Honoring Your Mother and Your Father, The Fifth Commandment…And What About Permission to Marry?

The following is a guest blog by Kelli Russell, part of our counseling team and a ministry partner. Kelli has been faced with several counseling situations in recent months that all fall under the oppression and abuse of Hyper-Headship and Patriarchy.


This topic seems to bring with it sadness, despair, confusion, entitlement, and a lack of grace and regard for one another as image-bearers of God.

I have had many counseling conversations where a very excited young woman or young couple is ready to be married or some other major life decision only be discouraged in being told by their parents that they do not have the parent’s blessing or permission.

Adult children further being told that by not obeying the parent’s decision is out of God’s order, that they are ignoring the admonition, ‘Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.’ Often times resulting in the adult child being ostracized and the relationship is estranged.

There have also been the difficult discussions where adult children have been taught an inaccurate view of obedience under an authoritative dictatorship of head-of-household, using Scripture as its hammer rather than the servant-leadership model God intended and demonstrated by Christ. This results in a fractured view of self, of God as Father, and an inappropriate view of authority, disabling their ability to discern well for themselves.

What Does the Bible Say?
Breaking down Exodus 20:12 – Honor your father and your mother, that you may live a long time in the land the Lord your God is giving to you.

We know this is a commandment to be taken seriously, not only because it is a matter of Old Testament revelation, but because the obligation to honor parents is one that is reiterated and reinforced by the New Testament: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Ephesians (6:1-3).

So this is a command that is important to God. But when does a child stop being a child? What role does a parent have once a child is an adult? How do we know when that is?

Honor, a Truly Reverent Response to a Deserving Recipient
Let’s define further the term “honor” and how parents in the Old Testament were honored or dishonored by their children. We will next turn to the New Testament, to see from the teachings and practice of our Lord, how parents were to be honored, especially against the backdrop of the disregard of parents by the scribes and Pharisees.

Finally, let’s see how the Fifth Commandment was modified and applied by the apostle Paul.

In the original Old Testament times the time, literal lifetime, that it took for a son to learn the trade that his father was imparting down to him was long, and by the time the father was catching on in age, so honoring the parents was a natural transition of life then. It was of great honor to take on the trade that your father took the time to teach. In our times, that has changed. We don’t necessarily take on our father’s trade out of necessity or carrying on the family name. Sometimes a trade has dissipated over time. Technology and social-evolving of man have been a factor.

Honor is due to more than just parents. The new testament requires the Christian to honor all men (Romans 12:10 – Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another. 1 Peter 2:17 – Honor all people, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the king.)

  1. Giving Honor is Personal. In the Bible, only persons are honored, not things. We do not honor paintings, or great works of art, or things of value, we honor only people. Honor is rendered by people to people. Honor is bestowed by a person to a person. Honor cannot be self-designated, but must come from another: “No one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was” – Hebrews 5:4
  2. Giving Honor is Preferential. When we honor someone, we distinguish them above someone else. Honoring someone sets them above others. “…give preference to one another in honor.” – Romans 12:10. Honoring parents means to think highly of them, in contrast to esteeming them lightly.
  3. Honor is Positional. When people are honored in the Bible, they are honored largely because of the position they hold. Those who we are commanded to honor in the bible are most often those who hold a certain position of distinction. God is honored because He is the Sovereign God of the Universe. Kings, rulers, and masters are all to be given honor. Parents too are to be honored for their position in the family. Thus honor has to do with the position, power, and dignity that a person has above and beyond others.
  4. Giving Honor is Practical. Honoring another requires more than lip service: “Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.’”– Isaiah 29:13.
  5. Honor is Public. The act of honoring parents begins with an attitude of respect for them. Thus we read in the Law, “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:3

The outflow of the attitude of reverence is the action of honoring, and the action which is generally public. Thus, both the husband and children are exhorted to give the godly woman praise in a public place: Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel the all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” – Proverbs 31:28

The command to honor parents draws several observations we must consider:

  1. The commandment is given to children, specifying their obligation toward their parents.
  2. There are no indications here as to the age of the children who are to honor their parents. Other passages will apply this general command to specific age groups, but this command is deliberately broad in scope.
  3. There is no particular action required here. Children are not told here to do anything in particular to honor their parents. We should assume, and rightly so, that different actions will be required at different times, of different people. We must, therefore, look elsewhere in Scripture to determine how we are to honor our parents at any given point in time.  The Old Testament Scriptures fill in many of the details as to what constitutes honor and dishonor, with respect to parents. When parents are dishonored, they are cursed (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Proverbs 20:20), or according to Proverbs, not blessed (30:11). This disregard for parents can result in physically striking them (Exodus 21:15; Proverbs 19:26), and even of robbing them (Proverbs 28:24). The child can dishonor his parents by living a lifestyle which is contradictory to that of his parents and of society, including disobedience, stubbornness, rebelliousness, drunkenness, and gluttony. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
  4. The Fifth Commandment is the first of the commandments which deal with our obligations to men. The first four commandments dealt with the Israelite’s obligation to God. This commandment introduced those which specify his duty with respect to men. This commandment pertains only to the obligation between the child and parents. It is also a positive command, followed by prohibitions.

Those who would honor God must also honor their parents. Those who honor their parents have already begun to honor God. Our earthly fathers are, on the one hand, God’s representatives, instructing and discipling their children in His place. On the other hand, parents serve to illustrate the way in which God is at work in the lives of His children, as a Father. This is seen, for example, in Proverbs chapters 2 and 3, where the father’s care for his child is likened to God’s fatherly care for His children. Not a misuse and abuse of authority and legalism.

We need to recognize that the application of honoring your parents would take on different forms. The young child will honor his parents as he obeys them (e.g. Proverbs, Ephesians 6:1-3). The older child will honor his parents as he or she is obedient to God. The child whose parents are dependent on him will honor his parents by providing for them (Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; 1 Timothy 5:3,).

The way one person honors his parents may differ from the way another person does. It should caution us about those who have a very simplistic formula for honoring our parents. It means that we must carefully and prayerfully come to our own convictions and conclusions as to our personal responsibilities to our parents, based upon the principles of God’s word.

Here are some significant changes in relationship between children and their parents, which may affect the way honor to parents may look.

  1. The way a person relates to parents changes with conversion. When a person comes to Christ as his personal savior, there are a number of significant changes (2 Cor 5:17). When a person becomes a child of God by faith, God becomes a Father to them in a new and previously unknown way. From this point on the Christian relates to God as His child (John 1:12; Matt 6:9). While God was once denied, and His authority rejected (Eph 2:1-3). Now He is our Heavenly Father, with final authority, authority which has priority over all others, including fathers and mothers. As we have seen from our Lord’s teaching, faith in Christ may alienate children from their parents.
  2. The way a person relates to parents changes with marriage. Leave and cleave is a Biblical instruction that God clearly states in Genesis 3 and Ephesians 5.
  3. We also cannot forget God’s imploring to parents in Proverbs and for Father’s not to exasperate their children to anger in Ephesians 6:4.
  4. Fathers (parents), do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged ~ Colossians 3:21. God commands parents to raise their children with godly nurture, being careful not to frustrate them. Provoking an adult child to the place of exasperation.

I love how this article from Ligonier Ministries puts it (https://www.ligonier.org/blog/5-dangers-avoid-parenting/):

“The word used in Colossians 3:21 means to agitate, often anger. Matthew Henry explains that parents provoke their children by treating them with rigor and severity, by holding the reigns too tightly and thereby raising their passions, discouraging them in their duty.”

In summary, much like the instructions that God gives wives and how to behave in a respectful way toward their husbands, and for husbands to live in an understanding way with their wives, because this pleases the Lord is similar to God’s instruction to children regarding parental authority and honoring their parents.

God is clear that as parents get older that, as much as we can, we are to care for them as grown capable adults. God is not saying that parents have authority over their children as they become adults, and it isn’t dishonoring or disobedient to disagree with a parent’s suggestion as an adult or point of view as long as it is done respectfully.


Soli Deo Gloria

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