Should a Christian Honor Abusive Parents?
One of the Ten Commandments states, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). Godly parents stand to their children as the representatives of God. Our human duty should be to honor and respect our parents (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Ephesians 6:1–3; Colossians 3:20). And this commandment is the only commandment that includes a promise for a long life for those that keep it.
However, honoring our parents doesn’t mean that we should approve of all their actions. Abusive actions (verbal or physical) are considered sins. And the Christian should call sin by its name and stand for that which is right (John 17:17). For example, King Asa removed his mother from power because she had set up an idol (2 Chronicles 15:16).
When parents ask their children to break God’s commandments, children have to put their loyalty to God first. Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The Christian cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). The Children in this situation can’t given in to their parents’ unchristian demands. The Lord commands, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1). This means to obey from principle rather than from necessity.
But there should be a degree of respect and kindness even to those that are abusive to us. Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 4:44, 45).
In the case of abusive parents or meddling in-laws, separation in many situations is a healthy decision. The Lord calls people to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15). And in the case of in-laws who are disturbing the marriage of their children, the Lord gives the leave and cleave principle:
“And said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh” (Matthew 19:5). But even in such situations the children can keep a healthy respect to their parents and not cut all relationships off.
As Christians, we are to exemplify our heavenly Father character of kindness and companion. “Love suffers long and is kind… is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). The Holy Spirit will work through the loving example of the children to reach their abusive parents and hopefully convict them of their wrong doing.
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In His service,