Respect is the act of giving particular attention to someone or something, especially when that attention is accompanied by a high regard. The Bible does not directly command us to respect our parents; however, the idea of respect is included in the command to honor and obey them (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1).
To honor is to assign value. Regardless of the character of the people who brought us into the world, they are our parents and we are to honor them. They have value because of their part in our creation. We can honor their roles even if we cannot always honor their behavior. When we couple the idea of honor with that of respect, we have a formula for the treatment of our parents. Because of their assigned value as our mother and father, we give them particular attention and special esteem.
In childhood, honor and respect are demonstrated by obedience. Children are commanded to obey their mother and father (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20). Whether they like the instruction or not, children need to learn to obey their parents with an attitude of respect. Parents who tolerate disrespectful behavior in their children are merely grooming them for an adulthood of rebellion and lack of honor. It is the parents’ responsibility to train their children to be respectful. Parents can model the behavior they want their children to imitate by showing respect toward their own parents and authority figures.
The teenage and young adult years often set the stage for the future relationship with the parents. Despite the cold wars and stormy scenes, wise parents will remain firm in requiring respectful behavior from their hormone-driven future adults. When still living at home, they need to obey the house rules and show respect for their parents’ values, even when they disagree. One skill young adults should develop is that of listening to counsel. Listening is one way of showing respect. Proverbs 23:22 says, “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Parents can model this skill by also listening to a child who speaks respectfully to them.
Once children are grown and out of the house, they can show honor and respect by keeping in touch with their parents when at all possible. As parents age, their needs increase. Adult offspring should stay aware of those needs and be ready to help meet them. Even a parent who was not a good parent still deserves respect because of the role he or she played in bringing a child into the world. God used that parent, flaws and all, to accomplish His good plan. We show respect for the position because it is healthy for us to do so. Refusing to demonstrate respect leaves us with bitterness and anger (see Hebrews 12:15). Even when speaking boldly and confronting wicked behavior, we can maintain an attitude of respect.
Godly people show respect to all other people, regardless of their behavior or position. We may need to distance ourselves from dangerous people, but we can do so with an attitude of humility and kindness because they, too, are created in the image of God (James 3:9). Parents and grandparents are especially worthy of this respect because of the roles they played in God’s plan for us. While we do not need to obey parents once we’ve reached adulthood, we should still consider their wishes and advice as a way of respecting them. Showing respect to one’s parents is also a way to model for the next generation the way we’d like them to treat us.