Article by Tim Challies | Used with permission | challies.com
God’s commandments are perfectly clear in what they say and, broadly, in what they require. Yet implementing those commandments in practical ways and in the nitty-gritty of life can pose a challenge. It can take thought, prayer, and creativity. This is exactly the case with the fifth commandment—“honour your father and your mother”—and especially so for adult children. Young children honour their parents through their obedience, but what about adults? How do we honour our parents in ways that are fitting?
The deepest change to ourselves as well as the most appropriate honour to our parents will come when we first ensure we understand God’s commandment—what it means, why He gives it, and why it matters so much.
Honour to Whom Honour Is Due
Honouring parents is a form of honouring all authority, including God himself. As Tim Keller says, “it’s respect for parents that is the basis for every other kind of respect and every other kind of authority.” There is no ending point to this commandment—we are to honour our parents in childhood and adulthood, for we owe them a debt of honour that never ends.
What is the honour God means for us to give our parents? I am going to offer 6 broad suggestions, though certainly we could come up with many more. I will warn in advance: In every case there will be temptations to say, “Yes, but you don’t know my parents. You don’t know who they are or what they did to me.” I understand that in some cases showing honour may be difficult or very nearly impossible. But for now, let’s simply consider some practical ways in which we can display honour to our parents.
1. Forgive Them
Perhaps the most important way we can honour our parents is to forgive them. The fact is, there are no perfect parents. All parents have fallen far short of their children’s expectations and, in all likelihood, even their own expectations. Our parents have sinned against us. They have made unwise decisions, they have had unrealistic expectations, they have said and done things that have left us deeply wounded. For that reason, many children enter adulthood controlled by anger and bitterness. They find themselves unable to move past their parents’ mistakes or their parents’ sin.
We can best honour our parents by forgiving them. And this is actually possible, for we serve and imitate a forgiving Saviour. In the Bible we see Jesus’s willingness to forgive the ones who had wounded him. In the very moment the nails were driven into His flesh, He cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Standing at the foot of the cross and considering such a Saviour, who are we to withhold forgiveness from our parents? We honour our parents by extending grace and forgiveness to them.
2. Speak Well of Them
Another way we can honour our parents is to speak well of them, to refuse to speak evil of them. We live at a time when it is considered noble to air our grievances, when it is considered therapeutic to air our dirty laundry. We think little of telling the world exactly what we think of our governors, our bosses, our parents. Yet the Bible warns us that we owe honour and respect to all of the authorities God has placed over us (Romans 13:7). It warns us that our words have the power to extend honour or dishonour. We cannot miss that in the Old Testament the penalty for cursing parents is the same as the penalty for assaulting them (Exodus 21:15-17, Leviticus 20:9), for the root sin is the same. To curse parents or to strike parents is to violate the fifth commandment as well as the sixth.
We need to speak well of our parents. We need to speak well of them while they are alive and speak well of them after they have died, to speak well of them to our siblings, to our spouses, to our children. We need to speak well of them to our churches and communities, modelling a counter-cultural kind of honour and respect that has long since gone missing in too many contexts. Christian, speak well of your parents and refuse to speak evil of them.
3. Esteem them Publicly and Privately
A third way to show honour to parents is to give them esteem both privately and publicly. In a powerful sermon on the fifth commandment Tim Keller encourages children to “Respect their [parents’] need to see themselves in you.” Parents long to see how they have impacted their children, how their children are a reflection of their strengths, their values. “You don’t realize how important it is to give them credit where you can. You don’t realize how critical it is just to say, ‘You know, everything I really ever learned about saving money I learned from you.’ To say, ‘You know, Dad, that was one thing you always taught me that I really, really appreciated’.” These are simple measures but ones that bring great joy and honour to our parents.
We can give such esteem privately in a one-on-one conversation or we can do this publicly, perhaps through speeches or sermons or even conversations around holiday feasts. Dennis Rainey goes so far as to call children to write a formal tribute to their parents, to present it to them and to read it aloud in their presence. We can honour our parents by esteeming our parents.
God’s Command is Clear
God’s command is clear—we must show honour to our parents. Respect them in the same way you respect God. How is He calling you to demonstrate this honour towards your parents?
[Watch out for PT 2 of this article in the Next Edition of V180 Magazine]