[Column] Honor Your Parents

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

It was a sunny day at a golf course. Among many people who gathered there, one particular group stood out. They were very cautiously playing golf at a slow pace following proper orders and strict rules as if competing in a PGA tour. There was an air of profound solemnity, usually not visible in betting. Out of curiosity, a passerby said, “Excuse me. You seem so extraordinarily serious and focused as though this game is a matter of life and death. You are not betting. Are you?” One of the players angrily responded, “Don’t disturb us. We are brothers and competing against one another to decide who will take care of our parents.” People these days are loath to look after their own parents.

It is said that in the last days people will be disobedient to their parents (2 Timothy 3:2). What is the implication of such disobedience? The Bible warns us of the curse of those who dishonor their parents (Deuteronomy 27:16). It is evident that respect for parents is the will of God. “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God”(1 Timothy 5:4).

Why must children honor their parents? First and foremost, it is what they are commanded to do as Christians to please the Lord. Ephesians 6:1 clearly states, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” If we have become Christian, we must rightfully obey our parents. Secondly, filial piety is an imperative duty in conformity with natural law. The expression “for this is right” appears in the New Testament 183 times. It is customarily used to stress absolute values. Honoring one’s own parents is right and proper.

Thirdly, it is the first commandment in which God’s promise is embedded. In the Old Testament, “go well” (verse 3) denotes material blessing. However, in the New Testament the concept of blessing changes. In Ephesians, there is an increasing emphasis on spiritual blessing. Also, “you may enjoy long life” (verse 3) signifies not only literal longevity but also God’s blessing of abundant, prosperous life for those who obey the Word. Why is honoring one’s parents the first commandment with a promise? From the fifth to tenth commandments are interpersonal commandments. Of all the different kinds of interpersonal human relationships mentioned in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your parents” is the first to be mentioned and also the first to guarantee its rewards.

Fourthly, we can set an example for our children. The message addressed to the children in Ephesians 6:1 is directly linked to the message addressed to the parents in the verse 4. Children eventually grow up to be parents. Although some of us may still be dependent children to our parents, we will soon grow out of this stage and become parents with dependent children. Our every word, deed, and thought directed at our parents will leave an indelible impression on the children. How we treat our parents now can exert a profound influence in determining the course of our children’s lives.

What kinds of blessings do honoring one’s parents bring? We can examine from Apostle John. He honored Mary, the mother of Our Lord, as his own mother all his life. What kind of blessing did he receive?

First, he obtained the blessing of mature character. By nature, John was short-tempered and known as a “son of thunder.” When people in the Samaritan village did not welcome the messengers Jesus sent out, James and John said “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” Yet, irascible apostle John was transformed into an “apostle of love” and a “disciple of love” and eventually penned the First Letter of John, the epistle of love. He confesses “God is love.” As his volatile and impatient personality changed by the grace of God, he became the apostle of love, who loved God and his neighbor.

Furthermore, he lived to an old age. It is generally agreed that John was the only nonagenarian among all the apostles. In Ephesus (now Turkey), there is the house of Virgin Mary. Next to it is the Basilica of St John. I believe God granted him the blessing of a long life so that he could fulfill his filial duty as he continued to take care of Virgin Mary even at 60 when he relocated to Ephesus. How greatly he was used as God’s instrument. He authored the gospel of John and the first, second, and third epistles of John as well as Revelation.

We must honor our parents while they are alive. 18th century distinguished English author Samuel Johnson in his earlier days sold books with his father at his father’s bookshop. Once destitute, he was now a prominent and highly respected figure on the same footing as any nobleman. Yet his reputation did very little to lessen his guilt. One day, as Johnson was seen standing silently in a downpour someone asked him why he is standing in a heavy rain. Johnson responded “I used to work with my father around here when I was young. Now he is dead. Haunted by the painful memories of my disobedience and ingratitude to my father, I knelt before his tomb crying aloud, yet remorse remains. I’ve come to the place where I committed my offense and am punishing myself.” What good is it to regret after the death of our parents? Honoring our parents is the will of God. May we all honor our parents and enjoy God’s abundant blessings.

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