February 19, 2022 - 5th Commandment

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Today we’re going to be talking about the 5th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” Our approach to this commandment will depend a lot on whether we have perceived our parents to have been loving and reasonable. If not, “Honor your father and your mother” may be a challenge to our obedience. Many a child and many an adult have asked the question, “To what extent must I obey my parents? How long must I do so, and are there limits? And why does God consider it so important that I should do so?”


The bottom line answer is: If we want a trouble-free relationship with God, we can’t avoid a right relationship with our parents. Knowing God will make an inevitable impact on our relationship with the ones who brought us into the world and nurtured us to be who we are. It will also have a major impact on how we get along with others in this world. Notice that there is a motive clause attached to this command: “that thy days may be long upon the land.”


The 5th Commandment was given to a nation that had just been freed from slavery in Egypt. Abuse of parents was such a problem in this nation of newly freed slaves that God tackles the problem 3 more times in the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 27:16 – “Cursed be the one who dishonors father or mother.” Exodus 21:15 says, “Whoever smites his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 21:17 says, “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” God lays down the strictest penalties against those who would sabotage the health of the Hebrew family.


The NT reaffirms the 5th Commandment, although it does not call for the same strict penalties as the Law of Moses. Paul writes in Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” Likewise in Ephesians 6:1-4, Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Then Paul quotes the 5th Command, and points out that here we have the first commandment with a promise attached to it: “that it may be well with you, and that you may remain long on the land.”


But Paul quickly lays an equal responsibility on parents: “Parents, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Likewise, Paul writes to the Colossians: “Parents, do not provoke your children, lest they be disheartened (or discouraged).”


God is very concerned about the well-being of the family. God wants to make sure that children grow up in loving homes with as few hang-ups as possible. Part of God’s loving plan for us was for each family to be led by parents who could make that happen. It is sad to say that not all children have been blessed with such parents.


If God’s command to respect our parents seems hard to swallow at times, imagine what life would be like without parents. How would we understand the parenthood of God without human parents? We think of orphans, or kids raised in a commune by a group, and we realize that a child needs a person or a couple to identify with as parents. Every young person needs a personal role model and a leader, someone to discipline them, love them, and raise them to mature adulthood.


Our relationship with our parents, whether it be respect or contempt, is a relationship that will affect our attitude toward all of society. A child who learns how to respect father and mother is learning how to respect authority in general. It is through relating to our parents that we learn how to cooperate, how to get along with others. How a child relates to their parents will affect how they relate to teachers, coaches, commanding officers, employers, and law enforcement.


A child who does not learn to respect father and mother will be in for a lot of trouble in this world. By age 7, the damage is usually already done. Often a social rebel is already molded by this very early age, and may be almost impossible to correct thereafter, apart from a major miracle of God. And if a child learns disrespect for the authority of his/her parents, he/she will also learn disrespect for the ultimate authority: God. See what life-long effects are produced by the parent-child relationship!


To what extent must children be obedient to their parents? Are they bound by their parents’ every word, as long as they are alive? Some would say Yes. John Calvin is an example of a guy who obeyed his father and went to law school against his own personal wishes. Only after his father died did he switch majors to study theology.


I think Calvin was a little mistaken on this point. Yes, parents can give their children valuable advice that deserves careful consideration. Sometimes parents can see what we ourselves cannot see in cases such as whether to marry a person where they can see flaws that we cannot see. But ultimately, children must make decisions such as spouse and career for themselves – they are the ones who have to live with the choices. But as long as the child is your dependent, or as long as you are their landlord, you as a parent have an appropriate amount of veto power in the life of your child.


God gives authority to the parent to preserve peace and order in the home. That doesn’t give parents the right to be selfish or arbitrary. Parents should be highly selective about what they order their children to do or not do. They should avoid making too many demands. Too many demands will drive a child to discouragement, as the Bible warns us. But children must learn to cooperate, even when a parent is just expressing their own personal wishes. “Respect” is a good word for what God expects from children toward their parents.


Honoring father and mother includes showing them our appreciation. What’s the best way to crush your parents’ spirits? Never bother to tell them how much their care means to you. Keep taking and taking without ever saying “Thank you.” What’s the best way to lift your parents’ spirits? Show them appreciation. Tell them “Thank you” – whether it’s for the food they cook or the time they spend with you. Positive feedback can encourage parents to be the best parents they can be.


Honoring father and mother extends all the way to how we treat them when they are too old to care for themselves. When you hit middle age, you may become part of the Sandwich Generation, caught between the needs of children and dependent parents. Do we care for our aging parents, in the most realistic way possible? Do we visit them, should they require a nursing care facility? Do we continue to show them our love?


Jesus got mad at teachers who taught people to give money to the Temple that should have gone to needy elderly parents (see what he says in Matthew 15:3-6). 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for their own, and especially for their own household, he/she has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” God gets pretty passionate about the command “Honor your father and your mother.”


All this is great if you’ve had parents who treated you well. But what about parents who beat their kids, or steal from them? What about parents who are serious alcoholics or drug addicts? Or parents who are crooked? Should a child obey if told to steal or lie? Sometimes a choice may have to be made. There comes a point when one must render to parents what belongs to parents, and to God what belongs to God.


Yes, there are many parents in the world who are not very lovable, and even some who are downright evil. (I used to think that parents ought to have to get a license, but then I thought, Who decides who’s got the moral authority to decide who gets the licenses?) But even if our parents are total creeps, we must try to honor them for who they are and pray for them. (A lot of them had messed-up tragic childhoods themselves.) Rejecting our parents is the easy but unacceptable way out. We must remember that even the Son of God (the only sinless human who ever lived) obeyed and submitted to the authority of human parents who were sinners.


“Honor your father and your mother,” says the Lord, “that your days may be long in the land.” If you want to get along with others and succeed in this world, learn to get along with your parents. Respect their authority. Love them as much as you possibly can, and take care of them when they need your help. Treat them not with abuse, but with honor.


While we’re talking about issues of obedience within the family, what about Paul’s command to wives to “submit” to their husbands? The short answer is that Paul immediately follows this command with a command for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. To love one’s wife as much as Christ loved the Church and gave his life for us is a much higher demand than submitting to one’s husband as to the Lord. Actually, here in Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul calls for spouses to submit themselves to one another. In verse 33, Paul command men to love their wives; he only commands women to “fear” (meaning “respect,” or “reverence” as the King James Version says) their husbands.


In 1 Peter 3:7, the apostle Peter commands husbands to “live considerately with your wives,” literally, “according to knowledge.” In other words, do so with understanding. Women crave to be understood. They long for a man to be sensitive to their needs and desires.


Peter writes that husbands should bestow honor (or “respect”) on their wives as the “weaker vessel.” What does Peter mean? Women are not weaker spiritually, morally, or intellectually; I believe they are at least as smart as men. I also question whether women are weaker physically, either, at least, according to their size. Yes, men have 50% more muscle as a percentage of their body weight than women do (40% versus 23%). But yet women’s bodies are built to last longer than men’s. Women endure childbirth and can endure more pain than men. Yet men who claim to be women seem to enjoy an unfair advantage in women’s sports.


But there is one more possibility as to what Peter means by the “weaker vessel.” It has been argued that women as a group suffer greater problems of low self-esteem than men do. Could this be the kind of weakness that Peter is talking about? It’s not that women are born with lower self-esteem; it probably has more to do with their upbringing and their experience in society. But it’s a huge problem. What this means to me is that men need to be more sensitive to the potentially greater emotional needs of the women in their lives.


Men, the women in your lives need love, affirmation, and support, probably in larger doses than you do. That’s why Peter instructs husbands to “honor” their wives. To “honor” her means to “treat her as a priceless treasure,” to assign her top priority on your list of human relationships: in your schedule, and in your heart. Providing a living should never be a substitute for being there and sharing life together. Treat her with high value, worth, and importance.


Men, how much is your spouse truly worth to you? Would you be willing to sacrifice a better job for her? Would you be willing to change your schedule, to drop everything for her (if necessary)? Your wife will feel important and affirmed each time you choose her over your work, your hobbies, your friends, or any other demands on your time. If your wife knows by the way you treat her that she’s at the top of your priority list, she’ll become a lot easier to live with.


Lots of men have no idea how many ways they can be insensitive to the women in their lives. Marriage specialist Gary Smalley lists 121 ways a husband can wound or act insensitively toward his wife: constant criticism, lack of praise, ignoring her, being ungrateful, and being unaware of her needs. But in his book If Only He Knew, Gary also lists 100 ways to make a wife feel truly loved.


The problem with so many men (including myself) is that we tend to give up the chase too quickly. We pursue or charm a woman with whatever it takes to win her heart, then we quit when we’ve achieved our prize. We need to learn how to keep pursuing our spouses. We need to keep looking for new ways to treat them special. We need to dress, to spend, to behave, and to prioritize our time like we did when we were romancing them.


One important way a man can enhance his wife’s self-esteem is to treat her like an equal partner. Peter reminds his readers that both men and women believers are joint heirs of the undeserved gift of life. They need to “honor” or respect each other as equals.


One of the best ways you can treat your wife as a full partner is by listening to her advice. Many of our nation’s most effective leaders have been men who listened closely to the counsel of their wives. President Reagan valued his wife Nancy’s advice on the question whether he could trust Mikail Gorbachev. Women’s intuition is no joke. Women have an ability to read people and situations in ways where men often can’t read them. Value your wife’s opinion. Go ahead and be decisive (women appreciate that), but don’t do it all alone; include her in on your decisions. You can also treat her like a full partner by dividing the work load at home as equally as possible, especially if both of you are working full time outside the home.


Peter gives us one final incentive for harmony in the home: an effective prayer life. Failing to treasure your spouse, to respect him/her, or to treat him/her like a full partner, can produce a home life that is hollow and ineffective. If you as a husband happen to be a major cause of disharmony in your home, and you wonder why God no longer answers your prayers, you may not need to wonder any longer.


Gary Smalley argues that the role of the husband is absolutely crucial to the life and health of a family. He believes, “If a couple has been married for more than five years, any persistent disharmony in their marriage relationship is usually attributable to the husband’s lack of genuine love.” Smalley lists 22 of the most common complaints husbands make about their wives (nagging, unresponsiveness, sneakiness, over-sensitivity), and then demonstrates how each of these 22 traits can often be the result of a husband’s failure to love his wife. Smalley argues that the love and support of the husband is often the key that can make or break the marriage relationship. What did Paul tell the Ephesians? “Husbands, love your wives.” Men forfeit the right to lead if they think they can claim authority over their wives, but do not love their wives self-sacrificially like Christ loved the Church.


Submission, no matter who is submitting to whom, does not mean inferiority or inequality. The Bible teaches us that Christ submits himself to God the Father. But if we believe in one triune God, we believe that Christ is not inferior to God, but is of one divine substance with God. The two are equal, yet Christ voluntarily submits to his Father, to show us how it’s done. Mutual submission is simply following the example set by Christ himself.


God calls upon husbands to live considerately with their wives. No woman can resist the love of a husband who treats her like a priceless treasure, who puts her at the top of his agenda, who consistently chooses her over other demands on his attention, who values her advice and treats her like a partner. Men who love their wives and children this way can make all the difference in the health and happiness of their families.


On our next broadcast, we’ll be talking about the 6th Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” We’ll be talking about: exactly what does the Hebrew word for “kill” used in this commandment mean? We’ll be talking about why God forbids the killing of human life, and on what basis are there any exceptions to the rule. And how does this command apply to issues of preserving human life and dignity beyond the question of literal killing? We’ve got a lot to explore next time on Biblical Words and World. Join us as we tackle this subject together!