The Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Parents
“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
Many cultures throughout the world train people to honor people of older generations, including parents, grandparents, and so on. Even adults show respect to their elders in these cultures. But the dominant American culture goes in the opposite direction. We prize youth and ignore or even despise old age. Elders are disregarded as being outdated or disparaged as bothersome. We’ve seen this happen again and again in families, neighborhoods, churches, businesses, and politics.
The fifth commandment, therefore, calls us to a countercultural honoring of our parents, and by implication, those who are from older generations. The Hebrew verb translated here as “honor” (kabed) is related to the adjective “heavy.” It might be paraphrased here as: “Give your father and mother the weight they deserve in your life.” The opposite of this would be treating your parents lightly, ignoring them, minimizing them, or even mistreating them.
What it actually means to let our parents be weighty in our lives depends greatly on many factors. If we are minor children, honoring our parents includes obeying them. But this is not true during all stages of life. If our parents are suffering from serious dementia, we might find that honoring them would involve actually disobeying them. As a pastor, I have walked alongside people as they have had to get care for their parents that their parents didn’t want, even though they desperately needed it. I have also worked with people whose parents were so abusive that they needed to keep considerable distance from them. Nevertheless, the fifth commandment urged them to do this without scorn or mockery, but with godly grief and costly love. For most of us, honoring our parents means listening to them, respecting them, and loving them. It means continuing to remain in relationship with them, even if this happens over a long distance. And, as our parents get older, the fifth commandment encourages us to care for them with deference and costly love. Sometimes we are forced into terribly confusing and trying situations when our parents are aging. We may not be at all sure what honoring them implies. Nevertheless, God will be glorified by our efforts to fulfill the fifth commandment, and he will bless us as we honor him through honoring our parents.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: If your parents are still alive, in what ways do you honor them? How might taking the fifth commandment seriously make a difference in your life?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, first, I want to thank you for the wonderful parents you have given me. They faithfully raised me to know you and serve you. They loved me consistently, reflecting your own love through their faithfulness.
Thank you for my father, who has been with you for almost 23 years now. I cannot honor him in a direct way, but I can esteem him in my memory and in my prayers of gratitude.
Thank you for my mother, who continues to be such a loving presence in my life and in the life of my family, not to mention a leader in your kingdom. Help me to honor her through offering her love and respect.
And thank you, dear Lord, for those who have been like parents in my life. May I offer them the appreciation and love they deserve from me, even though we are not literal relatives.
Finally, today I pray for people whose relationships with their parents are difficult. Where there is division and hurt, bring reconciliation and healing. Where aging parents present tricky challenges, grant wisdom, patience, and strength to their adult children. And where children are mourning the loss of their parents, give comfort and hope.
All praise be to you, Heavenly Father. Amen.