Obey or Honor? — is there really a difference

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Colossians 3:20
English Standard Version
2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12
English Standard Version
2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers

Sometimes, to my embarrassment, even in my 50’s I find myself making decisions contrary to wisdom learned many years ago, and contrary to things I taught my own children.  A few days ago, I was following a well set routine while packing for a business trip.  Lying conspicuously on the counter in my bathroom (so that I wouldn’t forget to pack it), was a shipping envelop containing medication (for migraines).  A couple of times my mom made the comment, “don’t forget your medication”.  In my mind I thought something like, “Ya, ya…I’ve got that covered.  I’m over 50 now, I think I can take care of myself.”  You guessed it…the one thing that didn’t get packed that day was the medication, which I could have used on the third day of that business trip.  Regardless how her way of showing concern made me feel (like the kid from my youth), I would have been better off interrupting my routine long enough to address her concern.

In my youth, I noticed that some verses in the bible instruct us to “obey” our parents, while others instruct us to “honor” our parents.  I gave thought to the difference between the two and realized that it is possible to obey without honoring, but impossible to truly honor without obeying.  I concluded that honoring someone includes the attitude of the heart and concern for how my decision reflects on another individual.  Having a respectful attitude toward parents and making decisions based on what would reflect well on them includes obedience.  It was in those early years of my life that I determined to honor my parents, rather than simply obey.

Now that was no small thing to commit to, especially in my youth.  Determining to live that way is one thing — it is quite another to follow through, especially at a time when you believe your parents’ instructions are based on out-of-date thinking, and that following their instruction will result in you missing a great opportunity.  Looking back, I can’t recall a single time in my life that I ignored my parents instructions and considered the consequences as beneficial.  At the same time, I can recall many times that I ignored my parents instruction and experienced some level of loss.  Not once did I make a choice that honored my parents and experience any harm or real loss.

Another thing I realized in my youth was that these instructions from the bible are not written to small children or youth — they are written to people in general.  Even as an adult in my 50’s, my parents are still my parents.  And I still benefit from honoring them by consulting them and considering how my decision might reflect on them.  I can’t tell you the number of times that consulting with my parents (and parents-in-law) has provided the wisdom I needed to make good life decisions.  When heeded, there was harm avoided and/or reward experienced; when ignored, the result was nearly always negative consequences and some level of regret.

Lastly, I notice that an “escape clause” is missing from the guidance provided by these verses, like “…IF your parents are nice people and have proven themselves wise and trustworthy….”  In my own life experience, and in my observation of countless others, even when we believe a parent has proven themselves to be unreliable, it is wise to at least consider their counsel and how a decision will reflect on them.  In fact, I can’t think of single case in which a parent’s command, heeded, would bring harm.  We may not like following through; we may experience disappointment and frustration, but I haven’t observed a case yet in which honoring would have brought harm.  And in nearly every case, there is reward, even if that reward is the nurturing of our relationship with our parents, earning their respect by the way we consider and respond to them (true even in our later years).

Reconciling ourselves to the wisdom of honoring our parents, regardless our age, isn’t easy, but is rewarding.  I used to tell my children, “To honor is better than to obey.”  It requires us to examine ourselves, to confront the excuses we have for ignoring their guidance, to listen to and consider them more than we speak and try to be understood.  And it requires faith that, regardless of what we think we may miss out on by honoring them in a given situation, there will be an even greater reward over time.  In my own personal life, I am experiencing an unbelievably good relationship with my own parents, that I believe is due in part to the decision I made in my youth:  to honor my parents, rather than simply obey them.

Be reconciled!

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