It’s intriguing how the 5th commandment shifts our attention from God to the bedrock institution of civilization – the family. “Honor your father and your mother, that you may live a long time in the land the LORD your God is giving to you” (Exodus 20:12). The implication is respect for parents is indispensable to the general health of society. The Ten Commandments have two sections. Modern Christians tend to think the first four are about how we’re to treat our Heavenly Father and the remaining six about how we’re to treat each other. But Jewish scholars divided them evenly because they considered respecting one’s parents to be a reflection of our respect for God. That makes a lot of sense to me. Alistair Begg wrote, “How could we ever claim to honor God, whom we have not seen, if we fail to honor our parents, who we do see? Parental authority is divinely delegated and is an integral part of our reverence for God.” In this commandment God indicated everything vital to the soundness and stability of any nation begins in the home where the parent/child relationship establishes the critical foundation.
Throughout history all civilizations worth mentioning figured that out while those that never learned it or lost sight of it disintegrated in short order. In the Garden of Eden God made the family unit the building block of society. Parents were held responsible for having and raising kids and, in turn, those underlings were to accept and submit to the authority of mom and dad. In one short verse God expressed a fundamental truth that can’t be contested. The key to any society maturing into a conglomerate of well-adjusted, decent and amicable folks resides in the home. According to the Bible a lawfully-wedded father and mother are entrusted to “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). In other words, by faithfully passing on the God-ordained beliefs, morals, wisdom and values they got from their own parents, mankind will thrive and be productive. Sadly, though, the traditional “dad, mom and kids living under the same roof” arrangement has become a rarity in our country. Nowadays all kinds of mixtures of genders, family members and friends are considered viable, acceptable alternatives to God’s original design and we’re paying a heavy penalty for letting that occur on our watch. I know it’s not politically correct to say but God’s Holy Word is explicit when it comes to marriage being between one man and one woman and that any sexual activity outside that sacred union is sinful in God’s eyes. The “free love” revolution of the 60s and 70s (which I took liberal advantage of) demoted fornication and adultery to being misdemeanor offenses and that did terrible, irrevocable damage to millions of families. And now the Supreme Court has stepped in, usurped God’s clear mandate and deemed marriage a “whatever” institution. Things are happening I never thought would be tolerated. To say we’re in danger of suffering the wrath of God for our insolence is an understatement.
Ponder this disturbing statistic. As of 2014 fewer than half (46%) of U.S. children under the age of 18 are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. In 1960 that figure was 73% and in 1980 it was 61%. We’re rolling downhill fast. There’s no positive spin to put on it, either. I see “experts” on TV all the time who say kids growing up without the guidance of their biological father is a major factor in the rising murder and suicide rates but no one has an answer for what to do about it. The biggest problem is too many think it’s not a problem at all. Modern science has made artificial insemination commonplace and thousands of “fatherless babies” are produced yearly. Thus anybody can become a parent and determine for themselves what constitutes a “family.” Fathers, as such, are gradually being pushed out of the begetting process altogether. Begg wrote, “In an age of antagonism between the sexes, it’s a short step to the view of fathers as troublesome, marginal and essentially irrelevant inseminators.” Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to God. He warned us this would happen if we became disobedient and that’s why He gave us the fifth commandment. Break the bonds of the family and bad things are bound to follow.
The apostle Paul was specific about the consequences of a culture turning its back on God and worshiping the creation instead of the Creator. “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers or all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32). It’s impossible for a Christian not to see Paul was describing the 21st century world we’re submerged in. Everyone complains about the mess we’ve made because that’s the easiest thing to do. Yet when believers point to the Scriptures as the surefire solution we’re branded as discriminatory, superstitious and woefully out-of-touch bigots who want to go back to living under the tyranny of strict legalism. Any attempt to tell them they’ve got the gospel message wrong is waved off. They refuse to listen to any truth they don’t want to hear. But that’s absurdly illogical. Timothy Keller wrote, “To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn’t have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?” Yet millions still insist on believing in a made-up God who agrees with and condones their every whim.
It’s noteworthy the fifth commandment is aimed most directly at the offspring, not at the parents. The assumption is if a mom and dad adhere faithfully to the first four commandments they’ll be pretty good at parenting. They’ll acknowledge only one God, they won’t substitute any idols for Him, they won’t curse His name and they’ll set aside one day per week for rest and sincere worship. However, God knows even if a youngster is blessed to have the best, most competent and God-fearing of parents he/she will inevitably rebel against their authority more or less. Humans are born with an innate aversion to being told what to do. So, unless kids are taught otherwise, they’ll not only reject the authority of their parents but, eventually, the authority of civil and moral laws. If a child is brought up sans any exposure to God’s Holy Word whatsoever or is raised by a single parent who has to work constantly just to make ends meet (and is therefore M.I.A.) the odds are they’ll meander into adulthood without a direction or purpose. It’s fair to say that’s precisely the situation we’re dealing with now. Our kids don’t respect us. Or anyone, for that matter.
I often point out words that have dropped out of common usage and honor is one of them. But respect and honor intertwine. Why should a child honor their mom and dad if respect for both isn’t a non-negotiable demand the parents place upon them? I think one of the central things that made movies like “The Godfather” trilogy and television series’ like “The Sopranos” so popular was that, no matter how vile and ruthless the main characters were, they insisted on receiving respect from their offspring at home. Their family, however dysfunctional, meant everything to those folks and the viewers commiserated instinctively because family is extremely important. It triggered a sensitive, sympathetic emotion in their audience. Alas, appreciation for our parents sometimes doesn’t kick in until we start getting old ourselves. I find myself wishing I’d been more like my mother and father regarding raising my now-grown daughter and son who don’t bother with obeying God’s commandments because their dad didn’t. I didn’t demand respect from them and now, lo and behold, they don’t respect me. I suspect I’m not alone. I gather it’s a filled-to-capacity boat I’m aboard these days. Such are the repercussions of not taking the fifth commandment as seriously as God instructs us to.
Begg posed this rational question: “How can we possibly expect children to know their boundaries when the parents themselves are clueless about their responsibilities?” Somewhere along the way secularists convinced us the old adage, “kids should be seen and not heard,” was cruel and destructive so it was replaced with “let kids be themselves without any restraints being applied.” I dare say all of us have been in a public place where somebody’s brood of young ‘uns ran amok, utterly out of control while the parent(s) stood by as if they were helpless to do anything about it. And, if the parent(s) did take some kind of action, it was more likely than not presented in the form of a polite request wherein the unruly kids were given the option of compliance or defiance. Not too long ago almost every newscast included an update concerning Ethan Couch and his mother Tonya. Seems Ethan got blitzed one night, got behind the wheel and proceeded to kill four innocent people. At his trial his attorneys said Ethan suffered from a severe case of “affluenza” brought on by being a spoiled rich kid who was never told “no” and thus should not be held responsible legally. Judge Jean Boyd bought their argument and sentenced Ethan to 10 years’ probation. The most surprising aspect of it all was the public being so shocked a thing like that could happen! To me it was just a matter of time. This is the “new normal,” I guess.
So how does a Christian raise a child correctly? It’s all spelled out in our owner’s manual – The Bible. Foremost, children are to be treasured as gifts from God and raising them should be considered a privilege. The goal of the parent should be to fully enjoy them while painstakingly turning them into mature adults who’ll love and serve God. A parent most effectively teaches by example and that necessitates obeying God’s laws themselves. When Moses finished elaborating on the Covenant Principles he told the Israelites, “These words I am commanding you today must be kept in mind, and you must teach them to your children and speak of them as you sit in your house, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). In other words, rearing your kids God’s way is a non-stop 24/7 job. You can’t just talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. Otherwise they’ll see right through your hypocrisy and your goose’ll be cooked. It’s also your responsibility to tell them that, despite what they’re taught in school, they aren’t a random combination of time, matter and dumb luck. That what they are is a unique creation of the Heavenly Father and that He has plans to employ them in the furthering of His kingdom. There’ll be times when you’ll think you’re wasting your breath but a lot of what you say will stick. “When I was a son to my father, a tender only child before my mother, he taught me, and he said to me: ‘Let your heart lay hold of my words; keep my commands so that you will live” (Proverbs 4:3-4). Solomon was listening.
No other aspect of child-rearing is as controversial as discipline these days. Seems you can’t win for losing. Begg wrote, “The social and political climate is one in which the ‘rights’ of the child have been set out in such a way as to severely inhibit the parental exercise of discipline.” Yet the Bible teaches administering proper discipline is a display of genuine love towards one’s offspring. “The one who spares his rod hates his child, but the one who loves his child is diligent in disciplining him” (Proverbs 13:24). I’ll resist ranting here but a parent mustn’t be afraid to punish their kids when they act up. Else they’re setting a precedent that’s almost impossible to negate. Training a child on how to respond to authority is an essential part of parenting. Taking time to explain why unpleasant disciplinary measures are sometimes necessary will hopefully cause the guilty party to think about what they did wrong and take measures to not do it again. Now, discipline doesn’t always work but a lack of discipline never does. Again, the more familiar the child becomes with Scripture, the more they’ll see that love and obedience are inseparable. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). They need to know obedience is not arbitrary in a Christian home and that showing respect for their parents and elders reveals where one’s heart is. This also involves reining in their body language. Solomon wrote, “The eye that mocks at a father and despises obeying a mother – the ravens of the valley will peck it out and the young vultures will eat it” (Proverbs 30:17). While he was obviously over-exaggerating the outcome of dissing one’s parents he was wise to emphasize that no amount of good will result from behaving that way. Remember, reasonable threats of serious repercussions have never permanently damaged a teen’s psyche. As the long-running TV reality program proved, some youngsters have to get “scared straight” in order for adults to grab their undivided attention.
But the 5th commandment doesn’t affect the younger set exclusively. With folks living longer nowadays the duty of caring for our mothers and fathers if and when they reach their “golden years” includes everybody. It’s a responsibility Christians must not shirk. Paul stated that a true believer should “…first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them” (1 Timothy 5:4). But far too many are failing to take care of their aging kinfolk. Polls reveal barely half of the American public thinks it’s the children’s responsibility to look after their parents. I don’t understand that at all. I guess it’s because of society’s growing obsession with youth. Begg wrote, “Old age is viewed at best as a relief from the grind of having to get up in the morning and at worst as an existence that offers no reason to get up at all.” Honoring one’s parents can be hard work and sometimes it takes as much sacrifice and patience to be available for them as it does to care for a newborn infant. To be there for a parent as age takes its toll on them is when real love shows its warm colors most brightly. J. I. Packer wrote, “As in a pre-pension age the Pharisees let folk duck out of financial responsibility for parents (Jesus savaged them for it: see Mark 7:6-13), so people today duck the task of caring for parents who can no longer care for themselves. But none may claim to love their neighbor while they shrug off their parents. Some of us have some repenting to do.”
The critical point being made in law #5 is that God, who’s Himself the Father of Jesus and of all Christians through Him, has placed the utmost importance on humans building and maintaining strong families. The family life entails the taking on of certain responsibilities by both parents and children. The basic family unit is part of God’s overall will for mankind. And how we conduct ourselves as offspring and parents is a telling test of both our humanity and our godliness. Packer wrote, “Love – the caring love of parents who respect their children and want to see them mature, and the grateful love of children who respect their parents and want to see them content – is our great need here.” No doubt I’ve only scratched the surface of what God means by His commandment to “Honor your father and your mother, that you may live a long time in the land the LORD your God is giving to you” but I can tell you this much: I didn’t do a very good job of obeying this law and I pay a steep fee every day. Neither my son nor daughter has much respect for the magnificent, merciful God who loves them because they weren’t taught to respect their earthly father the way they should’ve. The Lord has forgiven me, but I still ache.