Obviously kids should honor their parents. But what about adults? How should we, as adults, relate to our older parents? So often we think honoring parents refers to kids obeying their parents. And that’s true enough. But it’s so much more.
A few weeks back we began looking at Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered four words The first word that we talked about was believe as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was prioritize, remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was respect, take God’s name seriously. The fourth word was rest, we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. And the fifth word is parents.
In Exodus 20:12, God commanded: “Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” The verb “to honor” in Hebrew, comes from the word “heavy.” To honor our parents means to give them weight, to hold them in high esteem, to regard them highly.
Most of us automatically think this only pertains to kids. But, the command to honor parents was not given to children–it was given to adults. Even the Lord Jesus, when He spoke of obeying this command in Matthew 15:3-6, applied it in relation to adult children caring for their aged parents. So, if this command is for adults, how can we, as adults, honor our parents? The Bible indicates several ways.
First, as adults, we honor our parents by respecting their advice. Proverbs 1:8-9 says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and don’t reject your mother’s teaching, for they will be a garland of grace on your head and a gold chain around your neck.” Too often we think that when reach adulthood, we know so much more than our parents. But they have a wealth of experience and knowledge. We should seek their advice as we face the issues and decisions of life.
Second, adults can honor our parents by appreciating their efforts. The Good News version of Proverbs 23:22 says, “Listen to your father; without him you would not exist. When your mother is old, show her your appreciation.” There are many reasons to appreciate our parents but I think of two in particular. First of all, we can appreciate the tolerance our parents showed us as kids. As an adolescent, I was a difficult student. I frequently skipped classes, particularly French class, spoke disrespectfully to a teacher, got caught with a can of mace at school, and frequently failed to do my homework. My mom did her best to discipline me but she also kept loving me despite those failings. She was one tolerant mom! Besides appreciating the tolerance our parents showed us, we can also be grateful for the sacrifices they made. I have a friend who was raised in a small, one bedroom apartment in Chicago. He had the bedroom and his parents slept on a fold-out couch in the living room. He told me it was only as an adult that he understood this sacrifice and many others that his parents made for him. It reminded him to express his gratitude for his folks even as they aged.
A third way adult children can honor their parents is by affirming their successes. Proverbs 3:27 says, “When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it is due.” We can look back at the successes of our parents be they professional or personal, and celebrate them with our folks.
Fourth, as adults we can honor our folks by forgiving their failures. Too often, in our age when we emphasize psychotherapy, we tend to dig deep to find the failures of our folks. No doubt, these need to be addressed. Nevertheless, we must remember Proverbs 20:20: “Whoever curses his father or mother-his lamp will go out in deep darkness.” Instead of cursing our parents for their mistakes, let’s forgive them. Anyone who has lost a parent can still forgive, even after they’re gone.
A fifth way to honor our parents is by giving them joy. There is a distinct joy that parents receive when their kids grow up to be honorable men and women. In Yiddish, we speak of kids giving their parents naches. This refers to the special joy of a parent at the achievement of a child. This is to what Proverbs 23:24-25 is referring when it says, “The father of a righteous son will rejoice greatly, and one who fathers a wise son will delight in him. Let your father and mother have joy, and let her who gave birth to you rejoice.” When we live with integrity, it gives our parents naches, distinct parental joy.
Finally, adults honor their parents by helping to provide for them in their old age. In Matthew 15:3-6 Jesus rebuked religious leaders for refusing to help their aged parents. He goes on to say that by failing to honor their parents in this way, they “have revoked God’s word.” In 1 Timothy 5:4, 8 Paul speaks of adult children practicing their faith towards “their own family” and “repay[ing] their parents, for this pleases God.” We can commit now to help our folks in the future—we do this by saving money now so we can help them when they need it in the future.
The Lord Jesus modeled honoring His earthly parents for us. Luke 2:50-51 tells us that as a child, He obeyed them even when they didn’t understand Him. And as an adult, even while dying, He made provision for His mom, by calling on John to be a surrogate son and care for her when she got older (John 19:26-27). If we wonder if it’s right for us, as adults, to honor our parents, just ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then we’ll have our answer.