Are We Required to Honor Our Parents Even if They Are Abusive and Ungodly?


Many in this world have grown up in dysfunctional families and have been subjected to all forms of abuse. Does God expect someone under these circumstances to show honor to a parent? It’s easy to show respect and honor to a parent who raised you in a loving home. But did God envision the corruption that has seeped into modern-day families when He commanded mankind to “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12)? The simple answer is YES. God’s Laws are eternal (see Psalm 119:160) and are not subject to change depending on human condition.

These commands weren’t established long ago only to be forgotten or ignored in our modern times. God’s laws resonate throughout the New Testament with the same importance given in the earlier books of the Bible. Paul stated, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Christ even warned us of not honoring our parents, “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death’” (Matthew 15:4).

Honoring our parents influences our character much further than the respect we are to show to our parents, and showing honor is a learned trait. Godly traits begin with the physical and lead to a spiritual understanding, “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:46). Our mother and father gave us life but God, our eternal Father, gives us eternal life.

Learning to express respect for our parents also leads to physical blessings. When Moses reviewed the Ten Commandments, he described the benefits of this command even further: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). By observing this principle, we can expect to live longer, better and in peace.

That being said, how are we to grapple with ongoing pain from what might have been years of abuse? There is no panacea or a quick snap-of-the-fingers solution to make years of parental neglect or mistreatment go away, but God does give us the ability to change. This might sound overly sanguine, but to change our minds through God’s Spirit can be miraculous. Christ stated the first step in this process, “‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). Everything begins by turning to God. Once we are willing to submit to God, He will, as David stated, be “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows…” (Psalm 68:5).

Loving those who don’t treat us with kindness and respect is another trait we are familiar with as Christians (see Luke 6:35-36). Showing love and honor can be difficult towards those that don’t appreciate it, but as Christians we are to be merciful to others just as God is merciful to us. The apostle Paul also outlines how we should address the world around us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Forgiveness is fundamental to all Christians. Christ states, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). Setting a Godly example might be our only means of eliciting change in others. Our calling didn’t come to us until God opened our minds and allowed it. That same change can happen, even to the most neglectful or even abusive parents, if God is involved for “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

Our need to develop a forgiving attitude can only occur with God’s help. The wickedness perpetrated on an entire childhood is difficult to overcome, but we should not allow our hearts to become hard-hearted. Deliberately refusing to forgive will cause our own spiritual downfall.

A fundamental trait of all Christians is a willingness to change, to turn away from evil: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). For some, this might mean physically separating from the ungodliness of their parents. As Christians we understand that we “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Abusive parents have succumbed to this spiritual influence, and without Godly intervention, cannot prevail against it. But even then, we must have a willing heart to forgive them for their abuse, once they recognize what they have done or are doing, and we should still show honor to them and have a loving contact with them, even if this may have to mean, for the time being, having a long-distance relationship, via phone calls or sending gifts, cards, letters or messages in other ways.

The willingness to forgive must not place us back into an abusive state. Boundaries are acceptable and even necessary in the face of ungodliness. We must not go back into a destructive environment once we have risen out of it. If we do, we are surrounding ourselves with sin. Christ warns, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). We are even warned to remove ourselves from behavior that leads us away from God, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).

The danger of parental mistreatment is that we can become comfortable with it. The abuse becomes our “norm” and it can be difficult to remove ourselves from the underlying destructiveness.  But that is expressly what Christ came to free us from once we have submitted to Him. “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.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:35-38).

Those who submit to God have always and will always face persecutions. Deliverance from the evils perpetuated against us can only be achieved by true submission to God.  Christ allowed Himself to be murdered and it was His dependence on the Father that “both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (1 Corinthians 6:14).  Likewise, Stephen, as he was being murdered called upon God for deliverance and then, before dying “knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). This kind of mindset is only possible when we take on the mind of God through His Holy Spirit.

We must not be defined by our past, no matter how difficult it might have been. We must define ourselves by what God is doing in our lives today. If we have accepted God’s Spirit, we must focus first on changing our own character. Paul states, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14). It is crucial that we “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24). No matter what we were, God has a plan for who we will become: a member of His holy righteous Family.

Lead Writer: Robb Harris

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