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5th Commandment

5th Commandment

July 14, 2024 by Pastor David Hubbard
Passages:Exodus 20:12

Sermon Synopsis

Exodus 20:12
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon
the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Once upon a time there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and
his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware, missed
his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his
food on the tablecloth. Now he lived with his married son, having
nowhere else to live, and his son’s wife who was a modern young
woman that believed that in-laws should not be tolerated in a
woman’s house.
The woman said “I can’t have this, because it interferes with a
woman’s right to happiness.”
So she and her husband took the little old man gently but firmly by
the arm and led him to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him
on a stool and gave him his food, what there was of it, in an
earthenware bowl. From then on he always ate in the corner,
blinking at the table with wistful eyes.
One day his hand trembled more than usual, and the earthenware
bowl fell and broke.
The daughter-in-law said “If you are a pig, you have to eat out of a
trough.” So they made him a little wooden trough, and he got his
meals in that.
These people had a four-year-old son of whom they were very fond.
One suppertime, the young man noticed his boy playing intently
with some bits of wood and asked what he was doing.
He said “I’m making a trough”
, smiling up for approval,
“for you
and Mamma to eat from it when I get big.”
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while and didn’t say
anything. Then they cried a little. Then they went to the corner and
took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table.
They sat him on a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a
plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or
spilled or broke things.
Now, this story is a fairytale. It’s a not-very-subtle way of saying:
honor your parents, or your children will dishonor you. That’s
much the same point as God makes in the fifth of the Ten
Commandments. “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days
may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
The way adult children treat elderly parents is one part of this, the
final phase of the relationship, but it all begins when you’re a little
child. At that point, you’re dependent on your parents for almost
everything, and you’re under whatever authority they bring to bear
on you. Then, as you grow and become a teenager, you become
more independent.
Even if you’re still dependent on your parents for food and clothes
and a roof over your head, you become a lot less dependent on them
in the way you think. Your attitude toward their authority often
goes through an enormous change. A four-year-old tends to think
mom and dad are always right, but if you’re a fourteen-year-old,
you’re more likely to think your parents are always wrong.
Those teenage years can be a tough time for kids to relate to their
parents, and it’s often tough on parents as well. Do you know the
advice a famous author once gave to parents? “When a child turns
13, put him in a barrel, nail down the lid, and feed him through a
knothole. When he turns 16, plug the knothole.” Okay, so the
relationship between teens and parents isn’t quite that bad—but
sometimes it’s close!
The relationship between children and parents has never been
problem-free, but our society makes it even tougher because there
is such a strong emphasis on the individual and far less on family
bonds. In a cross-cultural survey, people in different countries were
asked to complete the sentence,
“I love my mother but …” –how
would you finish that sentence? In Western countries, most took
this as a cue to offer some criticism of their mother. In South-East
Asia, most people fill in the blank very differently. The answer was
usually something along the line of “I love my mother but… I can
never repay all that she has done for me.”
Let’s take a hard look at why honoring our parents is so important
and so difficult, especially in our society. What’s happening when
teenagers feel more drawn to Tik Tok or other types of social media,
than to their parents’ ideas? What’s going on when senior citizens
in good health would rather live near a golf course in a warm
weather climate, than be near their children and grandchildren?
And what about inconvenient seniors in failing health who are
given, not a trough in a corner, but an assigned spot in a nursing
home? We need to think about why the generation gap often seems
so wide, and what it will take to bridge the gap.
Before we get into that any further, though, I want to say
something right up front. In the Ten Commandments, the
command to honor our parents is the fifth commandment, not the
first. The first four commandments deal with how we ought to
honor God. God comes first. Children honor their parents most
truly, and parents most deserve that honor, when the whole family
seeks to honor God together. Family experts often talk about quality
time. Well, there’s no better “quality time” than when a family
takes time to be together with each other and with God. That’s
quality time.
Jesus said the whole law could be summarized in two basic
principles: love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself.
In the Ten Commandments, the first four deal with loving God, and
the remaining six deal with loving our neighbor. The fifth
commandment, then, is the first one that deals directly with our
relationship to others. Respect for others and love for others begins
at home.
The fifth commandment plainly says that our attitude toward our
parents has a powerful impact on our future. If children honor their
parents, and if parents act in a way that deserves such honor, the
future is bright. On the other hand, if children “diss” their parents,
if they disrespect and dishonor them, the future is bleak.
To see how serious all of this is, consider this: In the earliest days of
God’s people, the Israelites, God commanded the death penalty for
rebellious children. At that point in their history, the Israelites were
a chaotic bunch of former slaves. They could never become a great
civilization, with healthy families, strong communities, and a
thriving faith, if rejection of parental authority became widespread.
Dishonor of parents was a cancer, deadly for the whole community,
and it had to be cut away.
Now, this didn’t mean that a five-year-old could be killed the
moment he did something his parents told him not to. The law
applied to a defiant delinquent of more responsible age, someone
who was incorrigible, a habitual drunkard or troublemaker, who
despised his parents and refused all their advice and warnings. And
even in a situation like that, the parents had no authority simply to
kill their own child, as in many other cultures of that time. The
death penalty could be imposed only after a hearing by the
governing authorities of the whole community. Look at
Deuteronomy 21:12-21. Still, it was a hard law for a hard situation.
We live at a later stage of God’s revelation, but the harshness of this
penalty from an earlier stage shows just how serious it is to despise
and dishonor our parents.
With that as background, let’s consider what the command to
honor our parents means for us in our current situation.
First of all, this command affirms authority. The command is to
honor. Honor is not an especially sentimental word. Honor is a
word that has to do with recognizing authority. Love and affection
are very important in the home, of course, but there is also a
definite structure of authority.
Authority isn’t very popular these days, however. For the last 40 or
50 years, it’s been thought almost a moral obligation to question
authority, not to honor it. Whether it’s the government, church, or
parents, we tend to resent authority, and to think that the only
opinion that really matters is our own.
In certain times and cultures, people may have been too quick to
knuckle under to authority, even when authority figures were
dreadfully wrong, but that’s hardly our problem. These days, the
situation is more like what someone described this way: “In our
school system, the teachers are afraid of the principal, the principal
is afraid of the school board, the school board is afraid of the
parents, the parents are afraid of the kids, and the kids aren’t afraid
of anybody.”
That may be an exaggeration, but regard for authority is at an all
time low, and many people think that’s the way it should be.
Parents and teachers often feel unfit to exercise authority over
children. The modern way has been to view children as basically
good and noble. The parents’ job is to be as permissive and
affirming as possible and not to impose anything on their children.
Likewise, school teachers are to enhance children’s self-esteem
and assist children in clarifying their own values without imposing
anything on them.
But when this happens, parents and teachers are abandoning their
rightful authority. They ought to be giving authoritative moral
guidance to children. Kids need to know that their instincts aren’t
always good, that many of their desires are destructive, and many
of their values are selfish and immoral.
Among other things, authority means saying,
“I know more about
right living than you do. So I am going to teach you, and I expect
you to listen.” The fifth commandment expects parents to exercise
their proper authority. God wouldn’t command children to honor
their parents if he hadn’t given parents authority in the first place.
When parents lose their nerve and abandon their authority, or
when kids reject the authority of good parents, what happens? Are
the children then free from all authority? Not at all. They just
submit to different authorities.
If you’re a teenager, and you stop trying to please your parents,
does that mean you’re now strong and independent and making
your own choices? Not quite. Often it just means you’re more eager
to please your friends than your parents. You want to fit the
standards of your age group and your friends. You want to buy their
kind of shoes, wear their kind of clothes, have their hairstyle and
earrings and whatever else fits the “look” of kids your age. You
want to use their words, listen to their kind of music, and do the
kind of things the kids around you are doing.
Sometimes this is fairly harmless, but at other times it can lead to
serious damage. When somebody offers you alcohol or drugs, do
you think they have your well-being in mind? But it’s tempting to
go along if that’s what it takes to fit in. If the kids in your school or
neighborhood talk like there’s something wrong with you if you’re
still a virgin, or if your date is putting pressure on you to go all the
way, is it because they’re concerned about your future happiness?
But, it’s hard not to go along unless you have parents who taught
you to know better.
And you know the really sick joke in all this? Just when you think
you’re doing what you and your friends want instead of what adults
want, just when you think your generation is showing that it’s
really free from the control of grownups, the fact is that you’re
doing the will of certain adults who hide behind the scenes and
know how to pull your strings like a puppet. Behind most of the fads
in clothes, shoes, hairstyles, and so forth, are shrewd marketers
who target each new generation. They try to widen the generation
gap so that kids will do what adult peddlers want, instead of what
adult parents want.
Take MTV. MTV was a big thing in my day. It’s a channel owned and
managed by adults. Its main purpose is to make money for adults
who own stock in the huge corporation that has MTV as one of its
many holdings. Before MTV got off the ground, a bunch of
researchers planned very carefully how they could hook kids, get
ratings, and sell lots of records and other stuff. MTV executives call
it “the most researched channel in history.” MTV studied what kids
are like, not for the purpose of helping them become better and
happier, but simply to manipulate the kids into buying what
companies are selling. A man who was one of the main forces
behind the scenes, said,
“At MTV, we don’t shoot for the
14-year-olds—we own them.”
Much of the youth culture these days is actually ruled by adults
whose only interest in the youth is exploiting them and using them
to make money. For every group of kids drooling over a
pornographic material, chuckling all the way to the bank. For every
movie or TV show that shows a steamy sex scene and gives kids the
feeling that this is what love is all about, there’s a Hollywood studio
and a corporate sponsor who are counting their millions, even as
teens get pregnant, catch diseases, and lose all respect for sex, love,
and marriage.
For every kid that smokes a cigarette because other kids think it’s
cool, there’s an advertising executive and a tobacco company
gloating over the millions that the tobacco company is generating
in the youth market. For every kid that takes drugs or booze from
another kid, there’s an adult drug dealer or an adult brewing
company executive who just got richer. For every kid buying the
albums of a messed up singer, there’s a record company executive
somewhere lining his pockets.
These adults are in the game of making money off kids, and they
know what buttons to push. They know that rebellion, anger, sex,
violence, and peer pressure have an especially powerful pull for
confused teenagers, and these adults skillfully manipulate these
things to make money. Meanwhile, parents who simply want to
help kids get past these problems and obsessions and grow to
maturity seem to be out of touch.
If you’re a teenager, you need to know what’s happening here. The
question isn’t whether you follow the lead of adults. The real
question is, which adults? The ones who put a dollar value on your
soul, or the ones who gave you birth and love you and want to help
you become wise and strong and good? Honor your father and your
mother, and you’ll be much more able to resist manipulators.
And as for you parents: Don’t run from your calling to exercise
authority. Don’t be afraid to impress your convictions on your
children. If you don’t want to influence your kids, you’re about the
only one who doesn’t. Drug dealers, pornographers, record
companies, cigarette sellers, breweries, Hollywood
producers—they’re doing all in their power to influence your kids.
Surely, you can do better than that crowd.
In an age that is so negative about authority, the fifth
commandment calls us to honor authority. What’s more, in an age
that glorifies youth and despises old age, the fifth commandment
calls us to respect our elders. When your motto is “don’t trust
anybody over 30,
” what do you do when you turn 30? One problem
when we don’t respect older people is that we never really grow up
More and more people get stuck in perpetual adolescence. They’re
in their thirties or forties, and they’re still afraid of responsibility,
they still prefer sexual experimentation to lifelong commitment,
and they spend a ridiculous amount of money and effort trying not
to look their age, getting facelifts, liposuction, hair dyes, and all the
In contrast to all this, the Bible says in Proverbs 16:31,
“Gray hair is
a crown of splendor”. There’s something splendid about old age.
Being young has certain advantages, but so does being old. In God’s
design, there’s something special about each phase of life. Kids
have enormous energy and enthusiasm, while older people have
great experience and wisdom. The Bible says in Proverbs 20:29
“The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old
men is the gray head.”
Part of honoring our parents is recognizing the wisdom that comes
with age. Mark Twain once described his own teenage years and his
attitude toward his father this way: “When I was a boy of fourteen,
my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around.
But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he
had learned in seven years.”
A lot of us can identify with that. When we go through those years
of developing our own identity, when we’re first learning to really
think for ourselves, we may think our parents are really out of it,
that they just don’t get it, that they are downright ignorant. But
once we’ve made it through that stage, there’s often a renewed
respect for our parents’ wisdom.
In saying all this, I’m not trying to claim that all parents are
perfect, or that getting older automatically makes you wiser. There
are abusive and incompetent parents, and there are people who,
instead of getting older and wiser, just get older. When God calls us
to honor parents and aged people, he also calls parents and
grandparents to be the kind of people who deserve that kind of
In Ephesians 6:1,4, the Bible says,
“Children, obey your parents in
the Lord: for this is right. And, ye fathers, provoke not your
children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord.”
Where a generation gap exists, where children and parents are
distant from each other, both need to be reconciled to the Lord and
to his will for them. Then they can be reconciled to each other. The
fifth commandment shows us that people committed to God will
also be committed to their family.
Too often our own individual desires come first, and family comes
in a distant second. When that happens, the generation gap
becomes a huge canyon. If grandparents prefer a golf course in the
sun to the company of their children and grandchildren, they
shouldn’t be too shocked if they eventually find themselves in a
nursing home where they seldom see their children or
I’m not saying seniors should never enjoy themselves in a warmer
climate, nor am I saying that it’s always evil for an elderly person in
need of special care to be in a nursing home. But I am saying that
too often family ties are viewed more as a burden than a blessing.
We need to put relationships before personal pleasure and
convenience. We need to ask how we can best love our dear ones
before we ask how we can enjoy ourselves. Only mutual love and
honor can bridge the generation gap.
Where these bonds of love and honor exist, based on a common
faith in Jesus Christ, family members can support each other, and
each generation can be proud of the other. Proverbs 17:6 puts it this
way: “Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are
the pride of their children.” Let’s pray that God will make that more
and more a reality for us.
The term ‘honor’ means “to treat with significance.” To honor your
father and mother is to obey them, respect them, care for them, and
bear their name with dignity and devotion. Keep in mind that
obeying this command is not contingent upon what they do or
don’t do. Your parents do not have to be perfect for you to honor
them. You are to obey this command to the best of your ability
regardless of how your parents act. The only exception to obeying
this commandment is if your parents ask you to do something that
goes against God’s Word or commands.
Each of us is always to obey God first. If that situation is ever the
case, it can still be handled respectfully, thereby keeping you in
good standing with the Lord. You are to go out into the world and
live in a way that honors your parents’ name by being kind,
respectful to authority, loving toward others, etc. Take note, too,
that this is the only command given with a promise,
“that your
days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving
you.” God honors and blesses you as you honor your parents in
word, deed, and attitude.
When we consider the fifth commandment and what it is designed
to accomplish, we see that it has benefits for both parents and
children. Scripture recognizes the family as the basic building block
of a well-functioning society, using it as a metaphor for the
covenant community when it speaks of one’s brothers and sisters
and of the adoption we enjoy as children of God.
Families where there is consistent discipline and the children are
encouraged to love and respect both parents tend to produce
individuals who are productive, law-abiding members of society. As
one commentator has put it, cultures that do not encourage
obedience to the proper authorities sow the seeds of their own
destruction. The command to honor one’s father and mother
carries with it the broader implication to submit to one’s employer,
governmental officials, and any other duly instituted authority, for
those who cannot honor their fathers and mothers will by no means
be able to honor those other leaders whom God has established.
Additionally, the fifth commandment benefits the parents. There
will come a day for most of us when we will not be able to continue
our present level of work and when we might need help taking care
of ourselves. Given the selfish nature of human beings in general, it
is no surprise to see children forsaking their parents because they
“get in the way” or “cramp their style.”
The elderly are often deemed useless in our society. The fifth
commandment reminds us that in the eyes of the Lord, no aged
person is useless to the kingdom of God. Even when they have
reached adulthood, children are to respect and honor their parents,
especially those godly parents whose righteousness has been
rewarded with a long life. Christian homes must be the last place
where the elderly are cast aside and youth glorified, and they must
also be the first place parents can turn for help in old age.

Exodus 20:12

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

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