The Bible says you are to "Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12 NKJV). Based on that verse alone, there are many people who believe we are to honor our parents no matter what they say or do. Yet Jesus taught, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36).
Which begs the question, how can we honor our parents when our Savior tells us He came to separate us from those very people should they stand against Him? Is this an irresolvable contradiction?
Ephesians 5:11 states, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”
Second Thessalonians 3:6 says, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”
In 2 Corinthians 6:14 we are told, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”
Lastly, although there are other references, in 1 Corinthians 5:11 we are told, “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner - not even to eat with such a person.”
So now we have a number of verses in potential conflict with the commandment to honor our mother and father. Yet they make complete harmonic sense if read in the context leading to only one undeniable conclusion. We are to honor our parents if they are practicing Christians. If they are not, we aren’t even supposed to sit down and have dinner with them.
All the “conflicting” verses have no qualifiers that indicate everyone else except our parents. No, we are to separate ourselves from all who walk disorderly and in rebellion to God’s Holy Word. Sadly, if our parents choose the wide path leading to destruction, we must leave them. We may still minister to those we love, but if they will not turn to the One who is our first love, we are not to honor them. What this represents as a principle is why we must read the Bible in context.
Think of all the pain and suffering that has been generated in the mistaken belief that we are to honor our parents no matter what manner of life they lead. Psychiatrists’ couches are full of people who have had their lives destroyed totally or in part because they were trying to honor God by trying to honor their reprobate parents, when all along God wanted those so afflicted to separate from them.
For example, take a deadbeat parent who will not support his/her children financially, emotionally, or spiritually. First Timothy 5:8 states, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Can anyone, after reading this verse, truly believe that we, as their children, are to honor this person? Dissecting its meaning, we learn that one who refuses to live up to his secular and spiritual responsibilities as they pertain to his children, is not a Christian. Even if he was once, he is no longer. But—and this is where we must really be taken aback—such a person is worse than an unbeliever.
Knowing God says what He means and means what He says puts the issue in perspective. As He is righteous above all else, we would be foolish to believe He wants us to honor a person He says is worse than an unbeliever. Think about that. Worse than an unbeliever! To such a person no honor is to be given, regardless of lineage.
When we fail to read God’s Holy Word in context, or we decide to make doctrine out of a single verse while ignoring other verses on the same subject, this is what happens. We come to the wrong conclusion and then pay a price of pain and guilt when such was never intended.
The teaching is simple. We are to honor our parents, but only if they honor God.
Ed Mrkvicka is a lay minister, lifelong Bible student, and retired bank president. His religious writings have been awarded Best Christian Book of the Year (2007) (2010), Best Christian Study of the Year (2008), named a National Best Book Awards finalist, and a winner in The Christian Choice Book Awards, as well as being awarded the prestigious Faith Writer's Seal of Approval.
His work to save marriages and help children has earned him a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition "in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community."
Ed lives with his son, Eddie, and daughter, Kelly, in rural Illinois.