For a number of weeks, I have been exploring the fifth commandment and, in particular, how adult children are to obey it. “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” While heeding this command is relatively straightforward to the young child under the authority of his parents, it is much more difficult to know what it entails for adult children. Through this series, we have begun to learn some ways such honor can take shape. We have seen that all children owe their parents a debt of honor that continues past childhood. All children of all ages are to honor their parents. We have explored this from many angles and now, as we conclude, I want to explore it from just one more.
Children do not bear the full responsibility of the fifth commandment. If children are to extend honor to their parents, parents are to make it easy for them by living honorable lives. We need to repeat what we have said before: Children are not to wait until their parents prove honorable before extending honor, for the parents’ honor derives from their position, not their behavior. Yet there is still an onus on the parent to live a worthy and respectable life. And this is what I wish to consider today: How can we who are parents live lives that are worthy of honor? How can we make it easy for our children to honor us now and in the future?
The Glory of Children
We will begin with an appropriate proverb. Proverbs 17:6 tells us, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” It is the second half of this proverb that is of particular interest to me. What does it mean that “the glory of children is their fathers?” Even while we must acknowledge a unique Old Testament context, we can still agree with Eric Lane who says, “For the children themselves their greatest blessing was to have parents in whom they could take pride—respected in the community, prosperous in business and thorough in bringing them up.” It is a blessing for children to have honorable parents and it is right for them to take pride in their fathers and, of course, in their mothers as well.
In John Kitchen’s explanation and interpretation of the proverb, he emphasizes the importance of parents living with honor: “Children find great honor in having an honorable father. True, the commandment requires children to honor their father and mother (Exod. 20:12), but it is also incumbent upon the father to give his children reason to do so. What greater earthly incentive could there be to live honorably as a man, than to have your children be proud of you and long to model your character?” Parents are the pride of children when they live honorably.
How do parents live honorably? How would you counsel a friend who tells you, “I want to live a life worthy of honor. What do I do?” There are a hundred possibilities, a hundred ways to answer. We could create a list of characteristics that ought to mark the Christian parent: Love, kindness, patience, gentleness. We could generate a list of duties that parents ought to fulfill: Spending quality time with our children, praying for them, reading God’s Word to them. We could come up with a list of characteristics and behaviors to avoid: Do not exasperate our children, do not treat them unfairly, do not fail to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. The possibilities are endless.
I intend to keep it simple and propose three areas of emphasis.
First, make your own godliness your foremost concern. As parents, there is the tendency to expect more from our children than we expect from ourselves. We have great expectations for them but only modest expectations for ourselves. A life of honor before others begins with a life of honor before God. As we pursue God, we will long to be who he wants us to be, to put on all the noble characteristics associated with godliness and to put off all the ugly characteristics associated with ungodliness. We will want to behave how God means for us to behave, to put aside any actions that are unfitting for a Christian while emphasizing all those actions that are worthy of a Christian. In these ways we will model mature character and behavior, extending and displaying love to our children, even when they exasperate us or push us to the brink of despair. We will live with a clear conscience before God, man, and our own children.
Second, identify and imitate worthy models. Especially within the local church, look for people who have modeled successful parenting. God has put us in local church communities so we can have help through all of life’s challenges and difficulties. God surrounds us with other believers so we can have models to imitate. Be deliberate in identifying people whose children love and honor them, whose children delight to be with them. Learn to imitate those people. Ask the parents, “What did you do that your children now respect you? How did you raise them? What did you teach them?” Ask the children, “What did your parents do that led you to honor them? What do you love about them? Why do you love to spend time with them?” There is much we can learn by inquisitiveness and imitation.
Third, commend your children to the grace of God. Learn to be godly and to imitate worthy models, then commend your children to the grace of God. It is your responsibility to live a life that is worthy of honor and it is your responsibility to teach your children the importance of honor. But, ultimately, honor is to be extended by the children, not demanded by the parents. The responsibility falls to your children. They may prove hard-hearted, unwilling to identify the love and grace you’ve shown them, unwilling to forgive your shortcomings, unwilling to heed God’s command. But you, at least, will have lived a life of honor. You, at least, will have fulfilled your God-given duty.
There may be times to appeal to your children when they act dishonorably or, if they are Christians, to even appeal to their church. Church leaders should take seriously every member’s responsibility to obey the fifth commandment. Yet, in the end your children will make their own way through life. They will choose to honor God by honoring you or they will choose to dishonor God by dishonoring you. Even if they choose poorly, you can take comfort in knowing that even if your children forsake you, God will not.
Parents, make it easy for your children to honor you. Make it a delight for them to take pride in you. Live in such a way that your children can say, “the glory of children is their fathers.”
If you are looking for further guidance on living a life that is worthy of honor, I tracked down a couple of resources that may prove helpful.
- In a sermon titled “Forever Children,” Ray Pritchard provides a brief answer to this question: How do you make it easy for your children to honor you? He offers a five-part answer: By praising your children, by listening to them, by setting limits and saying “no,” by spending time with them, and by modeling the right kind of life.
- In Dennis Rainey’s book on the fifth commandment, he reviews tributes children have written in honor of their parents and suggests parents should take action on three principles: Your children will remember your involvement, your children will remember your emotional support, and your children will remember your character.