Honoring and Obeying

Our Relationships with our Parents through Life

Beth Hyduke

It is not at all uncommon for there to be some confusion about how Christian children should relate to their parents as they grow up and mature from kids into responsible adults. I think a proper and contextual understanding of what the Bible says about this is the key to addressing this first issue.

Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." Exodus 20:12 says, "Honor your father and your mother..." The Ephesians verse is specifically directed to and intended for children (young people who are being raised by and are under the authority of parents) while the Exodus verse is more generally directed at all people whose parents are alive — that is to mean, both children and adults alike. Just from this one comparison we can already see that there is a distinction between the two. Children are instructed to obey and honor parents. Adult children, though not instructed to obey their parents, are still instructed to honor them.

The distinction between obeying and honoring is important. Obedience carries with it the idea of absolute trust and absolute submission. It means to put oneself under the authority of another and to follow the commands or guidance of that person. In the Bible, this is frequently used in reference to a child learning from a parent (Proverbs 1:8; 23:22; Colossians 3:20; Ephesians 6:1; Leviticus 19:3, 32) or God's people learning from God. Honoring someone is different than obeying or submitting to them. Honoring means showing esteem and respect to someone of superior standing. Interestingly, the original Hebrew word for honor means "to weigh" or "to make heavy." So, as adult children, when we honor our parents we are esteeming them as people of value and superior standing and recognizing that their experienced counsel carries a lot of weight with us.

When we become adults, we are no longer under the direct authority of our parents. The relationship matures past that of hierarchical parental authority/obedient child to one where the parent is a friend and a trusted advisor to an adult child who has assumed responsibility and initiative in their own lives. So the mandate to honor parents never expires, but the mandate to obey parents lapses when the child reaches responsible adulthood and begins to make his or her own way in life.

What about adult children who, for whatever reason, still live in their parents' household and with their parents' support? This adds a whole other dimension to the issue. Because they are not supporting themselves independently or providing for their own needs, they are essentially guests in their parents' home. While it should be expected that there is some courteous give-and-take in any relationship, it is also understood that the hospitality a guest receives should not be taken for granted, impudently trampled over, or repaid with abuse. This is not so much a biblical mandate as it is a universally accepted expectation with legal ramifications. When you stay at a hotel, it is understood and expected at the time that you occupy the room that you will obey the hotel rules, even the ones that you don't like, agree with personally, or happen to find inconvenient. Someone else owns the hotel so it is completely legitimate that they set the rules, and that you, as a guest, should follow them. If you trash the room they have provided or light up a cigarette in a non-smoking room, they would be in their full legal rights to prosecute or even evict you from the premises for failure to observe the rules. When the police are called to the scene, they will not take the side of the hotel guest who feels that his rights have been massively violated by unreasonable rules that restrict his freedom of choice and right to happiness; they will take the side of the hotel owner who owns the property.

Christians acknowledge that all basic human rights come from God who created us and wants us to live and behave lovingly, humbly, and respectfully towards Him and one another (Matthew 22:37-40). Therefore, all rights we enjoy as human beings derive from God, and are completely secondary and subject to God's authority in and over every aspect of our lives. While Christian children should mature from a relationship of obedience to one of honoring their parents as they grow into adulthood, all Christians recognize God's authority over us throughout our lifespan. True Christian freedom means embracing our call to submit to God's authority, not hoping to escape it so that we can call all the shots in our lives. In the Christian perspective, God is the hotel owner and we, from birth to death, are guests on His property. So while we have freedom and liberty within the context of His authority over us, we don't have any freedoms outside of this context. In other words, Christian freedom is real freedom but it is not unrestricted freedom to do whatever we please or to choose to pursue whatever selfish inclinations we have. So, for instance, while Christians are free to marry another Christian, Christians are not free to marry an unbeliever, whatever their feelings may be (1 Corinthians 6:14-15). While Christians are free to choose an occupation that honors God and serves others, we are not free to choose to abort an unwanted baby, however inconvenient that baby may seem (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20:13).

This is an enormously important distinction to make because many people set up so-called "basic human rights" and personal happiness as their god and end up with a convoluted idea that Christian freedom means they can do whatever they want in the pursuit and service of their own personal pleasure and indulgence. This is the attitude that Jesus condemns in Luke 16:15 when He says, "What the world honors is detestable in the sight of God." The whole idea of personal entitlement is antithetical to Christ's teachings on imitating His example by serving others (John 13:34-35; Acts 20:35; Romans 15:1-2; Isaiah 58:10-11; Philippians 2:2-8), deprioritizing self (Mark 8:34, 9:33-35; Luke 9:23-24), and investing in eternity rather than in this temporary life which is passing away (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; 1 John 2:16-17).

Image Credit: Gauthier DELECROIX; "Generations"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Family-Life  | Personal-Relationships

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Published 7-3-17