Recently a young lady came up to me with a question, “What does it mean to honor your parents?” Although I pointed her to a few Scriptures that came to mind, I don’t think I had a great answer to her question. It got me thinking, how can adult children obey and honor their parents? Ephesians 6:1-3 says,
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Honoring our parents has lifelong ramifications. Although there are circumstances where obeying this verse becomes impossible (parents die, they are abusive, they abandon their children etc.) we are called to honor them. So here are some ways we can apply this verse as adult children.
- Be thankful for them
It’s fascinating to think of how helpless we are when we come into this world. We can’t feed ourselves, we can’t walk, we can’t clean ourselves and we can’t communicate. Even in the cases where our parents are unbelievers we owe a lot to them. We should be thankful for them and it’s going to be impossible to honor your parents unless you begin by being thankful for them.
The fact that you are still alive today is a pretty good reason to start with. Just go on the front page of any news site and chances are you will find some story of a parent killing their child, or abusing their children. Of course this is a much more difficult issue for those who were neglected and abused by their parents, but for the majority of us there’s a lot more to be thankful for than not. And even where thankfulness seems impossible, as believers we are thankful for the evils in our lives that God uses for our good and His glory. (Genesis 50:20)
- Talk to them
It is imperative that we strive to cultivate relationships with the people God sovereignly ordains in our lives. And there is no one more important than your parents. God sovereignly, before the foundations of the earth, determined to place you in the family you were born in. He hand picked your parents and knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).
You look like your mother and father, and no matter how far you travel, or if you change your name, you will always have their blood in your veins. It is a relationship God has given you that you must do everything within your power to cultivate.
And it all begins with talking with them. Talk with them as frequently as possible. Ask them how they’re doing. Think of questions to ask them. Find things in common.
One of my favorite things to do is to go preach at the nursing home in our neighborhood. It’s fascinating to talk to the people living there. So many of them have children who won’t talk to them and they go months without talking to anyone younger than them. It’s sad to know that most have children who simply will not talk to them.
It’s easy for people to have weeks, and months go by without talking with their parents, but the Bible calls believers to be different. First Timothy 1:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Sometimes providing for your parents goes beyond writing a check, and a phone call is in order.
- Talk to them respectfully
The word for honor in Ephesians 6:2 is τίμα which means to determine the value of something; and in this case the value is supposed to be high. Paul wants us to esteem our parents and to see them as valuable. The way we speak to those around us reveals what we think about them. As Jesus says, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:34) If we value our parents as God wants us to then our words to them will be honoring.
Resentement and frustration towards our parents, reveals a heart that isn’t thankful and that isn’t valuing the position of authority that God has given our parents over us. It is sad, and it is sinful when we mistreat our parents with our words. If we were on our way to meet with an important business person, or a celebrity, we would put on our best face and speak with reverence and kindness. Paul says that we should esteem our parents to the same level that we do these people. We are to put a lot of value on this relationship and we should strive to treat them like we would treat the most important people on earth.
- Ask for their advice
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.” Proverbs 1:8-9
While you’re talking with them, go ahead and ask for their advice. Not only will they feel pretty special that you are asking them, but ultimately they will probably give you good advice. No one knows you better than they do, because no one has spent more time watching you and learning about you. They know your strengths and weaknesses and can give insight that no one else can. How crazy would it be to have people in your life who know you so well and not go to them for advice?
Of course if your parents are unbelievers you wouldn’t go to them for spiritual insight, but whenever possible it shows them honor to ask their input on everyday life decisions.
- Pray for them
It will be impossible to honor them without praying for them. Since honoring your parents is a command, and it is one that doesn’t come natural, we should be asking the Lord to help us succeed in this area. At the same time we must realize that praying for our parents is a must for every child who wishes to honor their parents. Getting older is not easy.
There is a huge temptation to get discouraged. There are many regrets. There is a cultural pressure to retire and to live selfishly. There are financial woes. There are serious medical issues. And death is more and more on the mind. We must be praying for our parents, because if we don’t, who will?
- Encourage them
As we said getting older is difficult, and so parents are in need of encouragement. If they are believers, encourage them in their walk with the Lord. Thank them for their example. Push them towards increased involvement in the Church. Point out their strengths and encourage them to disciple younger men and women. Encourage them to spend their last years serving the Church in a way that they were not able to when you were younger. It is so easy to succumb to discouragement over regrets from your past and current trials. There is nothing sweeter than having your loved ones there as a source of encouragement.
Hebrews 10:25 says that we must encourage one another, and all the more as the day draws near. And while I would take “the day” as being the day of the Lord’s return, Paul is implying that encouragement should rise as the world gets more and more hostile to the Gospel, and as we get closer to the day the Lord returns. In the same way, as we get closer to the day that we see Jesus face to face we need encouragement to rise. On the other hand, if your parents don’t know the Lord, you should be pleading (encouraging) for them to repent and give their lives to Christ.
- Tell them the truth
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Proverbs 12:22
It’s fascinating how many children lie to their parents. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want to disappoint them, or because they are afraid of the consequences. I didn’t realize how much this was happening until I got involved in college ministry.
So many parents have no clue about what their kids are up to, especially once they get into college. It is imperative though, that children never lie to their parents. It is not healthy to have relationships with those closest to you that are based on a lie. If you have lied to your parents confess the truth to them and ask them to forgive you. There is nothing that honors them more than when you are truthful with them.
- Take care of them
In Mark 7:9-13 Jesus deals the sternest rebuke of the Pharisees. He accuses them of using their religion as an excuse for not taking care of their parents. In fact Jesus will accuse them over and over of setting up a religion that abuses the elderly especially the widows.
As we saw earlier Paul says that we are worse than an unbeliever when we do not take care of our parents. As I have listened to financial stewardship podcasts over the years, one thing that really struck me was how many people who really want to help their parents are dealing with corrupt family members, who are positioning themselves to take money and houses from their parents. People are fighting over the opportunity to take from their parents. The Bible calls Christians to be different. We are called to fight over who gets to take care of our parents. We are called to show honor to them by helping them in their last days on earth. And if this is you and you are currently helping your parents, be encouraged that the Lord is pleased with your hard work. Don’t give up because it’s a great example to those around you.
So much of dealing with parents comes down to pride. We have seen the worst side of them and have seen them sin towards others and towards us. And, yes, there are cases where reconciliation is impossible, but so far as it depends on us we must fight to honor God in this area. Scripture is very clear that the way we treat our parents has significant ramifications, not only for our physical life, but our spiritual one as well.