One of the great commands in Scripture, and the first one with a promise, is the command to honor both father and mother. Both sons and daughters are called to this privilege and responsibility, but it is worth noting that both sons and daughters need to render at least half of their honor into alien territory.
When a man honors his father, he is honoring what he hopes to one day become. When his father considers his son, he remembers what it was like. The same thing is true of a woman honoring her mother, and a mother remembering what it was like to be a girl. But when a woman honors her father, and a man honors his mother, they are both walking by faith and honoring a mystery.
Start at the Font
One of the things this kind of honor does is to make a profound declaration of dependence. For the wise woman, her reflection goes back to the first pages of Genesis, which is where the first woman was taken from the side of the first man. But for the man, Scripture reminds him of realities much closer to home. He is supposed to remember his own birthday, and to honor the particular woman who gave birth to him on that day.
In the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11–12)
Women generally are not independent of man, Paul argues, because the first woman was made from the first man, but his reasoning is different going in the other direction. Each man is not independent of the woman because he was born of a particular woman. Every woman was represented by her mother Eve and thus taken out of Adam. But every man was connected to an individual woman in a one-by-one sort of way.
And here we can see how a man’s relationship to his mother is determinative of a number of other relationships. Paul is discussing the relationship of man and woman together, husband and wife, and he is telling the husbands that the key to a right relationship to their wife is to have a right understanding of their relationship to their mother. If you want the water to be clean, start at the font.
That It May Go Well with You
More than a few marriage problems start with the fact that the husband did not honor his mother the way he ought to have. This also extends into tangled relationships that many men have with their daughters. If a man does not recognize his dependence on his mother, he is going to have trouble recognizing the kind of dependence he ought to have on his wife.
We should return to the fact that the fifth commandment is a command with a promise. What is that promise? In Exodus 20, it is put this way: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). Paul’s citation of it is expressed this way: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Ephesians 6:3).
That your days may be long. That it may go well with you. Now where will the bulk of this blessing fall? Where will most of it take place? The answer is obviously in the life a man lives with his family, with his wife, with his daughters, around his dinner table.
Give Her Genuine Honor
Too many Christians who grew up in troubled homes have falsely concluded that if they just get far enough down the road away from their folks, then the happiness will just mysteriously reappear. No, what often happens is that slowly, imperceptibly, inexorably, all the old patterns begin to reassert and reproduce themselves in a new location.
This is why Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to render genuine honor that is more than something that Hallmark demands of us. If we just check off the perfunctory card, or the obligatory vase of flowers, then we are missing the point.
Now when I say that a celebration of something like Mother’s Day is scriptural, as I do, I am not extending this into the particular customs. Nothing in Scripture requires a particular date on the calendar, or to give roses instead of tulips, or a card instead of a gift. We are after the principle, not the method. Scripture does not dictate which particular method we use, but it does require that we have a method.
Once we have identified that method, once we know what it is, we are to render honor to that one person God used to give us our greatest earthly blessing.
More for Mother’s Day
With Hands She Could Not See | A Mother’s Day poem by John Piper honoring grieving mothers.
Her Children Arise and Call Her Blessed | Mother’s Day is a sweet opportunity for Christians to celebrate one of God’s most significant means of his common and redeeming grace.
Honoring the Biblical Call of Motherhood | John Piper pays tribute to his own mother in this Mother’s Day sermon.