“Honor 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, ESV
The fifth commandment is well known. However, calling for us to honor our parents is not for their sake, but for God’s. The word used for “honor” is the word often connected with God. In many places it is translated “glory,” though its most basic understanding is “heavy.”
This somewhat unusual verb conveys a dual sense of becoming “heavier” negatively (in sin or opposition) or positively (in honor or glory).
If we break this down, it appears that the fifth commandment is about 1) family structure, 2) submission to ordained authority, and 3) submission to the Lord God Almighty.
Honoring father and mother does not mean to always agree with them. One response to this commandment I have often heard is that no one should be expected to “honor” someone who is abusing them. To this I reply, “Correct. And if we take seriously the study of God’s word, we would know of the exceptions to the rule accounted for in God’s Law.” Too often when we think of law, we think of things in stark contrasts: right and wrong; black and white; this is the only way, etc. Thankfully, God is wiser than man and accounts for all things in his law.
Leviticus 18:21 prevents a parent from offering their children to Molech. No one would say that since Molech is the god mentioned that child sacrifice was ok in other circumstances. I don’t think it means that other forms of physical abuse are allowed either. But this is not the main problem we face today, though it is a significant one.
The main issue is the destruction of the family as the fundamental structure of social order. It is easy to say that marriage and family don’t matter. Many say that to be legally married is nothing more than adding a piece of paper to a relationship. But is that really the case? I find it interesting that people spend thousands of dollars to create contracts to buy or sell, to partner or to define a business relationship. Sadly, one argument against marriage is that it is so costly and messy to divorce. Exactly! Marriage is more commitment than anything else. And a commitment made by vows with God as your witness should never be easily broken.
So much more could be said about the family that can be taken up at another time. However, there is one thing I would like to emphasize. We live in a broken world and therefore we should not be too surprised that there is no ideal family. Fathers anger children. Mothers frustrate children. And children drive parents crazy. The ideal family is one that is centered around God and his Law/Word. Some will have a mother and a father. Some will have only one or the other. Some will suffer great tragedy. Others will not. The key is Christ at the center will all members obedient to him.
Second, I have lived my whole life in times of rebellion against authority. I do not think this is unusual. There have always been the rebellious. In the sixties the rebellion was children against parents. Teachers and other educators filled young adults with unbiblical philosophies which led to the desire for autonomy from all authority. The results? Riots, dangerous cults, violence, and death, to name a few. Personally, I think the media overplayed much of what went on making things sound worse than they were. Ratings have always been more important than just reporting the news.
My parents were ashamed with how police officers were treated. Yet they weren’t ashamed of their own attempts at autonomy. We all have a rebellious streak in our natures because all of our natures are sinful. How should sins be handled? Repent and amend.
No one would know their need to repent if there was no standard for moral behavior. Thanks be to God, he is our standard and he has spoken. Any dislike of God’s law is a result of our sin natures. Sound like a catch-22? In a way, but as Paul told the Jews in Rome, they were the receptacle of the Law/Word. Their job was to live by it and pass it on to their children (there’s family again) and the world. How can we know right from wrong if our ability to discern is as broken as everything else in the world?
The preacher in Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Why? Because God does not change and all morality flows from his holy nature. What was true millennia ago is true today. God has given to some the authority to keep order in his world. Those called to this task are held by God to a very high standard. We are too. God declares to us that obedience and disobedience (with some exceptions) of those given over us, such as government, law enforcement, and parents, deserve our respect. To disrespect God’s ministers of order is to defy God and thus we come to the third point.
It all comes down to being obedient to God and his Law. Yet this commandment, it is often pointed out, is one with a promise attached. “So that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you.” Life itself is attached to honoring father and mother. I do not know of anyone who would seriously suggest that we should stone rebellious children. But that penalty does impress upon us the seriousness with which God presents this commandment.
However, he does not state that disobedience will result in death. We already know that because we are already dead. Instead, God emphasizes the positive reward of obedience. To obey God is life. Obedience does not earn life. Obedience is an assurance granted to us that we will live. For who can obey apart from the Spirit of God?
The fifth commandment has been remarked to be a “swing” from our duty to God to our duty to our fellow humans. I prefer to look at it as the reminder that our duty to our fellow humans is encased in our duty to God. Fail in either one, we fail in both.
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”Romans 8:12–17, ESV
Gregory R. Lanier, Lexham Theological Wordbook, 2014.