Many years ago a preacher asked me, unexpectedly, if I honour my father. We were discussing other issues when the question came out of nowhere.
I reflected on that and had to answer, “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.”
Honouring our parents is one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai (commandment number five), so it’s not something to be ignored. Yet I had to admit I didn’t really have a concept of what honouring parents might actually look like. I had never given the matter much thought or ever heard a sermon making the commandment real in today’s lifestyle.
The question started me reflecting on this command.
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
At high school I was told that my parents were out of date, because science had advanced human understanding greatly since my parents went to school. What my parents knew was now obsolete, so any advice they gave would be out of date. Such an attitude is based on materialism, ignoring all the moral issues of life that are quite independent of supposed scientific understanding.
I recall at the end of my schooling, while trying to work out what further study to do, I approached a well travelled preacher, who was standing beside my father, and asked him what he thought I should do. I did not ask my father, already accepting that my dad had too limited an understanding of the world to help me.
So it became quite clear that I had dishonoured my father. I had discounted his role in my life and sidelined him. I appreciated and respected him in many ways, but I also put down his role in my life at the same time.
So how would I have related to my father differently if I honoured him? What evidence should I look for in someone’s life to see if they honour their father or their mother as they are commanded to do?
I did not come up with an answer but I did decide to do something specifically to honour my dad. He is a preacher, so I organised for him to present one of his favourite seminars at a large church in my area. I wanted to give him a platform to be heard and honoured, as an act of honouring him myself.
In the years since then I looked for other ways to give honour to my dad, such as by giving others the opportunity to meet and hear my dad and be able to receive from him, and give him honour themselves.
In all the years since my preacher friend prompted me I have not come up with a checklist of things we are to do to be sure we are honouring our parents. But I have become much more sensitive to those who give open dishonour to their father or mother. It is very easy in our world for people to put down those who God says we are to honour.
As a child a neighbour introduced me to the term ‘old man’. He was talking about his family and mentioned the old man. I asked him who that was and he explained it was his father. I didn’t think his father was very old, but he used that term frequently and with a derogatory tone.
I didn’t pick up that language, but I often heard people speak unkindly of their father or mother, using a label like ‘old man’ to express their disrespect.
Jesus challenged the Pharisees in his day for breaking the commandment by allowing adult children to get out of giving support to their parents. The adult children would make a pledge of their assets to God and used that an excuse to not use their resources to help their ageing parents.
“Jesus said, You have a fine way of rejecting God’s commandment ….. Moses said, Honour your father and your mother; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die. But you say, If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban (dedicated to God), then you no longer permit him to do anything for his parents, so making void the word of God by your tradition.” Mark 7:10-13
Jesus expected the commandment to honour father and mother to be kept by children in their adult life. So this command is not just for children. It impacts us all our days.
And Apostle Paul explained that the word honour includes the meaning ‘obey’. Note how Paul explained it to children.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3
In various cultures around the world the idea of honour to parents is built in to the way the community operates. Care and accommodation, ceremonies of respect and other embedded cultural expressions maintain the actions of honour. That’s wonderful, but it is even more wonderful when that honour comes from our heart, not just the imposed practices of our community.
So I challenge your heart and ask you to consider the fifth commandment about honouring your father and mother. I ask you Do You Honour Your Father?