Exodus 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
First, notice that the Bible defines who are parents.
"This explains who parents are..." (John Gill) After exhorting children to obey parents, Paul says "Honour thy father and mother." In days when the definition of parents becomes very creative and substandard, we do well to accept this correction and remember the ideal.
Second, let us ask and answer the question "What is honour?"
Most often we associate the verb honour with respect, admiration, high esteem and even veneration or reverence. These are all on the mark in regard to honouring father and mother. The word entered the English language through the Anglo-French and Old French from the Latin honos/honorem, meaning esteem, dignity or renown. The Greek time/timao incorporates a similar semantic range and points us to something of value and to fixing the value of something. In his commentary on Matthew 15, John Gill speaks of "high esteem," "respectful language...towards them," "cheerful obedience" and that it includes "honouring them with their substance, feeding, clothing, and supplying them with the necessaries of life, when they stand in need thereof; which is but their reasonable service, for all the care, expense, and trouble they have been at, in bringing them up in the world..." Children are to honour their parents, husbands their wives, churches their widows and their elders, slaves their masters, subjects their kings, any to any to whom honour is due, and creatures should honour their Creator.
Romans 13:7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Next, consider three reasons to honour our fathers and mothers.
1. Because of God's command. Some may think that they are excused from honouring father and mother because "they don't deserve it". No doubt some parents are better parents when compared to other parents. Clearly, some parents may be neglectful, abusive or incompetent. We do not honour these sinful deficiencies, but at some level all parents should receive honour, in whatever small way, simply because they are parents and because it is God's command. Whether or not their actions reflect honour -- we are not responsible for their actions, but our own. We should show honour in our actions toward them -- actions for which we are responsible.
2. Because of God's promise. Paul calls the fifth commandment "the first commandment with promise" because there is a specific promise of blessing associated with it. Initially blessing should be associated with the law and its direct application to the nation of Israel in the land God gave them. But the apostle appropriates the blessing for all obedient children who honor their fathers and mothers. The New Testament application seems to be more on the quality of life than the total number of days, which surely should be the spiritual emphasis.
3. Because it is right. "It is right" directly follows "Children, obey your parents," so we can say obedience is right -- the right thing to do. This is immediately followed with the command to "honour," so it does no damage to understand that "it is right" applies to honour as well as obedience (knowing also that obedience is an expression of that honour). That "it is right" implicates this command to be of a moral nature and is a moral obligation.
Finally, consider 4 periods of time when we should honour our fathers and mothers -- which, in effect, cover the entire period of our lives. We should honour them:
1. In youth, by obedience to them (Deut.21:18; Lev. 19:3). In the period from birth to adulthood children respect, admire, and esteem their parents by obedience to their commands and faithfulness to their instruction. The wise parent understands that through the range of this developmental period the child progresses and should learn and develop responsibility, personal independence and the ability to make decisions.
2. In adulthood, by respect for them. As child develops into an adult, changes occur in the nature of the parent/child relationship. But their parents remain parents and honour is still required. Yet that honour takes on new and different expressions. One of the chief markers of adulthood is marriage. A man "leaves his father and mother and cleaves unto his wife." A new covenant relationship between husband and wife does not sever the parent/child relationship, but it does change it. Obedience of a child required in the home changes to respect of a child shown outside the home. The responsibility to the new husband/wife (and children that will follow) relationship is foremost. Yet these covenanted spouses do not move from "honour thy father and mother" to "dishonour thy father and mother." Rather they must learn how to continue to place value on their parent/child relationship in a new and different way. This can include listening to and heeding their good advice, appreciating them even when the advice is not taken, respecting them even in disagreements, and teaching grandchildren to value of and respect their grandparents.
3. In their old age, by care for them (I Timothy 5:8). When father and mother arrive in old age, the parent/child relationship has come full circle. The parents who gave life to the child, fed and clothed and nurtured it, may now fall into such need themselves through infirmity, illness and old age. It is "worse than the infidel" to leave parents to fend for themselves. Jesus excoriates those whose pretended religious devotions excused them from parental maintenance -- which he clearly associates with the fifth commandment I believe on this count many of us Western Christians stand guilty.
4. After their deaths, by remembering them. Dead parents may yet speak to us, and we may still honour them. We honour them by remembering them fondly, passing on their good instruction and living up to the words of truth they passed down. In Jeremiah 35 God uses a family faithful to the instructions of their ancestor to shame Israel for refusing to remain faithful to God.
Want to be right, do right and obey God? Honour your father and mother.