The Fifth Commandment

Exodus 20:12

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2016

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

We have been studying the Ten Commandments, God’s top ten list of sins in the OT or ten ways that people mess up their lives.  They are ten commandments, not ten suggestions.  Today, we come to the Fifth Commandment. It is very practical.  It tells us how to treat our parents.  It is very relevant today.

It begins the second part of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are divided into two parts.  The first part deal with God, God’s name, God’s day (the Sabbath) and God’s worship.  That is the first four commandments.

The second part of the Ten Commandments do not deal with our relation to God.  They deal with our relation to people. The first commandment in this section deals with the family.  It deals with the parent/child relationship.  The family is the most basic unit of society. As the family goes, so goes the nation.  When the family is messed up, society is messed up.

Children who have trouble at home, end up having trouble in school and often in society afterwards.  The family ranks pretty high on God’s priorities. The family is not just part of the conservative agenda or the Republican agenda; it is part of God’s agenda.  The divine order is God first; families second.

That is why it is such a big deal when people try to change the family by redefining what marriage is and make it a union of two men or two women, which is exactly what has happened in our own country.  God established marriage.  He created it.  Modern society does not like how God did it in the Garden of Eden, so they have come up with their own idea about the family.

A Binding Command

The Fifth Commandment is an important commandment.  It is repeated in the NT.  Jesus quoted the Fifth Commandment (Matthew 19:19; Mark 7:10-11).  Paul quoted the Fifth Commandment (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20).  In fact they both quoted it twice.  We may try to wiggle out of the Fourth Commandment but the Fifth Commandment is clearly still binding.  This commandment is in both the OT and NT.

A Lifelong Command

This is one that applies to all of us.  It doesn’t just apply to us when we are little.  It applies to us when we are older.  It does not say “Honor your father and mother when you are young”. This is not just a command for kids.  It applies to all of us.  All of us have a parent.  We are all children of someone.  It is also a command for big children. This is not just a command for little children.

How do we know this? We know this from Mark 7.  The Pharisees did not take care of their elderly parents and gave a reason for it.  They found a way out of giving money to their elderly parents by giving it to the Temple.  It sounded real spiritual.  Give money to God instead of helping out your own parents.

Jesus quoted the Fifth Commandment to them (Mark 7:10).  He said that what they were doing was making the Word of God of no effect.  They were throwing God’s Word out, like many do today.  They completely ignore what it says.

This command applies to us all of our life.  It applies a little differently when we are older and no longer live under our parent’s authority but it still applies.

A Special Command

It is a commandment that has a promise attached to it.  If you keep this commandment, God promises to bless you.  That is interesting.  This is the only one of the ten that has a specific promise attached to it.  You do what the fifth commandment says and God promises you a special blessing.

What was the promise?  Exodus mentions one promise, longevity.  We are all interested in a long life.  This commandment gives a secret to a long life. Deuteronomy gives a second promise if we keep this command. “Honor 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).

If we keep this command, we are promised two things: prosperity (it will go well with you) and longevity (you will live long).  They are not the same thing.  You can live a long time and be completely miserable. One individual in my class commented that this must be where Mr. Spock’s Vulcan Salute (“Live Long and Prosper”) from the TV show Star Trek came from.

There are two promises for the one who obeys this command but the focus in Exodus is on longevity.  You say, “That is just in the OT.  It doesn’t apply to Christians today”.  Actually, it does.

Paul repeats the same promise in the NT. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV)

What is the key to a long life?  Honor your father and mother. That seems strange.  This commandment is directly related to how long you live.  There is a direct correlation between longevity and honoring parents.  Obedience to parents is not the only factor that determines a person’s lifespan but it is an important factor and, as a generalization, people who honor their parents live long physically.

Why do children who honor their parents live longer? If the kids honor and obey their parents, they will not want to kill them.  Is there any other reason?

Parents tell their kids to finish school, stay away from drugs, gangs, cigarettes, sex before marriage and certain people who might be a bad influence on them. Children who listen to their advice will live longer than children who do not. They are healthier and happier.

They wicked live a short life. Their sins kill them.  Proverbs 10:27 says, “The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short” (NIV). Is this always true? No. Some wicked people live to be a hundred and some godly saints die you but this is true as a generalization (cf. Proverbs 3:9-10; 12:21; 13:4; 22:6).

People who honor their parents and respect authority live longer than lawbreakers and rebels who have a problem with authority and live reckless lives.  Children who obey their parents are more likely to obey the law.

D.L. Moody said, “I have lived over 60 years, and I have learned one thing if I have learned nothing else—no man or woman who dishonors father or mother ever prospers.”

A Relevant Command

We live in a day in which this commandment is routinely broken.  We live in a day in which there is a general lack of respect in society and that lack of respect for authority starts in the home.  Parents are authority figures for children.  They are God-given authority figures.  If there is no respect for authority in the home, there will be no respect for authority outside of the home.

Disrespect is a growing problem in society. Kids today think it is cool to be disrespectful.  They disrespect parents.  They disrespect teachers.  They disrespect police officers. They disrespect their elders.  They disrespect the country and the flag (Colin Kaepernick).  Today, people do the exact opposite of the Fifth Commandment.  Instead of honoring parents, children dishonor them.  They show disrespect to authority in general.

It is a sign that we are living in the end-times. “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, DISOBEDIENT TO PARENTS, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection… despisers of those that are good” (2 Timothy 3:1-3 NIV).

The Hebrew word for honor in our passage (kah-vad) means reverence or respect.  It means to regard somebody as important or to look up to them.  Some children, instead of looking up to their parents, look down on them and despise them.  They talk back to them.  They curse them.  They raise their voice and scream at them.  In some cases, they hit them.  They mock them.  They do not listen to them.

God sees this as a serious problem.  It is no minor sin.  Disrespect to parents was one of the worst crimes a person could commit under the Law of Moses.  In fact, this was a crime punishable by death in the Law of Moses.  Now this law is no longer in effect but it shows us that this was a big deal to God.

Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.” (Exodus 21:15 NIV)

Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17 NIV)

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 NIV)

Here are three different situations.  They all deal with children but not always little children.  In the last passage, the son is said to be a drunkard.  his parents.  He says some bad words.  In a second verse, a child disobeys his parents.  In a third verse, a child attacks his parents. The punishment is the same for all offenses, death.

That is not the way we would handle it today.  This command is a little counter-cultural.  Today, we would give the child a time out, pump him full of medicine and label him ADD.  We would try to increase the child’s self-esteem.  If a child sticks out a tongue to parents, we think the child is cute and is expressing his or her individuality.  God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  His standard has not changed.  Dishonoring parents is one of the worst sins that a person can commit.

A Mutual Command

It does not say, “Honor some of your parents.”  Many say, “I like my Mom but I cannot stand my Dad” or “I like my Dad but I cannot stand my Mom”.  Children often honor one parent and despise the other. Some of us had a really good mother and a really bad father or a really good father and a really bad mother.  The Fifth Commandment says, “Honor your father AND your mother”.

Mothers are to be honored just as much as fathers and fathers are to be honored just as much as mothers.  They were put on the same level.  There is nothing like this in the ancient world.  The Book of Leviticus repeats the Fifth Commandment and in Leviticus 19:3 mothers are mentioned first.  “Each of you must respect[1] your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God” (NIV).

A Difficult Command

This command does NOT say “Honor your parents when they deserve it.” It does not say, “Honor your mother and father when they are good to you or when they are honorable.” In fact, this commandment says nothing about the behavior of the parents.  That is strange.  Parents are not perfect.  Parents sometimes provoke their children to anger.

Some parents are mean and cruel. Not all parents are honorable. Some are honorable but many are not. The Fifth Commandment does not distinguish between the two. It says, “Honor your parents period”. This commandment does not depend on what your parents did for you, or even whether they were good parents.

This commandment is a stumbling block for some people.  How do you honor an alcoholic parent or a drug-addicted parent?  How do you honor a parent who abandoned or abused you?  How do you honor bad parents?   Doesn’t respect have to be earned? How can we possibly honor someone that we do not respect?

What Honoring Does Not Involve

God tells us to honor parents in this command.  It is not conditional.  Paul says in the NT that this is something that pleases God but just because we honor parents doesn’t mean certain things

  • It does not mean that you have to excuse bad behavior
  • It does not mean that parents can never be corrected[2]
  • It does not mean that you heap false praise on someone
  • It does not mean that you ignore the pain you feel
  • It does not mean that you have to put yourself at risk

How to Honor Abusive Parents

There are some things we can do even for parents who have been abusive[3].

1) We can forgive them

The first step to the whole process involves forgiveness.  Without forgiveness, healing cannot take place.  Forgiveness is not easy.  It goes against our nature.

2) We can pray for them

This is the second way that we can show honor to even bad parents. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and it was not a prayer of judgment.  It was a prayer of blessing.

3) We can do good things for them

Not retaliating and not returning evil for evil is another way that we can show honor to parents.

4) We can share the gospel with them

There is no greater way to honor bad parents than to share with them the message of eternal life and the promise of salvation.

5) We can acknowledge their good points

Everyone has good and bad points. We can emphasize their good points.  That is what Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were asked to do in the last question of the second debate.  It was interesting to see their response.

6) We can honor their position

Honor is positional. You can honor the position, even if you cannot honor the person.  David honored King Saul for his position.  He had two opportunities to kill King Saul but refused to do it because Saul was “the Lord’s Anointed.”  He did not know respect Saul personally but he did respect his positionally.

[1] This is a different word in Hebrew (ya-re) than is found in the Exodus account.

[2] Even Jesus who perfectly kept the Fifth Commandment corrected his mother but He did it in a gentle way.

[3] Several of these bullet points are taken from an excellent family life found online at


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