The Fifth Commandment

Deuteronomy 5:16

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2014

We have been studying the Ten Commandments.  Last week, we looked at the Fourth Commandment.  Today, we come to the Fifth Commandment.  As you know, Ten Commandments are divided into two parts.  The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with duties to God (His name, His day, His worship). That covers commandments one through four.

The second part of the Ten Commandments deals with duties to people.  It covers commandments five through ten.  It starts with the Fifth Commandment and deals with duties to parents.  If you are a visitor, we begin today looking at the second part of the Ten Commandments.  We will be talking about the family today.  The Fifth Commandment deals with the family. Apparently, the family ranks pretty high on God’s priorities. The divine order is God first and families second.

The family is the most basic unit of society. As the family goes, so goes the nation.  The family existed before the church existed. The family is not just part of the conservative agenda or the Republican agenda; it is part of God’s agenda, because He was the one who created the family. That is why is a very matter when people try to change the family by redefining what marriage is (a union of two men or two women).

Critics of the Bible ask, If God is Pro-Family, then why did Jesus tell us to hate our family.  He said that you must hate your family to be his disciple.

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25-26).

That sounds a little radical. Skeptics love this passage.  The cost of being a disciple is that you hate your family.  That passage is never preached on Mother’s Day.  “If you want to be My disciple, you must hate your mother.”  That is strange. One man preached a sermon from this text entitled, “How to Hate your Mother”.  Why would Jesus tell people to love their neighbors but to hate their parents? Why would Jesus command His followers to love their enemies but to hate their family?

The reason is that this is a figure of speech.  Jesus did not literally mean for us to hate our parents.  Otherwise, Jesus would be commanding us to sin.  Hate is a sin.  You don’t take a figure of speech literally.  The word hate does not literally mean to hate.  Figures of speech do NOT mean what they say.  They mean what they mean.  When we say that someone has lost their marbles, it does not mean that they have lost their marbles.

This passage is a hyperbole.  It is an exaggeration.  It is overstatement.  Jesus used hyperbole all the time.  He used it to make a point.  Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.”  (Matthew 5:29)   He said, “If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away”. (Matthew 5:30)

Whenever we have a difficult passage, we need to read the context or read any parallel passages to help understand what it means.  In this case, the parallel passage is Matthew 10:34-38.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)

It is clear from the parallel passage that Jesus is not telling us to hate anyone.  The Fifth Commandment says that we are to honor our parents, not hate them.  Paul said that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, not hate them.  When you compare the passage in Luke with Matthew, it is clear that the word hate means to love less.  It is comparative.  Jesus should come first.  We should love him more than we love our husband, our wife and our kids.

Let’s look at the Fifth Commandment.  I want to do three things today.  I want to give you some basic facts about the Fifth Commandment.  I want to talk about specific ways we can keep this commandment today and I want to deal with some objections that people sometimes raise about the Fifth Commandment.

Fifth Commandment Facts

1. It is an important commandment.

Today, we don’t think it is that big of a deal. If a child sticks out a tongue to parents, we think the child is cute.  Disrespect to parents is quite common in our day. Today, we have kids divorcing their parents.  We have kids suing their parents.  This was a big deal to God.  In the OT, this was a crime punishable by death (Exodus 21:15; Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

God takes this very seriously.  Today, we would just label the kid ADD and prescribe some medication.  Disrespect to parents is no minor sin.  It was one of the worst crimes a person could commit under the Law of Moses.  Now it is true that we are not under the Law today We do not live in a theocracy but God’s attitude toward sin has not changed (Romans 1:29-32).

2. It is a universal commandment

What I like about this commandment is that it applies to all of us.  All of us have a parent.  We are all children of someone.  This commandment does not say “Honor your father and mother when they are young”. This is not just a command for little children. The command is very broad. It is a command for adult children, big children, as well as little children.  Jesus applied this command to adult children in Mark 7. We are to care in addition for the care for the elderly. Based on this command, we are to take care of our parents when they get old.  The OT said that this applied to adults as well (cf. Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 23:22).

3. It is an absolute commandment

This commandment does NOT say “Honor your parents when they deserve it”. It says that we are to honor our parents and it says NOTHING of the behavior of the parents.  That is strange.  The fact is that not all parents are honorable. Some are honorable.  Some are good role models and some are not but 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.

4. It is a positive commandment.

It is a positive commandment – honor your father and mother.  The rest of the Ten Commandments are all negative.  They are all prohibitions (“thou shalt not”) but the fourth and fifth are positive.

5. It is a unique commandment

There is something unique about this commandment.  The Fifth Commandment has both a curse and a blessing.  Let’s start with the curse.  There was a curse placed on anyone who broke this commandment. Deuteronomy 27:16 says, ‘Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother”.

Proverbs 30:11-12, 17 says “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filthThe eye that mocks a father, that scorns an aged mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures”.  Proverbs 20:20 says, “If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness”. 

There is also promise of blessing if you keep it. The Apostle Paul said that this is “the first commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2).  It is actually the only one of the Ten Commandments with a specific promise attached to it.  Obeying the fifth commandment is not only the right thing to do, it is not only doing something that pleases God, it is something that God promises to bless.

That is interesting.  The Bible is full of commands.  We are studying ten of them right now but 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?  There are actually two promises.  Deuteronomy 5:16 says “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.”  What are the two promises attached to this command in?  Prosperity (it will go well with you) and longevity (you will live long)[1].  They are not the same thing.  You can live a long time and be completely miserable.

It is a promise of longevity, long life.  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.  Does this promise still apply today? Yes.  It is repeated in the NT for Christians.  Jesus repeats this command more than once (Matthew 19:19; Mark 7:10-11) and so does Paul (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20).

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?  The Fifth Commandment teaches a general principle about authority and how to respond to authority.  We live in a day in which there is a general lack of respect for authority.  Parents are authority figures for children.  They are God-given authority figures.  Respect for authority starts in the home.  If there is no respect for authority in the home, there will be no respect for authority outside of the home.

People who honor their parents and respect authority live longer than lawbreakers and rebels who have a problem with authority and live reckless lives. It is common sense. Parents tell their kids to 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 (cf. Proverbs 10:27). 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). 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.  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.”

How to Honor Your Parents

You say, “I want this blessing, how do I honor my parents?”  Different cultures may do this in different ways but there are three main ways that you can honor your parents.  John Calvin pointed this out in a book he wrote almost five hundred years ago.[2]  The outline comes from Calvin but all three points are thoroughly biblical.

1. Honor means reverence

This is our pastor’s favorite word.  The word honor (kabed) means reverence or respect.  It means to regard somebody as important, to look up to them.  It means to count them better than yourself.  Some children, instead of looking up to their parents, look down on them and despise them.  They are embarrassed to be seen by their parents.

Kids today have a general disrespect to authority.  They disrespect parents.  They disrespect teachers.  They disrespect police officers.  They do it in word.  They do it in gestures.  They roll their eyes.  They do it in actions.  Their parents tell them to do something and they deliberately do the exact opposite of what they say.

Some of us may only have one parent. We may not even know who our father is and so we only have one parent to honor. Many who have two parents will often 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. 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.  There are several different versions of this commandment in the Bible. Exodus and Deuteronomy mentions the fathers first but Leviticus mentions the mothers first (Leviticus 19:3).

2. Honor means obedience

Is this a problem today?  Yes.  Paul said it was a sign of the last days.  II Timothy 3:1-2 says, “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents”.

Honor means obedience.  The OT teaches this.  The NT teaches this.  The Book of Proverbs had much to say about this topic (cf. 4:1; 6:20; 13:1; 23:22).  The NT teaches this as well.  The Apostle Paul said that children were to “obey their parents in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1).  In fact, he says in Colossians 3:20 “Children, obey your parents IN EVERYTHING, for this pleases the Lord.”

That is strange?  Are kids supposed to obey their parents in everything?  That is what Paul said.  Does this mean that parents are always right?  Paul taught that kids are to obey their parents in everything (Colossians 3:20).  Slaves are to obey their masters in everything (Colossians 3:22).  Husbands are to submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:24).  Citizens are to obey the government in everything (I Peter 2:13).

This does not mean that parents are always right.  It does not mean that husbands or the government is always right.  It does not mean that there are no exceptions.  Paul is giving the general principle of submission to authority.  There are exceptions to the general rule but the exceptions are rare.

Does this apply to adult children?  Are adults still supposed to obey their parents?  This is talking about young children.  That is what the Greek word τεκνον means.  It can be used of adult children in a figurative sense when it is used in the vocative (“my son”) but this is not the vocative.  That is also what the context is dealing with in Ephesians and Colossians. As you get older and live on your own, you are no longer obligated to obey your parents like you were when you were young, although we should always honor and respect them.

An Example of Obedience

Jesus is the perfect example of a child who obeyed his parents (Luke 2:41-53).  Here is the one story we have about Jesus as a teenager.  He was twelve years old (2:42).  His family traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover and they left him behind.  It is one thing to lose something important or something valuable (wallet, cell phone) but Mary and Joseph lost Jesus. They didn’t know where He was or what had happened to Him and did not find him for three days.  It took two days until they got back to Jerusalem and when they got there they did not find him immediately.  They looked everywhere.  They had to look for him for a day before they found him.

When they finally found him three days later, they were angry with Jesus.  They rebuked him.  His mother Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you (2:48). Did Jesus do anything wrong?  No.  He was sinless.  He was the perfect child.  They left him.  He did not run away.  He stayed in Jerusalem.  They went home without him.

Jesus didn’t argue with them.  He didn’t complain and say, “Why did you leave me here all by myself for three days with no food or a place to stay”.  He was not rude to them.  He didn’t talk back to them.  He did ask them one question.  He said, “Why were you looking for me?  Why didn’t you know where to find me?  Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). That is where you could have found me, in my father’s house.  Those are the first recorded words of Jesus in Scripture, spoken at the age of twelve.  Apparently, they did not know their son very well.  They should have known to look for him in the Temple.  He assumed they would know exactly where to find him.  He was the Messiah.  They could have found him in the Temple.

What is interesting is not just where they found Jesus but what he was doing.  What was he doing in the Temple when they finally found him?  He was talking to all of the Bible scholars of his day and asking them questions.  We even know what they thought of Jesus.  They were amazed at his questions and his answers.  He was asking the kinds of questions and giving the kinds of answers that the average twelve year old boy would not have given.  He had an interest in spiritual things which shocked the scholars of his day.

Notice how the story ends.  “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” (2:51).  Jesus obeyed his parents.   If it is hard for kids today to obey their parents, how much harder must it have been for the Son of God to obey his parents. They were sinners.  He was sinless.  He was the Creator.

3. Honor means gratitude.

Part of honoring parents means being thankful and grateful for parents.  We can show that gratitude in several ways.  We can show it on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  We can show it on Birthdays and Christmas.  We can also show it by taking care of them when they are older.  That is how the NT interprets this command (I Timothy 5:4).

That is how Jesus interpreted the Fifth Commandment.  In Mark 7:5-12, The Pharisees asked Jesus a question about his disciples.  They said, “Why don’t they wash their hands when they eat?”  It had nothing to do with hygiene or germs.  It was a ceremonial washing.  It was done for ritual reasons before eating.  Orthodox Jews today still do it.  They dip their hands in a bowl of water before eating.  They do not do it because the Bible tells them to do it.  It was just one of their traditions.  It is called the “tradition of the elders”.  It was part of the what the Jews called “the oral law”.

Jesus called them hypocrites because they were real big on tradition.  They followed tradition but they would not follow Scripture and some of their traditions violated the clear teachings of Scripture.  They said, “You can get out of taking care of your parents financially by giving the money to God instead”.  Rituals were more important to the Pharisees than relationships.  Honoring parents was not as important.

As a result, they set aside the commandment of God by their tradition.  There is nothing wrong with traditions.  Some of them are good but traditions should never take the pace of Scripture.  If we have to choose between following what scripture says and what our church tradition says, we should always go with scripture over tradition.  God’s Word is the final authority over our lives and not tradition.

Objections to the Fifth Commandment

This commandment raises a very important question. Doesn’t respect have to be earned? How can we possibly honor someone that we do not respect?  There are two ways that ways that we can honor even bad parents.

How to Honor the Dishonorable

1. Look for things you can respect in your parents.

Everyone has good and bad points. We can focus on the bad points. We can also respect the good points a person has. I may not like Barack Obama’s policies but there are many things about him that I can respect. He is intelligent. He is a good speaker. He is very energetic. He seems to love his family.

2. Respect them because of their position

Honor is positional. You can honor the position, even if you cannot honor the person. Honor is due to them, not for WHO they are but for WHAT they are.  There is a good example of this in the life of King David.

When David had a chance to kill King Saul, he refused to do so. He could have done in I Samuel 24 and he could have done it in I Samuel 26. Both times, he refused, even when his own men encouraged him to do it. He refused. Why? He respected the office as king, even if he did not respect the man. Saul was totally unworthy of the office of king but David still called him “The Lord’s anointed” and respected the office, even though King Saul tried to kill David five times (18:10-11, 12-30; 19:9-10; 19:11-17; 19:18-24).

You can honor your parents without always agreeing with them. We are to honor our rulers (I Peter 2:17). We do not have a king but we do have a president. We are to honor Barack Obama. You say, “Well I didn’t vote for him and I don’t agree with anything he has done since he has been in office.” He is still our President and he deserves our honor because of his position as our 44th president. He holds that position because by the sovereign will of God, whether we like it or not. That does not mean that we can never criticize our president but it should always be done in a respectful way.

Having said this, you can’t really honor your parents until you forgive them for any way that they have mistreated you. If you are full of anger or bitterness about something someone has done, it is difficult to honor that person. You have to get to the point that you forgive that person (Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness goes against our nature. It’s not easy. We do it out of obedience, whether we feel like it or not. How do you know if you have NOT forgiven someone.

One sign that you have not forgiven someone is if you show signs of anger or bitterness or resentment or malice toward a person. We need to forgive even abusive people. However, just because we are to honor all parents (even bad parents), this does NOT mean that you have to put yourself in an unsafe situation. It doesn’t mean that we have to allow people to continue to mistreat and hurt you. God does not want people to remain in abusive situations. In extreme cases, the state comes in and removes parental rights from people who are simply unfit to be parents.

[1] Paul changed it from saying “so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” to “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”.  God promised the Jews the Land of Canaan. The church is not a nation.  It is made up of people from all nations and God never promised the church would inherit a strip of land in the Middle East.  We do not have the Land Promise but this commandment still applies to the church in a different way, according to Paul.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion , 2.7.36

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