The Wisdom of Honoring Parents
As of June of this year, a company closed its doors to the United States after having been in business for over 60 years. That company was Toys R Us.
I’m not sure what life was like for you growing up, but for me, Toys R Us was a powerhouse in the toy industry. I practically never went there, but I knew what it was. It was a store completely dedicated to toys for kids.
My memories of Toys R Us have nothing to do with the physical stores. And they have very little to do with the logo or the mascot. What stands out most in my mind, when I think about Toys R Us, is the commercials, particularly the jingle they would play. The lyrics went like this:
“I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid. There’s a million toys at Toys R Us that I can play with. From bikes to trains to video games, it’s the biggest toy store there is (Gee whiz!). I don’t wanna grow up, ‘cause maybe if I did, I couldn’t be a Toy R Us kid.”
And I remember, as a kid, having that line bouncing around in my head: “I don’t wanna grow up. I don’t wanna grow up.” Wouldn’t that be great? To just stay a kid forever?
Well thankfully, despite my best efforts, and despite those who doubted, I did grow up. I became an adult. I became a contributing member of society, and a contributing member of my family and church. And that’s a good thing.
Sadly, it seems that the prevailing attitude in our culture today is that we do not want to get old. We don’t wanna grow up. And what that translates into, for the culture, is a disdain, or a hatred, for maturity. We could call it a scorn for wisdom.
To be wise, or to be mature, can be equated with being old-fashioned or boring. But, as we’ve been learning from Proverbs, true, godly wisdom is the path to joy. It’s the path to blessing. It’s the path to a fulfilled life, provided we know and fear the Lord.
Now, I say all this as we begin our time today, not only because it’s one of the themes of Proverbs, but because it’s one of the emphases in what we’ll be learning about today.
Like I said last week, Proverbs is filled with so many topics, especially once we get to chapters 10-31. And so, in deciding which topic to address first, I figured a great place to start would be the first verse. Would you go there with me as we start today? Proverbs 10, verse 1.
It starts with a short little title, introducing us to a new section, and letting us know again who the author is. It says: The Proverbs of Solomon.
The opening verse of the book told us the same thing. These proverbs have been given to us by King Solomon, the son of King David. In First Kings 4, we get a description of Solomon’s wisdom, and we’re told that he gave to the people 3,000 proverbs, and over 1,000 songs. That’s a lot of wisdom.
In addition to Proverbs, Solomon also wrote Ecclesiastes, which is more like the exceptions of wisdom, which he contemplated later in life. And he gave us the Song of Solomon, which is a poetic exaltation of marriage. Solomon was an accomplished author, and the Holy Spirit moved through him to give us God’s wisdom.
Once he gets to the collection of Proverbs, here’s the very first proverb we get. Proverbs 10, verse 1. A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
Now, as we study through the Proverbs, I want you to keep in mind that there are generally two forms that a proverb can take. The first is the form of a command. It’s a wisdom instruction. That’s pretty straightforward. “Do this.” Or, “Don’t do this.” The second form is a wisdom saying, which means that the command is not explicit. It’s a stated truth, intended as an encouragement to an action.
Well, Proverbs 10:1 is a wisdom saying. It’s a general truth. And in the Proverbs, when the first and second lines are saying similar things, it’s not that important to make distinction between the lines. There are just saying the same thing in different ways.
If you put both lines of this Proverbs together, it’s saying that a son (or child) can be either foolish or wise. And that direction in life will have an impact on the father and mother. Wisdom leads to joy, and foolishness is a burden for them. It brings grief and sorrow.
Those of us who are parents know this from experience, right? Maybe Solomon saw this with his own father. Or maybe he saw it with his own children. Either way, it’s part of the general pattern of life. The actions and decisions and character of your child affect you personally.
And for us sons and daughters, we’re on the flip side of that. What you and I do—the choices we make and the attitudes we have—greatly affect our parents. This is a message Proverbs gives us again and again.
Organizing Proverbs by categories means that we’re going to be flipping through the book a lot. If you’re comfortable with that, go ahead and do it. For the most part, I’ve tried to keep each section in the order of the Proverbs so we’re mainly flipping in one direction.
But if you’re not comfortable following along in your Bible today, don’t worry about it. Just make a note of the reference, and you can look at it in your Bible later if you want. I would rather you listen to the Bible well than get lost trying to find verses. Okay?
Let me trace this theme for us in the Proverbs. Again, it’s the connection between a child’s decisions in life and his parent’s response. Same message as Proverbs 10:1. Some will emphasize the positive side, some the negative, and some both. But they’re all saying the same thing
Proverbs 15:20 says: A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother.
Proverbs 17:21 puts it this way: He who sires (or begets) a fool gets himself sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy.
Verse 25 continues: A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him.
Same message again and again. And it continues. Proverbs 19:13—A foolish son is ruin to his father.
Verse 26 adds—He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother is a son who brings shame and reproach.
Those are two verses that say it from the negative side. Switching back to the positive side, we have Proverbs 23, verse 15, which says: My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad.
Then verse 24—The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
Switching back to the negative side, we’ve got Proverbs 28:7, which tells us: The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding, but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
Then we have Proverbs 29:3—He who loves wisdom makes his father glad, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
That’s a lot of repetition for the same message: The decisions of a child have a direct effect on the life of the parents. They are connected. That’s a message given to us by God and confirmed by experience.
Now, here’s the million-dollar question: So what? So what? What difference does that make in my life?
Remember, the form of these Proverbs is just telling us a statement. There’s no explicit command here. But the truth we’re being told is intended to move us to action. So, what is that action? How are we supposed to respond to that truth?
Well, you’ve basically got two responses to this truth. These are the two main applications. One is aimed at the child, and the other is aimed at the parent.
For us sons and daughters, this is a motivation to wisdom and to obedience—to fear the Lord by honoring our parents. And for us parents, this is a motivation to diligently pursue training and instructing our children in wisdom.
God is a God of order. And He’s a God of protection and love and wisdom. And so, for His own glory, He has ordained that there be authoritative structures in this world. Those people in authority aren’t more valuable than those without authority. Nobody’s life is intrinsically worth more than someone else’s. We’re all made in the image of God. But for the sake of order and harmony and peace and love, some individuals submit to others.
Civilians submit to the government, to the ruling authorities. Students submit to teachers. Wives submit to husbands. Employees submit to employers. And children submit to their parents. That’s what brings order. That’s what glorifies God the Father and Jesus Christ.
When this is done right, it glorifies God by showcasing His attributes. Jesus told us that the person in a position of authority is not to lord it over those in his care. He’s not supposed to use that position for his own selfish purposes. He’s supposed to use that authority to care for and protect and love and instruct them. God is a Father who takes care of us.
And Jesus is the submissive Son who perfectly obeys and trusts His Father. That’s who God is. That’s an expression of His love and His order and His unity. One person of the Trinity voluntarily submits to another, even though they are equal in essence and substance and power and authority. They have distinct roles, and yet they are united.
And that’s a truth that God calls us to demonstrate in our families, particularly in the relationship between parents and children. Children are to learn to trust and obey and submit to their parents. And parents are to protect and provide for and lead and love and instruct their children. Those are the main responses to the Proverbs-truth we just read about.
Keep in mind, this is a book aimed at a young man. To get him ready for life. And yet, it has parenting lessons. Why? Because the father of Proverbs is not just raising his little boy. He’s raising a future parent.
So he wants his son to know how important it is to train a child for wisdom. To model it for him and instruct him in it. And we parents are called to do the same thing.
We’re not just raising kids. We’re raising future husbands and wives. And future moms and dads. And future leaders in our churches.
Would you raise your son differently if you knew he would be an elder or a deacon of the church one day? Would you raise your daughter differently if you knew she would be married to an elder one day, or a missionary, or would have some recognized position in the church? Think about that. We are raising our kids for the future. And so what we give them is going to be passed on.
Since the lives of children and parents are linked, one of the exhortations from Proverbs 10:1 is to be careful how we raise our children. Because their life will affect us. We can’t detach ourselves from them. We need to train them.
That’s the messages in Ephesians and Colossians. Don’t exasperate your children. Don’t provoke them to anger. Cultivate in them a heart that understands the value of God’s wisdom. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If you don’t do that as a parent, your own life will be affected.
It’s not easy to raise a child in the ways of the Lord. But the wisdom of Proverbs tells us that it can be much more painful if you don’t raise the kid at all. A rebellious son brings pain and sorrow.
We can’t guarantee that our kids are going to walk in the ways of wisdom. But how much worse would it be, if our children walk in foolishness, for us to know that we didn’t do our part to train them? Now, there’s a double guilt. The foolish son is guilty and the negligent parent is guilty. That’s what Proverbs wants us to avoid.
The temptation is to be lazy, right? To take the easy way out of a situation rather than addressing their heart, rather than having a difficult conversation with them. But we can’t let ourselves fall into that trap over and over again. We’re called to help shape our kids.
And there are many, many Proverbs that help us asparents. I’m going to save those for another time (maybe next week), but I do want to give one exhortation that comes from Proverbs 10:1. Again, the first half of that verse says: A wise son makes a glad father.
Here’s my question to you: Do your children see the connection between their obedience and your joy? Can they see it? Another way to approach it would be to think about what they equate with your praise and your smile.
How would your child answer the question: What can you do to make dad or mom happy? Hit a home run? Score a goal? Get straight A’s? Or honor them from the heart?
None of those other things are bad. But they shouldn’t be what our kids most associate with our joy as a parent. Otherwise, we’re sending them the message that those things are more important than honoring God.
Parents, we need to be praising our kids. We need to give them visible reminders of how their obedience or their kindness or their respect pleases us. Tell them how much it makes you happy. Let them see your smile.
If your child obeys, and all they get out of you is a grumpy, “finally!” You’re not showing them the blessing of obedience. You’re not modeling for them the joy and the pleasure of God, who delights in their obedience.
So that’s one application of Proverbs 10:1. Parents need to be raising their children in the fear of the Lord, and they should be modeling the joy of God when there’s fruit, even if it’s imperfect.
For the rest of our time today though, I want to talk about the other application of Proverbs 10:1. This is the part aimed at the children. Again, the truth of Proverbs 10:1 is intended to move us children toward biblical wisdom, toward Christian maturity. And a huge part of Christian maturity is learning to honor your father and your mother. That is a much bigger deal than many of us imagine. And it’s a much bigger deal than our culture makes it out to be.
When God came down in a thick cloud and thunder and lightning onto Mount Sinai, the people were terrified, and they heard Him give them what we call the Ten Commandments. This is a summary of how God’s people are supposed to live. The first four of those were aimed at our relationship with God. And then, numbers 5-10 were aimed at our relationships with one another, with other people.
What was the first command He gave in that second category? Commandment number 5. Exodus 20, verse 12: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
That was the first commandment the people heard that would govern their human relationships. God cares about how we respond to authority. And the first lesson of authority we should get is in the home, with dad and with mom. That relationship is the foundation, it’s the starting point for all the other authority relationships in the world. That’s where a child learn what it means to submit and what it means to lead.
Later in Exodus 21, God added: Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death... Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.
And that idea gets repeated in Deuteronomy 21, when the parents are told they can bring a rebellious son before the elders and have him stoned by the men of the city.
We don’t do that today because it’s not part of the New Testament law, but the principle remains. There are major consequences, positive and negative, connected to how you treat your parents.
This command to obey your parents came to Israel with a promise and a warning. Positively, this is for your own wellbeing. This is what brings wisdom and its blessing. And negatively, failing in this regard comes with serious consequences. Listen to some more Proverbs that expand on this idea.
First, Proverbs 13:1—A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
Proverbs 15:5 . Same thing: A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
And then, emphasizing the negative side we have Proverbs 20:20—If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
That’s not simply a reference to poverty, like having your gas and electricity shut off because you can’t pay the bills. That is a reference to an early death, which is a possibility for a rebellious child. Disobedience is costly.
Proverbs 30 paints a very graphic image of this. And this is intended to leave an imprint in the child’s mind. Proverbs 30:17—The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.
When someone died, they were buried. But if an enemy died in battle, they weren’t buried. They got no honor. And their bodies were eaten by the birds. It’s a disgusting sight. It has no honor. And so, you’ve got a father telling his son: “Look at that. That’s not the disgrace that you want. That’s not what I want for you. So, learn to obey. Learn to honor your father and your mother.”
If you do that, that is wisdom. And wisdom brings blessing. One of those blessings is the joy of your parents, like we saw in Proverbs 10:1 and other verses. If you don’t listen, it hurts your parents. It grieves them.
“Yeah, but can’t my mom and dad just stop caring about me? Why can’t they just leave me alone!? I’m my own person.” Here’s the answer: No! They can’t! That’s God’s design. You and your parents are connected. If they didn’t care about you, they would be sinning. And so, when you dishonor your parents, it’s not just sinful, and it’s not just foolish. It is selfish. It’s unloving. You’re not considering them. All you’re thinking about is yourself and maybe your friends.
Your parents’ connection to you is an expression of God’s connection to you. God delights in your obedience here. Listen to what God says through the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:20—Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Unless your parents ask you to do something that would dishonor Christ, you’re called to obey them—externally in your actions, and internally from the heart. That pleases God. Pleasing your parents brings a blessing from them. And in the same way, pleasing the Lord brings a blessing from Him.
If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, God accepts you. You’re covered in His righteousness. His death and resurrected have been credited to you. God loves you as His child. And neither your obedience or your disobedience can change that love.
However, the expression of that love will change. Because you can get God’s love through a greater peace and joy and love. Or you can get God’s love through discipline. And that’s not fun. Don’t pursue that path. It won’t be easy, if you’re a child of God and you want to walk in disobedience.
Learn to honor your parents. No matter how old you are. It won’t look the same once you’re out of the house and part of your own family, but the honor should still be there. In Matthew 15, Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they failed to care for their elderly parents. And in 1 Timothy 5, God says that a widow should be cared for by her children. That’s part of honoring them.
Let’s go back to that line from the Toys R Us song I mentioned at the beginning. “I don’t wanna grow up. I don’t wanna grow up.”
That attitude is basically saying: I don’t want to be old. I don’t value those who are older than me. I don’t want to be wise.
Maybe there are some of you here who don’t like old people. And you don’t want to get old. Well, that is the exact opposite of God’s economy.
Young people, in our culture, are marked by fun and freedom and good skin and attractive bodies. Old people, in the eyes of our culture, are unattractive. That have wrinkly, spotty skin. And they walk funny, and they talk funny, and they smell funny. That’s a very superficial view of the people in this world.
In God’s economy, young people are marked by foolishness. They lack wisdom. And the elderly who seek after God are beautiful. They are to be honored. Let me give you two Proverbs that highlight this for us. Proverbs 16:31 and Proverbs 20:29. I’ll read them for you.
Proverbs 16:31—Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.
That was especially true in the days of the Israelites, when people’s life expectancy was much shorter. Not everyone made it to an old age. But those who pursued wisdom were blessed. They lived a longer life. And that meant that seeing an older person, was to see someone who was to be honored.
Proverbs 20:29 repeats this idea: The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.
Those who are older than us in society, especially if they are your parents and have walked with the Lord, are to be honored, not despised.
And yet that’s the temptation, right? To make fun of your parents. To look down on them because they don’t think like you or act like you. But, if they are honoring God, they are the wise ones.
In Leviticus 19:32, God gave the people this instruction: You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
We’re going to wrap up for today, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to continue this theme of parenting in Proverbs, because there’s so much here. And I think it’s so helpful to us, especially those of us with younger families.
But let me just repeat the main idea. Parents and children are connected. God wants strong families. And in a healthy family, the parents are intentional about raising the kids. About reflecting the wisdom of God in what they teach, and the joy of God in how they respond.
And the task of the kids, is to learn to honor their parents. Obey them. Respect them. This brings God’s blessing in your life. This is true wisdom. Even if it doesn’t feel true right now, take it by faith. That is wisdom.
Now, is this an easy task? Are we all ready to go do it? No. Not in our own strength. And first of all, we can all admit that we’ve failed. As parents, we’ve disobeyed God by neglecting our duty to train our kids at all times. And as children, we’ve all failed to honor them appropriately.
But that’s why we have the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t perfectly lead and we don’t perfectly follow. But Jesus did. He perfectly led His disciples. And He perfectly honored His Father. And He died to pay the price our sins deserve. There’s forgiveness. There’s cleansing. Yesterday is gone now. And right now, what we have is today.
If you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, God’s not mad at you if you’ve been an unfaithful parent. And He’s not mad if you’ve been an unfaithful child. He accepts you in Jesus Christ. And by the power of His resurrection, He’s leading us forward. Not just so that we’ll have great families. But for the glory of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of His kingdom.