Honor & Obey: The Dividing Line for Adult Children

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” – Ephesians 6:1

Last month during the first annual Global Action Awards, Miley Cyrus accepted an award for being an “inspiration” to young viewers. Her acceptance speech, however, left very little to be inspired about. She pled with her generation to do what makes them happy, and to “not listen to what our parents want.” No doubt this was brought on by recent interviews of Mr. Miley Cyrus (Billy Ray) talking about the erosion Hannah Montana has caused on his family.

The idea of disobeying our parents, however, has not been far from the mind of every girl in every part of the world at some moment in her life. If we are truly honest with ourselves, obeying our parents can be an active struggle, a mundane, pointless task, and even be the last thing we want to do. So why was Miley Cyrus’ plea such an outrage? What’s the big deal? Is it really that important to obey our parents?

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.”

I still recite this verse with a sing-song tone rolling my eyes at the memories it brings to my mind. My mother had us memorize this verse (she also had us memorize Eph 6:32 if that gives you an idea of the kind of children we were) and recite it during our moments of discipline. “Children, obey your parents…..(exhaustive sigh)….in the Lord….(shifting hips, rolling eyes)….for this is right.” Now that I am an adult child who at younger times “pushed the boundaries” my parents set, I see the biblical precedence and the reason behind it. As a growing child, it is important to obey your parents. But when we get older and move from childhood to womanhood, do we still have to obey? As a grown woman, at what point can I stop listening to my parents? Is there a difference between honoring & obeying?

YES. There is.

Defining Obedience

Obedience carries with it the idea of absolute submission resulting from absolute trust. Webster defines obey as meaning “to conform or comply with; to follow the commands or guidance of.” It has with it implications of completely falling under the authority and jurisdiction of another person so that this individual is now responsible for you and the things that you do. In Scripture, it is most often used in reference to a child learning something from a parent (Prov.1:8; 23:22; Col. 3:20; Eph. 6:1; Lev. 19:3, 32), or Israel learning something from Yahweh.

Defining Honor
Honoring, on the other hand, means “showing esteem and respect to a person of superior standing; evidence or symbol of distinction.” In Hebrew, it also means “to weigh” or “to make heavy.” In other words, when placing the opinion of your parents on a balancing scale opposite the opinion of your friends, your parent’s opinion is going to weigh more because you honor them.

In Scripture, honor is linked to humility (Proverbs 15:33, 18:12; 22:4; 29:23), kindness (Proverbs 21:21), and grace (Proverbs 11:16). In the New Testament, a person of honor was given the best seat in the house (Mark 12:39). Deuteronomy 5:16 shows how honoring our parents brings longevity and prosperity to our lives.

No longer little girls, we have become women who are not under the direct authority of our parents any longer. They are not responsible for us anymore. We give account for our own actions now. Yet there is still a biblical mandate to honor our parents as adults. How do we flesh this out? With humility, kindness and grace, we esteem our parents as people of superior standing, taking their advice and counsel heavier than others. That is how we honor them. For example, if I wanted to buy a new car, would I need my parent’s permission as an adult? Unless my father is my banker, no, I wouldn’t. But would I seek their counsel on the subject? Yes, and I would weigh their counsel more heavily than my friends who may just want to see me in a new flashy ride.

“But what if my parents are crazy?” I had a friend ask me this not too long ago, and for viable reasons. Her parents can seem a little to the left of certifiable. But honoring them doesn’t change simply because their mental health fluctuates. There is still a biblical call to honor them (Exodus 20:12) with kindness, humility, and grace. When looking to honor a parent who may not be emotionally stable, always approach them with respect for they are still your parent. I know this one girl whose parent continually elevates her into positions of parenting her other siblings, and it’s a real challenge for her. But I have seen her time and time again approach this parent with respect and dignity, without giving in and usurping that authority in her sisters’ lives. It’s a balancing act, but it can be done. It may mean stepping away from the situation to collect your thoughts in prayer and counsel before readdressing the matter at hand. It may mean going out of your way on special occasions to show them the care you have for them. Whatever tangible way you show it, your admiration for them should be apparent.

“But what if my parents are lost?” This can be difficult when parents are less than godly or unsaved altogether, because it requires leaning more heavily on the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to fulfill that task. But in that situation, keep in mind you are not responsible for their actions, you are only responsible for your reactions. Don’t get angry and lash out, in doing so you dishonor the status that God has given them in your life. Instead, speak with kindness to your aging parents. Show them grace – even when what they say offends. Humbly ask the Lord for His help. In doing so, you honor the work they did as parents in raising you.

“But what if my biological parents didn’t raise me, do I still have to respect them?” This, too, can be difficult because so often strained relationships are in play from the very start. Paul addresses a similar topic in Romans 12: 16 – 18 when he writes “Live in harmony with one another…Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Whether it’s your birth mom, or the crazy aunt in your family, Paul is saying to make every effort to be a peacemaker, to be kind, to allow God to work, and give grace. This rule applies when it comes to those who may not have played the role as parent, but we should still honor, regardless. After all, if it weren’t for them, you would not be here. For that reason alone, gratitude can be found.

So, why do you think God puts so much stress on honoring and obeying our parents? Is it just so all the chores get done in a home and peace can be cultivated? Or is there a bigger picture, an over-arching factor in play?

Obeying and honoring our parents develops a habit of obedience and a respect for authority in our lives; characteristics that are greatly lacking in our society as a whole.

It is vastly important to learn obedience as a child. I remember growing up, my father would tell me that if I could learn to obey him, I would learn to obey God. This made obedience more serious than chores or homework; it made it about my life and the choices I would make while I lived it. Put it this way: if, as young children we find it easy to say “no” to our parents, as adults, it will be no struggle to say “no” to God. And in doing so, we are missing out on the best He has to offer us; we, also, are welcoming his wrath and judgment into our lives.

God relates to us in terms of the family unit.

It is not by accident that God calls Himself Father and Christ his Son. It was the plan and purpose of God from creation (Gen 2:24) to establish the family unit. It is through the lens of family that God chooses to reveal his character to us. As a Father, He protects, He guides, He chastens, He provides, He nurtures, He admonishes, and He loves unconditionally. We are forever His daughters, joint-heirs with His Son. Understanding our role as children in our earthly family enables us to better understand our role in our heavenly family.

Honor & Obey. As adult children, there is a dividing line on what God expects us to do. As grown women no longer under our parent’s authority, we don’t necessarily have to do everything they tell us. We do, however, always, always have to honor them.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12

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2 thoughts on “Honor & Obey: The Dividing Line for Adult Children

  1. What a wonderful article Sarah!
    I learned this very important lesson from you at a very crucial time in my life! Thank you for pointing me to the Word. It has made a world of difference in my life and in the life of my family and friends. Praise the Lord
    Love and think of you often.

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