How to Respect Aging Parents

This command to HONOR is all about Parental Respect, (Matthew 15:1-20)

This lesson focuses on the heart of a leader toward his or her parents as they are aging. The hard-hearted Pharisees in this passage demonstrate a calloused heart for God and their own parents. Jesus is personally challenging his disciples to build the character quality of respectfulness towards aging parents.

In this section, Jesus rejected the man-made traditions of the scribes and Pharisees because they focused on the outside and ignored the inner person. These men were plants that God did not plant (Matthew 13:24–30, 15:13) and blind guides who were leading people astray. “Let them alone!” was our Lord’s counsel.

Historical Background:

The feeding of the 5000 and the sermon about the bread of life created quite a stir. In fact, the furor is transported to Jerusalem by the crowds that Jesus fed. When they arrive in Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus’ Galilean activities became the hot topic of conversation. The Pharisees responded to these rumors by sending a delegation to check out what was happening with this budding “Jesus movement.” They are so shocked by the blasphemous reports of Jesus’ sermons, they are now prepared to kill him, (Mark 3:6). They come to Jesus at a point of vulnerability, after the majority of his disciples had abandoned him (John 6:66). So, Jesus retreats for one more Galilean tour (John 7:1) heading toward the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28).

Here is the command: Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10 (Honor). The command is repeated in each synoptic narrative about the rich young ruler, (Matthew 19:19, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20). While on the cross Jesus was able to detach himself from the preoccupation of his own pain in order to keep the fifth commandment, (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). This fifth commandment is the FIRST of six commandments dealing with horizontal relationships. He honors his mother by assigning to John the responsibility of providing for her financially. John 19:27 says, “from that hour at the disciple took her into his own household.” History tells us to John remained in Jerusalem and provided for Mary until her death.

In Ephesians 6:2, Paul emphasized that behind each act of obedience towards parents must be the attitude of honor and respect. Paul also taught that grown children (rather than the church) are to honor their widowed mothers by financially assisting them, (1 Timothy 5:3–4).

1. Who confronted Jesus in this passage? Matthew 15:1 says, “some Pharisees and scribes.” During this itinerant tour, the delegation of Jerusalem Pharisees caught up with Jesus. They attacked him because he’s coloring outside the lines drawn by their oral tradition.

2. What was the nature of the disciples’ transgression? (Mark 7:3–4) They don’t properly wash their hands according to tradition, and accuse the disciples of eating with unclean hands (Mark 7:15, 18, 20, 23). The issue was clearly ritualistic and not hygienic. Their hands had to be sanctified by this ritualistic washing, based on Leviticus 15:11. In fact, the Mishnah has an entire section called yadim (hands).

The “washing” before eating had to do with ceremonial uncleanness, not personal hygiene. Leviticus 11–15 treats the subject of unclean foods. From the Jewish point of view, people became unclean by contact with any sort of ceremonially unclean object or person. To ensure purity, people would go through a rather elaborate ritual of purification before they ate. It involved pouring water on the hands with the fingers up so the uncleanness would flow off the wrists. It then was repeated with the fingers pointing downward. This was followed by rubbing each hand with the other fist.

3. Jesus answered a question with a question in Matthew 15:3. What is it? “And why do you transgress the commandment (singular) of God for the sake of your traditions?” The tradition of the elders was a body of oral literature that grew out of a desire to expound the written law and apply it to new circumstances. This growing body of oral tradition reaches back at least to Ezra in the fifth century BC, but was not written until the second century AD. The scribes and Pharisees considered it to be as binding as the written law itself, although the Sadducees rejected it, and the common people ignored it.

Over time, comments were made on passages of the law that were not as clear. The distinction between Scripture and these traditions (based on interpretations of Scripture) gradually became less and less distinct. Before long, tradition was more familiar and more revered than God’s own word. The tradition of the elders was a body of extra-biblical law that was committed to writing in the Mishnah near the end of the second century. The law of Moses contains no commandment about washing one’s hands before eating, except for priest who required to wash before eating holy offerings (Leviticus 22:6–7). The Jews of Jesus’ day thought of themselves as preserving ancient traditions, but Jesus said that what they were actually preserving was the spirit of those whom Isaiah criticized long ago.

4. Jesus answers his question by quoting Isaiah 29:13. What does Isaiah identify as their root problem? (Matthew 15:8, Mark 7:6). According to John MacArthur, “their religion was intentionally external and superficial because it could be outwardly practiced with great zeal and diligence no matter what the condition of the heart or soul.”

The Pharisees pretended to worship but their hearts were not engaged. They went through the ritual and routine but had no relationship. They pretended to attribute worth to God but their worship was worthless because it wasn’t felt from the heart. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, which meant “play-actor or pretender.” The word became used for hair-splitting legalists who manipulated the law for their own advantage.

5. How had their heart condition affected their worship? (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7). Jesus said “in vain do they worship me.” The word “vain” is the accusative case, meaning “empty, folly, to no purpose.”

6. What particular command was Jesus accusing the Pharisees and scribes of neglecting? (Matthew 15:4, Mark 7:10, Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, 27:16). The fifth commandment to honor your father and mother. This appears to be the only commandment that has a promise that, “your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

7. What does the word “honor” mean? (Matthew 15:4) The verb “honor” means “to value at a high price, to assign worth through respect” (1 Timothy 5:17–18). This word was used of the price that Judas assigned to Jesus, 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 27:9). We are to place high-value on our parental relationships. The command is not qualified nor does it have exemptions; note what Dr. Laura Schlessinger says what this does not mean…

  • Honor only if the person is personally perceived as deserving of honor.
  • Honor only if the person always reciprocate.
  • Honor only if it is pleasing you to do so.
  • Honor only if you get compliments for doing so.
  • Honor only if it feels right.
  • Honor only if other people also do so.

8. List several ways you can honor your parents. (Ephesians 6:1–3, Proverbs 30:11–14, Exodus 21:15, 17, Leviticus 20:9, Proverbs 20:20, Luke 2:51, 3:23, Proverbs 30:17, 2 Timothy 3:2, 1 Timothy 5:3–4, John 19:25–27, Acts 1:14).

  • Attitude of Cooperation (Ephesians 6:1-3) Whining is passive rebellion. The story is told of a little boy being told to sit down, who said, “I may be sitting down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside.” Honoring parents involves more than mechanical compliance. A cooperative attitude in the early years involves not just obeying their words but trying to fulfill their wishes.
  • Attitude of Respect (Proverbs 30:11-14, Exodus 21:15, 17, Leviticus 20:9, Proverbs 20:20, Luke 2:51, 3:23, Proverbs 30:17).
  • Attitude of Appreciation (2 Timothy 3:2) Bill Hybels says,”the older our parents get the less love, respect, and esteem they receive from the world that they live in. Our parents’ friends start to die and the marketplace no longer attaches a high value on their services, options begin to get restricted. For many of our parents the bright spot in their life is hearing from their children. The primary way we obey the fifth commandment in our parents’ golden years is just to treasure them. This even involves helping them financially if needed (1 Timothy 5:3-4). One of Jesus’ last sayings while hanging on the cross, he expressed his obedience to the fifth commandment and how much he treasured his mother, right up to the end (John 19:25–27).

9. In what specific way were the Pharisees and scribes neglecting the fifth commandment and merely giving lip service? (Matthew 15:5–6, Mark 7:11–13). When the parents of the Pharisees requested financial assistance, they conveniently claimed that the resources they possessed had already been given or “dedicated to God.” Corban (a technical term for sacrifice found in Ezekiel 20:28) was the practice of devoting things to God and thus making them unavailable to others who might have a legitimate claim on them (the word is used in Mark’s narrative, Mark 7:11).

John MacArthur writes, “Mark uses the more technical term Corban (Mark 7:11) which refers to a gift or sacrifice especially offered to God. Sometime in the past a tradition had developed allowing a person to call all his possessions Corban, thereby dedicating them to God. Because Scripture taught that a vow to God must not be violated (Numbers 30:2) those possessions could not be used for anything but service to God. The Corban possessions remained in the person’s hands and when he decided to use them for his own purposes, tradition permitted him to do so by simply saying Corban over them again. In other words, the tradition was not designed to serve either God or the family, but the selfish interest of the person making the hypocritical vow.”

10. What unclean thing in their heart caused them to deal with their own parents so ruthlessly? (Matthew 23:25–26, Mark 7:21–22) their hearts were filled with greed. The Pharisees needed to change from the inside out.

11. Where does a person start if he wants to learn how to be godly according to 1Timothy 5:4? Start with your family and learn the importance of making some people return to their parents (1 Timothy 5:3-8).

12. It is not what you eat that makes one unclean, but what comes out of a man (Matthew 15:11, 18). What are we to do when passion for God has waned…


Action Steps:

1. List a few practical ways that you can honor your parents.

2. If there are any wounds or barriers standing in the way of honoring your parents, establish a plan to start the hard work of reconciliation. We are called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

3. Did you receive your parents’ blessings on your marriage or are you proposing to do so (1 Corinthians 7:36–38)? If you didn’t receive their blessing, consider asking for their forgiveness. This is an important way to honor your parents.

4. Have you ever expressed your commitment to provide for your parents when they cannot care for themselves? Consider verbalizing your intention to care for your parents. This is another important way to honor your parents when they are old, fearful, and insecure about their future. Most elderly parents are afraid of being left in a nursing home to be warehoused and forgotten.

Kathy Miller points out, “when flight attendants give their pre-flight safety instructions, they always say the same thing about the oxygen masks. If air pressure should drop in the cabin, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the ceiling. But those of you with children, please put your own mask on first and then assist your children. The same principle applies to the care of our parents. If were going to be of any help to them, we have to be in good shape ourselves.”

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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