The Ten Commandments get a bad rap—even, sometimes, in Christian circles. Seen as a list of archaic rules, seemingly out of step with the concepts of Christian freedom outlined in the New Testament, many Christians have forgotten the Ten Commandments. For example, how many Christians do you know who could recite all ten? How many, for that matter, could locate them in the Bible?
Although not following the Ten Commandments is a human tradition as old as the Commandments themselves, Christian parents and children are frequently guilty of specifically ignoring the fifth: “Honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12). Today, “honor” is a dusty word associated with feelings of patriotism or caped heroes. By definition, “honor” is an internal attitude of respect, courtesy, and reverence which should be accompanied by appropriate attentiveness and obedience. It is also the core of an important biblical concept regarding parenting.
The source of honor is God, the sovereign creator and our loving Father. God the Father bestowed honor on His son Jesus Christ (John 5:23) and on humanity by creating man a little lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5-60). He also created spheres of authority within human government, the church, and the home. Creation as God laid it out is based on a concept of proper honor being given from one level of authority to another, constantly flowing up to God.
As believers, granting honor should be an integral part of our lives. Scripture commands us to honor Jesus Christ (John 5:23), governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7), employers (I Tim. 6:1), pastors (I Tim. 5:17), fellow believers (Rom. 12:10), widows (I Tim. 5:3), and parents (Ex. 20:12). Surprisingly, parents often spend little time teaching the specific command for children to honor their parents.
There are a myriad of (probably well-intentioned) reasons for this. Parents may want to be friends with their children, feeling that confrontations with their children may drive them away. Or parents may not consider themselves worthy of or comfortable with what they perceive to be stiff, respectful address from their children.
But the main reason the fifth commandment is not practiced in most Christian homes is that parents do not have a clue what the commandment should look like in the modern context. Building on the idea of biblical honor, here are some practical ways children can show honor to their parents:
- Encourage children to respond to commands in a respectful fashion. When children respond to their parents with dismissiveness (saying something like, “I know, I know,”), it communicates a lack of willingness to give proper honor to a parent’s authority and wisdom. It is essentially communicating “stop talking to me.” Instead, by a consistent “Yes, Ma’am” or cheerful “okay!” response to instruction or commands, the child is acknowledging that he/she has been given advice or instruction and that they understand. The child should stop what they are doing, look the parent in the eyes and respond.
- Parents are not peers, they have God ordained authority and their titles convey that authority. Children should call their parents by their titles of “Mom, and Dad”, not by their first names. In a situation of step-parents, the parties involved can work out appropriate titles; a step-parent still occupies a position of honor.
- Teach children to address other adults by their appropriate titles, such as, “Dr.” or “Mr./Mrs.” This habit of addressing adults by an appropriate title encourages children (and all of us, really) to consider the respect that is due to that person. When children address adults by their first names, it can cause the child to think that the adult is just an oversized child and not one who occupies a position worthy of honor.
- Encourage children to show affection, attentiveness, and respect to their parents in public. This last one is the most general of these tips, but it serves as a reminder that public displays of honor, respect, and love between parents and children are often the most powerful testimony a Christian family has.
In practicing the fifth commandment as a family, remember that the proper motive for practicing these things is to lay the groundwork for children to honor God and others appropriately when they become adults. We are not in the position to demand respect because we are better morally or because we sin less than our children. We teach our children to give the respect commanded by God as a stepping stone to helping our children respect all authority, especially God’s.
As a final warning, the abuse of this commandment comes when parents fail through sinful unrepentant behavior or when they use this command as an opportunity to exalt themselves. Practicing the fifth commandment well requires humility of parents and children. Creating an environment of respect and honor leads to joy and peace in the home, a blessing God earnestly desires we enjoy.