The Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Parents

The Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Parents

The first four commandments focused on our relationship with God. Beginning with the fifth commandment we transition to our relationship with one another. We summarize the whole law with one word, “love”. We are called to love God in commandments one through four. Then we are called to love one another in commandments five through ten.

This is the commandment all the parents have been waiting for! Children, listen up! Actually, this command is important instruction for all of us to heed. 

In sermons like this, I always feel the obligation to remind you that I have been preaching this to myself all week. There are moments in this message that will sting. Just know that I shook the hive first and have massive welts all over my body due to the pummeling I received. But, I survived and I pray that the Lord continues to work on my heart even now.

You are commanded to honor those God has placed in authority over you for your love and care.

Although this commandment has implications for all authorities over us (e.g., civil, vocational, educational, etc.), this week we are going to focus on the most foundational relationship between children and parents.

Augustine If anyone fails to honor his parents, is there anyone he will spare?

Next time we will focus on the other authority figures during this important time in our nation and state.

Read Exodus 20:12

Let’s begin with the negative aspect of this command.

I. Don’t Dishonor Your Parents 

The Lord instituted capital punishment for children who strike (Exodus 21:15) or curse their parents (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9). When a child has gotten to the point where they are cursing and becoming physically violent with their parents, it is extremely difficult to reel them back in. These children bring shame upon their parents, especially when these activities are seen or heard by others (Proverbs 19:26). As rebellious children get older they are more likely to become gluttons and drunkards (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Although the consequences are no longer quite so severe, we should respond to such actions from our children with swift discipline. 

The last days will be characterized by children who are “disobedient to their parents” (2 Timothy 3:2). One of the worst ways children disobey their parents is by forsaking or despising their teaching (Proverbs 6:20b; 23:22b). When you get to the point that you’re rolling your eyes at everything your father or mother say, you have entered into a phase of such disrespect that is difficult to recover from. Be careful when you can dishonor them in such a flippant manner. It reveals an attitude that is steeped in anger, bitterness, and hopelessness.

However, just because the instruction is given directly to children does not mean parents have nothing to learn. On the one hand, every parent also has/had parents of their own. The commandment is relevant regardless of your age or even whether or not they live within your home. Of course, as you grow older, your personal responsibility increases so that your obedience to them is not so immediate and direct all of the time. But you do have an ongoing duty to show honor. This is especially important for your aging parents who may need help coming under your protection and care.

Parents, and especially the fathers, are instructed to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1). In both Ephesus and Colossae, Paul instructs fathers not to provoke their children to make them angry or discouraged (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). In the heat of the moment it is all too easy for parents to either discipline in sheer anger or to be in such despair that they feel hopeless, that no punishment will ever work. If these attitudes become a pattern you might even get to the point that you feel hatred toward them. 

Part of your calling as a parent is to discipline your child in love. To forsake discipline is lazy and unloving to your child. Do not withhold discipline from your child. The rod will not kill them (Proverbs 23:13). They will only grow up to resent you and other authority figures all the more. But, when you discipline them in love, there is hope that they will learn from their actions (Proverbs 19:18). They will learn to be peaceful which will give you rest and joy in parenting them (Proverbs 29:17). 

Children, do not dishonor the very ones whom God has given for your love and care. Parents who show compassion to their children will make it that much easier for those children to show honor to their parents.

Anyone who has looked at the data across every spectrum of society recognizes just how important this parent/child relationship is to the wellbeing of a community. Children who have both parents at home do better in school. They make better decisions among peers (e.g., violence, drugs, sexual promiscuity). Of course, there are always exceptions to the general rule, but God has blessed this relationship at the core of every prosperous society. 

To the degree that any culture abandons this foundational relationship between children and their parents, is the degree to which their health and stability falter. Any organization, such as Black Lives Matter, that would seek to disrupt the nuclear family should be seen for its Satanic opposition to God’s good purposes. Christians should have absolutely zero interest in partnering with them in the name of justice.

Instead of bringing dishonor upon your parents, you are to…

II. Honor Your Parents

The Lord instructs children to honor their parents by obeying them (Ephesians 6:1). Children should keep the commands of their parents (Proverbs 6:20a). In order to keep the command implies a willingness and an ability to listen to the instructions of their parents (Proverbs 23:22a). Kids, if you have a habit of responding to your parents with “Huh?” or “What?” then you need to practice listening. Listening is not a passive activity. It involves tuning out whatever it is that you are distracted by so that you can give your full attention to your parents.

Part of the responsibility to obey your parents includes giving them the respect they deserve. That means you will learn to appreciate what they teach you. Out of reverence for your parents, you desire to please them. You should seek to learn from your parents. Gain insight from their life experiences. Asking questions is good and should be encouraged in your home.

There is also an element of gratitude that is involved in honor. You should express how grateful you are for their love and care. John Calvin argues that honor requires these three features: reverence, obedience, and gratitude. That last one is often the most neglected. Even when we obey and show proper respect toward our parents, we often do so with a bitter spirit because we think we know so much more than they do. Learning to respond with gratitude is an important element of honoring your parents.

Parents, you should be involved in your kids lives by giving them instruction routinely (Proverbs 1:8). If you are zoned out or so distracted yourself, you will not be giving them the pattern to follow. If you become annoyed by their questions, you have lost valuable teaching moments. Their desire to learn from you should not exasperate but encourage you. They are showing you respect. They want to learn, so teach them!

Kids learn to tune out their parents by watching their parents tune them out. In an article for The Atlantic, Erika Christakis discusses “The Dangers of Distracted Parenting” in which she argues that one of the greatest challenges to childhood development is parents who are physically present but less emotionally attuned. She refers to Linda Stone who warned of the dangers of giving our children “continuous partial attention.” 

Christakis Smartphone use has been associated with a familiar sign of addiction: Distracted adults grow irritable when their phone use is interrupted; they not only miss emotional cues but actually misread them. A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when, in reality, she just wants attention.

We should not respond to this warning by making our children the center of our lives. We all need our space from time to time, but we also need to ensure that we are spending intentional quality time with them rather than providing continuous partial attention.

Jesus always honored his earthly mother and father even when they thought he was being disrespectful of their authority. We need to consider how Jesus himself did not simply do what his parents expected of him. His duty was to give perfect obedience to God, and at times, that was out of accord with the expectations of his parents (stayed in the temple).

That does not mean that Jesus ever dishonored his earthly parents. He did not have to dishonor his earthly parents in order to honor his Heavenly Father. Since we do not hear about Joseph beyond the childhood of Jesus, it seems likely that he had died prior to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. But we do see him interacting with his mother. And he honors her even as he is dying on the cross. He exemplifies honoring the fifth commandment as he ensures that John will take care of his mother (John 19:26-27).

You do not have to wait until next Mother’s Day or Father’s Day in order to honor your parents. Show them kindness today. Reach out to them with a word of encouragement. Treat them with the respect they are due and hear their counsel.

This is the first commandment with a promise…

III. Live A Long Life 

We lost another incredibly wise and gifted theologian this week. J.I. Packer died at the age of 93 on Friday (7/17/20). One of the commentaries I have been using for this series has been his book Keeping the Ten Commandments.

The long life promised in Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 to those who honor their parents is not guaranteed to any Christian, but it remains true that children who flout their parents suffer loss. They forfeit a degree of human maturity and make it harder for themselves to honor a Father in heaven.

Once again, we see this connection between the honor we show to our earthly parents and the honor we show to our Heavenly Father. The promise of long life and blessing lived within the context of the family, according to God’s design, is something the statistics confirm. Parents should be intricately involved in the training and nurturing of the faith of their children within the covenant community. 

Happy endings don’t get the credit they deserve anymore. You can almost guarantee that any movie that has a high rating from the critics has a vague ending. I’m not a fan of stories that wrap everything up perfectly without really developing the evidence, but you do not have to be utterly pessimistic about life to have a satisfactory ending.

Les Miserables is easily my all-time-favorite novel and musical. The concluding scene where Jean Valjean is dying provides the perfect ending. He lived a long life that was filled with radical highs and lows. For him to hear reconciling words from Cosette and Marius before his death is everything the audience could ask for. It is a deeply moving scene as a lifetime of suffering and redemption comes to a close.

That is how I would want to end my time in this world. I want to be able to say that I sacrificed and suffered in order to provide for and protect the ones that the Lord entrusted to me. Ultimately, the novel is a picture of God’s love for his people. That’s why the most popular quote from the novel and the musical is “To love another person is to see the face of God.” 

We can all admit that we repeatedly fail to keep this commandment. If you are feeling discouraged by the rebuke of God’s law, flee to Jesus Christ. He alone was truly and perfectly obedient to His Heavenly Father. When we turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, he does a work in us—by His Spirit—that reflects His own sacrificial love.

When we pour ourselves out for the good of our children we reflect the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ who poured out Himself to love and care for our deepest need. Apart from the redeeming work of Christ, we would have no hope of being the kind of parents God has called us to be.