What does honoring your father and mother have to do with marriage? Can it make a difference?

“Honor your father and your mother.” – Exodus 20:12

Do you think of the Ten Commandments as part of the Old Testament law that doesn’t really apply anymore? Can they truly have a significant impact on our lives…on our marriages? The truth is they can–and must. This Couple’s Bible Study covers what the Ten Commandments mean to us today and how they can guide our lives and marriages to bring great blessing. 

We have been studying the Ten Commandments for the last four weeks and how they apply to our marriages. We’ve covered the first four commandments, which speak to our relationship with God. We now begin a focus on the last six commandments, which deal with our relationships with one another—and, most importantly, our relationship with our spouse.

This week we look at the fifth commandment. It is found in Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

This is very clear and straight-forward, like all the commands in this section. But as we will see with all of them, Jesus and the New Testament writers take us beyond the obvious meaning to a deeper understanding.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17: “‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.’” Jesus did not replace the Old Testament law. But He made clear its proper application is to the heart and not just external behavior.

Jesus’ idea of obedience moves beyond mere religious observance. He focuses on the things we do, but He also reveals who we are and why we do those things.

This is what He teaches in Luke 6:45: “‘A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’”

Only the gospel can change our hearts. Making Jesus the Savior and Lord of our lives will lead us to live out God’s commands. When we do, we can then have the marriages God desires and designed for us.

(If you have not given your life to Jesus and want to learn more about this, please read Meet Jesus.)

How Does This Commandment Apply to Marriage?

How does this fifth commandment to honor our fathers and mothers apply to us as husbands and wives? After all, it addresses our relationship with our parents, not our relationship with each other.

One answer might seem obvious. For one reason God created marriage was to have children.

We read in Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them (Adam and Eve) and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

We are to raise those children by God’s Word so they will grow up to live for Him. That is why we read the command (and promise) in Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We certainly want children who honor God and us.

But what if we do not have children? This command speaks to us and our marriages whether we have children or not.

Jesus once again helps us with this as He uses it to teach a meaning beyond the most obvious. In Matthew 15:1-2, we see a confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders: “Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!’”

Jesus uses the fifth commandment to answer them. He says in Matthew 15:3 – 6: “Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is “devoted to God,” they are not to “honor their father or mother” with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’”

Jesus teaches several things here that apply to our marriages.

First, we must follow God’s Word, even if someone else tries to convince us otherwise.

The United States Supreme Court may say that a marriage can be between two men or two women. But God’s Word says that is not so. God states that marriage is between a man and a woman (see Genesis 1:27-28).

And our culture teaches that divorce can be inexpensive, easy, and end a marriage for any reason. God’s Word teaches this should not be.

Jesus was questioned in another confrontation with religious leaders about reasons for divorce (see Matthew 19:1-7). We read His response in Matthew 19:8-9: “‘Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”

Second, Jesus tells us honoring our parents is just as important to our marriages as any of the other commandments. Honoring our parents shows that we honor God. And we must honor Him by obeying all of His Word, not only that which is convenient.

Jesus went on to explain His teaching in Matthew 15:7-9: “‘You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”’”

When we honor our parents, we obey God’s Word. It shows our hearts are right with Him. This will allow us to please Him and to have the blessed marriages He wants for us. 

How Do We Honor Our Parents?

God’s Word tells us how we should honor our parents. Knowing what to do comes from understanding what the word honor means.

The word used in Exodus 20:12 for honor is the Hebrew word “kabed.” It means to prize or esteem highly; to show respect for; to care for.

When the commandment is quoted in the New Testament, the Greek word “timao” is used. It means to treat one with respect and value. It doesn’t mean the person has done anything to deserve it. But because God has created them and loves them and has placed them in whatever position they hold, we are to honor them.

We are to care for our parents and provide for their needs.

In Timothy 5:4, Paul writes on the topic of older widows: “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”

Paul continues this teaching in 1 Timothy 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

And Jesus teaches in Matthew 25:31-46 that providing for those in need is a sign that we truly belong to Him.

We must see to it that our families–including our parents–are provided for. This honors them and honors God.

We are to care and provide for our parents even if they have not done the same for us.

Some of us may have parents who are difficult to honor because of the way they have treated us in the past or even continue to do so. But we can and should still honor them.

This is why Peter could write in 1 Peter 2:17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” The emperor of Rome at the time was persecuting Christians. But God had placed him in his position of power. And because of this they could show him honor and respect.

The same is true for us with our parents, no matter how they have treated us. Giving them respect, as Peter wrote, will show that we “fear God.” It honors Him.

Praying for our parents is another way to honor them.

We are told in 1 Timothy 2:1-4: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

If we are called to pray for even ungodly leaders, certainly we should pray for our parents. This is especially true if they have not given their lives to Christ. This will honor and please God. And He will bless our marriages.

What Honoring Our Parents Does Not Mean

Honoring our parents does not mean we must listen to and obey their every desire. In fact, when we get married, we are to form our own family separate from our parents.

When God created marriage, He said in Genesis 2:24: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Our spouse becomes our first priority after God when we get married.

Honoring our parents also does not mean that we have to always follow our parents’ advice when they tell us to do something or ask us for anything that goes against God’s teaching.

Parents are never to be a substitute or a rival for God and His Word. Remember the first commandment. God and His truth always comes first.

As we seek to obey this fifth commandment to honor our father and mother, we will honor God. And in doing so, we will honor our own marriage and receive the many blessings that come from a life lived in devotion to the Lord.

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♦   Read this week’s teaching post together. What did God teach you through it? How does it speak to you and your marriage?

♦   Discuss together how you can honor your parents while at the same time honoring your commitment to one another as husband and wife.

♦   Discuss together how you can relate to your children so that you make it easier for them to honor you at different stages of their life.

If your children are still under your care, they are told in Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”

We must help them do this by obeying Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” This goes for both parents. We fathers should lead the way.

If your children are adults and on their own, then we should pray for them, and be available to help them as they request it and we are able. However we should entrust them to God, and allow them to follow Him as they see Him leading. We should follow God’s Word in this as we read in Genesis 2:4: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” 

♦   Close your time together in prayer. Ask God to show you ways to honor your parents, and to help you do these things. Ask Him to help you raise your children according to His will. Ask Him to allow you to trust them into His hands. Ask Him to lead them to serve and live for Him.

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Next week we will continue our study of the Ten Commandments and how they affect our marriages as we examine the sixth commandment.

Until then, may God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Making God First
Part 3: Worship and Honor
Part 4: A Sabbath Day
Part 6: Don’t Kill Each Other
Part 7: On Adultery and Stealing
Part 8: Being Honest
Part 9: Being Content
Part 10: Love and Devotion
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Header photo by Sabra Penley.
Mother/daughter photo by longleanna via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.
Church photo by Aaron Burden via (CC0), cropped/text added.

About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.