Honor is a priceless treasure. Highly valued by God, it is a solid foundation for lasting relationships, and a powerful tool for the development of Christian character. We are called to “honor the king,” “honor all men,” and most importantly to “honor father and mother.” It is a part of the principle of agape love. Walking “honorably” allows precious encounters with Christ which can be experienced in no other way.
Humans use the word “honor” frequently, but many human counselors give it vastly differing definitions. The natural heart wants a definition of honor which leaves plenty of room for the “self” to stay in control. My desire to find real solutions drove me to the Bible for guidance about relationships and honor.
The first and most crucial of our life relationships is that child to parent. The tone of this relationship affects all the other relationships of life. It is so important importance that God, who wrote in ten brief commands the entire sum of the laws needed for mankind to live in peace on the earth, dedicated an entire commandment to this one topic. Further, it is the one command to which God affixed an explicit promise. This relationship, therefore, bears serious consideration. Since the fifth commandment begins with the word, “honor,” I wanted to know exactly what God means by the word.
The apostle Paul says, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another” (Romans 12:10). This use of the word „honor‟ was fine with me as long as I was the one to decide what it meant. But in Ephesians 6:1 Paul says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” Good Christian counselors assured me that this means we are to obey our parents so long as they are godly, and so long as their counsel is right. But then I read on: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). I began to feel that Paul had quit preaching and gone to meddling. Yet I saw that it makes sense. The fifth commandment does not differentiate between good parents and bad parents. Clearly, the blessing of God rests on obedient children no matter what sort of parents they have. Furthermore, if it is up to me to decide whether or not my parents‟ counsel is valuable, I might as well not have parents at all. I just need to consult with myself. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). In obeying parents we are obeying God, for He is the One who commands it.
It does seem rather „old-fashioned‟ to honor or prefer your parent‟s wishes, counsel, and advice above your own personal plans and ideas. Yet that special promise attached to the fifth commandment seems designed to lure us into obedience. As I personally wrestled with this concept, a sincere gentleman suggested that I needed to be very careful not to get away from the Lord‟s will just to "please" my parents. He said that I could "honor" them by following what I felt the Lord calling me to do, even though that precluded obeying my parents. So then I had to ask, “Does being in the center of the Lord's will mean, as Paul puts it, to „obey your parents in all things‟?”
A diligent search through the inspired writings leads to the conclusion that a Christian will not only obey parents, but that “it should be the study of your life to make your parents happy” (Ellen White, Youth’s Instructor, September 1, 1873). The one exception to implicit obedience is if the parents require something which conflicts with a clear, simple „thus saith the Lord.‟ In such cases, a choice to obey a „thus saith the Lord‟ is described as being „painful.‟ “When children have unbelieving parents, and their commands contradict the requirements of Christ, then, painful though it may be, they must obey God and trust the consequences with Him” (Ellen White, Adventist Home, page 293). Incidentally, in no case does God‟s will include marrying someone of whom the parents do not approve – even if this should mean one never marries (see Ellen White, Adventist Home, page 75).
“But,” someone says, “You are an adult now. God does not mean for you to submerge your individuality under your parents‟ whims for the rest of your life! You have to learn to let God speak to you, individually!”
Is not the written Word of God His message to me, personally? “This [fifth commandment] is the first commandment with promise. It is binding upon childhood and youth, upon the middle-aged and the aged. There is no period in life when children are excused from honoring their parents. This solemn obligation is binding upon every son and daughter, and is one of the conditions to their prolonging their lives upon the land which the Lord will give the faithful. This is not a subject unworthy of notice, but a matter of vital importance” (Ellen White, Testimonies Volume 2, page 80). I, personally, do hope to claim the reward mentioned in the fifth commandment, so should I not follow the command on which this promise is based? Adventists who, above all others, claim to be keepers of all ten of God‟s commandments would do well to make sure that we do not keep the fourth while rejecting the fifth!
The story of Joseph helps me to understand the promise attached to the fifth commandment and the true beauty of God‟s leading through the relationships of life. Joseph “learned to bear the yoke in his youth. He learned to govern by first learning obedience. He humbled himself, and the Lord exalted him to special honor” (Ellen White, The Bible Commentary, Volume 1, page 1097). After being sold as a slave, Joseph spent the rest of his preparation for the Egyptian court implicitly obeying the whims of his heathen masters. First he served Potiphar. Then while, faithfully carrying out his duties, he received a command from Potiphar‟s wife which conflicted with God‟s clearly revealed will. Joseph chose to obey God and leave the consequences with Him. Yet, according to the word of God, Joseph remained obedient to his masters in everything else which did not clearly conflict with the law of God. He served so faithfully, even in the prison, that the keeper could trust Joseph to follow his orders implicitly. Far from losing his „personal identity‟ through all those years of godly submission, Joseph was thus trained for the highest service to God and man. “The religion of the Bible never degrades the receiver; on the contrary, it elevates and ennobles all who accept and obey its teachings” (Ellen White, Counsels to Teachers, p. 97).
Many years after Joseph died, it came time for Israel to leave Egypt. God sent Moses, not to start a rebellion, but merely to tell the Pharaoh that God wanted him to release the Hebrews. The Israelites were to remain in service to Pharaoh until such time as God dealt with that king and changed his heart. Following the same principle, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon – not demanding, but requesting that Philemon forgive the servant and set him free. “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1, 2). This principle applies as much to parents and other God-ordained authority figures as it does to Philemon and the kings of Egypt.
Some think it „confining‟ to be in submission to authorities. They fear a lack of „individuality‟. I have found it both freeing and fulfilling. The more that we learn the true meaning of honor, esteeming others better than ourselves, the more God can create His character in us. If God has not brought my parents around to my way of thinking, I can be sure that either my feelings on the matter are wrong, or the timing is not right. There may be some flaw in my own character which needs to be dealt with before God can trust me with His assignments. Since surrendering to God‟s definition of the word „honor‟, I have discovered that miracles are not a thing of the past. My admiration for God has grown by leaps and bounds, and my faith has been strengthened. Peace is becoming a familiar companion. God‟s ways truly are best.
Coming into right relationship to my parents has strengthened my other relationships. It is a wonderful way of learning to be in perfect submission to my Heavenly Father. It brings me into closer sympathy with Christ. Paul says, “Be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves…Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:2-8).
--Lisa Kaye Puffer