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The Fifth Commandment

By Mike Mazzalongo Posted: Fri. Dec 31st 2010
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

So far we have covered the first four commands having to do with God's relationship to man and man's need to honor God:

  • As the only God
  • As the highest being
  • As the Holy one
  • As the Lord of our time

The next six commands address man's relationship to other humans:

  • Honor our parents
  • Honor our fellow man
  • Honor our spouse
  • Honor our society
  • Honor our neighbor
  • Honor ourselves

The first four lead to peace with God and ourselves, the last six promote peace within society as a whole.

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
- Exodus 20:12

Why should we all obey this command?

1. It is right in and of itself

Paul says that this is the right thing to do:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
- Ephesians 6:1

There is a natural chain of authority given by God, and parents have been given charge over children. Disobeying parents (in the Lord) is the same as disobeying the Lord, for He is the one giving the authority to parents. In some countries like Canada it is the law.

2. Parents deserve obedience

In most cases parents will or have done more for you than any teacher, mentor or friend. Again, in most cases even poor parents have done more for us than we will ever be able to repay in our lifetimes. We should obey parents from a sense of gratitude if from nothing else.

Is it wise to obey parents?

Parents provide wise advice from experience. They usually want what is best for you, even if it is to their disadvantage. They have nothing to gain from your unhappiness and usually want nothing in return for your success.

You need all the help you can get.

If you do not learn obedience from your parents, you will eventually have to learn it from someone else (e.g. drill instructor, supervisor, policeman, guard, etc.).

If you want to succeed in life at something (music, business, personal relationships, etc.) you need to learn to follow someone else's instructions and leadership. It is wise to return that love in the form of obedience.

We should not wait until parents are gone to show them respect and love. Some people lose their parents when they are young and would give anything to spend just one hour with them.

What the 5th Commandment demands from parents

We know from other passages that the instructions to children about parents work the other way as well. Parents have a responsibility also:

1. Discipline

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
- Proverbs 13:24

Parents need to teach children the "art" of obedience and self-control.

2. Training

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
- Proverbs 22:6

Solomon explains how to conduct oneself in order to produce a happy and fulfilling life (e.g. education, emotional development, social graces, etc).

3. Spiritual Guidance

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Ephesians 6:4

Parents need to show their children by word and deed how to please God and save their souls.

Children are not very impressed with what we say or even with what we do. They are impressed however if what we say and do consistently match and if we consistently aim high with our thoughts and deeds. They will aim high if we aim high, they will do what they say if we do what we say.

What the 5th Commandment demands from children

We have discussed why it is wise to obey, but what does it ask children to do specifically?

  1. Obedience - Knowing and doing the will of the parents without disrespect (Ephesians 6:1). The key is to obey, not judge how wise or capable the parents are.
  2. Honor - Live your life in such a way that who you are and what you do bring honor to your parents, not disgrace and shame. Note that the command does not mention love. This we need to do to all men, even our enemies. It is not always possible to love our parents because of what they may have done or not done, but it is necessary that we honor them - this is always in our control.

What the 5th Commandment does not allow

Again, there are lessons about parenting connected to this commandment taught elsewhere about what parents cannot do.

1. Tyranny - Parents who see themselves as dictators, kings, unapproachable, never wrong, never teachable. Kids are not perfect and it is unreasonable to expect them to be.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger
- Ephesians 6:4a

Children need forgiveness, flexibility and the possibility that sometimes parents are wrong and willing to admit it.

2. Abuse - Verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse are all wrong. Sometimes parents use punishment, manipulation, or intimacy in an ungodly way. Punishment, manipulation, or intimate contact that stimulates or gratifies us is abuse and abuse is unholy use of our authority.

3. Corruption - Teaching or encouraging children to adopt habits or a lifestyle that is immoral and ungodly.

but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Ephesians 6:4b

Most parents who corrupt their children do so by default. For example, they don't correct their own immoral habits and attitudes and thus pass them on to their children.

Most alcoholics took their first drink out of their parents’ liquor cabinet. Most children consume their first pornography when they stumble across their father's hidden magazines. The first cigarettes smoked are stolen from a parent's pack lying around the house.

Children will be influenced by evil in this world; hopefully it should not be their parent's evil.

Summary

Paul says that this command is the first one with a promise. The promise works for both parents and children:

Children who obey open themselves up to a better life here on this earth.

Parents receive the satisfaction that comes from seeing children who are fulfilled and less subject to the pitfalls and hurts of this world.

For Christian parents and children there is the joy of knowing that obedience to parents leads to the ability to obey God and receive the eternal blessings as a result.

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Dr. Stafford North
Professor of Bible
Oklahoma Christian University