Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:2a (cont.) “Honor thy father and mother;. . .”
Third, “honor thy father and mother” by giving them, in addition to provision and pride, praise. I more and more find myself burying people who are near the ages of my own mom and dad. Someday the funeral will be planned by me. We all need to say or at least write in a letter many things to our parents. Flowers and tears never compensate for words left unspoken.
At age 28 I lost my first grandparent, Grandpa Marshall. My sense of loss was indescribable. Soon after he died I developed an insatiable desire to do genealogical work. For months Ruth and I spent my weekly day off at the St. Louis Library researching family history. In retrospect, I know what I was doing. I was seeking information I should have discussed with Grandpa. I was trying to make up for things left unsaid between us, for questions about him I never asked. I was trying to say, “Grandpa, you were extremely important to me.” Some of us cannot say these kinds of praises because overwhelming emotion causes the words to stick in our throats, but we all can write them.
As part of our praise for parents, find outward, tangible ways to show we appreciate them. Develop good habits–regular hugs, cards, letters, phone calls, visits in each other’s homes. Create ways to show how much we value our parents. Hearing that his father was coming, Joseph, who sat next to Pharaoh, humbly left the throne, made ready his chariot, and respectfully went to meet Jacob. The son fell on his father’s neck and wept a good while (GN 46:29). He was saying, “Dad, I love you. You matter to me. I appreciate you.”
As part of our praise for parents, find ways to show gratitude. Most of us had parents who worked hard for us, tried to raise us right, fed and clothed us. Humans enter this world the most helpless of creatures. A lamb can stand by itself, a chick can pick up its own food. Unable to do anything for ourselves at birth, we owe our lives to parents, and should often tell them, “Thank you.”
Most people are able to “honor” their parents through praise, including appreciation and gratitude, but some find this an extremely difficult thing to do. Several are hard pressed to find good things to praise about their parents.
Many have extreme difficulty honoring their dad and mom. Parents are not always honorable. Some were absent, others drank heavily, some abused the spouse or children verbally, physically, or sexually. For many, finding the honorable in their parents is a challenge. I readily confess, distance is often the best thing for the relationship between parents and adult children, but even in cases where personality conflicts preempt frequent, intimate contact, one must still find ways to express “honor” for parents. Even those who experienced, and still have to endure, the worst parents imaginable must “honor” them. We are not afforded the luxury of obeying God only when easy to do so.
Parents do not have to be perfect to be honored. The terrible sin of David and Bathsheba was a blight upon the family, but Solomon honored his parents anyway. One day the King was seated on his throne, but when his mother Bathsheba entered the room, he “rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her” (1 K 2:19), thereby showing honor to her in the presence of others. He did not hold the past against her.
Let me give loving, pastoral counsel to those who have trouble honoring parents. Forgive your parents’ sins and mistakes. Our Master said, “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (MT 6:14-15). God forgives us as we forgive others, including our parents.
You with non-Christian parents especially need to practice forgiveness. When unbelieving parents lash out at your Christian beliefs or actions, respond with love. Prove to them that your life is really changed. Lost parents have trouble understanding what has happened to you. Never argue, scream, or retaliate. Doing otherwise only makes things worse. Christian teens, do better in school, volunteer more at home, be extra kind to dad, mom, and siblings. Adults, live a circumspect life, in every situation show Christian dignity and grace. Maybe your lost parents will see the difference Jesus makes. Forgive them, overlook all you can. This may be your only way to win them to Christ.
Saved parents also make mistakes. It is amazing how children often expect their Christian parents to be perfect. Anything less than perfection on the part of parents is considered a hideous and grievous sin. Many teenagers rebel against parents and turn against them, calling them hypocrites or ignoramuses. Grown adults often keep nursing an old grudge over past incidents. Are our parents the only people in our lives not entitled to make mistakes?
If an abusive alcoholic father, previously unknown to us, walked this aisle today and asked God and us to forgive him, we would do so in an instant. However, some of you have never forgiven your alcoholic mom or dad. You say, “Preacher, my dad beat Mom and us kids, and spent food money on alcohol.” So did this one who walked the aisle. Are you of more worth than his children? Was your dad hitting you a worse crime than this man’s hitting his children? You need to forgive the beatings, slappings, cursings, abuses, etc. We forgive the faults of total strangers. Our parents deserve at least the same treatment.
Eph. 6:2b “. . .which is the first commandment with promise;”
Of the ten commandments, the fifth is the first (and only) to have a promise attached. “All God’s commandments carry blessings in their bosoms” (Edgar, in Pulpit Comm.), but the reward in this command is explicitly stated.
God wanted us to know we should “honor” our parents not only for His sake or our parents’ sake, but also for our own sake. We honor parents because it is our duty, but God in infinite mercy condescends to motivate us by offering a special reward and blessing. A promise is added to excite us, to stimulate us, to make our obedience more joyous, pleasant, and agreeable.
If we disobey the fifth commandment, we are the losers. At some point, each of us must come to grips with our relationship to our parents. Once we become adults, we are responsible for our inner feelings toward them. Resentment, anger, and hostility must be expelled. Otherwise, it destroys us by eating away at our inner vitals. Offspring are the ones who stand to lose the most. By God’s grace and power, loving reverence can and must fill our hearts.
It is serious to lack respect for parents. We degrade ourselves when this happens. Parent is a sacred position. In it God made wonderful provision for children. Though your parents may have failed, be grateful for the gift and institution of parenthood. The role is the highest revelation whereby the First Person of the Trinity presents Himself to us. He is a parent, “Abba, Father.”
Even if your parents acted dishonorably, you can honor them, if for no other reason, because God chose them to conceive you. Respect them as the ones to whose government God Himself committed you. You can put your arms around your parents, even if they were dishonorable, and honestly say, “I honor you,” because God chose them to be your parents.
Youth and adults, obey God. “Honor thy father and mother.” For the sake of God, parents, and ourselves, we must formulate at least one honorable thought about our parents and focus on it.