Honor Your Mother

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Where does Mother's Day come from? Some have suggested that it is something which was invented by Hallmark and florists in order to make money. That is certainly the result if not the motivation for the day.

      Mother's Day in the US began in the early part of this century and the president who signed it into existence said that is was a day "for displaying the American flag and for the public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of the country."

      These may be good things, but I have sometimes questioned what they have to do with the church? Is society supposed to dictate what we teach and do in church? Are we not to honor God in church? As I have wondered about these things, I have realized that many times in history the church has taken a secular holiday and given it a sacred meaning and used it to build faith. This is the case for Mother's day. I believe it is good for us to take this secular celebration and use it to teach a Biblical principle.

I. Why Honor Mothers?

      The Bible teaches us that honoring mother and father is right. It is a command that is not some obscure passage which is found once and then not referred to again. It isn't even a text that is found in the Old Testament, but not in the New Testament. This command, in various forms, is found throughout the Bible.

      It first appears in the Ten Commandments where we read 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."

      The ten commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5:16 where we read once again. "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you."

      In the gospels, Jesus discusses the law with different groups of people, especially the Pharisees. In these discussions, Jesus sometimes asks for what the law says and the response is often a list of the ten commandments including the law to honor father and mother. In Mark 10:19 we have one such example where Jesus says, "You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” When Jesus does this, at no point does he say that the law is no longer relevant, rather, he reinforces that it is still right to obey this law.

      In Matthew 15:4, he is once again debating with the Pharisees and says, "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'"  The Pharisees had found a way to get around this law and Jesus condemns their hypocrisy, thus once again upholding the commandment.

      Even the apostle Paul picked up on it when he said in Ephesians 6:2, “honor your father and mother…”

      The idea behind mother’s day & father’s day is a Biblical idea. We are to honor our father and mother.

II. Who Should Honor Mothers?

      This command to honor your mother is written to those of you here who are children. If you are follower of Jesus, God wants you to honor your mother.

      Find cartoon to fit this idea.

      However, this instruction is not given only to young children, but to adult children as well.

      In Mark 10:19 and Luke 18:20 we have the story of the lawyer who came to question Jesus and asked him, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus first answer to that question was "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" Notice that the command to honor parents was given to a grown man, a professional in the community.

      In Mark 7:10 and Matthew 15:4, we have the accusation of Jesus against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus affirms their belief in the law of Moses which said, "Honor your father and your mother," but condemns their hypocrisy when they use the religious dedication of "Corban" to withhold help from parents. Jesus says to them, "But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban...then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother." Once again, it is to adult children that this teaching was addressed.

      Jesus expectation seems to have been that children of all ages must honor their parents.

      There is an old Grimm’s Fairy Tale that goes like this:

      "Once there was an old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware distressingly, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of food on the tablecloth. Now he lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live, and his son's wife didn't like the arrangement.

      "I can't have this," she said, "It interferes with my right to happiness," So she and her husband took the old man gently but firmly by the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner, blinking at the table with wistful eyes.

      One day his hands trembled rather more than usual, and the earthenware bowl fell and broke.

      "If you are a pig," said the daughter-in-law, "you must eat out of a trough." So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meals in that.

      These people had a four year old son of whom they were very fond. One evening the young man noticed his boy playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing.

      "I'm making a trough," he said, smiling up for approval, "to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big."

      The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn't say anything. Then they cried a little. Then they went and to the corner and took the old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.

The command to honor parents extends to all ages of children.

III. Expressing Honor

A. The Meaning Of Honor

      But what does it mean to honor?

1. "Cabod"

      The word "honor" in the Old Testament in all of these texts is the Hebrew word "Cabod." It is an interesting word which will help us understand what it means to honor our mothers.

      At first glance, this word does not appear very flattering because it literally means "heavy." In I Samuel 4:18 we read, "When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy." Eli was the priest of God whose sons were rebellious and who was replaced by Samuel. It describes the day he died. and the way in which he died. It says, he fell, broke his neck and died because he was old and heavy. The word "heavy" is the Hebrew word "Cabod." This is the literal meaning of the word.

      Often literal meanings of words take on figurative meanings. One example is the literal word "cool" which today is used to refer to something which is good or interesting. The word "Cabod" was also used in a figurative sense in Exodus 7:14 where we read, "Then the LORD said to Moses, "Pharaoh's heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go." The word "unyielding" is also the word "Cabod." It could be translated "hard" or "heavy."  Here his heart was not literally heavy, but heavy in the figurative sense that it was unresponsive to God.

      From this negative figurative sense, the word was also used in a positive figurative sense to refer to "a weighty person in society, someone who was honorable, impressive, worthy of respect." It is interesting that our language of a few years ago picked up on this use of the word "heavy" again. My generation knows what I mean when I say "hey man, that's heavy" and I think the sense in which we used it and still sometimes use it is exactly the sense in which the Old Testament word was used. In II Samuel 23:23 we read about the men who were highly regarded as warrior's in David's army. It says about Benaiah son of Jehoiada, "He was held in greater honor…and David put him in charge of his bodyguard." Here "Cabod" is translated "honor" and carries the sense we are talking about.

How does this word help us understand what it means to honor our mother? To me it conveys the picture of someone who is substantial when it comes to worth. It makes me think of someone who deserves to be respected because of who they are.

2. "Time"

      The New Testament was written not in Hebrew, but in Greek and so a different word is used in the New Testament. The Greek word used in all of these passages is the word "Time."

      It also has an interesting history of use. This word is used in Acts 19:19, "A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas." The word "time" is translated, "value."

      This word is also used in I Peter 2:7, "Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," Here the word is translated "precious" and refers to the value of who Jesus is and what he has done.

      The picture we have of the New Testament word "time" is that of value. When we hear "honor your mother" what it means is value her, put a high price on her, consider her precious.

B. Worthy of Honor

      You cannot say that a feather is heavy or that garbage has value. In other words, if it isn't heavy, it shouldn't be called heavy. If it isn't valuable, it shouldn't be called valuable. If it isn't worthy of honor, it shouldn't be called honorable. Why does God tell us to honor our mothers? Because they are worthy of honor!

1. Honorable For Giving Birth

      The first thing that makes them worthy of honor is that they have given us birth. We are all familiar with the pleasure, privilege and excitement of a new baby. When that young one is born, we rejoice at the birth and no one more than the mother.

      But having a child is not only a matter of privilege, joy and excitement. It also carries great responsibility and a measure of burden.

      When a woman first finds out that she is pregnant, there is joy, but soon the morning sickness starts. Later in pregnancy there is discomfort because of the weight of the growing child and they tell me that sometimes when that little thing lies the wrong way it can be very uncomfortable. The longer into term, the more uncomfortable it becomes. Then when the time of birth comes, there is great pain involved in giving birth.

      When the child is born, that doesn't end the challenge. After the birth there is the constant challenge of nurturing which actually never stops. At first the nurturing is physically intense but later when children grow up and leave home and have careers and families of their own, the nurturing becomes more challenging emotionally.

      Birthing a child is a heavy thing figuratively speaking and being a mother is a thing of great value and it is for this reason that mothers are worthy of honor.

2. Honorable For Their Position

      God has created a system by which the world functions smoothly. Honoring parents is part of that. Ephesians 6:3 calls for children to honor their parents “so that it may go well with you.” If children do not honor parents, the result is chaos. We see this only too well where parents have abdicated their responsibility and children are left to their own devices. The gangs in inner city neighborhoods have something to do with children seeking to find family. Mother’s and fathers are worthy of honor because of their leadership role in the family.

3. Honorable For Loving

      "Who's the first one you run to when you're sick, hurting, hungry, out of clean clothes or in need of a hug?" We as men have to admit that most often it is our mother. It is their mother love which also makes them worthy.

      I have seen in my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, wife and many other mothers the heart of compassion with which they care for their children. Who is it that attends most functions of a child? Who is it that stays up nights cleaning, preparing, mending? Who most often sacrifices their own needs so that the children can have what they need?

      Mothers are worthy of honor because of their love.

4. Honorable For Their Spiritual Example

      But they are also worthy because of their spiritual example. I have heard many testimonies of how people came to faith. Often it is mothers are the ones to lead their children to the Lord.

Mothers who love the Lord and then pass on that love for the Lord by their example and their words. Mothers who live a worthy life so that their children can see an example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Mothers who in the midst of both joys and trials find that they are learning to lean on the Lord and who spend time with Him and then teach their children by example and instruction to lean on the Lord. Mothers who are such a spiritual example are worthy of honor.

      And so it is for these reasons that the Word of God instructs us to honor our mothers.


Sad to say, not every mother is worthy of honor for the reasons I have just given. Some mothers are  not a spiritual example? Some do not love their children. I have observed a mother who locked her children in the house so she could go on a drinking binge. I know of a mother who has not seen her child in 8 years and has given up custody of him. Should we honor such mothers? I believe in such cases, we follow what Jesus taught. He calls us to love others and even our enemies. If we have a mother who is not worthy of honor because of the things listed above, then we can still honor her by treating her with respect and loving her because Jesus commands us to do so. We can still honor them be recognizing that they are people for whom Christ died. These are very painful things and we wish we didn’t have to think about them, but unfortunately we do.

C. How To Honor

Mothers take a lot of garbage from children. They are mocked, taken for granted, teased and laughed at. Sometimes it seems so easy to poke fun, but how do we honor them?

1. Respect

      Honoring begins with an attitude. I like Gary Smalley's description of the way in which we should honor one another. You may have seen his presentation in which he shows the audience a violin which looks broken and useless. It is amazing when he announces to the audience that this violin is a Stradivarius and worth about $60,000. His point is that in relationship to each other we need to recognize the value of each person, to look at one another and say, "wow." The same thing is true of mothers. We need to realize that they are worthy and have an attitude towards them which says "wow." Do we respect them as persons first of all but then also as those people who have born us, carried us, nurtured us and who love us?

2. Obedience

      For younger children in particular, honoring parents means obedience. If children and teenagers want to honor parents, the first thing they need to do is to obey them. Now remember, this is your part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. If you as a young child are asking, what can I do to follow God. The first answer for you is to obey your parents.

      When our oldest son, Joel, was less than 4 years old, we made a book of Scripture verses for him and were encouraging him to memorize some simple Bible verses. One day he was paging through the book and came to a page which had “Obey your parents” on it. On this particular day, he said, “I no like obey.” You may not like to obey, but as His child, God calls you to honor your parents by obeying them.

3. Support

      Finally, it also means that we support them with what they need. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in making it possible for the people to disobey the law to honor parents, by dedicating everything to the temple. At that time, it was likely that aging parents needed financial support from their working children. Today, that may not be needed. In fact, parents are sometimes more secure financially than their children. But support will still be necessary in other ways. I am always saddened when I hear about parents abandoned in personal care homes and never or seldom visited by their children. That is not honoring. I know that some of you who have aging parents spend a lot of time visiting and helping your parents. This is a good thing and a fulfillment of obedience to God's commands. I commend you for what you are doing because you are honoring your parents.


      To honor our parents is a command of Scripture. It is not something we do only with a promise or a word. God condemned the Israelites when he said in Isaiah 29:13, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Just as it is possible to honor God with words only and not with actions, so it is also possible for us to say that we honor our parents, but not really do it.

      I trust that we will think deeply about the way in which we honor our mothers today. It is good today to say to your mother, “thank-you” or “I love you.” It is even better to live daily with respect for them, supporting them and if you are a child, obeying them. God calls us to honor our mother.

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