done some things right. Even if your perspective is clouded by great pain, you can find something your parents did right.
Acknowledging the sacrifices they’ve made for you.
Seeing them as Christ does, through a lens of mercy. Our parents are vulnerable human beings who can also be hurt.
Forgiving them, even as God in Christ has forgiven you.
The goal of command #5 isn’t a minor upgrade in your attitude toward your parents. Instead, you’re invited to a crisis of deciding to officially honor your parents. You can start with a written tribute. Write two or three lines or paragraphs, however much you can sincerely say.
As you write, be honest. You don’t have to pretend your parents were perfect. Be positive. Focus on the good, whatever it is. And be public. If possible, read that tribute in front of your family. If that’s not possible, communicate your tribute as the Lord enables you, whether that’s sending a letter or even writing the words you wish you’d said to a deceased or absent parent.
Whether your relationship has been healthy or strained, God commands you to honor your parents—even if you don’t feel like it, even if your parents can’t or won’t receive it, even if they’ve failed you. Deep within the heart of every parent, whether they can articulate it or not, is a longing for the day when the child comes back to say thank-you. Ultimately, by honoring our parents, we honor our Father.
Spend a few minutes writing a tribute to your parents. For what specific things can you sincerely thank them?
My heavenly Father, thank You that though my parents may have failed me, You never will. You are the constant, perfect Parent. Because honoring my earthly parents is important to You, I choose to obey. Help me to see them through Your lens of mercy. Show me specific things they did for me. I choose to honor them and communicate that to them. In the name of Your Son, Jesus, I pray, amen.