Honoring Mom (Leviticus 19:3)
The New York Times was once asked to help a women’s club to decide on the twelve greatest women in the United States. After due consideration, the editors replied, “The twelve greatest women in the United States are women who have never been heard of outside of their own homes.”
When Thomas Edison was a young boy his teacher sent home a note that said, “Your child is dumb. We can’t do anything for him.” His mother wrote back, “You do not understand my boy. I will teach him myself.” She did, and we all know the results.
That all reminds me of some words of Jesus. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:26-28). Save the Lord Jesus himself, has there ever been a greater servant than a mother? I have so many special memories of times that my mother went out of her way to serve me and my brothers. I’m confident that while those are special memories for me, she has little recollection of doing those things. I have special memories of times that my good wife made our boys’ day by some special effort she put forth. I have no doubt but that we could go through this room and tell special stories of how our mothers touched our lives in profound ways.
So many in Scripture honored their mothers. “Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right” (1 Ki 2:19). “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn 19:25-27). Jesus, hanging in agony on the cross, knew that his earthly ministry was nearly finished. Yet, even as he hung dying for the sins of the world, he was concerned about his mother and made provisions that she be cared for.
This morning’s text speaks about caring for our mothers: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19:3). This morning, we wish to examine this command that we may be those who are HONORING MOM.
Everyone Shall Revere His Mother
Notice, first, the universality of this commandment: “Every one of you shall revere his father and his mother.”
Not all mothers are good mothers. When Rebekah schemed with Jacob to lie to Isaac, she would not have received a “Mother of the Year” award. When the prostitute found her son dead in the night and snuck into her fellow prostitute’s room, stole her son, and claimed he was hers, she would not have earned any accolades. When Andrea Yates or Susan Smith drowned their children, they were arrested, not given praise.
Why on Mother’s Day, of all days, would I point out that some mothers are downright despicable? Because those mothers illustrate just how universal this command was in Israel. No Israelite could say, “My mother was horrible, so I will not revere her.” God has told every last Israelite-regardless of how despicable his or her mother might have been-“you shall revere” your father and your mother.
God still expects all of his people to honor their mothers. When Jesus was asked what commands one needed to follow to gain eternal life, Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 19:18-19). Jesus didn’t say, “Honor your father and mother if you think they were good parents.” Jesus understood that instruction to be universal-a command intended for all people. When God gave pagan homosexuals over to all sorts of sin, we find that they were “disobedient to parents” (Rom 1:30).
That God would command children of less than honorable mothers to revere their mothers also points to the honor of motherhood. In other words, motherhood is such a privilege that every mother deserves honor. Motherhood is such a blessing, for it is God who gives children. As Joshua speaks to the Israelites for God, he says, “I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac” (Josh 24:3). Isaiah says, “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion” (Is 8:18).
Many women through the ages have understood quite well the blessings of motherhood. “When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, . . . she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I shall die!'” (Gen 30:1). As Hannah prayed for a son, she said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Sam 1:11). Mothers, do you realize what a blessing from God your children are?
God calls upon every Israelites to revere their mothers. The King James Version translates this as “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father.” I have no doubt but we have all had times that we “feared” our mothers. My mother had a look that I feared greatly-she would bite on her first finger and give that look. I knew that moment I saw it that I was as good as dead. Yet, the idea here is not one of “fear,” but it’s one of reverence, respect.
The Hebrew term can mean to “be afraid,” but it’s also used to mean “to hold in awe.” “On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life” (Josh 4:14). Fearing God even carries the idea of obeying him: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Prov 3:7).
“HONORING MOM,” therefore, means to respect her, to hold her in awe.
Why Should We Honor Mom?
Of course, we could simply say, “God has told us to honor our mothers.” That is true, and doing what God has said simply because God has said it is always right and good. However, in this passage, God informs us why he says what he says.
This broad passage has to do with personal holiness. “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy'” (vv 1-2). The Israelites were God’s people. Because God was separate from sin (i.e., holy), they were to be separate from sin (i.e., holy). God was driving out before the Israelites peoples who were not separate from sin: After giving sexual morality, God says, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev 18:24-25).
It’s not uncommon to see parents disregarded. I personally have known elderly individuals outright abused by their children. Just this past week in Kanawha County, an elderly woman was stomped to death by her daughter after a fight.
God’s word to use is that we are to be different from everybody else around us-we are to be separated from sin as he is and that involves the way we treat our mothers.
Furthermore, our text this morning specifically reads like this: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19:3).
It’s intriguing to many that honoring one’s parents is here paired with keeping the Sabbath. Scholars tend to believe the reason for that is that it was on the Sabbath that parents would instruct their children in the Law. It’s also intriguing that “mother” comes first in this passage, whereas “mother” is typically mentioned second-that may be to demonstrate that honoring one’s mother is just as important as honoring one’s father.
Yet, for me, the most intriguing part of the text is the last part: “I am the LORD your God.” Why should the Israelites honor their parents? Why should the Israelites keep the Sabbath? Their God was the LORD. Thus, HONORING MOM is wrapped up in who God is. That’s why the Israelites were to keep the Sabbath. “In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex 20:11). The seventh day was not picked randomly to be a day of rest for the Israelites; it was a day of rest under the Law of Moses, for God himself had rested on that day.
What does God’s character have to do with HONORING MOM? God’s character has everything to do with HONORING MOM. It was God, after all, who created motherhood. After God made the Adam and Eve, he said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). After God destroyed the world in the Flood, he said to Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1).
How many girls play with dolls and dream of growing up and having children of their own? I’m convinced that’s no accident-I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that’s God’s doing; he instilled that desire to be a mother in women, for he himself created mothers. Thus, to dishonor that through dishonoring our mothers or abortion or the destruction of embryos for medical research dishonors that creation of God.
Because of this biblical teaching, there is one question we still need to ask:
How do we HONOR MOM?
As I’ve already mentioned, the pairing of honoring parents with keeping the Sabbath likely indicates that one should listen to his mother and father.
God gave parents the responsibility of teaching their children: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:6-7). Scripture urges us to heed the words of our parents. “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (Prov 1:8-9). “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you” (Prov 6:20-22).
You might be tempted to think, “Justin, those words deal with children obeying their parents when they’re at home. They don’t apply to me.” I would respectfully disagree. Solomon seems to have compiled the Proverbs for a son about to leave home so that his son would have guidance when he was no longer under parental control.
Like it or not, all of us are the product of the teaching we received in the home. How many times do we grown children find ourselves saying or doing the same thing that our parents did? Not long ago, Mom called to tell me about a horrible situation at the school where she works. I said, “Well, Mom, it sounds just like this other bad situation to me.” She burst out laughing and said, “That’s exactly what your dad said when I told him about it.” Why did I say what Dad had said? He had molded my thinking.
If we were blessed enough with godly parents, it serves us well to remember what we were taught.
We also HONOR MOM by helping her as she ages.
“If a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Tim 5:4).
God expects his people to care for our parents as they age and become less able to do things for themselves. One of the most troubling trends in our current society is that so many adult children have so much time for their own pleasure but neglect their parents. So many elderly individuals are never looked after, never cared for, and just forgotten. I know it broke my dad’s heart that day he put his dad in a nursing home. Papaw needed far more medical care that Mom and Dad could ever have given. But, Papaw was never neglected-Dad checked on him regularly, spoke to the nursing home director and doctor countless times to make sure his father got the care he needed. Although he couldn’t give Papaw the necessary medical care, he gave him the love and concern one owes his mother and father.
What about us? Are we HONORING MOM? Are we honoring our Father, not merely the earthly father who raised us, but our we honoring our heavenly Father? Do you need to begin honoring him this day?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.