October 21, 2018
Listen to this quote attributed to Mark Twain. “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
There is much truth in that quote. As young children we may idolize our parents, but when we become teens we can hardly bear them. By the time we become adults our assessment usually changes. As adults we realize how difficult life is and if we have children we gain a whole new appreciation for our parents.
This morning we are looking at the fifth commandment. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” If the fifth command were put into practice by everyone, the world would be a different place. Honoring our parents is vital for our well-being.
I. THIS COMMAND CALLS EVERYONE TO HONOR THEIR PARENTS. Ex.20:12
It could not be spelled out any clearer. “Honor your father and your mother.” The word carries the idea of heaviness. As this word developed it came to indicate that which is important, weighty. Sometimes we say that an important person carries a lot of weight. What they say and do is powerful. The word is also related to the idea of glory and splendor. It is associated with God’s majesty. “Give to the Lord the glory, -honor, the weight due His name.” To honor is to “respect, glorify, and venerate.” Interestingly enough, in 1Sam.2:30, God says, “those who honor me I will honor.” As we honor God, God honors us.
When we look at the Ten Commandments, it is easy to see that the first 4 have to do with our relationship to God. The last 5 have to do with our relationship to society. The fifth command has to do with our relationship to our parents. In many ways our parents represent God and society to us. We gain our first inclinations about God, positive and negative, from our parents. We gain our first initiation into society from our parents. It is impossible to stress the significance for good and bad that our parents have on us.
Before we look at what it means to honor our parents, let me quote from Mark Rooker. He says, “The moral and religious weight of parents lies fundamentally in their person and position; it never is dependent on their practical ability and performance.” In other words the command doesn’t say, “Honor your parents if you think they are worthy of your honor.” We are to honor our parents because they are our parents. Just as God is worthy of our worship because he is God, so our parents are worthy of honor because they are our parents. In Lev.19:3 we read, “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.” In Lev.19:32 we read, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Honoring one’s parents is paired with honoring the Lord.
But how are we to honor our parents? One way we honor our parents is through obedience. This was obviously very important in Israel. In Dt.21:18 we read about what Israel was to do in the case of a rebellious son who continually refused to obey his father and mother.” It could become a matter of life and death. Having said that, it is important to point out that if our parents require us to do something that is sinful we ought not to obey. In Prov.1:8 we read, “Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching.” Honoring one’s parents means listening and learning from them. They have wisdom about life and God to impart. Without naming all the Old Testament passages, we learn that a son or daughter who honors their parents will not curse them, steal from them, treat them with scorn, insult them, strike or kill them. In Ez.22:7 we see that one of the reasons Israel went into exile is because, “father and mother are treated with contempt.” When Paul describes the sinfulness of society in Rm.1 he lists disobedience to parents alongside of “haters of God” and “inventors of evil.” When Paul describes the last days in 2Tim.3:2 we read, “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy.” In Eph.6:1 Paul tells children to obey their parents and then quotes the 5th commandment. Children are to honor their parents.
Of course honoring our parents is expressed differently at each stage of life. As babies and infants we are completely dependent on our parents. As children we learn about right and wrong, how to follow directions, how to get along with others, and how to be obedient. In adolescence we learn how to become independent of our parents by learning how to disagree and responsibly do things for ourselves. That can be a very difficult time of life and some of us made life extremely difficult for our parents. But the truth of the matter is that if we do not honor our parents, more than likely, we will have a difficult time living our lives in the real world. If we cannot learn from our parents who love us, we will have to learn in the school of hard knocks.
As we reach adulthood, honoring our parents is often expressed with increasing gratitude as we realize all that they have actually done for us. When we grow older there is sometimes a reversal of roles. Our parents may become increasingly dependent upon us. Even Jesus understood this role. As the firstborn son, while he was on the cross, he made provision for the care of his mother.
Now there are many circumstances that complicate our ability and desire to honor our parents. But before we think about that, I need to ask you. Do you seek to honor your mother and father? God calls us to honor our parents
II. THIS COMMAND ENCOURAGES PARENTS TO LIVE HONORABLE LIVES. Eph.6:4
I realize that the 5th commandment says nothing about parents living honorable lives, but if children are to honor their parents, it is a blessing when the parents seek to live in honorable ways. What do I mean by “honorable ways”? Well, just seeking to follow the Ten Commandments would pretty much take care of it! In Dt.6:4-7 we read, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” In Eph.6:4 after quoting the 5th command, Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The role of a parent is demanding. When babies are born there is great anticipation and excitement. Mom and dad pour themselves out for the care of their babies. There is a great deal of self-sacrifice, frustration, worry, and concern. And the self-sacrifice, frustration, worry, and concern doesn’t stop!
If we are Christian parents our desire is to embody the character, conduct, and conversation of Jesus to our children. We want to love our spouse and children with the love of God that has been poured out into our lives. We want to provide for our family. We want to have integrity. We want to be forgiving. We want to freely admit our faults and ask forgiveness. We want to show restraint in correcting. We want to be measured when arguments ensue. We want to have self-control when our children push us over the edge. We want to model faithful worship and service to God. But, it is very difficult to be like this all the time!
The reality is that all of us were raised by parents who were deeply flawed and we ourselves are deeply flawed. Truth be told, some of us lived in homes where mom or dad abandoned the family. Some of us lived in homes where there was verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Some of us lived in homes where there was a great deal of anger and fighting. Some of us had parents who were addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling or other things. Our parents did not honor God or their own parents.
For others of us things were not like that. Our parents tried to do the best they could, Christian or not. All of us have learned both good and bad from our parents and we pass good and bad habits onto our children.
Here’s the question. If our parents did not live honorable lives how can we honor them? How can we obey the 5th commandment? I believe the answer begins at a very basic level. We begin by being grateful to our parents for bringing us into the world and giving us the unique physical, mental, and emotional attributes that shape who we are. God fearfully and wonderfully saw fit to bring you into the world through your parents. If you are adopted you seek to be thankful for the parents who nurtured and raised you. And then, with God’s help, and maybe the help of a counselor, we will need to extend mercy and forgiveness. If there is opportunity to attempt reconciliation and resolution that could be a very significant moment of healing, but that is not always possible. What is possible is that we do not need to live at the mercy of our parents. God has given all we need for life and godliness and he will help us acknowledge the truth about our circumstances and learn to move on in living a life that is filled with the love of Jesus. Dealing with these matters is especially important if you have children. It is far easier to live an honorable life as a parent when you have come to peace with your own hurtful circumstances than if you continue to be driven by hurt and anger. It is never too late to begin seeking to be an honorable parent.
III. THIS COMMAND OFFERS GREAT REWARD. Ex.20:12; Dt.5:16
Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Dt.5:16 puts it like this, “that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” In Eph.6:2 Paul writes that the 5th command is “the first commandment with a promise.”
There is surely a promise but I believe it is a general kind of promise. The reality is that there are people who honor their parents but have experienced all sorts of adversity and may have died at an early age. Obedience to the 5th command brings its own reward. Honoring and obeying our parents, being thankful for our parents, giving loving support to our parents as they grow older, is likely to yield a life that is filled not with ease, but with harmony and peace. It is not easy to care for one’s parents in old age and yet, it is one way in which we honor our parents. It tests us and at the same time, shapes us in the love of God as we do for our parents what they did for us when we were helpless babies.
On the other hand if we are at odds with our parents, holding onto anger and resentment with a heart of unforgiveness, we are likely to be driven by anger and resentment throughout our lives and may even be reckless in the way we live. And unless we deal with our anger, we will surely pass it on to our children.
Honoring our parents will help us learn to be thankful, to be kind, to extend love and grace, to die to ourselves, and to show mercy and forgiveness. These virtues help us flourish in life. They are virtues that reflect the life of Jesus.
Whatever your stage in life whether old or young, married or single, having children of your own or childless, who you are today has much to do with your family of origin and especially your parents. I want to urge us to thank God for our parents. I also want to encourage us to take steps to honor our parents. If your parents are alive and you are estranged from or at odds with them, I encourage you to do what you can to reconcile. Make it a matter of prayer. If there has been a rift for a long time, more than likely it has had a deep and negative impact on your life. I believe God wants to bring healing to you and it may take time as you face the truth. Honoring our parents is vital for our well-being. Amen.