“‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:3–4). In this passage, the apostle Paul is quoting from the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:12 specifically: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” This represents the only instance of God connecting long life as a reward for something we do. Is this promise of long life for honoring your parents true? And, if so, why is honoring your parents so highly valued to God that He rewards it with long life?
First, yes, the promise is true, but not in a universal sense. There are people who honored their parents but died young. And there are people who did not honor their parents but lived a long life. Therefore, it is a principle that is generally true. If you honor your parents, God will, generally speaking, reward you with a long life. However, this promise does not override other decisions we make that impact how long we live. For example, if a man honors his parents, but then decides to commit suicide, the act of suicide “negates” the reward of long life. The same can be said of those who engage in reckless and dangerous activities. God’s reward of long life for honoring parents does not miraculously make you immune from serious injury or death.
Again, the reward of long life for honoring your parents is a general principle, not a universal truth. God considers the way a child treats his/her parents so important that He usually rewards those who honor their parents with long life. Solomon urged children to respect their parents (Proverbs 1:8; 13:1; 30:17). Jeremiah 35:18–19 describes how God blessed the Rechabites for obeying their father. Disobedience to parents is a trait of those who rebel against God (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2). This brings us to the second point. Why is honoring your parents so highly valued to God that He rewards it with long life?
There are at least two reasons for the value God places on honoring your parents. First, God entrusts parents with the responsibility to raise their children in a godly manner. The task of parenting is not easy. It is painful, stressful, expensive, and often unappreciated. For a child to not recognize, and be grateful for, the sacrifices parents make on his/her behalf is an affront to the position of authority and value God has given to parents. It is similar to how we are to respond to the government (Romans 13:1–7). If God has placed us under authority, to rebel against that authority is to rebel against God Himself.
The second reason God desires us to honor our parents is because our relationship with our earthly parents is an illustration of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. For example, Hebrews 12:5–11 compares the discipline a child receives from parents to the discipline believers in Christ receive from God. Just as our parents are our biological progenitors, God is our Creator. We are children of God and children of our parents. To dishonor our parents is to distort the picture of what our relationship with our Heavenly Father is to be.
Do you want to live a long life? Honor your parents. Why? Because God placed you under their authority and guidance, and because your attitude toward your parents is illustrative of your attitude toward God. While this reward is not universal—and while it does not override every other decision you make—it is still generally true. If you want to live a long life, honor those who gave you life in the first place.