Updated: Sep 15, 2020
“Honor your father and mother.”
God tells us in this commandment that parenthood is a “lofty and lordly” calling,–that, which is worthy of honor. This commandment speaks to our God’s vesting in relationships. Moreover, God sees us IN relationships (in particular, with Him).
As much as postmodern (self-centered) people see themselves as free actors on the platform of life—prideful in their individuality and the unrestricted, uninhibited freedom to do and be as they will—this commandment says some of our lines are before now inscribed. Some of our portion is scripted before we ever came on stage.
We are not our own. Life comes as a gift from someone else…a mother who gave of her own nutrition and energy as we grew inside her body. And while the umbilical connection is severed at birth, that connection should be a reminder, a long-lasting reminder that life is a gift rather than a possession. As we grow older, we might ignore our parents, be embarrassed by them, detest them, try to forget we ever knew them. But unlike the umbilical cord, the one thing we can never sever is the cord that ties us to our parents. For, were it not for them, we would not be. Further, the inescapability of separation from that connection is manifest thusly: our looks, personalities, abilities, foibles, and many shaping experiences, good and bad, were shaped at our mothers' and fathers' knees. At the ends of our lives… as the credits are rolling across the screen….under “writer” and “producer, we’ll see the names of our mother and father printed next to our own.
Question. What, then, does God require in the fifth commandment?
Answer. That I show honor, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother and to all who are set in authority over me; that I submit myself with respectful obedience to all their careful instruction and discipline; and that I also bear patiently their failures, since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.
A voice from the 16th century, John Calvin, offers a very sane and balanced assessment:
“We are bidden to obey our parents only [in the Lord] (Eph 6:1)…For they sit in that place to which they have been advanced by the Lord, who shares with them a part of his honor. Therefore, the submission paid to them ought to be a step toward honoring that highest Father.”
God, as Calvin says, places mothers and fathers in a lofty position by “sharing with them part of his honor.” Honoring our mother and father—whether or not they are Christians–is really honoring God who gave them authority in the first place. Bearing patiently with their failures is easier if we remember that we are ultimately honoring God THROUGH honoring our parents.
Now as parents, there is a truth we need to consider: parents who expect their children to honor them by keeping this commandment must themselves keep the commandment.
One of Grimm’s fairy tales goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was a little old man. When he ate he clattered the silverware, missed his mouth with the spoon, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, having nowhere else to live, and got exceedingly on the nerves of his daughter-in-law.
“I can’t stand this,” she said one day and took the little old man to the corner of the kitchen where they sat him on a stool and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. From then on, he always ate in the corner, looking wistfully at the others gathered around the table.
One day his hands trembled more than usual, and he dropped the earthenware bowl and it broke. “If you act like a pig” shouted the daughter-in-law, “then you must eat out of a trough.” So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his meals in that.
Now, this couple had a four-year-old son of whom they were very fond. One suppertime the father noticed his young son playing intently with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing. “I’m making a trough,” said the boy, smiling and looking for approval, “to feed you and Mamma when I get big.” The young man and his wife looked at each other for a long time. Then they went to the corner and brought the little old man back to the table. Never again did the wife scold when he clattered, or spilled or broke things.
Perhaps it’s something as simple as our children, by watching how we honor our parents, are more likely to honor us. Keep in mind that: “We who have had our diapers changed by parents, without feeling at the time any gratitude, get to offer our thanks by changing their diapers.”
This commandment says: Actions have consequences, and is the only one with a blessing,
“that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
Ref: Pastor Rich Henson, “Provocative Questions”, June 2017
Join us this Sunday @ 9:15am, via Zoom, for our Virtual Sunday School where we will discuss what it means to make God a priority in our lives.