Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
No inter-human relationship is as basic as that between children and parents. It is a fundamental order of creation. At no age do people cease to be children of parents. The importance of this command is measured not simply by its foundational relationship to society but also by its nurturing role for those who will inevitably function in that context.
With the First Four Commandments, God has spelled out what it means to have a right relationship with Him. Next to loving God whole heartedly comes loving our neighbor.
Beginning with the Fifth Commandment, we have the laws of the Second Tablet, as they are commonly called. The last Six Commandments concern our duty to ourselves, and one another, and define the Second Greatest Commandment, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”
As religion towards God is, an essential branch of universal righteousness, so righteousness towards our fellow humans is an essential branch of true religion: godliness and honesty must go together. The Fifth Commandment concerns the duties we owe to our family—the most basic of human relationships. Take away strong families and society breaks down.
The changed values in society have been so gradual that most people have hardly noticed them. Each small change in standards and values seems insignificant in itself. And because adjustments are gradually made to those lowered standards, the damage is not noticed even when the family and society start to disintegrate and crumble. Moral and spiritual standards have gradually eroded until countless families have been literally destroyed. The Ten Commandments are intended to keep this disintegration from happening.
Parents are to be God’s representatives. The number one task of parents and the community is to teach the children to wholeheartedly love the LORD our God and obey His commands according to Deuteronomy 6.
God’s law places the mother in the same high position as the father in the raising of children. Children are not permitted to play one parent against the other! That would be dishonoring one of the parents by bringing shame or disgrace upon either the father or mother. It would be treat one in a disrespectful or demeaning manner.
In other words, if Dad says, “You may not go out tonight,” and you go to Mom and ask her, “May I go out tonight?” You have with a rebellious attitude and action broken the Fifth Commandment! You have treated Dad with disrespect and degraded Him. That scenario is never an innocent one! Parents should not let their children get away with it!
Leviticus 19:3 reiterates—
Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God.
So what does it mean to HONOR ONE’S PARENTS? Based on the OT’s use of the verb HONOR, we might say it involves:
1. Prizing our parents highly.
2. Caring and showing affection to them.
3. Showing them respect, reverence, and deference to them.
4. Obeying them.
REVERENCE means that we never refer to our parents as “the old man” or “the old woman.” We should prize our parents to highly to cheapen them. God’s Law was hard on discourtesy to parents. Look at Exodus 21:15 and 17—
Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death . . . Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.
Either to abuse physically or verbally a parent was a capital offense in ancient Israel.
Here CURSES denote to make despicable, which is to make contemptible, beggarly, cheap, pitiful, scummy, shabby, or sorry. Thus, not only speech but also manner of life is to honor parents. No child should sit while mother must stand, stick his tongue out at father, or give a dirty look.
Children should treat their parents kindly, seek to make them happy, and pray they will never do anything to bring them shame or sorrow, as did Esau, who married out of the will of God, in Genesis 26:34-35—
When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
REVERENCE, RESPECT and DEFERENCE are to characterize the way we treat our parents. Along with these meanings, there is no one specific behavior that is commanded. It is an open-ended commandment, inviting children to respond in any way that honors parents. In all dealings with parents, respect, esteem, having regard and concern for, and showing affection considerateness, and appreciation are the order of the day.
The command HONOR is an intensive imperative in the Hebrew and the same construction of HONOR is used in Psalm 22:23—
You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
As we prize God and show affection to Him with respect and reverence by our obedience, we should do likewise with our father and mother.
In Ephesians 6:1, Paul substitutes OBEY for HONOR—
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—”that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
TO OBEY means TO SUBMIT or TO COMPLY WITH, a command. There is obedience that comes not by willing submission to authority but because of force.
The duty of obedience to parents is older than Christianity; as old as the parental relations. The depth that sin has pulled down the human race is apparent from the fact that the LORD had to make this one of the Ten Commandments!
Obedience is the first law between the Creator and His creation. The whole world is regulated by the law of obedience. The trillions of stars, the seasons—all are under this law. Man must exercise obedience in every sphere of life, beginning as a child in the home, then as a citizen of the state, as an employee at work, and as a member of the church. We are subject to the laws of life.
The first lessons in obedience must be learned in childhood. The home is where basic training begins and, if there is to be harmony in the home, submission must be practiced. Before even the child is born the wife learns subjection to her husband and the husband loves the wife as himself. Then as the children follow, they too must learn obedience.
Perhaps there never has been such a day as ours for lawlessness on the part of children and a reckless disregard for parental instruction. In too many houses the children’s word is law. There is little respect for parents. The revolt of American youth has caused the breakdown of many homes. Since the family is the strength of the church and of the state, a fresh study of respective rights and reciprocal responsibilities in the home demands the attention of Christians everywhere.
In two lists of sins, one list describing the godless pagan world of the past (Romans 1:29-31) and the other predicting the perilous times of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2), Paul mentions the sin of DISOBEDIENCE TO PARENTS). The closer we get to the return of Christ, the more parental authority will dissolve.
Is it not significant that the Holy Spirit should mention this sin is such a striking manner? Evolution teaches the moral and spiritual ascent of man. God shows the heart of the natural man in the end of the age to be no better than it was among the heathen. As we read the Bible we might imagine ourselves reading the newspaper or standing in a juvenile court. There is scarcely room to house the juvenile delinquents in the reformatories and prisons of our country. A child honoring its parents in obedience is a rare sight these days.
It is a sin of the greatest magnitude to sneak behind one’s parents and do something they have commanded not to be done! Disobedience demonstrates no fear, reverence, respect and love for one’s parents or for God!
Many Jewish writers believed that honoring one’s parents was the most important commandment. It certainly goes to the very core of sin—disobedience is rebellion! To rebel against one’s parents is to rebel against God. We find, therefore, God attaching the death penalty to this commandment as He did with the breaking of the Sabbath. Turn to Deuteronomy 21:18-21—
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
Here is God’s answer to one of those big questions that people ask—“Is capital punishment a restraint?” God’s answer is YES! First, the death penalty purges evil from society and second, ALL . . . WILL HEAR OF IT AND BE AFRAID.
A PROFLIGATE is a person FREE FROM MORAL RESTRAINT—one who will not listen or be corrected when disciplined. Both parents were required to act in agreement in such a drastic move. But the judicial decision was one for the elders, since the offense was more than a family concern. It was community offense.
Only the community could deal with refractory conduct which was a danger to the family order. Enforcement of this law was a means of reinforcing the security and continuity of the covenant community. This law stresses the responsibility of parents to maintain the covenant. Ultimately, persistent rebellion against one’s father and mother is rebellion against the LORD’S authority and therefore attacking the foundations of the covenant community.
The closest example of this sentence being carried out in the pages of Scriptures is found in 1 Samuel 2:22-25—
Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.
Here is a case where both the children and parents failed, the children refusing to obey and honor their parents, and the parents failing to discipline the children.
While no other example of the carrying out of this sentence occurs in the pages of the OT, the prescriptions underlined the seriousness of the offense. Jesus endorsed this law when He accused the religious leaders of setting it aside in Mark 7:9-10—
And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother,’ and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’
Children should trust parental love and obey them. Someone said, “Young men think old men fools, and old men know young men to be so.” Since the years increase in wisdom, children should defer to the advice and guidance of parents. Occasions sometimes arise requiring immediate, unquestioning obedience.
A missionary’s little boy playing in his yard in the Congo suddenly heard his father’s voice. “Son, obey me instantly! Drop to your stomach!” The boy obeyed without question. “Now crawl toward me as fast as you can!” Again the lad obeyed. “Now stand up and run to me!” The boy ran to his father’s arms. Then he looked back the tree under which he had been playing. Hanging from a branch was a deadly, 15-foot snake. Suppose the boy had paused to argue, “Why, Dad?” or “Do I have to do it now?”
Children need to be taught to obey parents immediately! Our modern society does not take seriously Proverbs 13:24 —
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
Someone said, “When a youth begins to sow wild oats, it’s time for the father to start the threshing machine.” Every child is born with a will of his own. The delicate duty of parents is to train that child to obey authority, curbing his will without marring initiative or personality. Parents are responsible for checking the sinful tendencies of their offspring. In its broadest sense, the Fifth Commandment could be stated, “OBEY AUTHORITY.”
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
In Bible times, fathers were by far the dominant figure in the households. The father was the parent who would most often provoke his children to anger. But a mother is obviously capable of doing the same thing, and she is no more justified doing it than a father.
While parents must insist upon obedience and honor from their children, they must guard against treating them harshly and burdening them needlessly. A parent should never strike a child in heated anger! Correction and discipline needs to be carefully thought out and administered so children are not exasperated by passionate and unreasonable rebukes, intemperate language, or cruel usage that would provoke resentment on the part of children.
Some factors that produce right parent-child relations are genuine love of parents for each other and for the children; firm, consistent discipline; consistency of standards for parents and children; the right example by parents; and the father as true head of the home.
In God’s commands, there is a delicate balance in relationships between parents and children. First and foremost, children are to be taught to OBEY there parents. Notice (in Ephesians 6:1) that Paul immediately qualifies the command TO OBEY with the words IN THE LORD. Parents are to be shown honor, but nowhere are their words, or wishes, to become a rival or substitute for the Will or Word of God!
If a parent orders a child to do something plainly contrary to the Word of God, the child should gracefully suggest an alternative that does not demand anti-Christian action. In the final analysis, all alternatives exhausted, obedience to God takes priority over obedience to parents.
If parents are to be honored, they must be honorable, worthy of respect, obedience, support and imitation. It is hard to believe, but true, that thousands of children are deserted annually in our country. The Bible brands those who fail to provide for their family in 1 Timothy 5:8—
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The phrase IN THE LORD envisions a Christian household. But certainly, Christian children are being told to obey their (possibly non-Christian) parents except where such obedience would conflict with their duty IN THE LORD.
While a child might not be mature enough to understand his need for salvation and how one becomes saved, he must see the Lord in the lives of his parents before he will learn to obey the Lord. The children’s obedience should arise out of the conviction that submission is the will of God.
Here the command is to CHILDREN. When applied to the human race the child is regarded as such from birth to maturity. Children are the fruit of marriage, and in a certain sense they are held responsible to their parents. Every child should learn from its parents by instruction and by parental example that children will become the parents of the next generation. Obedience is one of the first lessons a child must learn.
Notice that Paul rewords the Promise also. The Commandment promises Israel long life in THE LAND the LORD your God is giving you, that is the Canaan. Paul’s promise, however, says, THAT IT MAY GO WELL WITH YOU AND THAT YOU MAY ENJOY LONG LIFE ON THE EARTH.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul broadens the Fifth Commandment from Israel in the Land to the Church on the earth. He gets THAT IT MAY GO WELL WITH YOU from the Commandment when it is restated in Deuteronomy 5:16.
If the commandment is obeyed, life will go better for one, generally speaking. But his is not inevitably the case, nor is there some point in life at which one can say that such a word has been fulfilled. PROMISE in a very general sense refers to LIFE HOLDS MORE PROMISE. On the other hand, if the commandment is not obeyed, then the effects on life are apt to be negative. Again, not inevitably so! Characteristic of moral order is a loose cause and effect weave, a highly important factor in understanding God’s ways.
In this way, the Fifth Commandment promise of PROSPERITY and LONG LIFE is extended to the Church.
The application of this promise to the present-day individual is meant to give a new quality of life without creating a merit system by which we can gain eternal life.
Ephesians 6:1 adds another reason for obeying parents—FOR THIS IS RIGHT. Simply, it is right to obey and it wrong to disobey! The right attitude behind the right act of obedience is honor, which reflects to prize highly, and to hold in highest regard and respect.
Colossians 3:20 gives another reason for obedience—
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Children should obey not only to please their parents, but also to please the Lord. Our goal should be to please and glorify God in whatever we do. Paul gives this counsel in 1 Thessalonians 4:1—
Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
In addition, the Fifth Commandment parallels the Third in that to dishonor one’s parents is to misuse their name. The way we act not only reflects on God’s reputation, but our parent’s also—and therefore, to their honor.
Working hard at school or business, complimenting parents at opportune times, remembering their birthdays and anniversaries are ways to honor our parents.
Jesus exemplified the Fifth Commandment by obeying Mary and Joseph. Luke 2:51 reports—
Then [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.
Obedience, however, is not at the center of what it means to honor. Children need to be taught that one day this obligation will be removed. They will reach adulthood, marry and leave mother and father to establish their own family. At this point, the obligation to obey parents ends. Many marriages get into trouble because parents violate this basic law of the family laid down in Genesis 2:24—
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
At marriage a new home is established which creates a new seat of authority. But other aspects of honor to parents still remain.
Obedience ceases with marriage HONOR does not! Honor involves endeavoring in every thing to be the comfort of our parents, and to make their old age easy to them; maintaining them if they stand in need of support. In Mark 7:11-13, Jesus cites the Fifth Commandment as being nullified in practice by a rabbinical ruling of His day —
But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
CORBAN appears on sacrificial vessels and means CONSECRATED TO GOD. People used the practice of consecrating their property to God to withhold what should have otherwise gone to the support of their parents. They were able to rob their own parents of help by hiding behind their traditions! Tradition is not necessary a bad thing, but when it has more authority than the Word of God, then it is wrong! God’s truth, not man’s tradition, is to control our lives.
This command to honor parents has become exceedingly complex in a day of increased longevity, when social security income, nursing homes, and extended medical care for the elderly are so much a part of life. Governmental authority at various levels has often been given responsibility for this commandment; adult children in particular will need to examine how well they or their governmental surrogates are handling the characteristics of HONOR.
The Lord Jesus, even in His sufferings on the Cross, cared for the needs of His mother by committing her into the care of the Apostle John.
Certainly, Jesus molded for us what it means to honor our parents. Therefore, an appropriate song to sing after exploring the depths of the Fifth Commandment is TILL I BECOME LIKE THEE.