Probably the first indication that we should look after our parents comes in the Ten Commandments – “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). In the Old Testament, as in many cultures today, it seems that families and their relatives lived together, and so the care of older parents and relatives was a family affair.
In the New Testament the first indication that older parents were not being cared for by children or family members comes in Acts where the church was looking after widows in Acts chapter 6:1. Later on though, Paul gives specific teaching about looking after parents and older relatives in 1 Timothy 5:3-4,8: “Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God … But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”.
Find ways to honor your parents
These are very strong words from Paul, but it is obvious that Christians especially, must care for their parents as they get older. In today’s world things may be seen slightly differently, in that not all parents need or want to be cared for in the homes of their children. Many people value their independence, and find it hard to accept the care that children try to give them. For Christians the command to honor our parents still stands, and children need to actively find ways to obey the fifth commandment — ways that are honoring to our parents and pleasing to God, not controlling them, forcing them into situations which may suit us, but gives no consideration to them – i.e. moving to be closer to their children but miles away from their friends, forcing them into residential care when it is not what they want.
The elderly are often seen as a burden rather than a blessing. Maybe this is because they are not given the respect that is due to them, and they are reacting negatively. Parents do not live forever, and many children have to live with the guilt of their inconsiderate attitude when their parents have died, when with a bit of thought, prayer, respect and discussion, hard feelings, and angry words could have been avoided.
What does it mean to honor your father and mother? The Bible gives us guidance about caring for the elderly. However, in every culture there are different ways to care for elderly parents and other relatives. We should remember that respect is the basis in how we care for them and should be willing to consider their needs seriously.