Published May 18, 2019

The first command with promise: A challenge to parents

Article by Casey McFall

            Deuteronomy 5:16 says: “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Want to live a long, prosperous life? Learn to honor your parents. For many people, after reading this verse, the first question that pops into mind is: “How can I show honor to my parents?” I know that I personally have thought of this before. After thinking about it for a while though, and meditating on this verse, I realize that this is the wrong question. The verse doesn’t say, “Show honor to thy father and thy mother”; it says to honor them. And there is an enormous difference between showing honor and truly honoring!


Understanding the difference

            Showing honor to someone is merely an outward display of respect. Employees who say “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” to their bosses while speaking respectfully are certainly showing honor to their bosses. Whether or not they are actually honoring them however will be seen after the boss walks away and the employees can speak freely! If the employees immediately begin talking bad about their bosses and putting them down verbally, they were merely showing honor and were not truly honoring them.

            As opposed to this outward behavior, honoring someone is an internal mindset. Honoring someone is inherently superior to showing them honor for several reasons. First, because showing honor can be faked. It’s easy for people to put on a front while pretending to show respect or even admiration to another person; all while criticizing them in their mind. By its very nature however, the mindset of honoring somebody cannot be faked. It may be an active choice, and I may not believe the person is worthy of that honor, but it is still real.

            The second reason why honoring is superior to showing honor, is because a show of honor is a temporary thing. A person can put on a display of honoring another person a couple of times a month or year, but would quickly grow exhausted of the pretense if forced to do it every day or several times a day. Honoring on the other hand, will naturally result in a constant display of honor towards that person regardless of how often that honor has already been shown or if the target of the honor is even present to see that display.


The importance of the distinction

            This is a very important distinction to understand for several reasons. First, because just showing honor will not be enough to meet the commands in the Bible! I say “just”, because a person who honors another will show honor to them, but the reverse is not necessarily true. And a person who is showing honor without actually honoring is not honoring their parents (Ephesians 6:2), not honoring the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), and not honoring authority (Romans 13:1).

            The second reason why it’s important to understand this distinction between the two, is because this understanding allows you to teach your children correctly. Without understanding the difference between the behavior and mindset, it is too easy for us as parents to focus on what we can see (the behavior) without thinking about what should be driving behavior (character and mindset). A change in behavior without a corresponding change in mindset leads to temporary results at best. Teaching a child to show honor can be easily accomplished with the proper application of discipline because it is truly nothing but a change in behavior. To create a lasting mindset however, a 4-channel approach is required. To teach honor, a parent must teach it, live worthy, show it, and remove undermining factors.


Teach it

            Before anything else parents must teach their children. Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Parents have a duty and an obligation to instruct their children! In this specific context, this means teaching their children who to honor, when to honor them, and what it means to honor. Who to honor is definitely the easiest to teach. The Bible commands us to honor our parents, the elderly, leaders in the church, and social authority figures (Ephesians 6:2; Leviticus 19:32; I Timothy 5:17; Romans 13:1).

            When to honor them is also easy to teach, but hard to practice. This is because the Bible doesn’t put a conditional on the command. Ephesians 6:2 doesn’t say “Honor your father and mother… unless they are wrong). Even when our parents, our elders, or our authorities are completely wrong, we are still required to honor them! Sound shocking? But it’s true. There have been several Presidents who I have voted against, have felt that they had a terrible impact on America, and have felt were immoral men living immoral lives while setting a bad example to the country. Yet, regardless of my own feelings towards them, I am still commanded to honor them. Romans 13:1-2 states very clearly that those who are in power are there because God put them there and that we are to obey and honor them.

            This fact holds true even about abusive parents. It’s not easy to say, but the children of parents who are verbally, physically, and/or sexually abusive are still required to honor them. I Peter 2:18-25 teaches honor even in the face of injustice quite clearly. Verse 18 states: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.” Verse 20b goes on to say: “when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” God wants us to endure and respond respectfully even when we are mistreated! Note that this doesn’t mean that it is alright for parents to be abusive, nor does it mean that the children of these parents should simply do anything and everything that the parents want while ignoring the personal consequences. To do so, would not only be to misunderstand what it means to honor someone, but would also ignore the fact that we are supposed to obey God and His laws first. So if someone that God commanded us to obey is telling us to do something against the laws of God, then that specific command from the person should not be obeyed (still honoring while declining however) since the individual did not have the authority to overrule the command of God.

            This leads to the final piece about honor that parents should teach their kids: what it means to honor. Looking up “honor” in Webster’s 1828 dictionary returns a long list of potential definitions.

  1. To revere or to respect. To treat with deference and submission.
  2. To manifest the highest veneration for, in words and actions; or to entertain the most exalted thoughts of. In other words, to worship or adore.
  3. To dignify. To raise to distinction or notice. To exalt.
  4. To glorify or render illustrious.
  5. To treat with due civility and respect in the ordinary intercourse of life.

            Clearly, we are not supposed to fulfill each of these definitions whenever we honor someone. After all, one of the definitions was to worship, but we are commanded not to worship anyone but God Himself (Matt 4:10). The important thing to understand here, is that there are different degrees of honor.  The Bible also indicates this, as it declares elders who rule well to be worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). There are several implications of this. The first, is that everyone must be given at least the lowest level of honor: to be treated with due civility and respect (1 Peter 2:17). The second, is that honor does not unequivocally equal obedience. You can honor someone without obeying them! The last, is that the degree of honor required does depend to a certain extent on station and merit. Remember I Timothy 5:17? It was the elders who rule well that were worthy of double honor.

Note from a pastor: One of the men of God who reviews these articles prior to publishing made an excellent suggestion about proper teaching. It is very important to be proactive in teaching rather than reactive. In other words, do not simply wait till after an incident occurs to teach children what they should have done, but go ahead and stage incidents in order to practice. For example, sit on the couch while pretending to be sitting on a bus and ask your children when they should do if an elderly woman were to board. 



Live worthy

            The next step to instilling in children a mindset of honor is to live worthy of it. This is part of the reason why it is important to understand the difference between showing honor and honoring. A parent can alter the behavior of a child through positive and negative reinforcement and punishment, but will find it extremely difficult to alter the mindset without living worthy of that honor. It is still absolutely vital to discipline and correct your children. This is a principle that is taught clearly in multiple places in the Bible (Prov 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15).

The requirement of discipline does not alleviate from parents the duty of living worthy of honor however. In fact, the verse immediately following the one commanding children to honor their parents is a charge to parents about how to live. Ephesians 6:4 says: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Colossians 3:21 says: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” Parents are given authority over their children but are commanded not to wield that authority like a baton with which to beat their will into their children. Training (Prov 22:6) and correcting (Prov 29:17) is more than just disciplining!


Show it

The third step to successfully teaching a child to honor, is to give him/her a positive example. The Bible does not advocate a “do as I say and not as I do” teaching method! Romans 2:20-21 says: “An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?”

Actions are inherently more impactful as a teaching method than verbal communication. How much time do you spend talking to your child? Not even teaching necessarily, but just talking. Regardless of how much time you do spend, it will always be less than 100% of the time you are around your child. But your child will always be able to observe your behavior! This means that your behaviors are teaching your child a significantly greater amount of time than your words are.

Another reason why actions are more impactful than verbal communication is because of understanding and emulation. Whatever you say to your child must be mentally processed and understood before reaching any meaningful part of the child’s brain. This not only means that there is a time of processing (during which time the child may make decisions about your teachings that do not align with what you want them to believe), but also that the child may not be paying attention while you are talking (limiting the impact), may not understand all of the words, or may misunderstand your message. Actions however, are not conveyed to the brain as a message but rather as raw data. There is no thinking about what you see someone doing unless you intentionally take the time to review that raw data and think about it. Moreover, people (not just children) tend to emulate the behaviors of others without even meaning to, and that emulated behavior has a direct connection to decision making portions of the brain. (Simulation theory of empathy)


Remove factors

Bobo DollThe final step in the process, is to remove undermining factors. This step goes hand-in-hand with the previous one because it still relates to how children learn through observation. The thing is, children don’t only observe their parents (although this will be a primary source if they are being raised with a stay-at-home parent). The social cognitive theory of psychology suggests that people (children especially) learn from seeing how others behave. This theory is primarily based on research conducted by Albert Bandura and his Bobo doll. In this experiment, the children watched as adults either played aggressively with the Bobo doll (hitting and punching it) or played mildly and kindly. Those who watched the aggressive adults were significantly more likely to play aggressively when given their own opportunity to play with the Bobo doll. Follow-up experiments found that this principle held true even if the children did not watch an actual person playing with the doll, but were instead watching something on a tv screen.

What all of this means, is that children learn from watching you and learn from watching others. To ensure that they are learning proper behavior and are developing a good mindset of honor towards others, we must be cognizant of factors that will be undermining our teachings and strive to remove them from our children’s lives or negate them. The difficulty is that these undermining factors can come from a wide variety of potential sources. The most obvious would be the shows on TV. I will not call out any specifically, but consider for yourself if the popular, animated shows that are currently being produced show children honoring parents and the elderly or dishonoring them. Are the children obedient and respectful to their fathers who they look up to as figures worth emulating, or are the children wiser than their dumb parents who are nothing but a laughing stock to be made fun of? If the later, then allowing your children to watch such shows is inviting in a source of teaching that undermines what the Word of God commands us to be teaching our children.

Another noteworthy example of a potential source is other children. As parents, it is our duty and responsibility to help our children choose Godly friends. The impact that friends can have on a person is well-noted in the Bible (Prov 13:20 and I Cor 15:33). If the kids that your children spend time with are dishonoring to their parents, your children will learn that behavior and mindset from them very quickly! Even just seeing other children behave in this way can negatively impact the effectiveness of your teaching. For this reason, we must prevent as much as possible and negate when impossible. It is neither advisable nor feasible to rear your children in a social vacuum where they do not see other kids. It is possible however to promote friendship with children whose parents are actively teaching their kids to honor. And for those occasions where you cannot limit contact but other children are displaying poor behavior, a parent should point out that behavior to their child and talk with them about it in order to emphasize its wrongness. This response to seeing bad behavior will serve to negate the natural response to emulate.



            Understanding the difference between showing honor and actually honoring, parents should not rely solely on teaching behavior through disciplining; but should instead focus on a holistic approach towards teaching their children to honor others. Instilling in others a mindset of honoring is not an easy task; but it is one that parents have a God-given obligation to undertake. It is also one that parents who love their children should strive to achieve with the utmost of their ability as it will allow their children to live longer and happier (Eph 6:2-3). One way to accomplish this, is to follow the 4-pronged approach of teaching our children to honor, living worthy of honor, showing honor to others, and removing or negating undermining factors in our children’s lives.


Psalm 127:3-4 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.






I really enjoyed this article. I may not be a parent yet, but I still got something out of it. I love how your articles can be directed towards a wide array of audiences. You did a great job of not only explaining why and how we should honor those we are commanded to; but also how to teach others to honor as well. You explained how we should respond in different situations and how to teach in different circumstances. You also showed us that not just physical people we connect with everyday affect our respect towards others, but also what we listen to and watch. Thank you for sharing this great topic as it convicted me.

Maribeth            May 21, 2019, 5:08 a.m.

Very good article and you explained the show of honor and real honor very well! Being a parent Im always reminded how I am acting is how our children will act!! We've always told our children ,who you hang around is who you will become like!! So true!! Stay vigilant parents!!!

Anonymous            May 22, 2019, 2:17 p.m.

Remove undermining factors is difficult but important. Thanks for adding that because many of these factors we as parents place.

Anonymous            July 2, 2019, 12:22 p.m.