Honoring parents is not the same as loving them, or even the same as obeying them. Some children who obey their parents, who say they love their parents, do not honor them. To honor is to show reverence, respect, and godly fear. Already here it is wonderful to see that the relationship of children to parents is patterned after the relationship of us to our heavenly Father. When we are called to honor God, we reverence, respect, and fear Him. We are not afraid of God, but reverence Him. Likewise, if any children are afraid of their parents, the parents would do well carefully to examine their behavior. Children respect their parents as we respect God.
Honoring parents includes loving them. This ought to be plain to children who know that the fifth commandment is part of the second table of the law. The heart of this second table is to love the neighbor. Since parents are the children's closest neighbor, obedience to the fifth commandment is loving the parents. This is not a natural love - - loving because the parents gave them birth and feed them. This is a spiritual love that comes from a heart that loves God.
Third, honoring parents means submitting to them. This is crucial. It's not enough that the children say, "I know that God put these parents over me; I love them; I honor them; I respect them in my heart." The children must submit to them. Here is where children have a difficult time. Suppose dad must rebuke his son. Son stands with his arms on his side, defiant while dad speaks. Even though son may obey dad, he shows that he is rebelling in his heart. This is not the way we behave towards our Father in heaven. Children who love their parents will submit, with an attitude that shows it.
Fourth, honor includes obedience. If the children honor their parents, they will obey them - - both of them. The 5th commandment says, "Honor thy father and thy mother." Deuteronomy 21 speaks of a son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother. Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children, obey your parents." It used to be that when pastors gave the warning about this part of the commandment that children needed to be exhorted to honor their mother. Nowadays the warning is in order that the children honor their father. From television programs to the Berenstein Bears, father is mocked as a bumbling oaf. But disrespect of father or mother is serious business. If children do not obey both parents, they really honor neither, for the parents are one.
As much as they do not like to hear it, the older children have a greater responsibility here than the younger children. It's not the case that the children can become looser in their honor of their parents when they become older; they must become more careful. Why? Because the younger brothers and sisters are watching and learning by example. Sometimes it is said that younger children show less honor to their parents because the parents become looser in their old age. That may be partly true. Is it not also the case that the younger children learn some disrespect form the older siblings?
Even though this puts uncomfortable pressure on the older children, they have an example, a powerful one, in their older brother, Jesus Christ. He obeyed the commands of God, honored His Father, submitted to His Father's will, all for the sake of His younger brothers and sisters. Nor was the will of God for Him any less difficult than our parent's will is for us. God's will for Jesus was that He become as a servant, that He suffer with all our sins on His shoulders, carry them to the cross, and allow Himself to be plunged into hell where He was abandoned by His Father. He honored and obeyed His Father's will.
Parents, encourage your children with that, especially when they are struggling with your will which is difficult for them. "I don't want to be mocked! I don't want to stay home when everyone else is having a good time. . . If I don't listen to the music you forbid, I will have no friends. . ." Then let them remember their older brother Jesus, Who didn't want to suffer the death of the cross, looked up against that terrible suffering, but said, "Not my will, but thine be done." By faith in that Jesus, they receive strength to submit to their parents' wills.
The requirement to honor applies to the children even when the parents are sinful. Here is where the comparison breaks down between God's Fatherhood of us and our parenting of our children. Our heavenly Father never flies off the handle, is never impatient, never shouts in anger or is partial. He's always kind, always fair, always wise, always level-headed. If we think that our children ought to submit to us easily, only consider the difficult time we have submitting to Him, a perfect Father! This ought to be a warning to us parents to be understanding with our children. If we have a hard time of it with our perfect heavenly Father, imagine the time our children have honoring us - - sinful, weak, parents! Yet our children must honor their parents, even when parents are sinful and unfair.
This does not mean that children must always obey their parents. If parents command the children to disobey God, the children must disobey them, using the same reasoning that Peter did with the rulers of Jerusalem who commanded him not to preach about Jesus: "We ought to obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:29). But children still must honor their parents, submitting to them always, just as Peter and the disciples still honored those in authority, submitting to them and not rebelling.
We parents must work our entire life teaching our children to honor us. We do this by being honorable ourselves - - by behaving honorably at home. Mother honors her husband in all things (I Peter 3:1-6). Father loves his wife by caring for her in humility (I Peter 3:7); by honoring those in authority over them, obeying the laws. respecting the president, police, judge, and employer (I Peter 2:13-18).
Why must children honor their parents?
Not simply because God says so. This is part of the reason. God says, "Honor your parents". Children often do not like to hear this, but sometimes this must be the last word: "Obey because God says so." Paul brings this out in Ephesians 6 when one of the reasons given for children to honor their parents is, "For this is right"! Indeed, this is the first reason given, but it is not the only reason.
Nor must they obey this commandment of God because they fear dad's punishment. Chastisement is a deterrent to disobedience, but it certainly is not the reason for obedience. And yet it's not infrequent that this is the reason given by children. Is it fear of punishment that drives us to obey God? God forbid!
Children honor their parents because they are thankful. Children of God honor and obey Him because they are thankful for their salvation. This is the beauty of the Reformed faith! I love God because He first loved me; therefore I honor Him! Children, honor your parents because you are thankful to God for everything He is for you.
Especially, they must honor their parents because their parents are over them in the place of God. The Reformed Heidelberg Catechism says, "since it pleases God to govern us by their hand". Parents are the "hand of God" upon the children.
These reasons show how serious dishonor is. First, dishonor shows that children are not thankful, do not love their parents. This is dreadful! More dreadful is that dishonor shows a failure to love God. For obedience to the second table of the law ("love you neighbor" is evidence of our obedience to the first table ("love God").
May God forgive our children, lest His great judgments come upon them (Deut. 21:18-21). God grant grace to our children to fight against their sinful nature, to love their parents, to love God, "that it may be well with them, and that they may live long on the earth" (Ephesians 6:3), and eternally in heaven. May God grant it. For His glory.