I searched online for books about teenagers honoring their parents. Know how many I found? Zero, and for good reason: there’s not really an audience for that topic. And, until recently, it wasn’t a topic I particularly cared about. Sure, it was important, but I’d always been a good, obedient daughter, so I had nothing to worry about, right?
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”
Exodus 20:12, the 5th commandment, is addressed to anyone who reads it, while the last two verses are addressed to children. They’re addressed to different audiences, so what’s the difference? And more importantly: why should you care?
Obedience is pretty clear-cut. According to Siri the All Knowing, disobey means: fail to obey a rule, command, or authority figure. If you’re told to do the laundry, you do it. If you don’t, you’ve disobeyed. Honor is a bit harder to pin down.
The Hebrew word for honor used in this verse is kabad and means to be heavy or weighty (according to bible hub). I recently listened to a Breakaway podcast by Ben Stuart called “Single, Dating, Engaged, Married,” and he defined honor as: valuing what someone else values. To combine these, you could say you honor someone by weighing their opinion down with value or acknowledging the full gravity of someone’s opinion.
Obedience is an action—something the whole world can see. If you ask a parent whether or not their child is obedient, I’m sure they’d have a ready answer. While obedience is an action, honor is the intention behind it, the heart behind true obedience. This is why you’ll hear many people say honor and obedience are the same thing, but they’re not. In fact, sometimes you can have one without the other.
I once heard of a couple who got married, despite the wishes of the woman’s father. In fact, the father demanded that she stay away from the man, because this man was of a different race. The couple were both godly people, so they prayed about it, felt God’s prompting to get married, and did so. They both went to the woman’s father and told him that they fully intended to respect and honor him, but they felt that the father’s instruction wasn’t aligning with God’s.
And is it possible to be obedient without honoring? Or does obedience imply honoring?
For this, I believe the best example is myself. I’m extremely obedient and receptive to whatever my parents say, to the point of being a “goody two shoes.” Once I remarked, almost bitterly, “I’m nothing if not obedient.” Which was true. My parents laid down a law, and though I would protest, I’d never disobey. I made this remark, because my heart wasn’t always behind my obedience.
That’s not to say I was obeying while being resentful, bitter, or rebellious. My main fault was in what I didn’t do, rather than what I did. I had a long list of priorities in life, which consisted of spending time with family and friends, school, writing, etc, but honoring my parents wasn’t even on that list, much less in the top 10. I’d thought honoring my parents was important, but I’d considered my obedience to be enough, so I always kind of glazed over the 5th commandment without realizing its true meaning and significance.
Before, if my parents would ban me from wearing something, I wouldn’t wear it. Now, if my dad suggests a shirt is too tight, I toss it in the donate pile. Concerning the shirt I tossed, I totally disagree with my dad, but I value what he defines as modest; I’m valuing what he values. Honoring your parents doesn’t just apply to whether or not you obey them, but to every area of your life.
Now, when I make tea for my dad, I wonder if I could best honor him by heating the water, then putting in the tea bag or if I should put the tea in first, giving it longer to steep. Should I value his preferred method of making tea or value his preference for a well-flavored (meaning well-steeped) cup of tea?
If I’m on my phone during the evenings and my family’s around, but my dad’s not there, I’ll still put my phone down, even when I’m allowed to use it, because I know my dad values family time.
And honoring isn’t the same as pleasing, though they should often go together just like honor and obedience. My dad will never know about the vast majority of the changes I’ve made. I’m still just as obedient as I’ve ever been, because it’s not my actions that have changed; it’s my heart.
This isn’t a fun topic. As I’ve become a teenager, I’ve yearned to have more freedom and make more of my own decisions. Honoring my parents and obeying them chafes a bit at times, and I’m sure most teens would agree. So why should honoring your parents be your top priority in life?
“If you love me, keep my commands.”
In the 10 commandments, the commandment of honoring your parents comes right after the verses about honoring God and before verses about murder, stealing, adultery, etc. If you’re a Christian, your main priority in life should be to honor God, and according to the 10 commandments, one of the best ways to honor Him is to honor your parents. If you’re a teenager, your parents are your most immediate authority. They come before friends, boyfriends, and every other person on earth—until you’re married. In short, one of the best ways to honor God with your life is to honor your parents.
What do you think is the difference between honor and obedience? Has your heart always been behind your actions? What are your priorities in this stage of life? How can you better honor your parents? (Ha. A year ago, I doubt I could imagine ever asking someone that.)