Lessons from the Law: No.7 : Honour your Parents
Ex 20:12 Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you
The fifth commandment that we have here in our verse today, is a link between the first four that are all about the Lord, and the latter five that are all about relating to the rest of the world. Interestingly it isn’t about the marriage relationship – that comes later – but is about our fundamental attitudes towards our parents. It is almost as if the Lord is pointing out that the most fundamental attitude to be checked out, is that towards our parents. Every single one of us has parents. We may not get married and we may not have children and so rules in respect of that would be irrelevant to us, but this is an all-encompassing law that applies to everyone one of us.
Now before we move on in this mediation and move on to consider the remaining of the Ten Commandments, I would suggest that if we ignore the first four commands, it is probable that we will ignore the remaining six. The reason I say that is the if you push God out of the equation of your life, you have no foundation upon which to determine what is right or wrong, and very soon selfishness will be the predominating characteristic observed in your life. No longer is it, what is right because it conforms to how we were designed to live best, but now it is simply what do I want, what gives me the most pleasure regardless of the outcome. It is not surprising therefore, that where in Western societies we see the rejection of God, we also find a complete abandoning of the remaining six commandments – and it starts in the family!
Again, before we really get in to focusing on this command, we would do well to note a grave danger that hinders obedience to it. It is the observance of our parents as failures. Tragically we now are in a downward spiral where this appears to get worse and worse. Fifty years ago most families stayed together. Divorce was relatively rare. That didn’t make marriages perfect or even always good, but it did mean at least that the parents were there for the child. Now I believe it true to say that most marriage failures came because of the husband. The wife is emotionally linked to the children but there is not such a strong link for the father.
Men also historically had greater freedom and so when we think back to characteristic ‘bad fathers’ they were those who drank too much or betted too much. Such ‘freedoms’ were not available to the mother who was historically linked to the home. It is probably true to say that infidelity mostly came as initiated by the husband and when there was abandonment of the family, it was by the husband. It is this latter thing which is mostly observed by the children, reinforcing their negative ideas about marriage. Even if it wasn’t something like this, we can all look back to remember the shortcomings of our parents. All of us who are parents fail to be perfect; our children will always have something to feel negative about. It is what living in a fallen world is about – and perhaps that is one of the reasons that Lord places this command before all other commands about relating to others.
The fact is that we cannot disregard this command because out parents were less than perfect. We must leave our parents’ failings for the Lord to deal with. Our call is to ‘honour’ our parents. What does honour mean? It means to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. Why should a child do this of their parents? First of all, because God says so, and He makes it a condition of a good life! Yes, this command carries an outworking with it: “so that you may live long in the land.” Failure to keep this command suggests that our lives will be impaired – the implication IS there! Long life normally comes in Scripture as a result of the blessing of God. If God’s blessing is withheld then life will be limited. Note again what we suggested honouring means: to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. It is a mind thing, an attitude thing first and foremost and then when the attitude is right, right actions will follow.
Now this is not to say that we should be blind to our parents’ shortcomings or even excuse them, but it does mean we put them aside and purpose, nevertheless, to adjust our attitude so that we exalt or esteem them for who they are apart from their sin. Now for some this is very difficult because they may have been abused throughout their childhood by their father. Now this raises lots of other issues, for example about blowing the whistle on their sin. If you have been abused, don’t keep quiet about it. You first of all confront your father with his wrong and if he fails to repent and seek your forgiveness, you share it with your mother or some other close adult. Can you ‘honour’ a father in such circumstances? With immense difficulty and only by the grace of God. If we are a Christian, we still want this man to turn to God and be saved. This is the ultimate of our desires for our parents if they are not Christians, and it may be this desire in particular that motivates you to view your parents through different eyes.
Often in counselling we have seen an individual be shown by the Lord what their parent was really like. One abused daughter in particular in my memory, wept for her father saying, “I didn’t know what he had been through to make him like that.” It did not excuse what he had done but it did explain it and the understanding helped her put aside the years of abuse and cry for his salvation.
Most of us fortunately were not abused physically, but it may have been abuse verbally or by neglect. We don’t excuse it ever, but with God’s help we can explain it, and that may help us be able to put aside the hurt of the past and cry for our parents. There is so much more that could be said but space prohibits it. In Ex 34:7 we find the Lord spoken of as one who “punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:7) but the truth is that at any time we can turn to the Lord and find forgiveness, cleansing and a new life. We don’t have to take on the sins of our parents which do so often trickle down through the generations. A good sign, seen so often, is the decision of new young parents not to go the way of their parents. With God’s grace you can be different and in so being you can bring honour to your own parents and, if they are still alive, your life can eventually be used by the Lord to change theirs. Now there is a challenge, but make sure your attitude is right to start with.