December 9, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Ephesians 6:1-3 (NIV)
Ephesians 6:1 is the first Bible verse I ever learned in Sunday School. My family and I had recently moved to Glendale, California. On a hot Sunday morning in September 1963, we visited the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. I joined the first grade department for a short worship service, after which several boys and I followed Miss Kane into a small classroom. There, we were introduced to Ephesians 6:1 in the King James Version: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” In the next week, I dutifully memorized this verse. I hope I also put it into practice!
At that time, I did not realize how striking it was that Ephesians addressed children directly as moral agents. The Greco-Roman household codes almost always spoke only to those with social power and standing: husbands, parents, and masters. But the biblical commitment to the dignity of all human beings meant, among other things, that Paul, the author of Ephesians, saw fit to honor children by considering them worthy of exhortation.
As I reflect on Ephesians 6:1-3 fifty-six years after I first encountered it in my Sunday School class, I find the challenge to honor our parents both more poignant and more complicated. It is more poignant because I have wrestled with the challenge of how to honor parents as they grow old. As a pastor, I’ve helped many adult children as they struggled with this challenge. And I’ve faced it in my own life especially in the waning months of my parents’ lives.
Honoring your parents as they age is often more complicated than when they and you are younger, because obedience is sometimes not the right choice. I remember when my grandmother became very unsafe as a driver and my mother needed to take away her car keys. My grandmother insisted that she be able to drive. But my mother, seeking to protect her and others, kept the keys. In a sense, my mother honored her mother by choosing in that moment not to obey her.
I don’t suggest that there are easy answers to the question of how we honor our aging parents. But I do know two things. First, I know that we need to work this out in the context of Christian community. The earlier charge to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21) reminds us to seek counsel from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, even though we may not always get it right, I’m convinced that the Lord is honored when we seek to honor our parents in every season of life. In this we can take comfort even when we are uncertain.
Something to Think About:
How important do you think it is for children to learn to obey their parents? Why do you believe this?
What does it mean for you to honor your parents in this season of life?
Something to Do:
If you are able to do so, find a way to honor your parents (or one of your parents) this week. If your parents have passed away, you might honor them through remembering them with thanksgiving in your prayers.
Gracious God, help us to honor our parents. This will mean different things in different seasons of life. Sometimes it’s easy to know how we can honor our parents. Sometimes it’s not at all clear. So we ask for your guidance.
We pray especially for those who parents are difficult to honor because of how they live, asking for an extra measure of wisdom and grace.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for being a loving, gracious parent to us, one whom we are glad to obey in all things. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
“Honor Your Father and Your Mother” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.