HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER
Listen to the words given to Moses in Exodus 20:12, "Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." This is the fifth commandment. Not only does it tell us what attitude we are to have toward our parents but God states it to Israel as a conditional promise to bless them if they would keep it.
Two thousand years ago the Holy Spirit directed the Apostle Paul to counsel the Ephesians church about family relationships. Ephesians 6:2 states,Children, honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you; and parents, don't exasperate your children but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Again it is stated as a conditional promise. God will bless those who honor their parents.
INSTRUCTING FROM THE SCRIPTURES
On the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, Jesus met two disciples who were walking dejectedly and He said to them, "What's going on? Why are you so sad?" And they said, "Well, don't you know what is going on? We had someone we hoped would be the Messiah but now He is dead." Jesus began to instruct them from the Old Testament about the prophecies and all that was written about Him, especially in Isaiah and the Psalms. He expounded the Word of God to them and their hearts were touched. He did it from the Scriptures, from the Word of God.
Let's look at Exodus 20, closely. In verses 2-17, God gives them very basic commands that were to govern their attitudes and actions. He did not give them a long list of things to do and not do, but 10 basic commands that if followed would reach to every aspect of their hearts. When God gave them these 10 commandments He accompanied them with lightning, thunder, and smoke to impress them with the seriousness of the moment. God did not do these things to make them afraid of Him.
One thing they should have learned in Egypt was that God is merciful to those who seek Him. He rescued them from Egypt and opened the Red Sea so that they could pass. Holy gratitude would have seen God's merciful nature. But, instead they saw judgment.
TO HONOR FATHER AND MOTHER WORKS AGAINST REBELLIOUSNESS!
Exodus 20:19 tells us they refused to meet God. "And they said to Moses, 'You tell us what God says, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die!'" They sent Moses for them because their hearts were not repentant. The sin that was still in their hearts made them afraid of God, made them reject God!
Look at the Ten Commandments closely. Is there anything there that is unreasonable? These were basic commands that most people would agree with. They are profound because of their simplicity. In them God addresses core issues in the human heart. And one of these core issues was how children should behave toward their parents. A certain measure of humility is required to honor one's father and mother. The human heart is born rebellious. To honor father and mother works against this rebelliousness!
WHICH ONE DID WHAT HIS FATHER WANTED?
In Matthew 21, Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. He went to the first son and said, "Son, go to work in my vineyard today." The son refused. "I won't do that. No way." But later he changed his mind and he went back and did it. He repented. Dad went to the other son and said the same thing, "Go work in my vineyard today." The son replied, "Oh, absolutely sir. I will. Yes, yes, I will. Absolutely." But he did not do it.
Jesus asked, "Which one did what his father wanted?" The first son represents something that is biblically and theologically instructive--sinners who repent of their wrong ways and wrong heart, who come to Christ and follow His will and honor Him, will be forgiven and eternally saved from condemnation. The second son represents those who know all the right answers, the right words to say, who sound pious, but who do not actually have a heart directed toward God or His ways. They want to do what they want to do and ultimately reject God's offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. They do not repent.
HONOR - AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT IN EVERY RELATIONSHIP
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." Honor should be a basic element in every relationship. Parenting, marriage, business, whatever relationship you can think of. There is a direct relationship between having purity and giving honor. The word "honor' appears about 200 times in Scripture. The origin of the word makes it related to two other words-glory and majesty. Honor is commonly understood to include respect paid to someone superior like a king, military officer, or corporate boss. This same type of honor is to be given to one's parents. Honor is to be given because they are in a position of authority over us.
WHAT IT MEANS TO HONOR?
We need to look at some difficult issues if we are to understand what it means to honor others in positions of authority, including our parents. In Romans 13, Paul addresses the issue of Christian responsibility toward civil government. There are two legitimate questions that arise when discussing this topic.
- When am I excused from honoring someone? Is there ever a situation when I am free to disregard a command given by an authority figure?
- How do I decide when obeying God requires me to disobey someone in an authoritative position over me?
I want to answer those two questions. The answer to these questions will not only help us to understand our responsibility toward civil government but our parents, as well.
In Acts 5:28 we read that Peter and the other apostles had been put in prison and released. They were told by the authorities not to preach in the name of Jesus. Peter responds in verse 29, "We must obey God rather than men." In other words, when an earthly authority, whether civil or parental, commands us to do something contrary to a command of God, we are to obey God. "I have to do what God wants me to do," Peter answered.
Whenever they demand that I publicly renounce my faith or my moral conscience, we are to not follow their lead. We are to follow God's leading and commands.
Polycarp, a personal acquaintance of the apostle John about 100 AD, was told to deny his faith under the threat of death. He died tied to a flaming pole rather than follow such a wicked command. Corrie ten Boom is another example of someone who disobeyed a wicked command in order to do what was right. In World War II, she risked her life by rescuing and saving Jews from the Nazi authorities. She hid Jews against the orders of the government. Any command that requires you to deny your Lord or His ways is to be disobeyed. No matter who is giving it! Doing so does not violate the honor principle.
IN CONFLICT WITH EARTHLY AUTHORITY?
What determines my reaction or obligation to what I believe might be an evil or corrupt policy of my civil government? I admit that I have a problem with some people's application of Romans 13:1-5.Obey the government, for God is the one who puts it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience.
This is something I have been concerned about for many years. Many Christians believe that verse 1 settles it all. "Obey the government, for God is the one who puts it there. All governments have been placed in power by God."
Actually, I wish that all governments would fulfill their God given roles of protector of the innocent and punisher of the wrong-doer. Rebellion against this kind of government is condemned in these verses. And rightly so!
But what about those governments who are not like the government described in Romans 13:1-5? What about those governments that oppress, murder, and steal from the very people they are supposed to be protecting? Are those same people supposed to support such villainy merely because it is a government that is doing it instead of an individual?
GOVERNMENTAL CHANGE, JUSTICE, AND HONOR
Sometimes justice and honor call for governmental change. When eminent domain becomes an excuse to relieve me of my property. When immoral actions by authorities destroy the honor of the position itself. When personal liberties are rescinded or restricted under the guise of security, we have to be on our guard.
To compromise freedom for security, will someday leave us with neither freedom nor security. It has happened in other lands. Authorities that are supposedly in power to provide protection from harm, verse 4, become vicious (ruled by vice) and dishonorable and terrorize the good, while rewarding those who do evil.
Martin Nielar, German Protestant pastor born in 1892, talked about what happened to him under the German Reich. He says,They came for the Communists and I did not object. I was not a Communist. They came for the Socialists and I did not object. I was not a Socialist. They came for the labor leaders and I did not object. I was not a labor leader. They came for the Jews and I did not object. I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was nobody left to object.
CHRISTIAN HERITAGE AND PATRIOTISM
Having said all this, I want to tell you how much I am grateful for my heritage as a citizen of this country for which I risked three years of my life in wartime service. But as a Christian I also believe we must be watchkeepers of our society and our government as well as our faith. Do not become complacent. It is always proper for a Christian to speak out and organize against evil doing. But it is never proper for that same Christian to do wrong in the process!
HOW DO WE BEHAVE TOWARD THOSE WHO DO NOT DESERVE HONOR?
This same mentality extends to individuals in authority over us. How do we behave toward those who do not deserve it? They occupy a position of authority which we are commanded by God to respect, but they do so in immoral, predatory ways. What is the Christian to do? To get a biblical perspective on this question, please turn to Mark 7:6.
The setting for this passage is in verses 1 and 2. The religious leaders and the teachers of the law, the Pharisees, have observed the disciples of Jesus eating food without ceremoniously washing their hands. "Oh, tsk, tsk, ain't it awful?" The disciples are not dirty, they just have not washed in the traditional way.
The traditional wash requires the individual to pour water on the hands and then let it drip off to your elbows and then turn the arms and let it drip down and off the fingertips. After all this you are considered clean. They approached Jesus and accused, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?"
How ridiculous. How trivial. Jesus told them what He thought of their arbitrary traditions. In verse 6, He says, "Isaiah was right." What did Isaiah say? In Isaiah 24, when Isaiah prophesied God's words concerning hypocrites, he said, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless and their teachings are rules simply taught by men." In other words, "You guys have placed your traditions and yourselves over God."
Jesus also criticized their methods. They were creating loopholes for ways to avoid honoring God and parents? Verses 9-11 are enlightening.You reject God's laws in order to hold on to your own traditions. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who speaks evil of father and mother must be put to death.' But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, 'Sorry, I can't help you. For I vowed to give to God what I could have given to you.' You let them disregard their needy parents. As such, you break the law of God in order to protect your own tradition. And this is only one example. There are many, many others.'
OUTWARD REVERENCE AND INWARD REALITY
The Pharisees' show of outward reverence did not correspond to their inward reality. Their human traditions made it 'ok' to neglect the clear commands of God. All through the gospels Jesus calls them religious phonies. He tells them, verse 15, that it is what comes from the heart that matters not what a person eats or what human tradition he keeps. In verse 18 He asks, "Are you so dull you cannot figure this out?" These were supposed to be the spiritual leaders and they could not see the obvious because they were blinded by their legalism and traditions.
In verses 21-22, Jesus tells them what defiles a person.For out of men's hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean.
WHAT ABOUT UNLOVING, UNCARING, OR ABUSIVE PARENTS?
Jesus reminded the Pharisees that it was their duty to honor and care for their elderly parents. And most of us accept the reasonableness of this command. But what is our behavior supposed to be toward unloving, uncaring, and even abusive parents. Ollie and I had good parents while we were growing up and we are eternally thankful for that. But we have been very close to a lot of people who have had horrible relationships with their parents, with parents who abused them and took advantage of them. They still feel the effects of that abuse as adults. How do we overcome the emotional damage done by the abuse? Well, let me share an illustration or two.
Ron Mehl, who wrote the book The Tender Commandments, tells of his experience in dealing with the command to honor one's parents. He was well past 40 when he met his father for the first time. Ron was an outstanding preacher, author, and student of the scriptures, but he admitted that every time he read the words in scripture found in I Thessalonians 2:11, 12, his heart ached. "You know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children and encouraging, comforting, urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom."
These are honorable qualities to be found in good parents. But Ron felt hurt, robbed, deserted, and betrayed because his father had not been a good parent. He asked himself the question some of you might be asking yourself, "Why should I honor my parent? I need a valid reason, God. You told me to do it. I want a reason." And the answer he found, which is so interesting and simple, was in the last five words of the commandment. "Honor your father and mother so that you may live."
SHOULD YOU TRY TO GET EVEN?
If you are trying to get even by striking back or making them suffer, this will hurt your soul. That applies to every one of us no matter what has happened to us in the past. Revenge destroys the soul. It takes us farther from the godly disposition God wants us to cultivate. You become a slave to your bitterness.
Ollie and I have experienced our share of that kind of stuff-control and abuse, but I can still tell you that God has authority over my life. I respect Him and I honor Him. He is my loving Heavenly Father and His eternal word is good for me and it is a guide for my life. He is the one who can change my life. You can tell me what I ought to do, but Christ will be the one who helps me change.
Christ wants to walk and talk with us through troubling times. Not just to live through them but to come out of them more godly and free from the negative effects of bitterness and rage. I keep coming back to Colossians chapter 3. I am going to read it from the Philips translation:Since you are risen with Christ, reach out for the highest gifts of heaven where your Lord reigns. Give your heart to heavenly things, not to the pressing things of earth. For as far as this world is concerned, you're already dead and your life is a hidden one in Christ. One day, Christ, who is the secret center of our lives, will show Himself openly and you will share in that magnificent appearing.
And I hope that excites you like it does me. And let me testify to this idea. While it is not always obvious, Jesus Christ is the inner living center of my life. You have heard me say before, "Christ in me, the hope of glory." Peter was not pure in heart when he cursed and lied and deserted his Lord, yet when he saw the resurrected Savior, he began to live beyond himself for the rest of his life. He lived as someone who was seeing God daily. He brought honor to his Lord in a magnificent way because he allowed God to purify his heart despite his evil surroundings.
PETE AND TERRY - OUR FRIENDS, AND A LESSON TO LEARN
Two of the greatest friends that Ollie and I have had were Pete and Terry. Terry was Ollie's roommate in college and Terry and I and Pete and Ollie were all at each other's weddings. We were sort of the class clowns at college and we had great times together.
Terry's father was very abusive and her mom was a saint. From age 5, Terry can remember her father as being a mean, hard-drinking, ready-to-swat-you-at-a-moment's-notice kind of guy. He never worked a day in his life, and Terry would stand between him and her mother in order to protect her from his physical abuse. He never supported the family and Terry did not see him for several years. But he showed up at her wedding, got drunk, and ruined the reception.
When Terry's mom died, he begged to live with Terry and Pete. Pete was a pastor at one of the larger churches in Delaware. They had four sons yet they let him live in their house. They had a couple of rules-no swearing and no drinking. But he embarrassed them even when he went to church because he would come-on to the women. But Terry honored him until the very day he died by caring for him. I thought to myself, "What in the world is her secret?" And this brings us to what Terry had that can help us understand the nature of honor.
FINALLY, WHAT IS THE NATURE OF HONOR?
What is the nature of honor? It is not wealth. It is not position. It is not power. And it cannot be bought. It is sad to say but an honoring spirit does not come automatically as a result of being a Christian. It must be strived for and attained as a by-product of walking with and obeying Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:1 commands us to be imitators of God as His dear children. As earthly children strive to be like their parents when they are young, so should we strive to be like our heavenly Father throughout our lives. We do this by looking to Jesus Who is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).
Jesus, despite His access to all the resources in the universe, yielded Himself to honor His Father even unto a painful and humiliating death. Jesus was not a masochist, who loved and sought pain and humiliation. Masochism is not normal. It is sinful. It is self-loathing and self-punishment. It is dishonoring to the God Who created us.
Jesus endured the pain and humiliation because it was in fulfillment of the Father's eternal plan and for our eternal benefit.
THINK ABOUT JESUS
When we think about honor, I hope we will think about Jesus Christ. That He can make our lives into a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God as we live according to His example. Jesus honored the civil authorities by being law abiding and paying His taxes. But notice, He refused to follow its wicked lead when it came to denying His Father and His heavenly mission. The principle we learn from Jesus is this:Strive first to honor those in authority over us, including our parents, until they require us to do something that will lead us to disobey a direct command of God. In such cases we are to follow God and not the authority. But in our refusal to obey a wicked authoritative command we are never to do wrong in the process.
This is what Jesus did when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. He taught us that it was the wicked authority that placed itself in opposition to God that caused Him to oppose it, not a rebellious attitude! Following Jesus Christ as our example, our first principle is to always honor our parents unless they require us to sin in the process. In such cases, we are to follow God's direction while still maintaining a respective attitude toward the offending parent. We are to gracefully decline to follow his or her wicked lead. But in all other situations we are to honor them as Jesus honored His Father, with reverence and godly behavior.
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