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What does the command to honor my father and mother mean?

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Exodus 20:12 lists the fifth of the Ten Commandments: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Ephesians 6:2-3 echoes the commandment for those in the church age: "'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'" But there is no small amount of confusion: what does it mean to "honor" one's parents?

In the Old Testament, the word translated honor is the Hebrew kabad. It means to be heavy, weighty, grievous, hard, rich, glorious, burdensome. In other words, our parents should be a significant priority in our lives. They should not be ignored or taken lightly. Our choices should take their needs and wishes into serious consideration.

The Greek word used in Ephesians 6:2 is timao. It means to determine the value of something; in this case, to determine that the value is high. We should give our parents a high value—even higher than ministry (Mark 7:9-13)—and treat them accordingly.

What, specifically, does this look like? Basically, we are to take every passage that describes how we should treat others and apply it doubly to our parents. Love them with agape love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Treat them with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Speak of them and to them with respect (Ephesians 4:29). Forgive them wholeheartedly (Matthew 18:21-22). And seek reconciliation when issues and misunderstandings get in the way (Matthew 18:15-17).

The same applies to parents who act less than honorably. The Bible gives counsel for dealing with ungodly people. We may not have a close relationship (2 Corinthians 6:14), and we may put a lower value on their advice (Psalm 1). But we are still to love them (Matthew 5:44-47). And there is nothing in the Bible that indicates we are absolved of seeing to their basic needs when they are older (Mark 7:9-13).

Christian scholars generally divide the Ten Commandments into two groups; the first four dealing with God and the last six with other people. But Jewish scholars divide the commandments evenly. This puts "honor your father and mother" in the same category as those commandments telling us to honor God. God commissioned parents with the upbringing of their children. To reject His anointed is to reject Him.

Related Truth:

Are Christians expected to honor an abusive parent? How can we honor an abusive parent?

Does the Bible say anything about child abuse?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?

What are to be our top priorities in our family life?

What should a Christian mother be like according to the Bible?

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