“Honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17). “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). These are two general commandments meant to preside over us as people of God in our relationships throughout life.
If we are to truly live them out, however, we need to understand what we are being summoned to do. We need to be able to distinguish between what genuine honoring is and what it is not. We also need to determine if there are ever any exceptions to these rules. This will keep us from falling prey to unrighteous demands and being trapped in diseased relationships.
What honoring IS
Honor is a word which in Hebrew (kabad), and in Greek (timḗ), means to value, to respect, to give weight to. It has also been translated as “treat honorably”, “show respect for”, “treat with dignity” and “prize”.
Fundamentally, all people deserve to be treated with dignity because of their identity as human beings. We owe one another honor as fellow members of the human race. In this sense we are all peers, no matter what our age or social rank (much less our ethnicity or gender).
Parents, specifically, deserve to be cherished because of their unique role in our lives. We owe them, in summary, everything. They brought us into this world, loved us fiercely, cared for our needs, tried their best to shape us into good and happy people. The bond between us is sacred. The honor we owe them can be shown in many ways, not the least of which is caring for their needs as they grow older. This, as a matter of fact, was precisely how Jesus defined honor on the only recorded occasion that he expounded the Fifth Commandment.
What honoring IS NOT
It is not a synonym for obedience. As someone observed, if this were the case, the words could be used interchangeably in Scripture. The most cursory analysis will prove they cannot. The effort to merge the two concepts is simply untenable. Although it is true that in some contexts honor will be expressed through obedience, such as children (those being brought up) towards their parents, it is not true that obedience is mandatory where honor is concerned.
The oft-wielded Ephesians 6:1 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” – is not an alternative translation of Exodus 20:12, but the adapted version for children, precisely because they are being prepared for adulthood (this is upheld by the context, see v. 4). That is, in fact, the whole point of obedience. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The goal is transition to sui juris, the launching of a full-fledged person. Parents (or spiritual leaders) that seek to keep their children in perpetual pupilage, making obedience instead of maturity their aim in training, reveal a selfish and ungodly agenda: POWER AND CONTROL.
It does not imply a chain of command. Honoring someone does not mean that they are in charge and that you are to “keep in your place”. It does not mean you are under an obligation to report to them, obtain their consent or follow their orders.
It does not mean relinquishing our critical faculties. Some would have us believe that any criticism of their attitudes or methods constitutes a dishonor to their persons. This is false. Unconditional compliance is not honoring, it is spoiling. It also empowers overbearing and abusive people.
Are there any exceptions to these two general rules? I believe any honest scrutiny of real-life situations compels us to accept that – sadly – there are. Only the most oblivious people could think otherwise. There are indeed people, there are indeed parents, who cannot be honored in any genuine way beyond the most basic respect owed to any person.
People who have inflicted deep pain and lasting emotional and/or physical harm on others (a thousand times more heinous when inflicted on persons under their care), and who are so self-righteous that they are incapable of change. People who poison the environments they control with their hubris, their incessant demands and their destructive behavior. People who, while exacting honor for themselves, systematically dishonor others.
Perhaps the only honor we can give in such cases is that of withdrawing from the sphere of their influence and praying for future healing and reconciliation.
May God give us the wisdom to discern between true and false honor, and may true honor grace all our dealings with one another.
 http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/09/honor-vs-obey/ (accessed January 27, 2015)
 More on what honoring is not at http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/09/four-tools-of-spiritual-manipulators/