“Honor Your Father and Your Mother” (Exodus 20:12)
There are many ways to honor—or dishonor—your father and mother. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees wanted to restrict this to speaking well of them. But Jesus pointed out that obeying this commandment requires working to provide for your parents (Mark 7:9-13). We honor people by working for their good.
For many people, good relationships with parents are one of the joys of life. Loving service to them is a delight, and obeying this commandment is easy. But we are put to the test by this commandment when we find it burdensome to work on behalf of our parents. We may have been ill-treated or neglected by them. They may be controlling and meddlesome. Being around them may undermine our sense of self, our commitment to our spouses (including our responsibilities under the third commandment), even our relationship with God. Even if we have good relationships with our parents, there may come a time when caring for them is a major burden simply because of the time and work it takes. If aging or dementia begins to rob them of their memory, capabilities, and good nature, caring for them can become a deep sorrow.
Yet the fifth commandment comes with a promise, “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Gen. 20:12). Somehow, honoring our father and mother in such practical ways has the practical benefit of giving us longer (perhaps in the sense of more fulfilling) life in God’s kingdom. We are not told how this will occur, but we are told to expect it, and to do that we must trust God (see the first commandment).
Because this is a command to work for the benefit of parents, it is inherently a workplace command. The place of work may be where we earn money to support them, or it may be in the place where we assist them in the tasks of daily life. Both are work. When we take a job because it allows us to live near them, or send money to them, or make use of the values and gifts they developed in us, or accomplish things they taught us are important, we are honoring them. When we limit our careers so that we can be present with them, clean and cook for them, bathe and embrace them, take them to the places they love, or diminish their fears, we are honoring them.
We must also recognize that in many cultures, the work people do is dictated by the choices of their parents and needs of their families rather than their own decisions and preferences. At times this gives rise to serious conflict for Christians who find the demands of the first commandment (to follow God’s call) and fifth commandment competing with each other. They find themselves forced to make hard choices that parents don’t understand. Even Jesus experienced such parental misunderstanding when Mary and Joseph could not understand why he remained behind in the temple while his family departed Jerusalem (Luke 2:49).
In our workplaces, we can help other people fulfill the fifth commandment, as well as obeying it ourselves. We can remember that employees, customers, co-workers, bosses, suppliers, and others also have families, and then can adjust our expectations to support them in honoring their families. When others share or complain about their struggles with parents, we can listen to them compassionately, support them practically (for example, by offering to take a shift so they can be with their parents), perhaps offer a godly perspective for them to consider, or simply reflect the grace of Christ to those who feel they are failing in their parent-child relationships.