When you hear the word honor, what images come to mind? Do you picture a soldier dodging bullets to pull a comrade to safety? Do you picture a lineman taking a hard hit to protect his quarterback?
You mean you didn’t picture a child interacting with his mother? The fifth commandment says that children are to honor their fathers and mothers. For all the accusations that the Bible is paternalistic or even chauvinistic, it’s interesting that God addresses honor as it pertains to mothers and their children. God might have made the command generic: “Honor your parents.” He might have mentioned only the father as representative of both parents. But as God sees it, the word honor should bring to mind a child interacting with his mother.
The command to honor mom is very practical. Most children spend more time with their mothers than their fathers. And in two-parent homes children sometimes tend to respect their father but dishonor their mother. The phrase, “Just wait till your father comes home,” wouldn’t exist if this weren’t the case. Mom’s spankings may hurt less, but that doesn’t mean she deserves to be treated with less honor. Even if you haven’t figured out what to get mom this year, it would be worthwhile to take a moment to hear what God has to say about honoring her.
What Is Honor?
Honor is made up of at least two parts that make it inherently unnatural. First, it is based on a principle of inequality. Second, it has to do with the heart.
Honor Implies Inequality
In the Bible honor conveys the idea of significance. To show honor means to value something because of its relative importance. This means that all things are not equal. Men are not equal to God. The six days of the week are not equal to the seventh. (Isa. 58:13). Ordinary citizens are not equal to the king (1 Pet. 2:17).
Likewise, children are not equal to their parents; in terms of eternal value, yes; in terms of position, no. God has made a distinction between parents and children that makes parents worthy of honor. Our society has lost much of what it means to honor. Indeed, the word seems to have an old-fashioned ring to it. We are taught today that everything and everyone is equal. The technical word for this belief in absolute equality is egalitarianism. Absolute equality excludes honor.
There was a time in our society when everyone would rise if an important person walked into a room, a time was when young people were expected to address older folks with a title of respect. This was not just being “old-fashioned.” It was an expression of at least the leftovers of a biblical worldview. The Bible teaches us that honor should result from recognizing the distinction between ourselves and those that are in authority over us.
Honor Works from the Inside Out
In Ephesians 6 Paul exhorts children to obey their parents. But he supports that command by citing the fifth commandment, which is a command to honor. He says that in order to obey your parents, you need to honor them. In other words, to honor is to show respect by your actions, which flow from the attitudes of your heart. Sincere honor precedes true obedience.
This is so important to grasp, especially at a young age, because this is also what it means to love God. Loving God is neither just about what we do nor just about how we think or feel about Him. Love is honor that expresses itself in obedience. Obedience without honor is cold-hearted legalism. A feeling without obedience is sentimentalism.
To say that honor begins in the heart is incredibly significant. To truly honor God and his societal order requires a change of heart. It requires a heart that first of all trusts in the sovereignty of God. It requires a heart that trusts in the promises of God. It requires a trust in Christ. Without true faith there can be no true honor. You can force external obedience; you cannot force honor.
How Do Children Honor Their Mothers?
It’s one thing to say, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.” It’s another thing to help make your mother happy in tangible ways. Here are four practical expressions of honor.
Learn from Her Teaching
Mothers are teachers (Prov. 1:8). The best way to honor a schoolteacher is to learn from her. This applies in the home as well. From a strictly practical point, this should happen because moms know more than their kids. From a more theological standpoint, moms are one of the primary instruments that God has chosen to communicate his will. Moms need to see themselves as teachers. Their job description is varied, but near the top is the role of educator.
Children must obey their mother’s law (Prov. 6:20). This means doing what she says with a cheerful heart. Parents must never separate obedience from honor. Where there is no honor, reverence or respect, there is no true obedience.
This is especially important for young men to hear. Wrong as it may be, it can be difficult for them to take orders from a woman. Young men need to learn that mothers, acting faithfully, represent God. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). One of the primary duties of husbands is to see that their children obey their mother. If there is anything worse than a child disobeying his mother, it’s a husband who allows it to happen with impunity.
Submit to Her Discipline
From a parental perspective, mothers need to be discipliners. A disobedient son is a shame to his mother. “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15). Except in extreme cases, mothers cannot afford to wait for dad to come home to discipline their children. Again, the father needs to stand behind the wife’s discipline. From a child’s perspective, the discipline of a mother and father should have the same effect.
Improve Her Quality of Life
This point will probably put a cynical grin on the faces of some parents: “Make my life easier, more pleasant? I can remember when my life was easier and more pleasant. It was before children!” But the Bible says that wise sons give joy to the one who bore them (Prov. 23:25).
In Bible times children were to honor their parents by physically supporting them. (See Mt. 15:4–6. If you object that this is only applicable for adult children, then be ready to accept the biblical age of adulthood: thirteen!). I am not suggesting that every child over thirteen should get a job to support the family (although that may be necessary at times). I am saying that all children should have as their goal to improve the lives of their parents. Proverbs 31:28 says that her children rise up and call her blessed, literally, “Her children rise up and bless her.” This is not simply saying, “Bless you mom.” It is being a blessing to your mother by seeking to improve her quality of life.
Why Is This So Important?
In a word, it is because God promises curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience.
God Promises Curses for Disobedience.
The Bible is strong here: “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures” (Prov. 30:17). This is a startling passage, a little scary for children. Actually, that’s the point. The book of Proverbs was written from the perspective of a father to his son. It’s a book for young readers. God wants to impress on them the dreadful consequences of dishonoring their parents.
Consider another Proverb: “If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness” (Prov. 20:20). You say, “I have never cursed my mother.” Really? The basic sense of the Hebrew word for “curse” here is “to slight” or “make light of.” This brings it a little closer to home.
The Bible says that the way of the transgressor is hard (Prov. 13:15). Most of us have experienced the hard reality that comes from dishonoring parents. These scars can last for a lifetime. Those who choose not to live God’s way live without God’s blessing. I would like to survey one hundred people who are living a hard life due to their own folly. I would like to ask them, “As a child, did you honor your father and mother?” My suspicion is most of them did not. This is why God says that the son who despises his mother is a fool (Prov. 15:20). If you dishonor your mother, then you are a fool because you cast aside the blessings of God’s will.
God Promises Blessing for Obedience
God promises a good life to those who, by faith, honor their mother and father. God has our best interest in mind. He knows what it will take for us to live a good life. The world pretends to know what makes a good life and offers us all sorts of substitutes. But God promises a good life to those who are content in submitting to higher authorities, including parents. Parents, lovingly remind your children that they need to honor their father and mother. Do this not to feed your egos but to see them live within the sphere that God blesses.
Some have questioned the literalness of God’s promise that children who honor their parents will enjoy long life. (Eph. 6:3). Very often, the godly do enjoy long life on this earth. But since some godly people die young, we know that something more is meant here. God’s promises always extend beyond time. They begin now but extend forever.
Living long and prospering has nothing to do with science fiction. Instead it is rooted in the everyday experiences of mothers (and fathers) and children living within the bounds of the will of God. This is the only sure recipe for a happy Mother’s Day.
Rev. William Boekestein is blessed with an incredible mother. He is also the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Carbondale, PA.