Friday, January 25, 2013

Honor your father and your mother

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

A friend of mine asked me for my thoughts on this commandment because they were struggling with honoring a parent. It didn’t surprise me, because I have also struggled with what this command of God truly means. At first I deluded myself into thinking I was trying to better carry out God’s command by diligently searching for its meaning but, the truth was, I was looking for a loophole because I did not want to follow God’s command. I had a good reason – my parents made me angry. God’s command, however, is straightforward and we know what this command means; it is, along with all of the commandments, written on our hearts. The Small Catechism explains it this way:

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them (Luther, 1991).

Out parents, however, have a tendency to piss us off. Mine still do sometimes, and I’m a grown man. Not only because they tell us to do things which we do not want to do, but also because they are subject to the same disease of sin that we are. They are sinful human beings just like us, and our parents don’t always act, speak, or treat us as they should. This makes it really easy for us to react to them in a less-than-honorable way. Martin Luther explains in his Large Catechism, though, that depriving a parent of honor is not justified by their poor behavior:

We must, therefore impress it upon the young that they should regard their parents as in God’s stead, and remember that however lowly, poor, frail, and queer they may be, nevertheless they are father and mother given them by God. They are not to be deprived of their honor because of their conduct or their failings. Therefore we are not to regard their persons, how they may be, but the will of God who has thus created and ordained (Luther D. M.).

Indeed, Luther viewed a Christian who honored their parents as having done a better “good work” than anything else:

Secondly, notice how great, good, and holy a work is here assigned children, which is alas! Utterly neglected and disregarded, and no one perceives that God has commanded it or that it is a holy, divine Word and doctrine. For it had been regarded as such, everyone could have inferred that they must be holy men who live according to these words. Thus there would have been no need of inventing monasticism or spiritual orders, but every child would have abided by this commandment, and could have directed his conscience to God and said: “If I am to do good and holy works, I know of none better than to render all honor and obedience to my parents, because God has Himself commanded it. For what God commands must be much and far nobler than everything that we may devise ourselves, and since there is no higher or better teacher to be found than God, there can be no better doctrine, indeed, than He gives forth.” (Luther D. M.)

Also included under this commandment are other authorities, such as bosses, government officials, and whoever else may be in a position of authority over us. God requires us to honor our parents and other authorities by regarding them as God’s representatives. Along with that, he requires us to serve our parents and other authorities by gladly providing what they need or require (Luther, 1991).

That would be hard enough; God’s command goes even further. It also requires us to obey our parents and other authorities in everything in which God has placed them over us, and to love and cherish them as precious gifts of God. When they are arguing with us, or treating us badly, it can be difficult to see how they are a gift. When they are ordering us to do things we hate it is hard to obey them as God’s authority over us. Nevertheless, Holy Scripture tells us that we must, in all things where they are over us, submit to them. The only time when it would be ok to defy our parents, or other governing authorities, would be when they command us to do things contrary to God’s Word (Luther M. , 1991). This is illustrated in the book of 1 Samuel when Jonathan disobeyed his father in order to spare David’s life. He obeyed God rather than Man:

For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death (1 Samuel 20:31-33).

So what should we do when we want to “hate” our parents? First, I think we should recognize the reason why we feel the way we do and, perhaps, why our parents are acting they way they are acting – Sin. We must recognize that we are sinful human beings, both us and our parents. They don’t do the things they are supposed to do, and we don’t do the things we are supposed to do. In the Small Catechism there is a section called the Table of Duties (Luther, 1991). In this section it lists Bible passages for people in different positions, telling them their duties and responsibilities. Of parents, it says the following:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

There it is. Our parents are not supposed to “exasperate” us. The dictionary definition of the word exasperate is, “to irritate intensely.” God has commanded our parents not to irritate us, and yet they do. God has commanded us, in spite of their failings, to obey and submit to our parents, yet we do not. We both are lacking when measured by God’s Law.

So, again, what should we do? We need to go to God and ask him to forgive our sin, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus. That is the reason Jesus took on human nature. He came to earth to keep God’s Law perfectly because we, who are infected with the disease of sin, are not able to keep it. And, after keeping the law perfectly, he was crucified, bearing the guilt and suffering the death that should have been ours. It was not something that Jesus wanted to do. In fact, he asked his father to get him out of having to do it, if that were possible. Jesus, however, submits to his father’s will, and he went to the cross to die for our sins.

After we ask for forgiveness for our sin, we should then pray for our parents. We should pray that God would forgive them, create faith in their hearts, and save them by power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus. We should pray that God would grow in us the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We may not be able to control how our parents act and deal with us, but we can control how we react to, and deal with them. If they see these fruits of the Spirit in us, and hear the Gospel on our lips, perhaps God will use his Word coming from us to create faith in them and change them, according to his will.


Works Cited


Luther, D. M. (n.d.). The Large Catechism. Retrieved January 21, 2013, from The Large Catechism:

Luther, M. (1991). Kleine Katechismus, English. (C. P. House, Trans.) Saint Louis, Missouri, USA: Concordia Publishing House.