Filial piety, a virtue of respect for one’s parents, is a key virtue in the Chinese culture. Many consider it as one of the best qualities in a person. It is also said that a person with filial piety and benevolence will naturally be guided to walk a righteous path.
The emphasis on filial piety can be traced back to the Chinese history. During the Han Dynasty, “察举制” (Chá ju zhì) was a common practice of recruiting government officials. The regional governors would inspect and nominate qualified candidates before granting them a rank in the bureau system. Under this qualification process, the most crucial criteria is “孝廉” (Xiào lián), which is the practice of filial piety and integrity. A candidate who shows genuine love, respect, and obedience to his parents, and upholds impartiality, indicates that he can be entrusted with the responsibilities of a government official. Even after more than a thousand years, filial piety was still a significant value within the Chinese culture. During the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, the term “孝廉” (Xiào lián) became an elegant title given to the nation’s scholars. Throughout history, filial piety has always been a standard of one’s moral values and capabilities.
Why is filial piety so deeply-rooted within the Chinese moral system? In the course of our lives, though we have received all kinds of love from the people around us, none of them can be compared with the love of our parents. A mother, before giving life to her child, has to suffer 10 months of pregnancy. Finally, once the child is born, it takes much effort to nurture and raise her child. None of our friends or mentors could possibly give us the same level of love and care. Hence, ancient scholars often emphasise that our body is a gift from our parents; it contains our parents’ great love. As such, we should always live a righteous life, carrying out filial duty toward our parents. Even if a person practices kind deeds to others but not to his/her parents, he/she would not be seen as righteous.
Spiritual Filial Piety
Just as filial piety is highly valued among people, the Bible also teaches us to practice it spiritually.
Hebrews 12:9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!
Comparing the way we should treat our physical parents, the Bible teaches that we should act even more so towards God, our spiritual parents.
Ephesians 6:2-3 “Honor your father and mother” — which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” This is the first and greatest commandment.
Apostle Paul said that honoring our father and mother is the first commandment, whereas Jesus taught us that the first commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. This is not a contradiction within the Bible. Rather, God is our spiritual Father and Mother, and to love God is to honor our spiritual parents. Just as filial piety is regarded as superior to all virtues, loving God is a commandment that precedes all other commandments. When we keep in mind the love and sacrifice of our spiritual parents, we will stay away from all evil deeds.
Inheriting God’s Flesh and Blood
The love and sacrifice of our physical parents serve as a copy and shadow of our spiritual parents’ love and sacrifice. We can only realize this with our hearts. Just as we receive physical life from our physical parents, we can inherit spiritual life by having God’s flesh and blood within us. Though our physical life will eventually perish, the spiritual life given by God is perfect and eternal.
John 6:53-54 … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life …
God’s love cannot be compared with human love. To grant us the precious eternal life through His flesh and blood, our Heavenly Father willingly underwent excruciating pain by suffering on the cross.
2 Corinthians 6:18 … I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
Galatians 4:26-31 … But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother … brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
Just as it is the duty of children to respect their parents, as God’s children, we ought to obey God – our spiritual parents.
No matter how much parents love their children, they may not always make the right decision for them. Humans are born to err, and parents are no exception. There is an ancient Chinese saying “阿意曲从，陷亲不义，一不孝也” which means that it is not an act of filial duty if we do not correct our parents from committing sin. However, our God is almighty. God never makes a mistake and will surely lead us to the best path.
Isaiah 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
Psalms 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing…he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Our omniscient God knows the end from the beginning. His will is never left unfulfilled. In the end, God’s guidance surely leads us to blessings.
Hebrews 12:10-11 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Even though we may not always understand the reasons behind God’s will, let us get rid of our own thoughts and submit ourselves to God. During the Passover, when Jesus wanted to wash Peter’s feet during the Passover, Peter thought that he should be washing Jesus’ feet instead. What was Jesus’s response to Peter at that time?
John 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Realizing Jesus as the Almighty God, Peter got rid of his own thoughts and completely obeyed the will of God. In other words, he practiced spiritual filial piety. By obeying God to the point of death, Peter finally received the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Let us practice spiritual filial piety like Peter, trusting in God and obeying Him. When we do so, God will lead us to our eternal home where we will be with our spiritual parents forever.