“Someday, I’ll be old enough to make my own choices and do what I want for a change.”
At one time or another while growing up, many of us can remember thinking thoughts along the lines of this one. We spend all these years craving autonomy and then before we know it, we’re taking our first steps out into the world as independent adults. Maybe for you, this occurred when you graduated high school or college, moved out, or got married. Either way, many newly independent young adults often encounter a moment where they are faced with a change in their relationship with their parents. They are no longer under their roof and their authority, and the change can bring about an uncertainty in how the relationship is to function. No matter what stage of life you are in, God’s command to children remains: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment accompanied by a promise, namely, ‘that it will go well with you and that you will live a long time on the earth’” (Eph. 6:1-3).
God’s Word on Honoring Parents
Perhaps one of the most well-known passages of Scripture concerning the parent-child relationship is Ephesians 6. In this chapter, Paul is ending his letter with a very practical section on how the Ephesian church should live out the gospel in their day to day lives, namely in the home. He quotes a combination of two passages from the Mosaic Law (Ex. 20:12 and Deut. 5:16) to remind children that their obedience to their parents is their duty to God and that honoring their father and mother is following His command. In Deuteronomy 28, God gives a promise to the Israelites that if they keep His commands, they will be blessed, but that disobedience brings cursing. Paul reminds his audience that this command to honor parents comes with promise: “…that it will go well with you and that you will live a long time on the earth” (Eph. 6:3). Be reminded that this mention of personal prosperity falls in line with the same kind of statements given in Proverbs; these are general principles, not absolutes. We don’t obey God’s commands for personal gain, but out of love for Him and reverence for His holy name. When we obey God’s commands, trusting that what He commands is for our good, things generally go well. Even though our circumstances may be less than ideal, we can trust that remaining faithfully obedient to His word brings about what is for our good.
The Book of Wisdom
Proverbs is packed full of practical principles for godly living, including advice on our relationship with our parents. Solomon reminds us often that great wisdom can be gained from our parents’ reproof, instruction, and discipline. The commands of godly parents are ones that we should guard and not forsake. We are to “bind them on [our hearts]” and “fasten them around [our necks]” (Prov. 6:21). Often in the foolishness of youth, we are quick to throw away the guidance and wisdom that our parents give us because we are convinced that they could not possibly understand us. But Solomon pleads with us to remember their wisdom and instruction and value their discipline. If we do, wisdom will guide us as we walk, watch over us as we lie down, and talk to us as we wake up (Prov 6:22). Even in discipline, the wisdom and rebuke of our parents is for our good. This rebuke is “like the road leading to life” (Proverbs 6:23) and is an “elegant garland on [our heads], and like pendants around [our necks]” (Proverbs 1:9). Godly wisdom from godly parents adorns our lives with a wealth of beauty, richness, and protection. Trusting God’s goodness in His provision of the parents we have strengthens us as we seek to honor and respect them, ultimately obeying His command.
How can we honor our parents on a daily basis? Even though everyone’s situation is a little different, the principles found in God’s word are still apt. When our parents take time to give guidance and advice, as children it is our duty to them and God to take time to humbly listen–even if we think that their advice is unsolicited and unhelpful. When conflict arises and our parents do or say things that frustrate or irritate us, we don’t respond with disrespect, anger, or mockery, but instead honor them by responding to them with speech that is gracious and respectful. Resist the temptation to slander and gossip about them to others in the midst of conflict. As our parents get older and someday require our care, we help them and take care of them, joyfully sacrificing our convenience and ease in order to show them honor.
What if I Don’t Respect My Parents?
We live in a sin-cursed world and as a result, we experience deep rifts in relationships, even in the relationship of parent to child. Perhaps your parents are unbelievers who are often critical of your faith. Maybe you have experienced abuse at the hands of your parents– betrayed by the ones who were supposed to protect you. Some parents are steeped in harmful habitual sin or addiction and as a result, the adult children are forced to draw boundary lines and limit contact with their parents to protect themselves and their family. Many experience abandonment when a parent leaves their family, never to return. If you have experienced this or something similar, the command from Ephesians and the principles laid out in Proverbs can dredge up difficult emotions as we seek to obey God. These situations do not negate God’s command to honor parents, but how can a child who has experienced such pain at the hands of her parents do this?
My dad grew up with a father whose grievous sin left deep wounds in the hearts of his children. However, I can’t remember a time where my dad spoke in a dishonorable way about his father. He never shied away from the facts of what his dad had done, instead taking the opportunity to explain to us the vice-like grip sin can hold on our lives and the destruction it causes. He even continued to tell us about some of the fond childhood memories he had of my grandfather and the way he taught my dad how to work hard.
This is how one can honor a parent who seems impossible to honor. Even if you have no fond memories and no positive influence from your parents, the way you speak about them to others is a way that you can honor them. You don’t have to ignore sin or problems in the relationship, sweep everything under the rug, and try to fabricate positive things about your parents. You can speak the truth about the troubles you have in the relationship, and you can do it in a way that is absent of bitterness, slander, gossip, malice, and hatred. You can pray for God to radically change them. You can let go of your desire for vengeance and rest in the fact that God is just. He sees your hurt and He knows your pain. Trust Him as you seek to walk by the Spirit in your relationship with your parents.
God as Our Father– The Perfect Parent
I am so thankful to have known the love, wisdom, and discipleship of godly parents. My dad has been a living example of what it means to “count it all joy” when walking through intense, prolonged physical suffering, taking every opportunity to continually point his family back to the goodness of God. I have learned so much practical godly wisdom from my mom. As a teenager, she walked me through how to biblically handle conflict and restore relationships. On the hard days of mothering, she reminds me of the promises of God.
Even though I could go on about the numerous ways my parents have been a blessing to me by speaking godly counsel and guidance into my life, they will be the first to admit that they aren’t perfect parents. No one is. Until we are present with the Lord, sin is going to be a part of every human relationship that we have. This is why God uses the imperfect relationship between parents and children to point us to someone greater, Himself. No matter what your relationship with your parents looks like, you have a perfect Father. One who knows your every thought and feeling and comforts you in every trial. One who is perfect in love and will never betray you. One who has and will fulfill every promise He has ever made. One who has provided salvation through His son, Jesus.
Our earthly parents are far from perfect, but God is the perfect father because He is perfectly holy and righteous. Rest in the knowledge that you are fully known, loved, and cared for by our perfect heavenly Father, who will never leave us or forsake us.