What to give your mother

For the last two years, most mothers have been forced to stay inside for Mother’s Day. Now that they can finally go out on this special day, the Wall Street Journal has some suggestions for gifts they need. It’s perhaps not too late for you to order one of these for your mother (if you’ll pay the rush shipping, of course). Included in the list are retro sunglasses that retail for $420, a tote bag from Saint Laurent for $3,990, and gold hoop earrings that flash emeralds and diamonds for $2,050.

Neiman Marcus has some other options: a Bulgari watch for $48,800, a diamond necklace for $39,000, and a vase for $18,830.

However, as is so often the case, the best gifts are free.

Most of us have heard that a woman named Anna Jarvis initiated the idea of Mother’s Day in 1905 to honor the memory of her mother. But I believe Mother’s Day was God’s idea before it was Anna Jarvis’ idea. I also believe that this is not just a holiday but a holy day. I believe God intends us to take some steps today that can transform our families and our nation.

Through our text, God will show us the gifts we are to give our mothers. And we will learn why they are so vital long after the presents we give them today are gone.

Two gifts to give

First, God’s word tells us what to give our mothers: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). “Children” denotes relationship more than age and includes adult sons and daughters. We are expected to obey our parents for as long as they are alive.

It is noteworthy that Paul addressed children directly. In his culture, instructions were typically given to the father to transmit to the children; Paul’s word shows the sacredness of life from conception and the value of children in God’s eyes (cf. Matthew 18:1–6; 19:13–15).

“Obey” (hupokouo) means literally to “hear under,” to listen attentively and then to respond positively and submissively. “In the Lord” means “as to the Lord” and shows that obedience to parents is part of Christian discipleship. This is a present active imperative, a command for today and for all time.

Our text continues: “Honor your father and mother” (v. 2), quoting Exodus 20:12. This commandment appears five other times in the New Testament.

“Honor” is also a present active imperative, a command for all time. The word means “to estimate, to fix the value.” To honor someone is therefore to evaluate them accurately and honestly and to treat them “with the deference, respect, kindness, courtesy, and obedience” their position and/or character demands (Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament).

In the Bible, to “honor” means to obey, but it also means to “reverence” or appreciate and to care for the person (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8). What if our parents do not deserve such honor? The text allows for no such qualifications; if we cannot honor the person, we must honor the position.

Jesus warned of a day when parents would deliver their children over to death (Matthew 10:21) and “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (v. 36). When the authorities commanded the apostles to cease preaching the gospel, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). However, insofar as we can obey our parents while obeying our Lord, we must do so. If we are forced to choose, we must obey our highest authority.

John Calvin described obedience as “the evidence of that honor which children owe to their parents.” We are each to obey and honor our mothers. These are the gifts we most need to give and the gifts she most needs to receive.


What these gifts mean to society

Why is respectful obedience such a vital gift that God’s eternal word would call us to give it every day? First, because obeying and honoring our mothers is best for society.

Paul writes that obeying our parents “is right” (Ephesians 6:1). The word means that this is both righteous on the merits and with regard to biblical truth. Colossians 3:20 tells us, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”

Most civilizations have considered the recognition of parental authority to be necessary for a stable society. John R. W. Stott cites Greek and Roman philosophers, followers of Confucius, and Chinese, Korean, and Japanese customs as examples and states, “Virtually all civilizations have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society.”

Responding to the mass shootings and other rising violence committed by adolescents in our day, Dr. Domenick Maglio writes, “The moral decay of our sacred institutions and weakening authority figures’ power in the family and in our traditional institutions is where the responsibility lies.”

Dr. Aric Sigman, a fellow with the British Royal Society of Medicine, has noted: “Authority is a basic requirement in children’s lives.” He links a lack of such respect to the highest rates of child depression, child-on-child murder, underage pregnancy, obesity, violent and anti-social behavior, and pre-teen alcoholism since records began.

God created the family and made us to live in its structure. We don’t break the laws of God—we break ourselves on them. J. V. Langmead Casserley, a British philosophical theologian, observed, “A man jumping from a fifth story building does not break the law of gravity—he illustrates it.”

What these gifts mean to us

The apostle states of honoring our parents, “This is the first commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2). This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments but the “first” one with a “promise” attached. That promise is “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (v. 3).

“It may go well with you” refers to the quality of one’s life, while “you may live long in the land” refers to its quantity. In Exodus, the “land” refers to the Promised Land the people would inherit. For us, the “land” refers to life in general.

This is not transactional legalism that earns God’s favor for our obedience. Nor is it an unconditional promise without exceptions; Abel was “commended as righteous” (Hebrews 11:4), though he was murdered at a (presumably) young age by his brother (Genesis 4:8).

Rather, it is a statement of fact: obedience to our parents positions us to experience God’s best for our lives. Commentator Bob Utley writes that the text “is not an individual promise of longevity but a cultural promise of societal stability.”

If children disobey godly parents, the consequences are typically demeaning and dangerous for them. Biblical commentator Albert Barnes wrote, “Those who are most obedient in early life, other things being equal, have the best prospect of living long. This occurs because obedient children are saved from the vices and crimes which shorten life. No parent will command his child to be a drunkard, a gambler, a spendthrift, a pirate, or a murderer. But these vices and crimes, resulting in most cases from disobedience to parents, all shorten life; and they who early commit them are certain of an early grave.”

He wrote these words in 1885. We might offer different examples today, but his point remains true.

In addition, even those who live “long” in a chronological sense forfeit God’s blessing on their lives and miss the “abundant” life Jesus offers (John 10:10). As a general observation, this promise is true to life.

In the Belgian Congo, a son of missionaries was playing under a tree not far from their home. Suddenly his father called to him, “Philip, obey me now—get down on your stomach.” 

The boy reacted at once, and his father continued, “Now crawl toward me fast.” 

The boy again obeyed. The boy reached his father, turned around, and saw a fifteen-foot deadly snake hanging from the tree beneath which he had been playing.

Obeying and honoring our parents is best for society and best for us.

What these gifts mean to our mothers

More than anything in life, my mother wanted her children to thrive. From my earliest memories of her to our last conversation on her deathbed, she always wanted what was best for me.

My wife Janet is the same with our sons and now their children. The fact that our sons Ryan and Craig are adults with children of their own has not changed her passion and compassion for them one iota. Often her first thought in the morning and her last thought at night is about them. Her happiest days are when they are happy; her hardest days are when they are not.

It’s been said of parents that we are only as happy as our least happy child. As a father and grandfather, I can attest to that assertion.

And so, because obeying and honoring our mothers is best for us, it is best for them. Because they want our best, when we do what is best for us, we do what is best for them.

And there is the simple fact that expressing our gratitude and love to them is something most of us do not do often enough and could do more intentionally. That’s why Mother’s Day is such a wonderful idea, every day.


The bottom line is clear: if we are not right with our parents, we are wrong with God. And with ourselves. Today’s text is God’s call to turn an annual holiday into a holy day every day.

G. Campbell Morgan was one of the greatest preachers of his generation. He had four sons, all of whom were preachers as well. The youngest, Howard, was considered a great preacher himself and sometimes took his father’s place when Dr. Morgan was out of the country. Someone asked Howard after his father returned, “Who is the greatest preacher in your family?”

Howard had great admiration for his father. He looked right at him and then, without a moment’s hesitation, said, “My mother.”

What can you do today to obey your mother? Is there an area of your life that is not aligned with her wishes for you? A way you could be more the son or daughter she dreamed of your becoming? You and I must obey God our Father most of all, of course, but are there ways you can do this while obeying your mother today as well?

What can you do today to honor your mother? What gift of gratitude could you give her today—and tomorrow? If she is deceased, how can you honor her memory? If she was not a godly mother, is there a way you can still honor her while honoring your Lord?

The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic gifts ever given to our nation. Whom did the French sculptor Bartholdi fashion her after? 

He never formally answered the question, but as the Statue of Liberty tour website states, “There seems to really be only one person whom the Statue of Liberty most closely resembles.” A portrait of his mother, Charlotte Bartholdi, when placed next to the statue, shows that they are almost identical. 

Bartholdi found a way to honor his mother for every day. 

How will you follow his example?