Regarding Honoring Your Parents

The Amish Papers - Chapter 15

This was another short Facebook article for my Amish-background friends, many of whom find themselves accused of “not honoring their parents” due to the fact they’ve left the Amish against their parents’ wishes. It was posted on 11/24/22.

I’ve learned that many Amish folks think that the first commandment God ever gave is to “honor your parents.” The reason they think that is because they’ve heard Ephesians 6:1 read from the German Bible in their churches, but they don’t understand German well enough to grasp Paul’s words that honoring one’s father and mother is not “the first commandment,” but “the first commandment with a promise.” That is, it is the first commandment that is accompanied by a promised benefit if you obey it, namely “that is may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3).

In any case, the point of the common Amish misconstruction of Ephesians 6:1 is that there is supposedly nothing more important than obeying/honoring one’s parents. So, no Amish person, they say, should ever leave the Amish if his or her parents are against it. That is why so many who would prefer to leave remain in the Amish Prison.

Of course, honoring one’s parents is important (it is contained in the Ten Commandments), but Jesus said that the most important commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). So, if one is forced to make a choice between obeying/honoring one’s parents or loving/obeying God, one should love/obey God—even if one’s parents are dishonored in the process.

You probably recall the man in the Bible who wanted to follow Jesus, but he requested Jesus’ permission to first bury his father, an obvious act of honoring a parent. Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22). If that man returned home to honor his parent, he sinned. You might want to stop and think about that.

All of this is precisely why Paul did not write in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents,” but rather, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (emphasis added). Children, even young children, should only obey their parents so far as their obedience does not require them to disobey the Lord.

Here’s another relevant Bible verse that could almost be paraphrased, “Children, disobey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”:

“I [God] warned their children not to follow in their parents’ footsteps, defiling themselves with their idols. ‘I am the Lord your God,’ I told them. Follow my decrees, pay attention to my regulations” (Ezek. 20:18-19, emphasis added).

How about that? God effectively told children not to “honor their parents.”

Since we’re considering Ephesians 6, I should mention that it also includes instructions to parents regarding how they should treat their children. Ephesians 6:1-3 was never intended to be quoted without including the very next verse: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, emphasis added). Paul did not instruct parents to teach their children religious, manmade traditions. Rather, he told them to teach their children about Jesus and what Jesus taught. Fathers should be “making disciples” of their own children, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).

I’m sorry to say that too many parents, Amish and otherwise, are tragically ignoring the first part of Ephesians 6:4. I love the Amplified Version’s rendition of it (read slowly): “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

It is heartbreaking to see children whose parents exasperate them under the alleged “discipline of the Lord.” Why can’t those parents foresee the inevitable future? The time is coming when their children will get as far away from them—and their religion—as they possibly can. And when they do, they will take all their emotional scars with them.

Regarding adult children, only very foolish parents attempt to control them. Almost nothing could be more unnatural or perverse within human relations. And only extremely foolish parents attempt to control their adult children by quoting Ephesians 6:1-3! Wise parents know that love, self-sacrifice, and encouragement are the magnets that keep children—both young and old—close, while angry threats, finger-wagging, and shunning all repel like skunk squirt.

All of this is to say, if you followed Jesus out of the Amish Prison and your parents are condemning you and shunning you for it, it is they, not you, who should feel guilty. They were wrong to keep you in that prison all of your childhood, and they are wrong for condemning you for escaping it. As God said through Ezekiel, “I warned their children not to follow in their parents’ footsteps” (Ezek. 20:18, emphasis added).

I should add that your parents are themselves victims of how they were raised, as were their parents. So there is reason not to be angry with your parents, but sympathetic.

Thank God you did not follow in your parent’s footsteps and escaped. Now, follow Jesus! And pray, as Jesus taught, that God will send laborers into the harvest…people whom your parents respect who can influence them to follow their children out of the Amish Prison to become slaves of Christ and sons of God!!!