The Fifth Commandment: Honor thy Father and Mother

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Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. (Exodus 20:12)

What does it mean to “honor”? It means to show respect and due reverence. This commandment dictates that we should honor our fathers and mothers.

What would this mean? Ask anyone from East Asia and they can give you a long list of things you can do to honor your parents. Although I believe in some things they take it too far, in general, they have the right mindset.

Your parents gave you life. They sacrificed a part of their life—a very large part—so that you can live and have the things you have. Even if your parents are not worthy of honor, the only thing we can do is honor them regardless.

If we honor our parents, we need to honor their parents. Thus, we should show respect for and carefully pay attention to what our ancestors have said just like we should do with our own parents.

If we honor our parents, we love the things they love. The thing they love is their children, our brothers and sisters. So we should love our own family, even our extended family.

I suggest several things we can do to honor our parents.

First, we can get to know who they truly are. Find out about their history. Find out about their hopes and dreams, or what they used to be. We can learn a lot about life just by studying our parents.

This of course, involves spending time with our parents. Let us keep the holidays as a time to get together with our parents and families. After we’ve grown up and left home, there is nothing they want more than to hear back about us, our successes and failures. Life is so empty when your children leave home.

We can, of course, obey them. This can be taken to extremes, of course. I wouldn’t obey my parents and commit a crime, for instance. But for the most part, when parents ask us to do something, it’s hardly ever because of their vanity or because they want to hurt us. Rather, it’s the opposite.

We can speak reverently about our parents. Yes, everyone has faults and failures. We don’t like our dirty laundry being spread for all to see, so let’s keep the failures and mistakes of our parents where we’d like our dirty laundry kept. No matter how many faults a person has, there is doubtless something good and redeeming we can share with others.

The promise about our days being long in the land is understood well by my Korean in-laws. See, when my brothers in law show reverence for their dad, who has passed away, and his ancestors, they are modeling the behavior of their children. That way, when they grow old and weak, their children will do the same for them. If you want to live a long life, teach your children to honor their parents by example. When you get near the end of your life, your life will be extended by their charity.

But there is also a plea for turning back the clock on moral issues here. If the family is strong, then the morality of that family will not waver. You will find families who seem to be stuck in the 18th Century when it comes to their attitudes on marriage and religion. This is because their ancestors from the 18th Century honored their parents, and they honor theirs. It creates an unbroken chain of righteousness.

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