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05/03/2011 / Test All Things

Honor Required of Children

Foundations are shaking here, too; but not only because children are being disobedient to their parents. This is true, too.

Children seem to disobey everyone in authority, teachers as well as parents.

Since the beginning of time, rebellious and disobedient children have been a problem. What is new in the 80’s and 90’s (and today) is the startling blatancy, openness, and popularity of that disobedience. Not only are children rebelling as always, but they are open and defiant in their disobedience. To top it off, the media make entertainment of it. Here, too, foundations are shaking. God calls children to honor their parents.

Honoring parents is not the same as loving them, or even the same as obeying them. Some children who obey their parents, who say they love their parents, do not honor them. To honor is to show reverence, respect, godly fear. Already we see that the relationship of children to parents is patterned after the relationship of us to our heavenly Father. When we are called to honor God, we must reverence, respect, and fear Him. (This does not mean we are afraid of Him. If any children are afraid of their parents, the parents ought to examine carefully their behavior.) Children must respect their parents as we respect God.

Honoring parents includes loving them. This ought to be plain to children who know that the fifth commandments is part of the second table of the law. The heart of this second table is that we love our neighbor. Since parents are the children’s closest neighbor, obedience to the fifth commandment is loving their parents. This is not a natural love, just because the parents gave them birth and feed them. This is a spiritual love that comes from a heart that loves God.

Third, honoring parents means submitting to them. This is crucial. It is not enough that the children say, “I know that God put these parents over me; I love them; I honor them; I respect them in my heart.” The children must submit to them. Here is where children have a difficult time. Suppose dad must rebuke his son. Son stands with his arms in his side, defiant while dad speaks. Even though son may obey dad, he shows that he is rebelling in his heart.

Is that the way we behave towards our Father in heaven?

Fourth, honor includes obedience. If children honor their parents, they will obey them – both of them. The 5th commandment says, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Deuteronomy 21 speaks of a son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother. Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey
your parents.”
It used to be that when pastors gave the warning about this part of the commandment, children needed to be exhorted to honor their mother.

Nowadays the warning is in order that the children honor their father. From the television programs to the Berenstain Bears, father is often mocked as a bumbling oaf. But disrespect of father or mother is serious business. If children do not obey both parents, they really honor neither, for the parents are one.

As much as they do not like to hear it, the older children have a greater responsibility here than the younger children. It is not the case that the children become looser in their honor of their parents when they become older; rather, they must become more careful.


Because the younger brothers and sisters are watching, and learning by example. Sometimes it is said that younger children show less honor to their parents because the parents become looser in their old age. That may be partly true. But it can also be the case that the younger children learn some disrespect from the older siblings.

Older children have an example, a powerful one, in their older Brother, Jesus Christ. He obeyed the commands of God, honored His Father, and submitted to His Father’s will, all for the sake of His younger brothers and sisters. And that will of God for Him was no less difficult for Him than our parent’s
will is for us. God’s will for Jesus was that He become as a servant, that He suffer with all our sins on His shoulders, carry them to the cross, and allow Himself to be plunged into hell where He was abandoned by His Father. And He honored and obeyed His Father’s will.

Parents, encourage your children with that, especially when they are struggling with your will which is difficult for them. “I do not want to be mocked! I do not want to stay home when everyone else is having a good time…” Then let them remember their older brother Jesus, Who did not desire to suffer the death of the cross, looked up against that terrible suffering, but said, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

This requirement applies to the children even when the parents are sinful. This is where the comparison breaks down between God’s Fatherhood of us and our parenting of our children. Our heavenly Father never flies off the handle, is never impatient, never shouts in anger, or is partial. He is always kind, always fair, always wise, always levelheaded.

Yet consider the difficult time that we have submitting to Him!

This ought to be a warning to us parents to be understanding with ourchildren; if we have a hard time of it with our perfect heavenly Father, imagine the time our children have honoring us – sinful, weak, parents!

And yet our children must honor their parents, even when parents are sinful and unfair.

This does not mean that children must always OBEY their parents. If we parents command the children to disobey God, the children must disobey us, using the same reasoning that Peter did with the rulers of Jerusalem who commanded them not to preach about Jesus: “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). But children must still honor their parents, submitting to them always, just as Peter and the disciples still honored those in authority, submitting to them, and not rebelling.

We parents must work our entire life to teach our children to honor us. We do this by being honorable ourselves – be behaving honorably at home; by the wife honoring her husband in all things (I Peter 3:1-6); by the husband loving his wife and caring for her in humility (I Peter 3:7); by honoring those in authority over them – obeying the laws, respecting the president, police, judge, and employer (I Peter 2:13-18); by living such a life that the children learn by the powerful example of the parents.

Why must the children honor their parents?

Not simply because God says so. This is part of the reason. God says, “Honor your parents.”

Children often do not like to hear that this is the reason for obedience. But sometimes this must be the last word – “because God says so.” Paul brings this out in Ephesians 6 when one of the reasons given for children to honor their parents is, “For this is right”! Indeed, this is the first reason given. But it is not the only reason.

Nor must they obey this commandment of God because they fear dad’s punishment. Chastisement is a deterrent to disobedience, but it certainly is not the reason for obedience. And yet it is not infrequent that this is the reason given by children.

Is it fear that drives us to obey God?

God forbid!

Children honor their parents because they are thankful. Children of God honor and obey Him because they are thankful for their salvation – this is the beauty of the Reformed faith! I love God because He first loved me; therefore I honorHim!

“Children, love your parents because you are thankful to God for everything they are for you.”

Especially, they must honor their parents because their parents are over them in the place of God. The Reformed Heidelberg Catechism says, “since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.” Parents are the “hand of God” upon the children.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord…”

These reasons show how serious dishonor is. First, dishonor shows that children ar not thankful to their parents, and do not love their parents.

This is dreadful!

More dreadful yet is that dishonor shows a failure to love God. For obedience to the second table of the law (commandments 5-10) is evidence of obedience to the first table (1-4).

May God forgive our children, lest the great judgment of God come upon them (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and many texts in Proverbs.) God grant grace to our children to fight against their sinful nature, to love their parents, to love God, “that it may be well with them, and that they may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3), and eternally in heaven. May God grant it. For His glory.

By Barry Gritters

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