Do Protestants Have the "Fullness of the Faith"?
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Do Protestants Have the "Fullness of the Faith"?

Honor Your Parents, Even As You Age

The fifth commandment, “honor your father and your mother” (Exod. 20:12), is for all children. But not for all children in the same way. The parent/child relationship is dynamic, not static. To young children, Scripture stresses the duty of compliance (Eph. 6:1). But children eventually leave their parents (Gen. 2:24); this is right. And they should begin preparing to leave years earlier. Parents should raise children to be independent, no longer needing to lean on them in their walk with God.

So how do maturing children continue to honor their parents beyond the simple obedience that was required in their youth? In fact, how can all people honor their parents, even parents who are not godly or no longer living?

Honor Your Parents by Honoring God’s Command

Because the command to honor parents applies in some way to all children, we need to be sure that we understand its point. With the fifth commandment, God begins to teach his people how they must love their neighbors as themselves. So it’s right to see in it a call to respect “all those in authority over me” (1 Peter 2:7, Rom. 12:10).[i] But the command recognizes that some neighbors are closer to us than others and deserve greater honor. And children’s closest neighbors are their parents.

The honor that the fifth commandment requires of children of all ages is “all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior.”[ii] The Protestant Reformer John Calvin recognized reverence as the first calling of the command.[iii] When God later repeats the fifth commandment, his operative verb requires children to revere and even fear (KJV) their parents (Lev. 19:3). Why is the element of reverence so critical? Because external actions of honor begin with an internal attitude of respect.

Honoring parents is also the most obvious indicator of whether children are honoring the Lord (Col. 3:20). If we fear God, we will reverence our parents. And if we reverence our parents and humbly learn from them, we will be well on our way to respecting and learning from other proper influencers. Part of the blessing promised in the commandment is the good life that will result from learning to love your closest neighbors. Of course, the opposite is true too.

In a perfect world it would be easy to honor parents. But—especially as we grow up—we notice more and more their faults. How do we honor parents when they don’t seem worthy of it?

Honor Your Parents Even When They Seem Wrong

The word “seem” is deliberate. Sometimes parents are wrong and sometimes young people’s immaturity causes them to misunderstand their parents. Either way, honor is required. As a maturing young man, Jesus lovingly submitted to his parents even when they terribly misunderstood him (Luke 2:39–52). That’s our calling too.

Sometimes the disconnect between parents and maturing kids is minor; parents can seem annoying or embarrassing. It’s a glory to overlook such faults (Prov. 19:11). We are to “be patient with their failings.”[iv] And even though they may irritate you, speak well of your parents, remembering that in the Old Testament cursing one’s parents was a capital offense (Lev. 20:9). You’ll also find that how you talk about your folks to others will have either a positive or negative effect on your heart.

Sometimes the act of honoring parents is more seriously challenged. When parents sin against their children, one way to honor them is to speak the truth while recognizing their position of authority. Here’s how Paul put it: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father” (1 Tim. 5:1). Paul isn’t suggesting that older men make no mistakes, or that they don’t need correction. He’s saying that older men, like fathers, deserve the kind of correction appropriate to their office. English translations suggest several honorable alternatives to a harsh rebuke: encourage (ESV), entreat (KJV), appeal (NAS), exhort (NKJ, NIV). Try one of these actions as you honor sinning parents.

You can even honor wicked parents. After all, “Honoring ungodly people means calling them to repent of their sin, encouraging them to do what is right, and preventing them from doing further evil. An honorable response to sin is confronting it, refusing to enable it, and reporting crimes to law enforcement.”[v] Honor sinful parents by granting forgiveness for penitence and refusing to harbor anger and resentment even if they do not repent. Especially when parents make honor hard, God is pleased by sincere obedience.

Honor Your Parents Even as You Need Them Less

How can we honor our parents as we prepare to and actually do leave them to start our own households?

Learn from Your Parents

Honoring parents isn’t merely an expression of piety. It’s an act of wisdom. Wise young people hear their father’s instruction and forsake not their mother’s teaching (Prov. 1:8). Obviously, the teaching/learning relationship changes as children grow. Parents of young children are vastly wiser than their kids. The knowledge gap between parents and teenagers is less extreme. But it still exists, and wise teens recognize it. In fact, there is never a time when we should stop trying to learn from our parents. As a full-grown man, Rehoboam showed his folly by refusing to heed the sound advice of his father’s mature counselors (1 Kings 12:1–11).

Selectively Continue Your Parents’ Legacy

Except in the most extreme cases, children have much they will want to pass on from their parents to their children. It’s an honorable thing to maintain your parents’ best practices and graciously overlook and discontinue their mistakes. And honorable children will praise their parents’ legacy behind their backs and to their faces.

Maintain Your Aging Parents’ Dignity

In time, the parent/child roles reverse. Godly children will recognize their calling to help their parents in the difficult aging process. They will honor parents as they become more set in their ways. They will offer advice where appropriate. They will help perform now-difficult tasks. They will provide financial support where needed (1 Tim. 5:4, 8), believing that, “Welfare is first of all a family responsibility.”[vi]

Parents, Raise Honorable Children

Even as we focus on God’s command to children, we should remember that the responsibilities in the parent/child relationship are not one-sided. Paul is explicit: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Part of the parental calling is to raise honorable children. So the call to honor father and mother is for both parents and children. And, if we are honest, it’s too much for us. But it isn’t too much for Jesus. Children of all ages must trust Jesus as they strive to honor their parents. When you pray to Jesus for help, know that your sympathetic high priest understands your situation. Your parents might not. Jesus does. He learned obedience—including the obedience of submission—through all the trials you face (Heb. 5:8). And because he too was tested as a child born under the fifth commandment (Gal. 4:4) he can help you follow him in true obedience.

[i] Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 104.

[ii] Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 127.

[iii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960),2.8.36.

[iv] Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 104.

[v] Jennifer Greenberg, “Honoring Your Father When He’s Evil.” The Gospel Coalition. June 18, 2021. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/honoring-father-evil

[vi] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R, 2008), 582.

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William Boekestein

William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has written several books and numerous articles. He and his wife, Amy, have four children.