June 19, 2024

The Curse of Disrespect

The parent/child relationship is unique among relationships described in the Bible.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord…honor your father and mother (Eph. 6:1-2). The parent/child relationship is a hierarchical one. There is nowhere in the Bible that says parents must obey and honor their children. Parents are instead told to not intentionally make their children upset (Eph. 6:4) and to teach them what they have learned about God (Deut. 4:9-10). It is the case that the people looking for wisdom on managing the parent/child relationship are parents and not children. Only parents are interested in learning about and doing their part to improve this relationship, but the Bible has a lot to say about the work that the child must do in this relationship. Perhaps because children don’t usually get inspired to improve their relationship with their parents, or buy a lot of self-help books, not much is written about the child’s responsibility outside of the Bible. That responsibility is described in the Bible so we must pay attention to it.

To Do

Children are commanded to obey (Eph. 6:1) and honor (Eph 6:2) their parents. The honoring part comes from Exodus 20:12 and is one of the Ten Commandments (#5). None of the Commandments address how parents should treat children. Perhaps this is partly because all people have parents but not all people have children. Adult children are supposed to take care of their parents. Children should provide for their relatives (1 Tim. 5:8). Many scholars believe this is directed specifically at aging parents even if it includes all relatives. Children should encourage their parents and not reprimand them (1 Tim. 5:1).

Do Not Do

Children, do not reprimand your parents (1 Tim. 5:1). Do not mock or scorn [reject, ignore, disdain, despise] your parents (Prov. 30:17). Do not curse your parents (Lev. 20:9). These are some of the specific prohibitions for children in the Bible regarding behavior toward parents. Many prohibitions describe an attitude or belief children have about parents that causes them to ignore, abandon, or otherwise fail to provide for their parents.

Or Else

Ephesians 6:3 and Deuteronomy 5:16 are examples of the most common outcomes described to children about the benefits of obeying and honoring parents. The Bible clearly states that obeying and honoring parents is the key to a good and long life on earth. In my experience, this promise does not make sense to little children and is rarely ever expressed to adult children even though they are likely the intended audience.

The other side of the promise or prediction is more specific. Mocking and scoring parents causes a person to be blinded by ravens and their corpses consumed by vultures (Prov. 30:17). A metaphorical interpretation of this verse suggests a life of blindness (anxiety, lack of understanding, being easily fooled) and to be forgotten after you die (i.e., no legacy). Cursing parents brought the death penalty to children in the law of Moses (Lev. 20:9). Failing to provide for parents brings a reputation of being “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Paul states the person “worse than an unbeliever” is like someone who heard and accepted the Gospel and then rejected it. Such people get a relatively harsher “beating” than those who never accepted the Gospel (Luke 12:47).


As stated above, the implications of Scripture in this area are usually applied to parents in their active instruction of dependent children. Parents are typically encouraged to weaponize these concepts for misbehaving children. In permissive times we try to lure children into obedience by promising them a good life if they behave. In authoritarian times, we warn children about going to hell if they misbehave.

In reality, parents should see children’s obedience and honor of parents as important as, or more important than a good education, proper nutrition, and sufficient exercise. Do you spend as much effort on getting your child to honor you as you do monitoring their teeth brushing? Honoring parents seems to be akin to what we would expect to be the benefit of proper healthcare and a low-stress, high-income career. Most children need to be forced to go to school, eat well, and exercise, and most parents consider that behavior normal and beneficial and are willing to encourage or force their children to do those good things. How much more the obeying, honoring, not ignoring, not mocking, and not cursing the parents? Modern parents struggle to justify forcing their children to honor them, yet the command and warning are clear in the Bible.

The cost of failure to obey and honor is clear and significant. People will suffer anxiety, be directionless, destitute, cut off from family, and fade into obscurity. That is the cost if we look just at a metaphorical interpretation of Scripture. Short, hard lives are the cost of dishonoring one’s parents. Allowing a child to continue dishonoring of parents would be similar to encouraging them to become an alcoholic or drug addict. If a parent believes the Bible they must accept that the Bible commands children to honor parents or else be penalized.

Little children can be forced to honor their parents if they can also be forced to eat their vegetables. In fact, forcing a child to eat vegetables is the lesser of the two obligations of a parent, and if you can justify the lesser you can justify the greater. Why should a child be able to choose to honor their parents if they cannot choose to skip vegetables? Older children and especially adult children who are no longer under the direct care of their parents have an especially heavy burden. It seems that at some point the responsibility falls squarely with the adult child if the adult child fails to obey and honor their parent. This is true even if the penalty of dishonoring is always on the child. In addition, adult children now have the command to care for their aging and increasingly dependent parents. Perhaps this is one of the reasons God causes people to become frailer as they age. Some care that babies receive is a result of their helplessness. Developing a proper attitude (i.e., honoring) as an adult is much harder if it was never established in childhood. Grace may make it easier as the frailty of an incompetent parent is revealed in their aging. Resentment about improper parenting (e.g., I was never taught to honor my parents) can make the task to honor one’s parents as an independent adult much harder.

Relationship Prototype

The parent/child relationship is the prototype relationship displayed between the Father and the Son. Perhaps this is why there is so much emphasis on this relationship in the Bible, and specifically on the role of the child. One of the final acts of Jesus in the garden before his death was to honor his Father (Luke 22:42). Indeed, all Christians become sons of the Father through adoption and faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:26). Honoring and obeying parents has implications beyond this life because it is the relationship Christians will be enjoying forever.

AJ Switzer

This name is a moniker so that the text can speak for itself. I am developing what I can write about more than how I write. I use AI to edit my stuff.

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