Honoring Our Parents

A shift has taken place in our culture. It seems with each passing month another moral term is being redefined. An unborn child is a choice. Marriage no longer represents a union between a man and a woman. Terrorism is a “man-caused disaster.” And gender is now to be determined by one’s own feelings/identity with new categories and social constructs. Our moral language is changing; and with it, our morality.

Worse yet, many of these societal shifts are impacting the home. Just take a look at how mothers are treated by their children, along with the passivity of their fathers. From the checkout lines and classrooms, to the media and social media, something is disappearing from the landscape.

The word is “honor”  and it’s found in the fifth commandment:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

51TrRoZbkrL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been reading through Philip Graham Ryken’s book on the Ten Commandments called Written in Stone and using it as a guide for our small group Bible studies. He states early on in this chapter1 that first four commandments are to be distinguished from the last six.

The first table of the law consists of the four commandments that govern our response to God. The second table consists of the six commandments that govern the way we treat one another. Obviously, our human relationships cannot be separated from our relationship to God, but there is a distinction: the first four commandments teach us to love God, while the last six teach us to love our neighbor. Love for God must come first. We cannot truly love another unless we love God…

Augustine emphasized the importance of the fifth commandment by posing a rhetorical question. He asked, “If anyone fails to honor his parents, is there anyone he will spare?” Presumably not, because the relationship between parent and child is the first and primary relationship, the beginning of all human society. Under ordinary circumstances, the first people a child knows are his parents. God intends the family to be our first hospital, first school, first, government, first church.


Honor is a heavy word—literally! The word kaved in Hebrew means “heavy” or “weighty.”

To honor one’s parents, therefore, is to give due weight to their position… If parents are weighty, then they should not be treated lightly.

In the book, the author confuses two words throughout this chapter, “honor” and “respect.” He uses them interchangeably which dilutes their meanings. Let me explain. There is a significant difference between the two words and we must be wise in our handling of them. Honor is a gift we give to someone, but respect is earned.

You see, I can honor an individual for the position they hold, but at the same time not respect that person due to his character and conduct. Respect requires more. It goes further, dealing with identity and even advocating actions. Honor is simply a recognition of their God-given role. And it is done in obedience to the fifth commandment.

When one dishonors their parents, it is seen by God as a terrible sin. In essence, it is a personal denial of God’s decree. It is an attempt to redefine something in the family unit that is not ours to redefine.

This is one of the worst kind of sins an individual can commit; and it is seen in the Old Testament, with the prescription of death for those children who rebel and dishonor their parents.

If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him. (Lev 20:9)

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown… Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear. (Deut 21:18-19, 21)

Thankfully, the Old’s law-breaking penalties are no longer in effect. However, this act of dishonoring is still seen as a grave and selfish sin. The apostle Paul includes it among his list of what will be found taking place during “the last days” (2 Tim 3:1-2).


There are many good reasons: just look at the parents’ sacrifices that have been made on behalf of their children, or the wealth of life-experience they have to offer. And then there’s the simple fact that it glorifies God (that would be enough, yes?).

These are all good reasons to keep the fifth commandment, but the reason given in the commandment itself is that honoring our parents serves our own best interest… “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord Your God is giving you” (Exod. 20:12). The apostle Paul said this was “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2), and the promise was intended to give special encouragement to children…

This promise had special meaning for the Israelites. They had just been brought out of the land of slavery and God had promised to lead them to a new and better country.

The Jewish children were being encouraged to honor their parents. By doing so Israel would not experience what it had prior. The family unit would remain intact. The society as a whole would grow in godliness, as well. This was not a promise for long life. Our English translations are misleading here. God is God. Ultimately, He is the determiner of our length of days.

The expression “live long in the land” is a Hebrew phrase for the fullness of God’s blessing. It means to have an abundant life.

At the heart of the fifth commandment is the honoring of our parents. God expects the child of God to practice giving this gift. And while it may be difficult for some (due to not having a good family background)—it is likely not impossible to obey at some level.

It does seem that honor has been lost today; and with it the blessing of God for many. Again, society is seeking to redefine all of this. Before our very eyes I believe we are witnessing the decline of the abundant life. Already, it seems as if we are truly living in the last days.

A new era of mankind. A morally-impoverished age.

1 Ryken, Philip Graham. Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2003). 117-123.