Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you (Ex. 20:12).
Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you (Dt. 5:16).
The Fifth Commandment1
Introduction: The Fifth Commandment is something that believers agree with in principle. But they rarely cite it. What exactly does it mean? How seriously do we need to take this Commandment today? In what way do we honor our parents? What if a parent does not deserve this honor? What must parents do to deserve this honor? What benefit is there to us when we do what God says? Why would God place this Commandment before the Commandment against murder? Although largely ignored today, the Fifth Commandment serves a vital purpose in keeping the family unit in order. God intended for a mother and father to raise their children in God’s ways and statutes. The family, however, cannot fulfill this role when children do not honor their parents’ instruction and when the parents do not give the children a reason to receive the honor that God has entrusted to them.
It is often incorrectly assumed that only the first four of the Ten Commandments guide us in how to recognize, worship and obey God. Many assume that the next six Commandments only guide us in how to live in harmony with others. Yet, God does everything in perfect order and symmetry. The Fifth Commandment applies to both our Heavenly Father and our earthy parents. It is a “bridge Commandment” that links together the Commandments about God and other people. As children of the flesh, you are God’s “adopted” children (Rom. 8:14-17; 1 John 3:2; John 1:12; Gal. 3:26; 3:29). You are also an “ambassador” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). This means that you represent Him through both your words and your deeds. If you engage in sin, you cast both His name and what it means to be a Christian in an unholy light. Thus, like the first Four Commandments, the Fifth Commandment requires that we honor our Heavenly Father. How do you “honor” your Heavenly Father? The Hebrew word for “honor” is kabeid, which can also be translated as “glorify.” You can “honor” or “glorify” your Heavenly Father in at least seven ways. First, you can study the Law so that your sins become known to you (Ro. 3:20; 7:7). You can then repent of your sins once they become known to you. Only then can God forgive you and cleanse you for His holy use (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 5:23; Mark 1:15; Acts 3:18; Eph. 1:7; 1 Jo. 1:9). Second, Jesus said, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38; Luke 10:27, quoting Dt. 6:5). This includes having no other gods or idols like money, hobbies, or your career that you place on a higher level than God. It also includes treating “the name” of God as holy through both words and conduct. It also includes keeping at least one day a week as a holy and voluntary Sabbath dedicated to God. Third, you should love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:17-18; Matt. 22:39-40). This includes keeping the remaining Five Commandments. It also includes practicing justice and mercy to the poor and those in need. “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17). “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute.” (Ps. 82:3). “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). Fourth, you can pray to the Lord in holy supplication as an intercessor for others: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.’” (Matt. 6:9). “O God of hosts, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.” (Ps. 80:19). There are many examples in the Bible where God spared others from judgment after intercessory prayer (e.g., Ex. 32:11-14; Nu. 11:2; 14:18-22; 16:21-24). Fifth, you can tithe out of thanksgiving to support the ministries of the Church (Mal. 3:8). This includes giving the “first fruits” of your own life (Lev. 23:17). Sixth, you should be transformed daily to be a witness to others (Rom. 12:1). This includes living by the Spirit that lives within you and not according to your flesh (Rom. 13:14, 1 Cor. 3:16). Finally, Jesus asks that you “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19).
The Fifth Commandment also requires that we “honor” our earthly parents. The family is God’s appointed institution for raising up children in God’s laws. Thus, for the unsaved, the penalty for dishonoring a mother and father was death. As a child, did you ever strike either of your parents in anger? Without Christ, your penalty would have been death: “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 21:15). As a kid, did you ever curse your parents our of anger? Without Christ, your penalty would have been death: “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 21:17). Did you ever refuse to accept your parents’ discipline? If so, your penalty under the Law was the worst kind of punishment, death by stoning: “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear.” (Dt. 21:18-23). “The eye that mocks a father and scorns a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.” (Prov. 30:17). Because Ham dishonored his father Noah, the entire Canaanite people was cursed (Gen. 9:20-27). If you don’t know what Christ saved you from under God’s Law, His death on the cross won’t mean as much to you, and you can easily take it for granted. How do you show your appreciation to Christ for what He did at the cross? You show Him that you love Him when you follow His Commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (Jo. 15:10; Matt. 19:17). “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3). This includes honoring your earthly mother and father. Yet, how do we do this exactly? We turn to Jesus for His example.
Part of “honoring” a parent is providing for a parent in times of infirmity, poverty, or old age. Through His example, Jesus showed us that we should make provisions to care for our parents in their old age, even when we are not present to help them: “But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple [John], “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household (Jo. 19:25-27). In Biblical times, the parents lived with one of their children. The children were the system of old age social security. In modern times, mankind has set up systems of taxation to provide housing, food, and medical care for people in their old age. These programs serve the noble purpose of saving lives and lifting many elderly individuals out of poverty. Yet, paying taxes for these programs does not mean that you can forget about your elderly parents. Jesus condemned those who claimed that they did not need to help their elderly parents because they had already tithed: “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matt. 15:3-6). Today, many elderly people in nursing homes have their physical needs met. Yet, they receive no love from their children. There are many sad circumstances where a parent can no longer recognize a child to appreciate his or her love. Yet, there are even sadder circumstances of lonely elderly parents who have their mental faculties, but their children make little effort to see them. “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Prov. 23:22). If you feel too busy to visit an older parent or grandparent, remember that this is one of the uses of the Sabbath that God would encourage.
In addition to providing for a parent in need, God commands you to submit to a parent’s authority: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Ep. 6:1). “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” (Col 3:20). Your obedience will “honor” your parents by bringing them joy: “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.” (Prov. 15:20). “The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.” (Prov. 10:1). “He who sires a fool does so to his sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy.” (Prov. 17:21, 25). “A foolish son is destruction to his father, and the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping.” (Prov. 19:13). God commands that you submit to His appointed leaders, including your parents. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13:17). First, you submit to God through his Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and His church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20; Heb. 13:17). Second, you submit to your civil authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13:1-2). Third, you submit to your parents (Eph. 5:22-25; 6:10). Satan’s goal has always been to break down authority through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. Satan first led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then led Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen 3:16). All of Satan’s 12 rebellions in the wilderness sought to depose Moses as the leader of the Jews. Satan tries to make us rebel against each of these three institutions of authority. In quoting a prophecy, Jesus revealed what happens when we submit to Satan’s attempts to make us rebel: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mk. 14:23). You must accept a parent’s authority, even when you are being punished: “A wise son accepts his father's discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” (Prov. 13:1). When you say that you can make better decisions than your parents, you in effect covet their authority over you. Satan’s covetousness and his pride also caused him to covet God’s power (Is. 14:12-15). Those who “covet” are disqualified from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3-6). When you seek to usurp your parent’s authority over you, you also break the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17). You are to be an imitator of Christ’s leadership (1 Thess. 1:6; 1 Cor. 11:1). You are not to follow the doctrines of men when they suggest that you ignore authority. This includes your parents’ authority (Col. 2:8).
God uses His leaders as His “avengers” to administer His justice (Rom. 13:4). This includes parents. God even uses the parental relationship to show that He must discipline us out of love. “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” (Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19). “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7). “Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.” (Dt. 8:5). If a parent does not discipline a child, the child will become spoiled: “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Prov. 3:24). Yet, we must never disciple out of anger. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). When (not if) you discipline your child, make sure that you are doing so out of love and not the flesh.
A parent’s authority is not without limits. A child is only required to submit to a parent acting within the scope of his or her God-given authority: “[O]bey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Ep. 6:1). A parent’s sins can in fact be passed down from generation to generation unless the children break the parent’s sins. For example, a parent who has an idol like alcohol or drugs can inflict punishment through his or her selfish conduct on both his or her children and even the grandchildren: “[F]or I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (Ex. 20:5). This does not mean that children will suffer eternal judgment because of the sins of their parents (Ezek. 18:20). Yet, just as you should not submit to a government that tries to cause you to reject Christ’s teachings (e.g., Acts. 4:19), you should not submit to parents if they abuse you. Abused children frequently carry on a cycle of abuse from generation to generation.
What do you do when you feel persecuted by one or both of your parents? First, you show them love and pray for them: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44). Second, to the extent you have added fuel to a cycle of conflict and strife, you must apologize and repent for your own actions (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:23; Mk. 1:15; Acts 3:18; Eph. 1:7; 1 Jo. 1:9). Third, you must forgive your parents for the times they have sinned against you. One of Christ’s last seven statements before His death was the following prayer: “Father forgive them for they known not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34). God will not forgive you if you hold onto resentment towards one or both of your parents: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14). “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions” (Mk. 11:25). “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.” (Lk. 6:36). “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:15; 18:34-5; Mk. 11:26). This does not mean that a parent’s crimes against a child should go either unreported or unprosecuted by civil authorities. A victim can and should be removed from an abuser’s house to allow God’s appointed civil officials to prosecute the guilty parent. Yet, the victim can free him or herself of a lifetime of bitterness by forgiving an oppressive parent. Forgiveness will allow the victim to release emotional baggage that he or she may carry against the parent for a lifetime. It also will help free the victim from ruining his or her relationships with his or her children and spouse. Forgiveness is the greatest gift that you can give yourself.
In the New Testament, Paul warns: “do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” (1 Tim. 5:22). You will know Godly leaders by their fruits (Matt. 7:16, 20). A prospective leader must be content (1 Tim. 6:6-9). The leader must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” (1 Tim. 3:2). The leader also must not be “addicted to wine or be pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:6-10). A leader must further not be a new convert (1 Tim. 3:6). A leader must also lead by being a servant to others (1 Tim. 6:2). Finally, a leader must also show that his or her children follow the Fifth Commandment: “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.” (1 Tim. 3:4). Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households (1 Tim. 3:12). Thus, a child who selfishly rebels may disqualify his or her parent from leadership within the Church.
With the Fifth Commandment, parents have been given a great honor. God has given you His children as a “gift”. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Ps. 127:3). God has given you this “gift” for a reason. It is not to comfort yourself. You are both a spiritual guardian and a steward of a child-like mind that will hopefully become a God-fearing adult: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.” (Heb. 13:17). God shows “lovingkindness” to you (Ex. 20:4-6; Dt. 5:8-10; Ps. 144:2). Do the same with your children. God is “compassionate” to you (Dt. 4:31). Be the same with your children. God is both “forgiving” (Nu. 14:18) and “merciful” with you (Jer. 3:12). Be the same with your children. God is “comforting” with you (2 Sam. 14:17). Be the same with your children. God provides for your needs, not your wants (Matt. 6:25-34; Jo. 6:33-35). Do the same for your children. This includes providing an inherence for your descendants (Prov. 13:22). You should have a reverent fear of God when you do evil (Prov. 1:7). Your children should have a reverent fear of you when they do evil: ‘“Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.”’ (Lev. 19:3). God loves you (Dt. 7:7; Jo. 3:16). Love your children the same. God wants you to trust Him with a child-like faith: “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3). Allow your children to trust you in the same way. Your loving Father also set the example for you by teaching you His Words: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). God in turn expects you to teach His laws to your children (Dt. 4:9-10). “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 6:7). “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 11:19; 31:12-13). “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). You may say that you don’t have time to learn the Law yourself or teach it to your children with school, work, and weekends packed full of activities. But this is one of the reasons why God gave you the Sabbath. Do you teach your children God’s Law? Have you raised your kids in a manner deserving of their honor?
Amongst the many blessings for being obedient to God’s Law (Lev. 26:1-13; Dt. 28:1-14), the Fifth Commandment is unique. It is the only Commandment where God included the blessing along with the Commandment. Moreover, each time God stated this Commandment, He expanded the blessings. When He first gave it to Moses, the blessing was limited to a longer life for the Jews who lived inside the Promised Land: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Ex. 20:12). The second time God gave it through Moses, He repeated this blessing: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (Dt. 5:16). When God restated this commandment through Paul, He expanded it to include a longer life and a blessed life for believers in Christ anywhere on the earth: “Honor Your Father and Mother so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” (Eph. 6:2-3). How will God bless your children for honoring you? If you have raised your children in God’s laws, God can use the Holy Spirit to remind them of His words. This in turn will allow them to find salvation through Christ. “[F]rom childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15). God’s Word will also help them to lead lives that promote longevity: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep My commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” (Prov. 3:1-2). God will also bless you and your children through good relationships and peace: “All your sons will be taught of the LORD; and the well-being of your sons will be great.” (Is. 54:13).