Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
Where the first four commandments deal, primarily, with our relationship to God, the final six commandments deal primarily with our relationship to one another. In other words, the first four commandments are vertical and the final ones are horizontal.
But in what group should the fifth commandment about honoring your parents really be listed? It can be seen as a segue bridge between the first four and the final commandments.
On one hand, the fifth commandment deals with a human relationship—child to parent. Conversely, there’s nothing comparable that shapes and influences our relationship to this God more than our relationship to our parents. Our parents, Lord willing, are there to teach us submission to authority, right from wrong, responsibility, and what it means to be truly loved without exception in God’s eyes.
Worldliness encourages the reversal of the fifth commandment—parents obeying their children instead of the other way around.
Did you know that the some of the most well-known atheists in the last century (Freud, Marx, O’Hare, etc.) all had a severely dysfunctional or damaged relationship with their biological father? Most of the world’s most famous atheists started out as believers in some form of organized religion and became disenfranchised about why God (or a god) would do and not do certain things.
If your father cheated on your mother, then you may struggle believing that God works out all things for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). You may not trust God. Or, if your father was never really happy with anything you did, thought or produced, then God may become, in your opinion, one that can never be satisfied, either.
The bottom line is that many of us have come from messed-up homes. Any current or future family you may have is affected. Your marriage is affected. Your career is affected. And, ultimately, your relationship with God.
So, what can we learn from this verse – not only those who grew up in good homes but those who did not? Let’s take a look.
# 1 - The Command
In sum, to honor means to cherish your parents as the substitutes for God that they are and admire and respect them for the fact that they embody that standard. Parents are to be the primary teacher of God’s Word, authority and disciplinarian—among other duties.
Biblically, to honor your parents means to distinguish the establishment of parenthood as the short-term replacement for God that it is and value it fittingly. So, when you live at home as a kid, you obey your parents. After you’re out of the house, for all of your life you are to respect them and take care of them when they are older.
What if your parents did something horrible to you that leads you not to respect them? You can still demonstrate a certain degree of respect to the office they embrace. When you honor your parents in this way, you are honoring the one true God behind the commandment.
If your parents did unspeakable things to you, how do you live out this commandment? You must understand that the injuries they’ve caused to you aren’t lethal. In the God-man, Jesus Christ, you can find absolute freedom from that injury by finding the kindness and support you desired from them in Him alone.
Then and only then can you say, “You hurt me, and it really hurt, but it wasn’t lethal. I once needed your approval but I don’t need it any more. I used to cry all the time over your lack of love for me but no more. In Jesus Christ and His Gospel, I found what I most desired—what you were supposed to represent. I found in Christ the kindness that I desired. And now that I have His, I can forgive you for not giving me yours.”
#2 - Promise
The second half of Exodus 20:12 affirms the fact that the entire nation of Israel, should they honor their parents, will flourish and their nation will thrive. You see, God uses the family as the basic element of all society. If the family is healthy, then the community, state and nation will be, as well.
In Exodus 21:17, Moses repeats the command of the Lord that revolt and deep impudence for your parents should lead to death. Most of us wouldn’t have made it out of middle school!
But the severity of this truth is before us—this wasn’t just a private matter between parents and children. No, the community saw an attack on the family as an attack on the public good. If you untangle the family, you untangle society.
1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
Friend, your parents have and will disappoint you, just as you will disappoint your own family, friends and co-workers. But our all-faithful, all-knowing and all-loving God won’t. Remind yourself today that you’re made to live for God and His glory. Even if you don’t really believe this, there is a longing for an eternal Father innate to all of us.
Parents, Satan wants to shrink your whole world to the size of the latest trial with your child. Let’s show forth our love for our kids out of pure hearts, not merely so that they would obey us. But know you will fail. When your kids see your sins, let them see your repentance as well. If we were perfect parents, our kids wouldn’t need Christ. How grateful we parents must be whenever we witness the mercies of God manifest in our children. We are so undeserving. God is so gracious!
Have you submitted your past, your parents, your children and your life wholly to the Lord?