This is a very good question which deserves a thoughtful answer. The word “honor” in the Greek is TIMAO and it simply means to “value” someone; in this case your parents. Scripture is quite clear that we are to HONOR our mother and father. You no doubt had Exodus 20:12 in mind when you posed this question, for it reads, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (NKJV). Some may say, “But that commandment was given to the nation of Israel and believers today are not “under law,” therefore it doesn’t apply to us.” That argument doesn’t hold up, for the apostle Paul refers to that very commandment when writing to the saints at Ephesus. Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that is may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’.” Paul is addressing children in the Christian household and in quoting Exodus 20:12 he reinforces the truth that God’s will for children is to honor their parents.

But how do we honor them when they are living in sin, such as being abusive, or being addicted to a substance like drugs or alcohol? I’d like to quote 1st Peter 2:17 to shed some light on this: “HONOR all people….HONOR the king.” The word “honor” in this verse is the same Greek word mentioned above, so God is telling us that we are to “value” ALL PEOPLE and THE KING. Does this mean we should honor “the drunk in the gutter” or the “prostitute on the street corner?” These people are also “abusive” and “addicted,” for they are abusing alcohol and their bodies. The answer is we surely “can’t honor their behavior,” but we must remember that God places a “value” on every person, for they were (according to Genesis 1:26-27) created in the image and likeness of God. Add to this the fact that in God’s estimation a person is of more value than the whole world. This is borne out in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?” So, we may not be able to honor one’s lifestyle, but we are to see them as God sees them; as a person made in His image and likeness, and one whose soul is of more value than all the riches the world has to offer. This, of course, would include our parents! We are also told to “honor the king.” At the time Peter wrote this there were many ungodly and abusive kings on the throne, so how could Christians honor them? They could honor them by respecting the “position” God had given them. In Romans 13:1 we are told, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Regardless of their “personal behavior,” all that are in positions of authority are there because GOD PLACED THEM THERE! We are to value them for that position. Today, in America, we are witnessing one of the nastiest and defiling campaigns as we approach Election Day on November 8th. Both candidates for President have terrible “unfavorable ratings.” Yet whoever is elected as President will deserve our respect for the POSITION they occupy. This means we are to be subject to them, as we saw in verse 1. It is the same with our parents, for they too have been placed in a position of authority over us (and this is especially true if we are still minors living at home) and we are to give them the honor that this position deserves, which would include being subject to them. It would also include NOT speaking evil of them (see Jude verse 8), whether to their face or in private.

A word of caution is in order. Though we are to honor our parents by obeying them, there is an exception. We saw in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents IN THE LORD, for this is right.” The words “in the Lord” imply that we are only to obey them if it is in accordance with God’s will. If they are ordering us to do something contrary to His will, we should NOT obey them. But even here we can still honor them by humbly submitting to any punishment they may give us without resistance. This will show them we still honor them as persons whom God has placed in a position of authority over us. (230.1) (DO)