How to Honor Your Unbelieving Mother

Josh Buice

As we approach Mother’s Day—it’s important to consider a proper way to honor your mother.  The value of a mother is far higher than we can hardly imagine.  In the Ten Commandments, we find the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12) that reads, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

Paul, in writing to the church in Ephesus and the surrounding cities, echoes this command as he writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:1-3).  This is a command of extraordinary significance and we should never devalue the role and value of our mother.

The word translated “honor” in the the Greek text found in Ephesians 6:2 is “τιμάω“—meaning “to show high regard for, honor, revere.” [1] On Mother’s Day, we will undoubtedly hear many words that praise mothers and their role in the spiritual development of their children.  Many sermons will be preached from Proverbs 31 as an encouragement to godly mothers.  John Wesley once remarked, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.”  However, that might not be your story today.  What about the Christian who desires to honor his unbelieving mother—how should this be carried out in a way that honors God and the unbelieving mother?  If your mother doesn’t believe the gospel, you can still honor her and you’re called to this important task.

Honor Your Mother by Your Obedience

You should obey your mother so far as you are able.  If you live at home, you are required to obey her on a daily basis.  Obey your mother so long as she doesn’t ask you to disobey the revealed will of God in His Word.  Have you considered that God has grouped both mother and father together in the command of honoring and obedience?  In other words, if you dishonor your father you are not fully showing honor to your mother.  Obedience is expected, as it finds its root in God’s created order.  William Hendriksen observes, “Undisciplined children spell ruin for the nation, the church, and society! The promise of God to reward obedience still holds.” [2]

A willing submission to your mother’s God-given authority is the most foundational way to honor her.  Someone who possesses a rogue attitude to their mother certainly does so at the expense of her honor.  Disobedience and disrespect are linked together, and it’s essential to submit to the authority figures that God has placed over you in this life.  At a foundational level—a person who has trouble submitting to the authority of their mother will likewise find it difficult to submit to God.  We are called to obey our parents in the Lord, and therefore it’s right—no matter if our mother is a believer or not.  The only time disobedience to your mother is permissible is when she demands that you disobey God.

Honor Your Mother for her Position in Life

Honor your mother, as much as you’re able, for her position as your mother.   If your mother is an unbeliever, she is no less your mother.  Find ways to honor her even if you can’t commend her for gospel-centered discipleship in your life.  Perhaps you can can honor your mother by complimenting her beauty—not just from old photographs, but by how she has aged.  Perhaps you can honor her ability to provide for you and nurture you in your early years of life.  In some cases—such as a single parent home where the mother was responsible for all of the provisions—her labor is worthy of double honor.  Can you honor her housekeeping or her cooking?  Can you honor her unquestionable love for your family or for your children—her grandchildren?

James Montgomery Boice provides encouragement in this area by writing, “If you are having difficulty in this regard, I suggest that you study your parents and pick out those areas in which you can properly honor them.” [3]  Boice talks about “studying” your parents to find areas worthy of honor.  This is extremely important for the Christian who has an unbelieving mother.  Unless it’s a truly rare circumstance, your unbelieving mother is worthy of roses on Mother’s Day if for no other reason than the simple fact that she is your mother.

Honor Your Mother by Pointing her to Christ

If your mother is not a follower of Christ, the very best way to show her honor is by sharing the gospel with her.  In doing so, you are not dishonoring her or disrespecting her by pointing out her need for Jesus Christ.  By sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, you demonstrate your love for her.  As you speak of her need for Jesus Christ, you reveal the true value of her existence—the glory of God.

Consider the fact that you honor God by engaging in the Great Commission and sharing the hope of the gospel with unbelievers.  What better way to honor your mother than by sharing with her the hope of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ?  Unfortunately, many people inadvertently dishonor their mother by talking to her about her cakes while never getting around to talking about her soul.

The day your mother dies, you will value your gospel conversations with her far above how you honored her service, her commitment, her labor in providing for your material needs, her love for your children, or her abilities in the kitchen.  Make this Mother’s Day one that has eternal value.

  1. William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1004.
  2. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Ephesians, vol. 7, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 261.
  3. James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988), 213.
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Author How to Honor Your Unbelieving Mother

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.