SALUTE: The Ten Commandments were not delivered to a preschool assembly. Yet, I wonder if often in believers’ mindset, this particular commandment is primarily regarded as a precept for childhood – that is, the fifth command to “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). But it is more than a lesson to be learned by children. When Moses spoke, just down from the top of Sinai with tablets in hand, he addressed an adult crowd. Indeed this commandment is not confined to childhood training, but rather it is a lifelong exercise for God’s people.
Regarded by Jews as the weightiest of the O.T. Law’s commandments, this divine essential, so important to the Almighty, is repeated through the Old Testament (Deut. 21:18-23; Lev. 20:9; Prov. 13:1-25; 30:17) and carried into the New. Consider Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 3:20, “Children be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” Scripture’s call to HONOR means to revere, prize and value parents, giving respect for rank as well as merit. Because the word is a verb, it requires action appropriate to the heart of the commandment. It encompasses word, deeds, and attitude. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER: This commandment established a life cycle, even as it set a standard and a measure for all of life’s ensuing relationships. Failure in family relationships shakes the the roots of the family tree. For example, in Paul’s Colossian call to children to be obedient, the premise – and I assume the successful outcome – rests first in the parents, as husband and wife, having a healthy, Biblical relationship (Col. 3:18-19). As the wise preacher observed, “Children do not create problems in homes so much as they reveal them!”
Learning to communicate with one’s parents, successfully resolving child-parent conflicts (menial or major!), serves as good preparatory exercises for meaningful communication in marriage when son or daughter takes a spouse. Failure to keep this commandment is judged harshly even in the N.T. where the disobedient are labeled ungodly and categorized with those of “depraved minds” (Romans 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2). Compliance in conviction and behavior is fundamental for harmonious family life and society’s well-being, but also foundational to being rightly related to our Father in Heaven. The qaulity of a person’s (child or adult) relationship with earthly parents can be a prime indicator of the true state of his/her standing with the “Father Who art in Heaven” (Matt. 6:9).
Interestingly, this is the one commandment with a coda – an added promise of blessing to those who heed. Proferred to the obedient son or daughter is the reward of reciprocal blessings and honor. The command is not easy, but the promise sure.
As one teacher observed, “God will not honor those who will not obey His command to honor their parents. If we desire to please God and be blessed, we should honor our parents. Honoring is not easy, is not always fun, and certainly is not possible in our own strength. But honor is a certain path to our purpose in life—glorifying God.”
Erma Bombeck, the late American humorist known for great insight to family life and dynamics, summarized in Shakespearean-like efficiency the cutting edge nature of words and behaviors that can apply to daily family life: “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” Honor is born of obedience: “Obedience is the duty; honor is the disposition of which the obedience is born” (Expositor’s Greek Testament). So what then does it mean, in the denim wear of daily life, to put in action the command to “Honor Father and Mother”? How do we work out the fifth commandment? Here are three areas of consideration for direction, for self-examination. POSITION: Respect the position. The decision or demeanor of a policeman issuing a ticket or an elected official issuing a law may not agree with one’s own views or feelings, but still the office is respected, even when the individual disappoints. Lucifer – Son of the Morning Star – fostered a world of sin and hurt when He disrespected God’s authority, an insubordination with eternal consequences. God hates subversion to the order He established in creation, including social order. Submission to godly parental authority is preparation for self-discipline and cooperation with Heavenly authority.
This precept is essential to church life as well as individual spiritual life. The Apostle Paul’s counsel to a young pastor, leading folks much older than himself, was to regard the church members senior in age to the pastor as if they were his own parents (1 Tim. 5:1). It speaks of respect, dignity, restraint. Healthy living and healthy relationships, I feel, require boundaries. Most are quick to impose boundaries on others, when in fact sometimes the restraint should be imposed on ourselves. Likewise, the Apostle John regarded the most mature saints in the church, so worthy of respect and attention and emulation, as spiriutal “Fathers” (I John 2:13-14). PERSON: Good manners are more than social niceties (so rooted in Southern culture). Good manners are based on good character. Honoring parents includes respect for their person, from the simple comportment of respectful behaviors and forms of address to the heavier aspects, when the seasons of life call the child to become the parent to his/her elders. Their numbers are growing – the “sandwich generation” – the younger and middler generations who thought their parenting days ebbing, only to be called back into the role of parents as they care for aging or critically ill parents, not just growing children. A new label has been added – the “POP” generation (“Parents Of Parents”).
Honoring one’s parents does include concern for their physical needs. Jewish author Michael Chernick explained the Talmud teaches that “Honoring one’s parents is observed by helping them to eat and drink, clothing and covering them, and helping them to go in and out” (Kiddushin 31b). Feeling respectful or feeling honor is not central to the Talmud. Rather, acting in a way that makes the parent feel that she or he is a significant and special person to the child is what Jewish law demands” (“Who Pays? The Talmudic Approach to Filial Responsibility” in The Journal of Aging and Judaism, Spring/Summer 1987, pp. 109–117). COUNSEL: One of God’s richest, surest sources of earthly counsel is found not in a school or lecture hall but in the home – from Mom and Dad. In the O.T. Shema (Deut. 6), the hallmark passage on parenting, the role of parents AND grandparents proves essential for training children and perpetuating the faith. Even if parents have died, sons and daughters can still hear their counsel in the quiet voice of conscience and memory. Our Lord exemplified what it means to honor and obey. Jesus, the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, submitted Himself to both His earthly parents (Luke 2:51) and His heavenly Father (Matt. 26:39). Following His example, believers should treat their parents the same way they would reverentially approach the Heavenly Father (Heb. 12:9; Mal.1:6).
King Solomon, heralded for his wisdom, wrote: “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke” (Prov. 13:1). Jesus reminded the Pharisees (another adult audience!) of the commandment to honor their father and mother. While merely obeying the letter of the law, they had added their own traditions that warped and overruled God’s intent. While they honored their parents in word, their actions exposed their real motive. The point is honor is more than lip service (Matt. 15:3-9).
Conclusion: One of my African Bible Instute students shared the story of his alcoholic, neglectful father. The son grew up with a dysfunctional family and absent parent. But the son’s Christian faith steeled his determination to honor his father. He prayed for his dad’s salvation…for years, even going on prayer retreats solely focused on interceding for his father. Not until his adult years did the son see his prayers answered, his waiting ended. A medical crisis and hospitalization brought an epiphany of sorts, and the father confided to his now grown, minister son how wasted the years had been. At the bedside, the son led his father to saving faith in Jesus Christ. He honored his father, and God honored the son’s faith. “Our Father” is not just the declaration of the second Person of the trinity. It is an invitation to all humaity – for through personal faith in Christ, God the Creator becomes “Our Father Who Art in Heaven.” ~ BRUCE PETERS