“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12).
Duties neglected, even little ones, often bring great downfalls. This can certainly apply to our consideration of the fifth Commandment. This Commandment is central to the well-being of society. God’s command to honour parents is the foundation for society to live in harmony. One of the characteristics of a declining culture is disrespect – for one another and those in authority. At the root of this decline lies the rejection of the fifth Commandment. Learning of respect lies within family with children honouring their parents.
The position of this Commandment is it’s the first of the second tablet. The first four Commandments show man’s relationship to God. The second tablet shows man’s relationship amongst ourselves. This Commandment brings forth all the others that follow, it leads on to those that follow. It is the priority for the second tablet.
There’s a promise that comes with the commandment. Paul notes it is the first Commandment with a promise, a promise not to the individual but to people as a whole, a nation (Ephesians 6). It is talking to society. Here is the cornerstone for a stable society in the Promised Land. The people are instructed how to live in the Promised Land; if you want to prosper then honour your father and mother.
In the Bible the term ‘father’ is used to denote the elderly in general, those in authority and those who are fathers. It is used as an expression of respect. It denotes giving someone the honour they deserve (1 Peter 2:13, Leviticus 19:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Most catechisms teach that we honour, be loyal, to our father and mother and all those in authority over us. It is the basis not only for respect within the family but, having learnt respect for a mother and father, then having respect in church and for those who are older. So Christians are to honour all those who are above them, in church, work and the wider world. You may feel that they do not deserve our respect but we are to honour them as God has ordained them. Acts 24-26 Felix was an adulterous, greedy man. Festus was of a more noble character but had little time for true justice. Agrippa had an incestuous affair with his sister. These characters do not win respect yet Paul respectfully addresses all three of them. We are to respect the rule of the law, including those who carry out the law. The only time a Christian can go against this is when a believer is called to do something contrary to God’s law.
Children’s actions should never be excused when they show rebellion. Adults, parents in particular, are to lead from example, for children learn best from imitation. This Commandment lays the foundation for the Bible’s teaching on respect throughout society. But the main teaching is that children are to honour their parents, treat parents as those who carry weight in their lives.
In what ways do we honour our parents? “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:3). We are to have a deep reverence for parents that comes from a right fear and true love of them. We should never belittle our parents either in word or action. Don’t make jokes about them or speak in a derogatory way. Place weight on their advice and wisdom. In addition, children are not to answer back to their parents. In Biblical terms it is a shameful thing to do. Teenagers can be disrespectful. They ‘know what’s best’! This may be true in the realm of technology but not in the realm of life. Young adults, as they gain independence, are supposed to remember that their parents carry weight. Older adults care for elderly parents, esteem them for all they gave and did for them.
Children are to be obedient to the parents (Ephesians 6:1). Children are to obey their parents teaching, especially as they are based on the Bible (Proverbs 1:8). Children are to obey their parents’ commands with a willing heart. Did not the Lord Jesus Christ obey His heavenly father in saying, “Not my will but your will be done.” In perfect obedience He went to the cross. He offered Himself up as the atoning sacrifice, He took on our sins, including the sins of disobedience, to our heavenly Father.
It is important children are taught that they should be only told once and that is that. Rules are set and to be obeyed. Parents, of course, must not be unreasonable in their demands (Ephesians 6:4). Parents are not to be tyrants but to be loving.
We must care for our parents. This Commandment is spoken mainly to adults. The nations that surrounded Israel practised euthanasia, the elderly were left to die. But the Israelites were to honour their fathers and mothers, to care and provide for the elderly. Even in Jesus’ day people were trying to make deals so they could not pay for their mother and father’s care (Mark 7:9-13). But think again. Our blessed Lord, as He hangs upon that cross, in agony of body and soul, what does He say? He looks at Mary and commends her to the care of John, and says John is to take responsibility for Mary. Even in His dying breath the Saviour does not forget to provide care for His mother (John 19: 26-27).
Today we see the fragmentation of the extended family that has led to the increase of pressure on social services. But as Christians we are to care for our elderly families, the church and community. It is a sign of Christ’s Lordship over us that we value, respect and care for our elderly family, neighbours and friends. The only one greater duty to parents is our duty to the Lord. There is no doubt we show our love for the Lord in the way we care for parents.
Some may have suffered, to various degrees, at the hands of their parents. They may have had very difficult relationships with parents. And that’s not easily forgotten or easily forgiven. And so I say, if that’s you, we understand. Ask the Lord to help you to forgive. Ask the Lord to give you the strength to honour your parents, even though they have hurt you. Ask the Lord to help you keep this Commandment for His glory and your good and for the good of your parents. Remember how disobedient you have been to you heavenly Father, remember, in so many ways how you’ve offended Him. Yet He has only done you good. Ask your Saviour, who suffered on the cross, to help you honour your father and mother.