“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16, NIV)
No matter how individualistic any of us want to be, we all have tummy buttons. They are a reminder that God has used parents to bring us into the world. We are part of something much bigger than just ourselves.
It is so interesting that honouring father and mother (note that both are to be honoured) is one of only ten central commandments that God gives his people. Why should this be?
Perhaps the place to start is to recognise that the commandments all reflect the nature of God himself. And God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Even the one who has the ultimate right to be considered an individual is, in fact, Trinity. It is not surprising that with a filial relationship at the very heart of the universe, God should want it reflected in his own distinct people.
In his days on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ was always concerned to honour his Father. (His earthly legal father, Joseph, seems to have died before Jesus’ public ministry began, but his mother Mary is prominent in the gospels; and even when dying on the cross, Jesus was caring for her.)
The commandment is a particularly counter-cultural one in our individualistic society. What does keeping it look like?
For children, honouring parents means obeying them. This is how Paul applies it in Ephesians 6:1-2: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise. It is clear from the context here that the Apostle is addressing children who are still growing up, since the parallel duty for fathers is to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). It is in the home that we first learn about authority, counter-cultural though that is!
For us all, honouring must surely mean doing all we can to keep in touch with our parents, praying for them, seeing them, and more. It means showing proper respect for the ones without whom we wouldn’t be in the world. It means expressing proper gratitude.
Parents whose nest has emptied are more glad than their children realise for communication with them. Later on in life, they may need more practical care. The commandment is not given only to people whose parents are a delight to get on with - though if we obey it things are likely to be better!
In a society struggling with selfishness and loneliness, what a difference wholehearted obedience to this commandment would make. What a pointer to God it would be to non-Christian parents when they see this lived out.
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