What does it mean to "Honor your Mother and Father"?

I have had a couple of conversations lately with friends who are struggling with the commandment of "Honoring your mother and father", especially in light of the fact that one or both of their parents are not Christians. So what do you do in those circumstances and how far does honoring go if someone is not honorable? Here is an old article I read a few years ago that simply sums it up as good as I have ever read it:

How Do You Honor Your Father and Mother When They are Not Saved?

The fifth of the ten commandments that Moses received from God at Mount Sinai says,

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, NIV)

The question we should ask is, what does honoring your father and your mother really mean? The Greek word for "to honor" in this verse means to prize, to fix a valuation upon, to revere, to value. So to honor your father and mother means to hold them in high regard and respect as the ones who you brought you into this world and raised you. They may not have done a very good job, but God calls us to respect our parents nonetheless.

What does honoring your father and your mother not mean? It doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with everything they believe and do – you can respectfully disagree and still be honoring your parents. If your parents told you to rob a bank, you would respectfully refuse because you know that stealing is wrong. Take a more realistic example of your newfound faith in Christ. If your parents mocked your faith or accused you of being brainwashed or of joining a cult, you would respectfully correct them. In these two examples, you are obeying God above your parents, but still honoring and respecting them at the same time.

This leads us to the pecking order when it comes to whom we obey. Jesus says we must love Him more than our mothers and fathers. Loving Him more does not mean you dishonor your parents. You still respect them, but you hold Christ in a higher place and choose to obey Him over your parents when the two conflict:

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37-38, NIV)

Loving God and following Christ in an unsaved family will undoubtedly cause some level of division within that family. Christ knew He would be a source of division for families who have some saved and some unsaved:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' (Matthew 10:34-36, NIV)

It's awkward to try to have fellowship and a meaningful relationship with family who isn't saved, because there really isn't any fellowship to start with (light vs. darkness). A great way to approach this situation would be to tell your parents how you got saved and how you have experienced God's love and forgiveness. Showing your acceptance of them and your forgiveness of any wrongs will go a long way to mending the relationship, and could even help get them saved as they see how much God's grace has impacted your life.

In fact, we see your sharing your faith with your parents as the ultimate honoring of your father and mother, because you desire to see them in heaven and their lives transformed. It would be dishonorable to say nothing and just allow your parents to continue in their sin for the rest of their lives and into eternity. You are honoring your father and mother by living a holy and godly life. Any parent should look highly on this (but unfortunately many do not).

Satan may try to use the "honor your father and mother" verse on you to get you to stop praying for, and preaching to, your parents about Christ. See this accusation for what it is - a lie. Keep on doing what you are doing, and we hope and pray they come to repentance and a true faith in Christ that produces obedience to, and a love for, His Word.

Ask the Lord to help you love your unsaved parents and direct them towards receiving Jesus into their lives. Do a lot of praying for God to soften their hearts and open their eyes to the truth and He will begin to work!

One more thought I want to add: We live in a broken and fallen world full of imperfect people. In life those same broken people have children. And while no one is perfect and no one is the perfect dad or mom, some parents, through their own struggles with sin, end up doing much more harm to their kids then good. (ex. sexual, physical, verbal abuse, etc) So when does a child, of any age, begin to distance themselves from the destructive lifestyle of their parent(s) and move on? I think under 18 it's up to other family members, friends, churches, and government agencies to step in. Over 18 it's more of a personal decision by the child to respectfully remove themselves from the relationship until a time comes that reconciliation can begin. We don't choose our parents. The argument can be made that God did but even God doesn't control what kind of parents they are.


Unknown said…
Thank you for your site. I have struggled a little bit with having to draw a distinct line in the sand with my father to make it clear to him what I would and would not tolerate in my life from him. A father's hold on his son is a very powerful bond. Breaking away from the historic aspect of this relationship and establishing a new foundation separate from the old must be done in love. Communicating the separation has a been a little difficult.

Thanks for sharing.

Lizzy said…
This is wonderful! I have been trying to explain to my youth group the importance of honoring their parents. I stumbled upon rocky ground when one of my students said "how can I value and respect my mother when she decides to spend her money on drugs for herself instead of food for me and my little sister?" I never ran into this problem before, but your post has made it more clear! Thanks!

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