God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents.And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. Matthew 15:4-6 NLT
Honor means to prize, revere, or value. Much more than an outward performance of deference or respect, true honor flows from a pure heart and is one of the most powerful, godly traits of a spirit-filled life.
In context here, Jesus is speaking to people without honor. The example Jesus uses relates to the way they justified neglecting their parents. They would confess belief in God’s commandments, which said to ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But, in practice, they had a convenient rule which stated that if you set aside money for God, then it needn’t be used for charity, even for your own family. Effectively tying up their money like an investment account to which you don’t have access until a future date. Thus, relieving them of the duty of taking care of their parent’s needs. It was a loophole that someone in the past had written, probably in good conscience at the time, but which had resulted in justification to avoid a direct command of God—to honor your parents, that is, take care of their needs and value them as those who gave you life.
Jesus points out this selfish practice and rightly calls them hypocrites, people who say one thing, but do another. And He quotes Isaiah, who wrote, prophetically: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” Isaiah 29:13
Religious people tend to like the idea of righteousness because they believe they are always right, and they like the idea of heaven, a place of victory and reward because they feel like they deserve it. But they don’t seem to realize that mere words will not move their life closer to either righteousness or heaven. Unless we turn from sin and honor Jesus as Lord in repentance, our worship, as Isaiah said, will be a farce—empty words from hearts that are far from God.
Speaking to a like-minded group of religious people, Jesus said, “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
Whatever is in your heart will influence what you say, what you really think, and how you act, that is, how you treat people. The words, thoughts, and conduct of a defiled heart are evil continually, selfish and vengeful. As Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you…” Matthew 15:19-20a
But the heart can change. We are not destined to be ruled by our selfish flesh. The Good News of Jesus is that our defiled heart of stone can be changed, renewed, and filled with God’s Spirit. And while we will continually battle the deep urges to follow our old, selfish ways, we will begin to see the fruit of a changed heart growing from our inner-man, influencing our thoughts, words, and actions. This is the fruit of the Spirit, blossoming from a pure heart.
One of the first, and most powerful, traits that flow from a changed heart is honor. Honor is a particular kind of love that sets others, beginning with God, in a prized and valued place in our lives and priorities.
By honor, I live in humble appreciation and recognition of God and His mercy. I defer to His Word, I love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I submit my will, as Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, to His perfect way. I realize, like John the Baptist, that He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease. Cultivating honor for the Lord will manifest itself in the way we think, talk and act toward others—we will begin to rightly honor people, beginning with our parents as is the command of the Lord.
Honoring our parents is closely connected to honoring God because it was through our parents that God gave us life. Honoring our parents naturally flows from honoring God because of life itself. Even people who had a difficult, even horrible, relationship with parents because of a parent’s weakness or selfishness, can, at the core, still honor them for being the conduit of life. Others, whose parents did their best and always tried to model the love of God, all the more. But no matter the circumstances of our upbringing, God chose to breathe life into our nostrils through the union of a man and a woman, and we honor them for that gift, if nothing else. And, further, because of God’s mercy, if I have the opportunity to care for my parent’s needs, I should welcome it, because of honor. Because of how God rescued me and forgave me from all my past sins and missteps, intentional and unintentional.
After our Lord, and our parents, honor begins to flow toward people in our lives, those we know, spouse, children, family, friends, and, those we do not know, like a police officer, or a homeless immigrant. We live with a posture of honoring the beauty of every individual, the sanctity of every life. We prize and value every human because God has given each of us the gift of life, each one is fearfully and wonderfully made, each one a unique expression of the love of God.
Dear one, today is a day for a heart check. What is flowing into your thoughts, words, and actions? In this intensely partisan political climate, it is easy to allow honor to fade as anger or vengefulness crowd the front of our minds. Don’t let it. Be, instead, an honorable person who, from a pure heart, values, even prizes, the worth and beauty of every human soul, then think, speak, and act accordingly, in love.