Friday, January 24, 2014

Honoring Your Parents

At the FamilyLife website, Dennis Rainey posted an article** titled 'Honoring Your Parents: Are You Helping or Hindering Your Spouse?'  It begins with a story of a father who has a controlling personality and a son-in-law who does not help his wife honor her father, but expresses his frustration and avoids conflict.  The father is further described as "opinionated, blunt, and bossy.  When they failed to meet his standards, he belittled them with cruel and sarcastic remarks."  However, the husband is identified as the main problem in his wife's life:  "He [the husband] brought confusion and tension into her [the wife's] life because he was encouraging her to alienate herself from a man [her father] who, despite his faults, she loved deeply."  Mr. Rainey goes on to exhort Christian couples to examine their focus.  He writes:
"One of the 10 Commandments is "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord you God is giving you." For those who have difficult relationships with parents, obeying this commandment is a big challenge.

So it's important for you to remember the power you have in your spouse's life. Make a commitment to help your spouse honor his or her parents.

Tensions with parents and in-laws are inevitable in a marriage. But a married couple needs to make a mutual commitment early in their relationship to avoid focusing on the negative. Give parents a lot of grace. Talk about the things parents are doing right.

Look for way to spend time with parents, doing the things they like to do. Ask their advice. Thank them for help they give you.

I know of some adults who have been so hurt by their in-laws that they actually discouraged their spouse from honoring their parents. If this is your situation, this may be a crucial step of faith for you; do everything you can to help your spouse honor his or her parents, no matter how difficult that is. It may mean holding your tongue sometimes at family gatherings. And afterward as well."

Mr. Rainey correctly cites the Ten Commandments because the moral law is forever binding (see LBCF Chap. 19 par. 5).  The fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12 commands us to honor our parents.  But what does it mean to honor your parents?  Let's look at what the Bible says.

In his commentary on Exodus 20:12, Matthew Henry tells us the honoring your parents includes "a decent respect to their persons, an inward esteem of them outwardly expressed upon all occasions in our conduct towards them.  Fear them (Lev. 19:3), give them reverence, Heb. 12:9.  The contrary to this is mocking them and despising them, Prov. 30:17."  Mr. Henry lays out five duties that children owe to parents:  respect, obedience, submission, disposing of themselves to advice, and endeavoring to be a comfort.  I completely agree with this view of Exodus 20:12, but Scripture shows that the scope slightly changes when the children get married and become parents themselves (physically or spiritually).

When the Pharisees came to Jesus to tempt him, they asked him whether or not divorce was lawful.  Rather than talking about the effects of sin on marriage, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the original design for marriage:  "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female.  And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder," (Matt. 19:4-6).

From the beginning, the wife is created as a help meet to her husband, (Gen. 2:18), and is submissive to him as to the Lord, (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18).  The husband loves the wife as Christ loved the church, (Eph. 5:25, Col. 3:19).  Children are commanded to obey their parents, (Eph. 6:1, Col. 3:20), just as servants are commanded to obey their masters, (Eph. 6:5, Titus 2:9).  Christians are to be subject to authorities put over them, (Rom. 13:1-7), but "we ought to obey God rather than men," (Acts 5:29).  Therefore, we must consider the proper hierarchy of obedience in areas of submission and obedience.  For example, when parents mettle or encourage strife in their children's marriage, then the couple may have to disregard input or advice from their parents because their marriage is a higher order of submission than the parental relationship.

Matthew Henry expounds on the fundamental law of marriage found in Matt. 19:5, which states that a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife:  "The relation between husband and wife is nearer than that between parents and children; now, if the filial relation may not easily be violated, much less may the marriage union be broken."  Based on the scriptural duty that man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, the way of honoring parents changes when the child marries.  The command to honor is still there, but a new relationship has been established.  We see a picture of this when Jesus reproves the traditions of the Pharisees that kept them from honoring their parents, (Mark 7:9-13).  These verses show that honoring parents includes not cursing your father or mother and helping them in times of need. The respect and comforting of parents remain, but the obedience and submission has changed because of the change in relationship.

God is sovereign; it is the will of God when a couple marries, otherwise they would not be married.  Parents who overstep their authority by pitting their adult married children against each other should heed the advice of Gamaliel:  "But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God," (Acts 5:39).

Therefore, I believe that Mr. Rainey's article is severely flawed and is reminiscent of the unsound Patriarchy Movement in the Christian world today.  His over-arching message that parents have authority over their married children is not biblical.  The married couple should honor their parents with respect and help them in times of need, but parents should not undermine the marital relationship of their married children and should not put asunder what God has joined together.  The advice in this article is dangerous to the Christian couple because it potentially sabotages their marriage relationship and distorts the authority of the parents.

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ," (Col. 2:8).

**NB: This article is no longer available at  The title itself shows up in the website's search engine; however, the article has been removed.