I love it when I get the privilege to actually SEE children honoring their parents. One example that comes to mind is the part of a funeral service when the children of the deceased come to the podium and speak about their dad or mom—sharing experiences of growing up in ways that show their love and respect for their moms or dads.
I remember Tom Peters’ wonderful words when we celebrated Ron’s home-going a little over six months ago. Tom obviously loves his dad—and honored him greatly with what he said. I remember last fall when Warren Rank’s son shared about his father. It was clear to all present that he respected him greatly. I remember the Wendy Machovski’s words about Bill—and Dick McLain’s kids both sharing respectful, honoring words about their dad—and also singing at his funeral. I wish we had recordings of some of these testimonies of grieving children for you to hear this morning because those kind of parent-honoring words are always moving.
Well—God feels the same way when HE hears children saying these kinds of things about their moms and dads. Our Heavenly Father loves it when He sees kids HONORING their earthly parents with their words and actions because in doing so they are obeying His fifth foundational commandment. Theirs is obedience that is ESSENTIAL if we are to build strong families.
Before we get into this one let’s review the four prior commandments with the sign language we’ve been learning.
- Law #1 – Keep God First (pointer finger pointed Heavenward)
- Law #2 – Worship Only God (left pointer finger bowing to right)
- Law #3 – Honor God’s Name (three fingers over mouth)
- Law #4 – Honor God’s Day (four fingers on your cheek as if to nap)
Our text for today is just one verse. Exodus 20:12. Look at the screens and let’s read it together:
Exodus 20:12 – “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
The symbol for today’s foundational command is to hold up five fingers and place hand over your heart to represent your commitment to obey this law—your pledge to love and honor our parents.
Let’s try it. GOOD! I hope you meant that pledge because the sad fact is many people these days DON’T obey this command. In fact, most sitcoms picture parents as bumbling idiots. Gone are the days of “Father Knows Best” and “The Bill Cosby Show.” No—ours is a culture that tends to cater to youthism and marginalizes those who are older—so it’s easy for people to think of this fifth command as coming from a bygone era that’s totally out of touch with life in the 21st century.
Plus—there’s a generalized DISRESPECT for all people in authority.
Well, it is important for us to shake off the influence of our culture and remember the IMPORTANCE of this command. I mean, it is indeed FOUNDATIONAL for life because many of the problems we see today would not be problems if we all got our relationship with our parents right. I’m saying if we don’t honor authority in the home, we’ll have a hard time respecting it anywhere. No doubt this is why The Heidelberg Catechism says the fifth commandment REQUIRES, “…that I show honor, love, and faithfulness to my mother and father and to ALL WHO ARE SET IN AUTHORITY OVER ME.”
Martin Luther said, “Out of the authority of parents all other authority is derived and developed.” And Luther is right. From the fifth commandment we learn how to relate to our boss, to our teachers, to our government and so forth. The home is indeed a foundational part of society. Think of it. In a very real sense our family is our first hospital, first school, first government and first church. But it’s more than that. The home is really “a laboratory for living”
for it is within the home that each of us develop our formative character traits. This is where we all learn to discipline ourselves. It’s where we develop our moral code. Each of us learns, or fails to learn how to live harmoniously within society in our home. Edith Schaeffer wrote a book entitled, What Is A Family? and in it she says, that, “…a family is a perpetual relay of truth. It is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living. It’s where character traits are sculptured under the watchful eyes of moms and dads—where steel-strong fibers are woven into the fabric of inner constitutions.”
A few years back PARADE magazine featured an article about Marian Wright Edelman, founder of The Children’s Defense Fund. Mrs. Edelman was once called our nation’s leading advocate for children. The article quotes this amazing Christian woman as saying, “I do what I do because my PARENTS did what they did and because of were who they were. I learned God’s caring by watching my parents care for me and my sister and brothers and for others in our community. I learned that I could and should do more than complain about the wrongs in the world from my parents. In 1984 I went home for my mother’s funeral and an elderly man asked me what I did for a living. I told him I do exactly what my parents did.”
So—obeying this command is VERY important and even the SEQUENCE of the Ten Commandments underscores its foundational nature.
- The first four commands basically tell us how we are to relate to GOD.
- Then the fifth commandment tells us how we are to relate to our PARENTS.
- And the five that follow tell us how we are to relate to our FELLOW MAN.
So, this command about honoring parents is placed squarely in the CENTER of these two categories of commands. I mean, if you had the Ten Commandments written evenly spaced on a sheet of binder paper and folded it in half, top to bottom, the fifth commandment would be right at the fold. I don’t think this was an accident because these words are CENTRAL to the other commands and as I’ve said—even to life itself. Our obedience to this command does indeed affect everything about your life and mine. Let me put it this way: just as the fifth commandment would appear at the fold of the piece of PAPER—so it also appears at the fold of our LIVES. I mean, the health of our individual lives and even our CULTURE itself hinges on how we respond to this command. When our relationship with God is strong and growing, then we are better parents and better children. Good relationships between parents and children mean good healthy families—and good healthy families means good healthy communities and nations. Perhaps this is why some of the most frightening punishments in the Old Testament are reserved for children who rebel against their parents—children who refuse to obey this commandment. For example Deuteronomy 21 says that stubborn rebellious sons who will not honor their parents with their obedience are to be stoned to death. I know that seems extreme—and I don’t know of any incidents in the Bible when this punishment was carried out—but I can understand the deterrent power of these words.
After all, in a very real sense God was building HIS family—building the Hebrew nation into a “family” that would bless the world. And as I said, you can’t build a nation without strong families.
Well, since this fifth tender command IS so foundational we do indeed need to understand it. We must have it clearly imprinted in our minds both WHY and HOW we should honor our parents.
Let’s begin with the WHY. I mean, other than its foundational nature what else is it that should motivate us to honor our father and our mother?What other reasons are there for us to obey this commandment?
(1) Well, the FIRST reason we should obey this and all these laws is because God COMMANDS us to do so.
These ten laws we are studying are not suggestions. They are commands that God has given. And if we worship Him as our God—if we love Him—then we will do what He says. As 1st John 5:3 says, “This is love for God: to obey His commandments.”
We should note that Jesus honored this commandment. He was 33 when He was crucified on the cross for the sins of all mankind and His first 30 years he spent in His hometown. That means that He Who was the Savior of the world spent ten elevenths of His life in a village home. Tradition teaches us that Joseph, Mary’s husband, died young. So Jesus, the eldest son, His mother’s first-born, took upon Himself the burden of the support of Mary His mother, as well as that of His younger half brothers and sisters. Jesus ran the carpentry shop making income to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. He faithfully and dutifully discharged His duties to His home and to His mother and apparently did not begin His earthly ministry until His half-siblings were old enough to take over. Then in John’s Gospel we find Jesus still thinking of His mother as He hung on the cross—passing on the responsibility for her care to John the Apostle. So Jesus HONORED His mother and His father and He COMMANDS us to follow His example.
(2) Another reason to obey this fifth commandment is out of GRATITUDE.
You know all animal babies are somewhat defenseless at birth but a human infant is dependent upon adults for nurture much longer. The moment we popped into this world our parents kept us warm and fed us and protected us. Many years passed until we were old enough to care for ourselves—so of course we should be grateful! Think of the FINANCIAL burden that parents bear for their children over the years. Statistics show that from birth through college graduation it costs—on the average—$241,000 to raise, feed, clothe, and educate a child—and more if they live in Montgomery County, Maryland! I mean, one reason we honor our parents is because they have done so much for us:
- They bought and cleaned our clothes.
- They made sure we got all the necessary inoculations and check-ups.
- They gave us a home and three nutritious meals a day.
- They provided us with transportation and counseled us when we had a problem.
- They gave us a good education.
- They took us to church and told us about God’s great love in sending Jesus.
Jack Moore tells the story of a boy who was talking to a friend at school. He said, “I’m really worried.” And his friend asked, “What are you worried about?” He said, “My dad just works so hard, he works overtime to provide for the needs of our home. Mom washes the clothes, prepares the meals, and keeps the house clean.” His friend said, “Well, what in the world are you worried about?” The boy replied, “I’m afraid they might try and ESCAPE!”
We owe our parents a HUGE debt of gratitude. They DESERVE our honor! We have benefited in life so very much due to their sacrifices on our behalf.
Listen to some of JOHN MAXWELL’s observations about the parents of Baby Boomers like myself. He’s referring to parents like MY mom and dad: While cutting the work day by a third, the generation before us more than doubled the per capita output of our country. These are the people who have given us a healthier world than they found. Because of this, we no longer have to fear many epidemics such as flu, typhus, diphtheria, small pox, scarlet fever, measles, mumps, polio, and others. In just five decades, life expectancy increased approximately 50 percent. These remarkable people lived through history’s greatest depression. I’m talking about a REAL depression. Many of these people know what it’s like to be poor and hungry and cold. They determined that it would never happen to us; we would have a better life. We would have food to eat, milk to drink, vitamins to nourish our bodies, and warm homes, better schools, and a great opportunity to succeed. Because they gave us the best, we are the tallest, healthiest, brightest, and probably the best-looking generation ever to inhabit the earth. Because they worked hard, we work fewer hours, learn more, have more leisure time, travel to more distant places, and have more of a chance to follow our life’s ambition. These people fought the ugliest wars. They defeated the tyranny of Hitler, and when it was all over, had enough compassion to send billions of dollars to help their former enemies rebuild their homeland. Representatives of these generations developed the highest court system and fought racial discrimination and began a new era of civil rights. They have had some failures. They’ve not yet found an alternative for war or a perfect cure for racial hatred. But they have made more progress by the sweat of their brow than any previous generation.
You children of baby boomers—I believe we call you “millennials”—your parents did wonderful things that bless our world as well. They fought wars to end communism and terrorism. They made amazing advances in science and healthcare, etc. My point is that OF COURSE we should all that. Of course we should honor our parents! Of course we should respect them! Each generation should! We owe so much to those who have gone before us!
(3) Another motive for honoring our parents is so that we can avoid their MISTAKES.
When we started this study I pointed out that God gave us these commands both to protect us and to provide His best for us and we can certainly see this principle in this fifth command. Because, as I’ve said, honoring our parents is good for us—good for us—AND our society.
Now—the word “HONOR” literally means “a heavy weight.” So this command says that we are to count “heavy” our parent’s words—their advice—their guidance. Honoring one’s parents is to measure their value as having “great weight” like the way scales were used to determine the value of gold ore. The more it weighed—the more it was worth. On the other hand, the word, “DISHONOR” means “to be light, swift, trifling.” It would be used to describe a child that treats his parents lightly—as if they have no significance. So we honor our parents by realizing how valuable their guidance is—and it IS valuable—after all, they are MORE EXPERIENCED travelers on the road of life than we are. They have “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt” so to speak. They’ve made MISTAKES that we can AVOID if we “tap into” their experience. We can gain truth that is literally life-saving from our parents’ hard-earned knowledge.
I mean, no society would function very long if each generation had to start over when it comes to learning how to live. Perhaps this is why God promised the Jews that if they obeyed this commandment “they would live long in the land that He was giving them.” No wonder Proverbs 1 warns, “LISTEN my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” A parent’s wisdom IS heavy. It IS valuable—so we shouldn’t take it lightly.
WE can learn the lessons THEY learned in the school of hard knocks—we can learn from THEIR MISTAKES rather than our own. I remember a time when I was a teen and my parents were trying to give me advice on some issue. I responding by saying, “Well, mom and dad I love you and thanks for the advice but you see, I need to learn from my own mistakes.” What a dumb thing to say! Why learn from my own mistakes when it is much less painful to learn from theirs! I know NOW that it is ALWAYS best to honor their experience. In fact, there are SO many times these days when I wish I could pick my dad’s brain about something he went through as a pastor—but those days are gone. I’m saying I’ve learned to count as “heavy” my parent’s advice because I know it has come out of agonizing experiences that I can avoid.
One of my favorite STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION episodes was when Captain Picard and his crew found themselves caught in a “time loop.” They kept re-living the same things and in the end the ship would blow up and then it would start all over. They finally realized that they were making the same mistakes over and over again and the only way out of the “time loop” was for them to not repeat the same errors. Well, by honoring our parents we keep each generation from making the same mistakes over and over and over again. We prevent a “time loop” of sorts.
Okay—let’s review. WHY should we honor our parents?
- Because God COMMANDS us to do so.
- Out of gratitude for all we owe them—and—
- So that we can learn from their mistakes and not our own.
Now, before we get into answering HOW we should honor our parents I think we should note that honor is a two-way street. In other words, parents must be WORTHY of the honor of their children. Remember—this commandment was given to a community where children were of the utmost importance. Sons and daughters were considered a form of WEALTH. In Old Testament times a person without children was considered incomplete—destitute. I’m saying this commandment called for children to honor their parents but it was assumed that these parents would also honor and treasure their children. Well, it’s a sad fact that in our culture many parents are not honorable. Stories of child abuse fill our newscasts. Every day we hear of parents who DISHONOR their precious little ones. So let me make it clear, children are to honor their parents only if doing so honors God. Children are not obligated to obey their moms and dads when they are told to do things that God says are wrong. Remember—this fifth commandment is built on the first four.
Now–as I said a few months back, one way parents honor their kids is by taking seriously their God-given responsibility to turn their sons and daughters into responsible, mature people. In essence a parent’s job is to work themselves out of a job. We lovingly—fairly—discipline our kids so they will become self-disciplined and will no longer need us!Withholding the necessary discipline from our children is like sitting back and watching them head for destruction.
In his book, The Lord’s Creed, Dr. George Ingle quotes a circular issued by the police department of Houston, Texas years ago entitled:
FOR PARENTS—HOW TO MAKE A CHILD INTO A DELINQUENT
TWELVE EASY RULES
- Begin at infancy to give the child everything he wants. In this way, he will grow up to believe the world owes him a living.
- When he picks up bad language, laugh at him. This will make him think he’s cute.
- Never give him any spiritual training. Wait until he is 21, and then let him “decide for himself.”
- Avoid the use of the word, “WRONG.” It may develop a guilt complex. This will condition him to believe later, when he is arrested for stealing a car, that society is against him and that he is being persecuted.
- Pick up everything he leaves lying around: books, shoes, clothes. Do everything for him so that he will be experienced in throwing all responsibility on others.
- Let him read any printed matter he can get his hands on. Be careful that the silverware and drinking glasses are sterilized, but let his mind feast on garbage.
- Quarrel frequently in the presence of your children. In this way they will not be too shocked when the home is broken up later.
- Give a child all the spending money he wants. Never let him earn his own. Why should he have things as tough as you had them?
- Satisfy his every craving for food, drink and comfort. See that every sensual desire is gratified. Denial may lead to harmful frustration.
- Take his side against neighbors, teachers, and other authority figures. After all, they are prejudiced against your child.
- When he gets into real trouble, apologize for yourself by saying, “I never could do anything with him.”
- Prepare yourself for a life of grief. You will be likely to have it.
If we love our kids—we must honor them by doing the hard work of disciplining them! But parents must not only give DISCIPLINE. They must give ENCOURAGEMENT to their children as well. Colossians 3:21 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord [but] Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Too much discipline—especially discipline that is HARSH—breaks the child. As James Dobson said years ago, “We must shape the will without breaking the spirit.” And there is a discipline which breaks the spirit. It makes kid quit at life. They lose their confidence in self. Children whose parents unfairly discipline—or discipline too harshly—have a difficult time honoring them. Martin Luther himself hesitated to give the name “father” to God, because his own father had been so stern and severe with him. Luther is quoted as saying, “Spare the rod and spoil the child is true but beside the rod keep an apple, and give it to him when he does well.” Parents must make themselves worthy of honor and one way they do this is by lovingly growing their children into mature young adults.
Okay—back to my original train of thought. We talked about the WHY. Now let’s get to the HOW. How do we Honor our parents? How do we obey this commandment?Well, there are many ways but I want to quickly point out two.
(1) The first way to honor them is to simply LOVE them.
There are no more powerful words that can enter a parent’s ears than the three little words, “I love you” uttered by their children. No other words even come close to affecting us—as those three. And you know when we were kids we said those three words a lot but as we get older we become more “sophisticated.” We quit hugging and communicating our love to our moms and dads—especially in public. We kind of outgrow our inclination to express love to them. But parents never outgrow their need to hear this message from their children. We parents yearn to be loved and admired by our children. I know by experience that dads are especially this way. There is something in our masculine soul that makes us want to be a hero to our sons and daughters. We long to walk through the door at the end of the day and hear our kids eagerly say, “Daddy’s home!” Of course for me these days it’s: “Grandad’s here!” We feel honored when our children love us and want to be with us–and these feeling increase as our children grow into adults. We still love hugs!
You know—when you really love someone you GIVE them things—and the more valuable the gift—the more PRECIOUS it is to the giver—then the DEEPER the love that is expressed. Well, as we grow up, one of our most precious commodities is TIME. Someone once said that the love is best spelled T-I-M-E. So one way you honor your parents—one way to communicate love to them is to set aside other obligations and commitments to be in their presence—talking to them—seeking their advice.
Whenever I call my mom she always asks the same question: “When are you coming to see me?” And rather than give my mom a lecture reminding her how busy a pastor’s schedule is—I try to give her at least and approximate date and time. For this reason, Sue and I try to go over to Dover to see our moms at least once a month on my day off. Listen—teens out there—do you want to shock your parents and make them feel special? Spend time with them. Talk with them. Ask their guidance. Love them. I know it’s not considered cool—but it will blow their minds. It will make their day!
Ron Mehl tells of Bill Estep, a friend who died of an inoperable brain tumor. In those last days he was always surrounded by his six children—big strong sons—attractive daughters. Mehl says that in all the time he knew Bill and his family they were always expressing their love to one another. On one occasion he had gone to the Estep home to pray with this father—and while they were talking in the living room one of his girls came through the front door and the moment she crossed the threshold she began to run. She ran all the way through her house and jumped on the couch and hugged her dad. She wasn’t a bit embarrassed that the pastor was present. When Pastor Mehl walked into the hospital on one of Bill’s last mornings on this earth he discovered that all six kids had slept in his bedroom with him that night. There were bodies everywhere—sleeping on the floor, on pillows, hanging over the side of the bed, just to be close to their dad. I know Bill Estep was a father who felt honored by his children because they made it clear that being with him was very important to them.
Nothing compares to the fierce love of your own child. Can I get an “AMEN” from moms and dads out there? If you want to obey this command love your parents enough to take time to be with them and talk to them. And remember children—life is like a vapor—so don’t post-pone honoring your mom and dad in this way! Before you know it, they will have completed their lives.
(2) Another way we can honor our parents is this. FORGIVE them.
No parent is perfect and no doubt there were times in your life when it seemed that your parents did not put your best interests first. Perhaps they weren’t loving enough or maybe they spent too much time at the office and not enough time with you. Well you can’t obey this commandment until you acknowledge that they had their faults and weren’t perfect and you forgive them by releasing any animosity that you hold in your heart. So do that. Forgive your parents.
Some of you may have been hurt or neglected because of your parents’ selfishness. And if so you wonder how you can possibly honor them. Well you do so by forgiving them as well. The word “forgive” means “to let go” or “to send away.” And this may seem like an impossible thing for you to do—even an un-natural thing or painful thing. But NOT to forgive is even more painful—for when you refuse to forgive you become a bitter person and if you are not careful you will pass that seed of un-forgiveness on to your children and even their children. This must not happen because bitterness damages our relationship with God and even blocks our OWN experience of His forgiveness. Remember Jesus said, “If you do not forgive men their sins, [GOD] will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) When we harbor bitterness toward our parents we become stuck at an impasse when it comes to spiritual growth. We make it impossible for God to use us.
The fact is…God is forgiving and He calls us to grow spiritually so that we become more and more like Him which means we must forgive others—especially our parents. Your parents may be guilt-ridden and full of remorse and regret or they may be oblivious to your pain and as hard as nails. They may recognize that they have miserably failed or they may shrug it off. Nevertheless we must forgive because forgiveness is powerful. It MAY change their lives and it WILL change yours. You know, in the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another we are trusting that God is a better justice-maker than we are. By forgiving—by letting go—we are releasing our own right to get even and leaving all issues of fairness for God to work out. Mehl puts it this way, “It hurts to forgive but remember the hurt will pass away but the smile of God will last forever.”
This morning—how are you doing when it comes to this fifth foundational commandment? Remember so much hinges on our obedience to it.
- Are you honoring your parents?
- Do they know how grateful you are for all they have done for you?
- Do you spend the time you should with them making sure they know how much you love them?
- Do you seek their counsel? Do you ask them to share the lessons they learned in life?
In the last few verses of the Old Testament God uses the prophet Malachi to says this, “Remember the law of My servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” And then God says that there will come a time when He, “…will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” As we remember these commands that God gave to Moses, may that prophecy begin to be fulfilled in this church today.