The Fifth Commandment - Honour Your Father and Your Mother

The first four of the 10 Commandments handed down by Moses deal with our relationship with and responsibilities to God (which constitutes worship) and the next six Commandments deal with our relationships with and responsibilities to each other (which constitute ethics). Heading the list of our duties and responsibilities in relation to each other is the fifth Commandment, the requirement to ‘honour your and your mother’.

[Note: Bible citations are from the NKJV]

The root of the Hebrew word for ‘honour’ (kabed) means to ‘weigh heavy’, or ‘to have much weight or importance attached'. The word ‘kabed’ is used in many ways. It is often used to refer to the glory of God. It is also used to describe someone who is considered important and impressive, like Samuel, the man of God held in honour by the people (see 1Samuel 9:6).

The command is stated like this in Exodus: ‘Honour your father and mother that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”(Ex.20:12)

The keeping of this command has generally been associated with both individual benefit and with the ability of the nation of Israel to remain long in the land into which God was leading them. Intrinsic to the preservation of the family (and therefore the nation) was the moral value of ‘honour’. From this we can see why the dishonour of parents in specific ways attracted severe punishment. For example, striking or cursing one's father or mother was punishable by immediate death according to the Torah. In Deuteronomy, a procedure is as set up for a persistently disobedient son’s death by stoning.

The apostle Paul describes this commandment as the only command with a promise attached to it -- the promise of being well and having long life, for those who keep it. The promise has often been interpreted literally to be a guarantee of extra years of life to individuals who honour their parents – both in biblical times and in the present day. However, we must keep in mind the context in which it was made. The Ten Commandments were given after Israel left Egypt, and before they entered and occupied the Promised Land. They were a brand new nation, and were being instructed in how to make that nation endure, as a chosen nation, with God’s blessing. There is therefore a very high degree of probability that the promise was directed primarily towards preserving the social order which honours (respects) preceding generations.  It follows that the underlying premise of this commandment is this: even though good individuals may die young, cultures in which people honour the aged will endure with longevity with stability.

As we know, the family is the basic social unit of society. I remember reading somewhere that one of the reasons that Chinese culture has survived thousands of years through many political and social revolutions is that through it all they unwittingly obeyed the fifth Commandment; that is, not because it was spoken by God through Moses, but because they believed it was a wise thing to do!  This truth is borne out in every nation or tribe or family in which honouring of parents is found - even in a non- Judaeo-Christian culture as I just pointed out.

Writing to the Ephesians Paul encourages children to obey their parents ‘in the Lord’ (Eph. 6: 1-3).  This phrase ‘in the Lord’ adds another dimension to the concept of ‘parent’- by way of implied extension of the term.  As Christians, we have a twofold responsibility to honour: the first is towards those who are our genetic parents; the second is towards those who are our spiritual fathers and mothers - adopted parents, and parents ‘in the Lord’, that is, by virtue of being adopted into God’s family. This responsibility is extended to those who, like our parents, are given legitimate authority over us, though in other areas of our lives. Most importantly we are to give honour to those to whom it is due by virtue of their age. The proper term for them is ‘elders’. Those called to be ‘elders’ in the church merit honour in the same way as our parents. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”(Heb.13:7). As we see, honouring includes taking good counsel and emulating good example.

Honouring one's parents is analogous to honouring God. Let me explain why. Divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood. It provides the basis for the honour we owe to parents. This honour is fostered by the natural affection flowing from the bond that unites them and is unaffected by whether the children are minors or mature adults, single or married.

According to Paul, obedience is a primary requisite for honouring one's parents. Children who refuse to obey their parents, dishonour them- it is as simple as that! Obviously we need to keep in mind that this obedience is related to those parental commands which are godly, not ungodly!

To follow the command to obey one's parents is pleasing to God. It follows logically that the converse is true -- that disobedience towards parents is displeasing to God.

Moreover, to obey lawful instruction and correction makes sense. The book of Proverbs, which is classified as ‘Wisdom literature’, makes it clear that obeying one's parents is a sensible thing for a child to do. Proverbs encourages the child to ‘hear’, that is, to pay careful attention to, the instructions or corrections given by parents. Children are to place high value on those instructions, with the object of heeding them. It describes such instruction and correction as ‘graceful ornaments on your head and chains about your neck’ (Prov.1:8, 9), in other words, something to be carried with pride. The one who despises instruction is described as a fool and he who receives or accepts correction as being prudent (Prov.15:5).

However ‘to honour’ means more than simply following the letter of the law of obedience towards one's parents! It also involves reverence. Examples of reverence are those things we do or refrain from doing in order to show that our parents possess a higher status than we do as their children. Reverence or respect is demonstrated, for example, when children rise for a parent, do not contradict them and, do not call them by their first name, do not occupy their designated place or undermine their designated authority.

We live in an age which is increasingly disrespectful towards the elderly. How many Christian youth are aware that God takes seriously the way in which we treat the elderly? God holds parents in such high esteem that children are actually called to ‘revere’ them. Parents represent, though not perfectly, God's Fatherhood and also God's authority. For this reason children should have a fearful respect of their parents. This does not mean that they are to live in fear of their parents, but rather that they have a fear towards God because of the authority God has placed in their charge. To not revere parents (and the elderly) is tantamount to not fearing God. It is tantamount to striking back against lawful authority. Perhaps you have never thought about it that way but this is what God says in Lev.19:32: “You shall rise before the grey headed and honour the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord”. To put it another way, God is telling you: “Watch out! I myself am telling you to do this. Fear the consequence of not following this command!”

To not give honour where it is due is effectively to dishonour. This can be done passively, that is by refraining to do those things that we ought to do. An example of this would be remaining quiet when someone defames or slanders your father or mother rather than defending their name. This form of dishonour is not always obvious, but it is real nonetheless and we must pay attention to it. Then there is the more obvious form of dishonour, which is easily identified .Mocking, slandering, being ungrateful, cursing, calling names, yelling at, rebelling, being impudent, and insisting on having one's way, and being contemptuous of parent’s views and opinions. The gravity of this sort of dishonour can only be grasped when we  realize that OT Law provided the death penalty for those who cursed their parents or raised their hands against them to strike them (Ex.21:15, 17).

Honouring one's parents also means attending to their needs. As parents get older and are unable to support themselves it is the duty of the children to support them and provide them comforts in their old age. In the Old Testament, under the laws of inheritance, the eldest son was given a double portion. This was to ensure that he would be able to discharge his responsibility to look after his parents in their old age. The New Testament makes it very clear that anyone who claims to be a Christian must accept this responsibility towards his parents. Paul goes so far as to say that the person who does not provide for his own and an especially those of his household has denied the faith and is ‘worse than an unbeliever’ (1Timothy 5:8).  The use of the word ‘household’ must necessarily include dependent parents. As we see, the fifth Commandment has more to do with looking after mum and dad when they have to depend on their children, and not letting them down, than many Christians will care to take note of!

In all of this, we must remember that honour is played out in different ways. To a small child, honour means obedience. To an adolescent, it more likely means respect. To an adult child it more likely means kindness thoughtfulness and care of parents.

It is important remember that the command to honour one's parents is unqualified. We are required to do this because God commands it, not because our parents have lived up to our expectations, or are perceived as deserving! Nor is it dependent on how we feel at the time or what our peers feel or think about it. No doubt there is a responsibility on the part of the parents towards their children to not abuse their authority over them and to instruct them and bring them up in the fear of the Lord. They are also to love their children unconditionally, just as God loves us. In their role as parents they are accountable directly to God, from whom this authority flows and will be judged accordingly.

Honouring our parents doesn't cease when we become adults. It is a lifetime commitment as they get older this may well involve physically caring for them, and if necessary even helping them financially. See how Jesus criticized those in his day who neglected making appropriate provisions for the care of their elderly parents: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honour your father and your mother; and,'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death’. . But you say, ‘if a man says to his father or mother, “whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”-’  (that is  a gift to God) then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13).

Sadly, we live in an age that glorifies evil and dishonours those whom God says are to be truly honoured. Disrespect and mockery form the basis of humour in our modem culture, permeating even what we once considered sacrosanct.

Do yourself a favour, Christian -- honour your father and mother!

 

Preach The word-with Pastor Joseph Rodrigues www.kerysso.org

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