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Week 6: The Fifth Commandment
This week, the Rev. Nick Dyke is teaching on the fifth commandment, looking at what it means to honor your father and mother. Here are the notes to accompany his message:
"Honor your Father and your Mother as The Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may be well with you in the land The Lord your God is giving you."
Exodus 20:12 NRSV

The first four commandments are about God and the required human response to Him. The fifth one is the only one with a promise and the first one (of several) to focus on human relationships. This indicates that God cares – and takes seriously – how we treat other people. This particular command to honor parents is repeated in Leviticus 19:3, which says "You shall each revere [honor] your mother and your father and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God."

The phrase “to honor” has some interesting aspects such as revere, respect, care, obligation etc. It’s possible this command to honor one’s parents is the first in the list (of those commandments concerning human relationships) as the parent-child relationship is in some ways analogous for the relationship between God and his people. If we work at honoring our parents, as the most influential authority figures in our lives, then we might also learn to take seriously honoring God. 

At the core of the command to honor ones parents, is having respect for those in authority over you, a theme which continues into the New Testament, both in the teachings of Jesus and explanation by Paul (see Romans 13:1-7 on submitting to authorities and Matthew 22:15-22 on paying taxes). Christians are to give due respect to all those who carry the responsibility of authority in society, from law courts and local officials, those who are our managers and seniors in to the work place, to the police, government leaders and so on. 1 Timothy 5:1 says "Do not speak harshly to older men but as a father to younger men as brothers; to older women as mothers to younger women as sisters. Honor widows!" There is also the instruction to treat everyone with the respect you would give them as members of your family. Be kind and gentle to older folks. (Remember that you are one or will be one soon enough!)

The New Testament has a number of things to say about families specifically too, for both parents and children. Ephesians 6:1-4 says "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." However, it also says, "fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Again in Colossians 3:21: "Fathers do not provoke a child or they may lose heart." Both parents and children are to act in ways that love and respect each other. How we treat one another has consequences. Those of us who are parents are a living breathing example to our children. If our children are treated well with respect, they are likely to follow that example in their lives. Then honoring their parents later in life is a much easier task. 

God purposed families to function as the bedrock and stability of any society or community. The loving nurture, hard work and compassion of the mother and strength, stability and protection of the father typically provides the place for children to develop core values, life skills and faith for when they leave home and go out into the world. Unfortunately, many do not experience a mother or father like this and then it can be a real challenge to work out how to honor one’s parents in such a way that confronts sin but does so out of a desire to love and be reconciled, if possible, rather than from anger or a desire for revenge.

The New Testament also teaches that part of the fifth commandment is that adult children take up their responsibilities and duties to their parents. 1 Timothy 5:4 reminds those in the church that "younger family members need to look after the older ones in need." As the Jewish faith developed and by the time of Jesus, family life was prioritized and emphasized and Jewish homes usually had a mix of extended family members. But there was an exception to this caring attitude. Some Pharisees got around the support expected by the fifth commandment by dedicating all they owned to God through the Temple. How holy is that?! Yet Jesus said that subterfuge will not work (Mark 7:9-13).1 

But while Jesus taught and upheld the fifth commandment, he also challenged some of our ideas about family. In the Gospel of Mark, Mary and her family went to Nazareth to take Jesus home because they though he had lost his mind, but when Jesus was told that his family was looking for him He replied "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:20-21, 30-35) Jesus shows his earthly family, his disciples and the crowd that his true family was not bound by the blood of physical descent, but by his own blood, given on the Cross.2 We are all part of this larger family of our Lord, the Church, and Jesus tells us that there can be a cost to follow Him. Being a Christian and seeking to obey your heavenly Father can turn family members against each other and in some cases can have you disowned by your family (Matt. 10:35-36). Sometimes doing the things that Jesus is asking us to do creates conflict with those in positions of authority over us. In the early church it could cost you your life.

The Christian is challenged to live peaceably with all people including parents. We are to act with loving kindness, honor and respect, even following God’s will may cause conflict. Yes, we are to honor our parents – and all who bear roles of authority in our lives - but that is never to replace the honor and loyalty we have for Jesus and our Heavenly Father.

Questions for reflection
  1. The fifth commandment admonishes us to honor our parents. What makes "honor" so singularly important?
  2. Who do you honor most in your own life?
  3. What kind of relationship do you have with your children and/or other family members? How does the NT teaching on the fifth commandment speak to your familial relationships?
  4. In America today, many of us have elderly parents who live in assisted living or nursing homes. What with financial pressure, feelings of guilt and frustration how can we reclaim a sense of honoring our parents in such situations?
  5. Jesus teaches us to honor our parents yet also to follow Jesus and seek first the kingdom of God. What are the challenges in living both of these out?
  6. How do you honor your Heavenly Father? Where is He asking you to honor and be loyal to Him over relationships in your life?

A prayer for this week
Heavenly Father thank you for the gift of families, parents and children. May we increasingly honor and respect each other. Help us be a strength in need and a companion in joy. Father the fatherless and draw orphans into your family. May we never forget the many blessings we receive from You. Keep us always in the palm of your hand. Amen

1 Edmund P. Clowney, How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments, p.69
2 Ibid, p.68