Although the message of the Fifth Commandment is clearly a message which is important for children to hear and heed, it is not a message just for children. Everyone who reads this has parents, and everyone who hears has a duty to honor them in the way the Bible describes.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you“ (Ex. 20:12).“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’” (Eph. 6:1-3).
This commandment has a fundamental prerequisite. Although we must always honor our parents, we must honor and love God more. This is fundamental. No human government, no human relationship is absolute. All must come under our relationship to God, and be related to Him through Christ.
This is what Jesus taught. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me“ (Matt. 10:37). In saying this, Christ was not setting aside God’s law; rather, He repeated it (Matt. 19:19). This is not a truth limited to our emotional lives; it affects what we do.“He [Ahaziah] did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin“ (1 Kings 22:52). The Bible tells us what to do when parents are disobedient. This understanding is crucial because if we go straight to the things required in our honor of parents, without this check on parental sinfulness, we set the stage for familial tyrannies. I have seen more than a little bit of this kind of thing in conservative Christian circles. But no human authority is absolute, and this includes the authority of father and mother. Everyone in legitimate authority is always under legitimate authority.
At the same time, the honor required by the Fifth Commandment is not a “little deal.“ We see this in the fact that the requirement is placed among the other Nine. We also see how New Testament writers treated this sin. “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents . . .“(2 Tim. 3:2). In Romans, in a list of great wickedness, Paul cites “backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents . . .“ (Romans 1:30). Consider well the company this sin keeps. Disobeying parents (when such disobedience is sin) is not listed with jaywalking and chewing gum in class.
In numerous places, the Bible defines what this honor must look like.
First, children must be students of their parents: “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother . . .“ (Prov. 1:8).
Second, children must please their parents: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother“ (Prov. 10:1; cf. 15:20; 19:26; 23:25).
Third, children must be attentive to their parents: “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old“ (Prov. 23:22).
Fourth, children must respect the responsibility held by parents for their sexual purity (Dt. 22:20-21).
Fifth, children must respect the property of their parents: “Whoever robs his father or his mother, and says, ‘It is no transgression,’ the same is companion to a destroyer” (Prov. 28:24).
Sixth, children must bless their parents: “There is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother“ (Prov. 30:11).
Seventh, children must revere their parents: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God“ (Prov. 30:11).
Eighth, grown children must repay their parents: “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God“ (1 Tim. 5:4). This is how Jesus interprets this commandment in Mark 7:10. Honoring parents includes financial commitments. This corresponds to the earlier duty parents have for their children (2 Cor. 12:14).
Ninth, dependent children must obey their parents: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this well pleasing to the Lord“ (Col. 3:20).
Tenth, children must never strike their parents: “And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death“ (Ex. 21:15).
Eleventh, children must never curse their parents: “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death“ (Ex. 21:17; cf. Lev. 20:9).
Twelfth, children must never mock their parents: “The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it“ (Prov. 30:17).
Thirteenth, children must never show contempt for their parents: “‘Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” (Deut. 27:16).