Summary: How can we fulfill the Biblical command to "honor" our mother?
Today, as you know, is Mother’s Day, a day on which we honor mothers and celebrate motherhood. Mother’s Day is not a Christian holiday; it can’t be found on the lectionary calendar, nor does it commemorate any aspect of the Christian faith. In fact, according to Christian tradition, today is not Mother’s Day at all, but Ascension Day! It’s the Sunday on which we remember Christ’s ascension into heaven after he rose from the dead. Nevertheless, I’m confident that all over America this weekend, you will hear sermons, not on the ascension, but on motherhood; and not only in churches, but also in temples and mosques. Mother’s Day is a 20th century civic holiday, established by the Congress and President of the United States of America. It has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, nothing to do with God, and for that reason, it’s observed by people of every religion and no religion. A cynical person might say that it’s observed most enthusiastically by florists, and greeting card publishers, and candy manufacturers, and restaurant owners. It’s a little-known fact of history that Anna Jarvis, the woman whose lobbying efforts resulted in Woodrow Wilson proclaiming Mother’s Day as a U.S. holiday in 1914, spent the last years of her life attacking it, because of how commercial it had become. Years later, she confessed that she regretted having anything to do with Mother’s Day.
If that’s true, then why even acknowledge it here, today, in a Christian worship service? Why not preach on the ascension instead? Well, first of all, because I’d be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail if I tried. But the real reason is this: God commands us to honor our mothers, and this is as good a day to do it as any other. Although we are not obligated by the Scriptures to consider motherhood on this day, neither are we prohibited from doing so. It’s a matter about which we have complete freedom. As Paul wrote,
"One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord." – Romans 14:5-6
The same principle applies to Christmas, or Easter, or Memorial Day, or Lent. There are no Biblical commands which require us to celebrate these days. But if we want to celebrate them, we’re free to do so, as long as we’re doing it "to the Lord;" in other words, as long as the focus is on Jesus Christ, and our intent is to honor and glorify Him. So with that as our goal, let’s give some thought to what the Scriptures say about honoring mothers.
First, the Bible does instructs us to "honor" our mothers. This command is important enough to be included in the original Ten Commandments given to Moses, and it’s repeated in the New Testament.
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"–which is the first commandment with a promise--– "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." – Ephesians 6:1
What does it mean to "honor" your mother? If you’re a child, one who has not reached the age of majority, then it means to obey, to submit to her authority. And not just to do what she says, but to yield graciously, and willingly, and cheerfully. A mere outward compliance, if it’s accompanied by a belligerent, resentful attitude, is not obedience. Parents, listen: forcing your children to do what you want is not teaching them obedience. True obedience flows from a heart attitude that freely accepts the mother’s rightful authority. Why is that important? Because the authority of the parents is given to them by God, and so the attitude the child develops toward the parent’s authority will be the attitude they have toward God’s authority. Parents, if you allow your children to ignore and despise your authority over them, then they will learn to ignore and despise God’s authority over them as well. If they have contempt for your rules as a parent, then they will have contempt for God’s laws also. And so I urge the mothers here today: you must teach your children to honor you by respecting your authority, not only in behavior, but also in attitude. And fathers, you must insist that your children honor and respect their mother. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for them to honor and respect God. Disciplining your children helps prepare them to submit to God.
What about adults? Is "obedience" even a valid category for us? Yes and no. An adult son or daughter is no longer under the authority of the parent, and he or she is not obligated to comply with their wishes. However, as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily prevent the parents from making their opinions known, sometimes quite forcefully. At times parents violate the appropriate boundaries between themselves and a grown son or daughter. They may try to control their children, or make unreasonable demands of them, even though the "children" are well into adulthood. And if demands don’t work, they may employ threats, or emotional blackmail, or guilt manipulation. How should the grown son or daughter respond when the parent oversteps their bounds? What do you do as an adult, if a parent goes beyond just giving advice or making requests, and tries to exert an illegitimate degree of influence over your life?