Sometimes it seems to escape us of all people, we who preach the innocence of children as opposed to inherited total depravity, that the above passage cannot be directed at unaccountable children because children do not sin. Jesus, in fact, directed this command to adult children in Matt 15:1-9.
So how do we as their children, but independent adults at the same time, honor our parents?
Starting with Jesus’ point in Matt 15, we care for them, and that may indeed involve financial support. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God...But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1Tim 5:4,8
It may mean taking them into our homes as they near the end. It may also mean completely changing the family dynamic, where you become the parent and they the children, doing what is in their best interests whether they want it or not, and even if it adversely affects the relationship. What used to be their responsibility is now yours.
Part of that care involves your companionship. Try telling your wife you love her and then never spending any time with her! Especially if you are down to one widowed parent, you are the one who can come closest to replacing what she has lost. If a Christian is commanded to “visit” (Matt 25:31-40; James 1:27), surely a child is expected to. If you live a distance away, regular telephone calls, emails, or letters if your parent eschews electronics, should be part of your routine. No matter how busy your life, this should be on your schedule, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You may as well spit in their faces as ignore them or put them at the bottom of the “if I have time” list.
Honoring your parents may involve some forbearance and longsuffering. They are slower now, in body at least, if not in mind. Things that seem trivial to us may mean the world to them. Respect them by tolerating those things equably. Don’t stand there tapping your toes and heaving frustrated sighs. They do notice and all you will accomplish is stealing that small amount of happiness from a life that is nearly over. We cannot claim to be the Lord’s disciple and do otherwise: We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” Rom 15:1-3
Honoring your parents literally involves your speech to and about them.
“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. Exod 21:17
Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him. Lev 20:7-9
Most of us wouldn’t stoop so low as actually cursing our parents, but how do you handle a disagreement? How do you speak about them to others? Is love and concern apparent, or just aggravation and annoyance? What stories do you tell your children about their grandparents? Do you spread your inability to get along with them to the next generation, even if you do feel justified, and so ruin any hope of a wonderful grandparent/grandchild relationship for them? Remember, gossip is gossip no matter who it’s about.
Honoring parents is a command we must obey as surely as baptism. Too many times we rationalize our way out of the commandment just as our unbaptized neighbors do.
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Rom 1:29-32