4th Commandment: Honoring Parents

“Honor your mother and father.”

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we niether despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism


This is the first commandment that deals with interpersonal relationships. It is many mom and dad’s favorite commandment, and it seems like it gets used just to keep kids in-line. But this isn’t the only place in all the Bible where there are references to the relationships between parents and children. In fact these sorts of passages exist all over both the old and new testaments.

So why do you think the Bible puts so much emphasis on how we interact with our parents?

When the Bible says that we are supposed to honor our parents, it is hard to understand what exactly that means. Are we supposed to blindly do whatever they say, even when they won’t explain it to us? What about when parents hurt their kids, emotionally or physically? When do we get to start making our own decisions and ignore what our parents say? These are all questions we struggle with when it comes to this commandment.

When I hear the word honor in the fourth commandment I understand it in three ways, Obey, Respect, and Admire. It’s not always easy to act in the right way when it comes to these three attributes, but we can always try.

We are called to Obey our parents because our families are the first place we can begin to understand how we can live the rest of our lives within the law. Learning to obey law is really important for how we understand the world around us. Unlike God’s rules, the rules humans come up with can be flawed and the only way we can truly tell if they don’t work is by following them. When we follow the law, we begin to understand how it needs to change to more accurately follow God’s rules. When we don’t follow the rules before us, we fall into the trap of looking out for ourselves rather than those around us. All of this starts in the family we grow up in. As Jesus said in Luke 16:10, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” Therefore, we are called to OBEY OUR PARENTS.

Secondly, we are called to RESPECT OUR PARENTS. Respect is a very hard thing to practice because it forces us to put others above ourselves. This means that when we respect our parents, we consider them to be more important than us. When we don’t actively try to respect others, we tend to turn our gaze inward and focus on what’s best for me. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he called his disciples to die to themselves and live to serve others. When we respect our parents we are acting as Christ called us.

Finally, we are called to ADMIRE OUR PARENTS. Admiration is a difficult thing to give. It means that we appreciate everything our parents do for us. When we admire what parents do, we can begin to learn that love isn’t something you can just talk about, it’s something you do. Love is a muscle that can only grow when we work it out. Parents exercise their love muscle every time they sacrifice themselves or their time for the family. When we are asked to honor our parents, we are called to simply notice and appreciate all of their commitment, sacrifice, and love for the family.

In order to better understand what it means to obey, respect, and admire parents, we heard a story about a family with a daughter in Middle School told from three different perspectives.

Ally’s family has always been fairly busy. Her mom seemed to always be driving her and her siblings to school, church, or sports activities. Recently, her parents made a new rule that each of the kids in the family could only spend one night over at a friend’s house each week. Ally was actually kind of glad to have an excuse to stay at home and have some time to herself after spending all day at school and then hanging out with her two best friends, Rachel and Lynn, once a week.

Lately though, Ally’s friends had started to fight over a boy. Because of this, they no longer wanted to hang out with each other. Neither seemed to care if Ally hung out with the other one, as long as she made time for both friends. Every other time something like this seemed to happen it wasn’t a big deal. Ally could just spend an afternoon over at each of their houses. But since her parents had recently changed the rules, this would be impossible. Ally had to find away around the rule because she really didn’t want to lose either of her friends just because of some stupid boy she didn’t even like herself.
Ally realized that in addition to her mom driving everyone around, her dad had begun to spend more time at his job. In fact, her mom and dad hardly had anytime to talk to each other and her dad only picked her up from school on Fridays. So she hatched a plan. On Thursday when her mom picked her up from school she asked if she would be able to go over to Rachel’s after she was done with her homework. Her mom agreed to drive her over, but reminded her that she wouldn’t be able to do anything on Friday. On Friday when her dad picked her up, she asked if he could take her straight over to Lynn’s to hang out. Since her dad hadn’t had a chance to talk to her mom yet, he let her go over.

That night, when she got home from Lynn’s her parents were not happy. They proceeded to lecture her about following rules and the tongue lashing ended in her parent’s grounding her for two weeks. Ally hated that she had gotten caught and couldn’t believe that now she would be in danger of losing each of her friends. It didn’t seem fair at all!

How did Ally disobey her parents?
Do you think she had a good reason for disobeying the rule? Why or why not?
What could she have done differently to help the situation?

Ally’s mom has been a stay-at-home mom for Ally’s entire life. Everyday she works very hard to ensure that her kids eat well, they get their homework done, they make it to all their sports, and the house stays clean. Between the busy schedules of her kids and her husband’s new work schedule, she’s been feeling like she has gotten less time to spend with each of her kids, and she’s worried she is losing the closeness they used to share.

After a particularly rough week, she brings this up to Ally’s dad. Together, they decide that the family needs to limit the amount of activities they participate in so that they have some space in their lives and to take the pressure off of Ally’s mom to drive everywhere. This leads to the rule that each of the kids in the family could only spend one night over at a friend’s house each week.

Just a couple of weeks after they put the rule in place, Ally asked her mom if she could go over to a friend’s house after school. Her mom made sure to remind her that she wouldn’t be able to do anything the next night, since the rule was new. However, Ally still got her dad to take her to a friend’s house after school the next day. Ally’s mom was very disappointed in her daughter and felt disrespected. Ally’s mom and dad talked about the consequences and decided that she should not be allowed to go over to any friend’s house for two weeks.

Do you think this is a good rule? Why or why not?
Why would it be hard for Ally to respect this rule?
Could her parents have made a different rule to achieve the same outcome?

Ally’s dad has been missing the days when he used to hang out with his little girl after work. They used to go to the park, play catch in the yard, or watch TV together. Ever since middle school began, Ally has seemed more busy than ever. In addition to Ally’s busy schedule, her dad recently got a promotion which meant that he would have to spend more time at work, leaving him only one night a week where he is able to be at home, but it was worth it to be able to make more money to get his kids through college.

Soon after he started the new job, his wife came to him asking if they might be able to think of a way to slow the family down and keep them from going in a thousand different directions. He was relieved to find out he wasn’t the only one who felt this and together they came up with a rule that each of the kids in the family could only spend one night over at a friend’s house each week. He finally felt like he wasn’t going to have to lose touch with his family to make his new job work.

Each week Ally’s dad looked forward to Friday when he got to pick his daughter up from school. Ally’s dad was looking forward to a night that was like the old days where he might be able to catch up with his busy daughter. Although, he would like to spend his only night at home with his daughter, when she asks, he agrees to drive her over to her friend’s house instead, because he thinks it’s important for Ally to have relationships with people her age. When he gets home, he tells his wife about his difficult decision. As he does he notices that she gets upset. She tells him that Ally had been to a friend’s house the night before, and that she had reminded her of the new house rule. He felt disappointed and like his daughter had taken advantage of him. He hated when he and Ally’s mom had to punish her, but he knew that she needed to respect the rules. So together they decided that she should have to spend the next two weeks without going to any friends house.

Is there anything for Ally to admire about her dad?
Do you think it is easy or difficult for Ally to notice these things? Why?
How could Ally show her admiration for her dad?

In the story of Ally’s family, we saw that just how difficult it can be to honor our parents when we add in the complexity of our individual lives. It is no wonder that the Bible has to keep reminding us of how important it is for our families to look out for each other. When we remind ourselves to Obey, Respect, and Admire our parents, we can help to make the relationship with them a little bit better.

Together we read Luke 2:41-52. In this story we saw Jesus when he was 12 years old. Even in Jesus’ family things didn’t go perfectly. This is because no one is perfect, not our parents and especially not us. So when things go wrong it’s important to remember that when God puts the parent/child relationship in front of every other person to person rule, it means that this should be the most important relationship to us. This means that we are called to work on how we understand each other.
In this week’s small group activity looked at some different potential responses to a parental request for a household chore. Then we worked together as a group to replicate the exercise with a situation we might run into in our own homes. This week’s take home challenge is to share that situation with our parents, and complete an activity with them.

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