This is a difficult circumstance that many Christians are facing. At times it may feel like you are alone in this struggle, but there are many Christians who have parents who are not believers. It is important to remember that the Lord is with you in everything. He longs to be your Rock of support, and He has given us guidelines in His Word for how we are to relate to our parents.
The Lord created all of us to bring glory to himself (Rom. 11:36). So no matter what we are facing it is important to think of things in this context. We should be asking ourselves this question: How can we act to bring the most glory to the Lord? An obvious component of glorifying the Lord is obeying Him. In Ephesians 6:1-3 children are told to honor and obey their parents. Colossians 3:20 says “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” It is obvious from these verses that the Lord has commanded us to obey and honor our parents. This may seem like a difficult requirement for Christians who have parents who are not Christians. Neither of these verses says anything about only obeying your parents if they are Christians. It is our duty as Christians to obey our parents, whether they are Christians or not. When we do this we glorify the Lord.
Our ultimate authority is the Lord and we need to follow His commandments. This is why it is so important for us to obey our parents. There may be times when our parents ask us to do things that are in disobedience to the Lord. In these cases we must remember that the Lord is the authority that we listen to over anyone else. Remember that we are obeying our parents because He has commanded us to, but when we are asked by our parents to disobey the Lord we must obey only the Lord.
So how does this work as we get older and become independent individuals? This is when the honoring part really comes into play. The life we lead and the example we set for others and our own children should bring glory to the Lord and honor to our parents. Whether our parents are Christians or not, if we walk with the Lord and lead a life of integrity we will bring honor to our parents. We may feel that they don’t deserve honor, but that is for the Lord to decide. Our obedience to the Lord is the most important thing, and obedience to Him is honoring to our parents.
There may be some Christians who have great difficulty obeying and honoring their parents because of pain that their parents brought them throughout their life. This may be a natural and even reasonable reaction, but more is required of Christians. In John 13: 34 & 35 Jesus says to “love one another.” He also adds that by loving one another we show that we are His disciples. Forgiveness is also important. It may be necessary for some children to forgive their parents whether they feel it is necessary or not. The Lord sent His only Son, who is perfect, to die on a cross for our sins. Jesus was perfect and blameless and yet He came to earth so that our sins might be forgiven. We are sinners in need of a Savior and not worthy of forgiveness, yet the Lord chose to forgive our sins. In other words, our perfect God wants to forgive imperfect sinners, such as ourselves. This indicates that we must forgive others, no matter what they have done to us. We are not perfect, yet we have been forgiven. We have no right to choose not to forgive. If the Lord, who is perfect, forgives us, how much more should we, who are imperfect, forgive?
In today’s society we are taught to look out for ourselves. In American society independence, money, power, success, beauty, etc… are valued over love, humility, respect, honor, and integrity. In a society with values contrary to what the Lord requires of us, it is easy to become self-centered. When we become self-centered, we begin to value our loved ones less and less. Husbands and wives grow apart, children lose touch with their parents, and people become selfish, lonely, self-serving individuals without a sense of community. The Lord created us to be in close community and fellowship with one another. He desires that we would love each other. This is especially true of families. Many of the problems in society today are the result of the deterioration of the family. The Lord designed the family to be a source of connection and oneness in Him. It is sad when families break apart and children dishonor their parents by distancing themselves from them. As Christians we should strive to be loving, obedient, honoring children of integrity.
If non-Christian parents have hurt you, be encouraged by God’s forgiveness. He wants all people to turn to Him. Remember, you may be the key to their salvation. Your love and acceptance may be what causes your parents to turn to the Lord. By acting in love toward them you will be a shining example of the love the Lord has for them. Spend time with your parents as long as it will not cause you to sin, and as long as you can be the example to them you should be. Pray for their salvation. Acknowledge their importance in your life. They are a part of you and you are a part of them. Strife and disunity in the family only hurt the Lord. The Lord can use you in the lives of your non-Christian parents, but you must be submissive to His will.
There is an example of a Christian teenager who obeyed both the Lord and her parents despite adversity, and because of her obedience she was able to bring her parents closer to the Lord through her faith and obedience. This teenager was a new Christian who was raised in a Catholic family. When she became a Christian her mother was insistent that she not be baptized because she had been baptized as a child. To be baptized again would be to dishonor or disavow her christening. This would insult her mother and other members of her family who were devout Catholics. She prayed hard on this matter and even consulted her pastor who encouraged her to be baptized immediately despite her family’s wishes. Although it was difficult for her she was patient and sought the Lord’s timing. She wanted to obey and honor her parents, but she knew that as a new Christian she needed to be submissive to the Lord and be baptized. Time passed and she continued to be obedient to the Lord by being an obedient daughter to her parents. Eventually her mother and other family members asked this teenager if they could be a part of her baptism. Through this young teenager’s faith, and dedication to being submissive to the Lord, she was able to be an excellent witness to her parents. She was a great example of what it means to honor your parents through obedience to the Lord. Her sweet spirit had softened hardened hearts and brought a family closer to each other and the Lord.
Originally published: April 7, 2003