How Do We Honor Abusive Parents?

Name: Robin
Question: My mother-in-law is an extremely difficult person.

She just got out of jail for assault and battery, kind of difficult.

She is always lying and contradicts what she says, she is a thief and just not necessarily a person of the best character.

She is getting up there in age and her health is beginning to fail due to being an alcoholic for over two decades.

My father-in-law told me that God says to write people like her off when I told him that God commands us to honor our parents.

My husband and I fret about this a lot and I want to do to the right thing.

And, outside of this situation, how far does honoring your parents go?

Like my mother, who holds on very dearly to pagan holidays and would be very hurt if I were to tell her I don't want to celebrate them because they make me feel guilty for not honoring God.
Thank you.

(Robin had a follow-up email) 

Sorry, I realized after I sent my question that I did not clearly state that my husband and I are wondering if we take her in and care for her as she ages and declines, or to not?
Because I feel like we should care for her.

Name: Brandon T. Ward
Answer: Thank you for the question Robin (and husband). I know this is a very difficult situation to deal with. Beyond what I will lay out below, continue to take the matter to your Heavenly Father. I am confident, He will guide you to make the best decision.

How Do We Honor Abusive Parents?

Please turn your Bible with me to Exodus 20:12.

"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee."

Now let us think about this for a minute.

What exactly does "honor" mean?

"To regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect : to regard or treat with honor" - Merriam-Webster

Can we "honor" or "regard with admiration and respect" our parents if they consistently cause problems for our families, if they consistently break the law including our Heavenly Father's?

That is a question you must ask yourself and apply to your own situation...

Look, we all make mistakes from time to time. However, there is a big difference between someone who makes an occasional slip up and someone who consistently sins. We are to honor our parents, honor them for bringing us into the world and for raising us in the way of God, if that is the case.

However, that does not mean we need to become a doormat to be walked on. Remember, we are to "judge righteous judgment", (John 7:24). That means to use common sense in our daily lives which protects us and our families.

Let us consider honoring our parents in a couple different scenarios.

  • If our parents are non-believers, does that mean we cannot believe in Jesus Christ in order to honor them?
  • If our parents tell us to go jump off a bridge, does that mean we must do it in order to honor them?

Of course not.

Our Father provided us with the Fifth Commandment as it establishes authority and builds a healthy family unit.

At the head of every household is the man, the head of every man is Christ and the head of Christ is Jehovah, our Heavenly Father, (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Turn your Bible with me to,

Ephesians 6:1
1 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right."

Do not read over that.

We are to obey our parents "in the Lord". That means to listen to our parents, honor them and respect them in the ways of God, the things that are right and true.

Ephesians 6:4
4 "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

Verse 2 tells us once again to "honour thy father and mother", but this is not blind honor. God has commanded our fathers to bring us up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That means they are to teach us the Word of God when we wake up and when we go to sleep, (Dueteronomy 11:19). It means, our parents, the ones we honor are to do right by God, "in the Lord".

Our take away here is that God has not placed us in bondage to bad parents. He has however created guidelines for us and our parents to follow. You can still honor your mother in law without making her troubles, your troubles. We all have the right to live a happy life. I would encourage you and your husband, no matter your decision, to continue to be that Christian example for your mother in law.

Christ Came To Divide

Jesus Christ is the example we are to follow as Christians, that is why were are called Christians, we follow Him.

Turn your Bible with me to,

Matthew 10:34
34 "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

Jesus Christ came to bring a sword of truth to the world.


To cause division, to divide the truth from the lies.

Robin you mentioned this yourself with respect to your own mother and your belief about pagan holidays. This in part is why Christ continues...

Matthew 10:35
35 "For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."

"Variance" (Strong's: G1369) that is "to make a part" or "alienate".

This begins to hit a little close to home.

Now Christ admits, He is the reason for the separation between the members of our family.


Traditions of the church unfortunately, and every church has their own tradition whether they believe so or not.

Some Christians and denominations believe this way, while others believe that way and some people do not believe at all. All of this causes division within the family unit.

So Christ is this division.

Did our Lord and Savior break or assist us in breaking the Fifth Commandment?

Heaven forbid!

Christ is simply explaining to us, His Word divides. Some people are going to stand with Christ and some will not, and due to that, problems will arise in our families.

On another level, this even applies during the Tribulation when some will be brought before 'synagogues, kings and rulers' to deliver the Testimony of Christ against Satan, (Luke 21:12-19).

Let us continue.

Matthew 10:36
36 "And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."

Our foes, our enemies will be those of our own household and we know 'a house divided cannot stand,' (Mark 3:25). So our best recourse is to keep our household under God's Law and authority.

Matthew 10:37-38
37 "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

38 "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Christ sums up His explanation in verses 37-38. We must love Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior more than our family. He is the head of our household, He comes first, His laws and ways come first.

When we place Him first, that is when the division can arise within our family unit.

"Walk Ye Not In The Statutes Of Your Fathers"

Our Heavenly Father is very good to us. He has set Laws before us that help build up a strong and supportive family, but He has not bound us to unruly people, no matter who they are.

Please turn your Bible with me and listen to the Words of your Father.

Ezekiel 20:18
18 "But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols:"

What children?

The Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness after their Exodus from Egypt.

God specifically told us, do not walk in the statues of your fathers, do not observe their judgments and do not defile yourselves with their idols. Do not listen to your parents if it contradicts your Father's Word.

God is not contradicting Himself, but communicating to us that His Word, His Ways, always come first.

God comes before everyone else within God's Family, including our own families. If our parents break God's Law, we would be a fool to nod our head and follow suit and accept their faults, (Proverbs 13:20).

Ezekiel 20:19
19 "I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them;"

We are to walk with God, follow His Laws, His Ways the ways our parents are supposed to be teaching us as we learned in Deuteronomy 11:19.


When it comes to holiday's we can respectfully disagree with our parents and if possible show them in the Bible why we disagree.

I urge extreme caution here. If our parents, family or friends fail to understand the truth concerning some holiday's or even the Bible, let the subject go. It is better to have a loving family than a broken one. Not everyone is going to understand the truth found in the Bible and that is especially true concerning holidays which are engrained in our culture and heritage.


I believe a lot of us become confused and allow ourselves to be put on a guilt trip when we think about the Fifth Commandment. We should honor our parents to the level that they deserve. Some folks have outstanding parents, but not all of us do. Some of us have parents who constantly bring trouble and drama into our lives. If they were friends, we would have separated ourselves from them years ago. Yet, we deal with them and their problems, because that is what families do, it is what the children of God do to lift one another up.

That does not mean we need to be a punching bag for abuse. I think we all should attempt to help our loved ones. However, that does not mean we place ourselves and our families in harm's way, or in a position where it could potentially break our own household. If we have tried to help our loved ones, parents or not and they fail to receive that help and change their ways, then we have the right to separate ourselves from that bad situation, respectfully and inline with God's Word.

If someone is not willing to accept the help and turn from their sinful and civil law breaking ways. We do not need to continue to sign ourselves up for abuse. Further, in these type of scenarios, we could even be enabling the individual to continue on in their own sin.

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