Do adults need to honor their parents by obeying them?


I read your take on the commandment Honor thy father and thy mother, and noticed that you used the word "child" and "children" quite a few times. So is your interpretation to obey isolated to children who have not reached an independent legal adulthood or does it imply that even the adults have to obey?

Let me explain. In Asia especially, parents, and I mean Christian parents, use the argument of "honor" meaning to "obey" to literally run their children's lives. This includes approving or not approving their choice of spouse, or career or friends. Interfering in the upbringing of their grandchildren. And the reasons for this can be race, social status or financial status. All these are in regards to adults. Among the Indians (east) this has resulted in wives being burned alive by unsatisfied husbands. Among the Chinese it has fueled already existing racism and carried it on to the next generation. Sometimes for unwilling children (adults) they would rather not marry than marry the one their parents deem fit.  This leaves the nation with a whole lot of young men and women who either are frustrated singles or who take the other route that since this commandment is rigid and does not consider them, they have no reason to follow it so cohabitation or a departure from Christianity becomes the next option.

Once again I would appreciate it if you qualify who you are speaking about.


"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth"" (Ephesians 6:1-3).

When the Pharisees wanted an "out" from honoring their parents in their old age, they stated that any funds that might have been used to support them was given to the temple. Thus they reasoned that they were no longer responsible for their parents. "He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God" -- then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (Matthew 15:3-9). For the moment, I want you to notice that under discussion of this commandment was the responsibility of adult children toward their elderly parents.

But the command as given in Ephesians 6:1 is not unqualified: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1). The phrase "in the Lord" limits the obedience to those things which are right and proper according to God's commandments. Your example of husbands burning their wives in the first place has nothing to do with parents and children, but in the second place is a violation of God's command not to commit murder. Racism is against God's teachings as well. A child is expected to obey God, not his parents, when his parents are wrong.

In this regard, parents and young Christians forget a very early teaching: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). There comes a time in every person's life when they leave their parent's household to establish their own. When that is done, the parent no longer can tell the departed child what to do. They are still available for advice and the child honors his parents by considering their advice, but he is on his own and must make his own choices. The idea that a parent or grandparent can run other people's live is foreign to the teachings of God.

The reason parents make decisions for their minor children is because the parents are responsible for the actions of their children. A child is not expected to understand how to make good decisions. As the child grows to adulthood, during his teenage years, he is given more freedom to make decisions, but the parent is always there to override a bad decision. But as an adult, the parent is no longer responsible and takes on the role of an advisor.

Consider this, if a grandparent wants to dictate what their adult children do, then they should also be made responsible for the actions of those same children. If an adult child overspends, then it should be proper for collection agencies to come after the parents and grandparents for payment. If an adult child commits a crime, then it should be proper for the courts to hold the parents of that adult child responsible for his actions. Of course, those who meddle in the affairs of their adult children would loudly object to such an idea! Therefore, they should not claim responsibility for their adult children's decisions.

Parents are to raise children who function on their own. "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). As in all training, it eventually comes to an end.

Just because someone is related, it does not mean they have a permission slip to be a busybody. The Greek word periergos, used as a condemnation in I Timothy 5:13, refers to someone who annoyingly meddled in the affairs of other people. A parent who meddles in his adult children's lives is going against God's teachings. They would be guilty of provoking their children to anger, as you clearly express in your own note.

What you missed from my article is that honor is not exclusively obedience. As we noted from Matthew 15, honor there meant support when they can no longer support themselves. Honor is also giving a person respect. Minor children given their parents obedience because the parent is responsible for them, but that obedience is limited to those things which are right and authorized by God. Adult children continue to honor their parents, but it is not through obedience because they have left home. As adults honor becomes more a matter of respect and support when needed.

Thanks for your prompt reply. I hear you and am glad to say that we agree. One statement you made though would propagate a lot of license especially in an Asian context. "but the parent is always there to override a bad decision." You'll be surprised as to how many Asian parents take this to make decisions for their adult children. In Asia filial piety is a huge thing, and, wrong or right, it has entered into the church that sometimes that part of the culture overrides proper biblical concepts.

Let me give you an example. There is a couple who wants to get married. The girl is in her late 20's, the guy in his early 30's. The father simply feels the guy is not good enough for his daughter. Not rich enough. The guy, however, is quite an upstanding man, a youth leader committed to the Lord and is a hard working businessman. The girl desperately wants the approval of the parents and has been waiting for years. It's come to the point now that they feel that they won't get that approval so they are planning to marry anyway. When I approached the senior pastor and asked him if they would marry the couple if the father didn't give his consent, the pastor emphatically said, "No!" He said they believed in parental blessing, and so they won't until the couple gets it. I almost fell off my chair. So now these two who grew up in their church and significantly served through the years of their lives and became leaders among the youth can't marry in their home church because of a cultural mind-set. This is what I mean. I feel that sometimes parents use this commandment unrighteously and some church leaders do too because of cultural backgrounds that are rooted very deeply. O well. We will pray and we will teach and let the Holy Spirit convict the heart.

I guess I didn't make myself clear. I was discussing minor children in that paragraph and talking about the transitional period before a child becomes an adult -- in other words, the teenage years.

I'm not surprised that there are churches among the denominations that put social rules ahead of the truth. They are focused on gaining numbers and to do that you have to be popular with the masses.

Thanks. You are totally spot on there. God bless you as preach the truth. Look forward to reading more of your stuff.