In my pastoral ministry it’s one of the toughest subjects I address. How do families get along with one another? When I was pastoring my church in Shillington, PA I was a youth pastor as part of my portfolio there.
The youth in my group mostly had godly parents that took great care of them. But every once in a while there would be a small dispute between the youth and their parents. If I would address the issue, the youth would tell me how bad their parents were in the parents would tell me how bad their youth were.
I have seen this as a common theme throughout my ministry and in every church I have observed. But it’s an age-old problem between parents and their children. Paul addresses it in Ephesians and Colossians. And the fifth commandment addresses it.
We have talked about holiness from the perspective of our relationship with God and the first four of the Ten Commandments (No Flirting, An Exclusive Relationship, Respect His Reputation, and Remember His Rest). But as we continue to talk about our human relationships we will refer to the last six Commandments. Let’s start with honoring our parents.
The Fifth Commandment
It’s not that there was a problem in Israel between parents and their children that got issued this fifth commandment on Mount Sinai. It might’ve been more a preemptive commandment.
The first four Commandments point to our relationship with God while the last six talk about our relationship with other people. God cares about how we treat other people because they bear his image just like we do (Genesis 1:26-27).
Because they are his creation whom he made and bear his image we must treat them with love that he does. The Ten Commandments are not just a community standard for Israel. They are full of moral obligations for all people.
So why would God include parents and children as part of his commandments? Other than our relationship with God, our relationship with our parents comes as the next intimate relationship we have.
Our mothers bring us into the world and our fathers help guide our lives. Our parents work together to mold us into the people we will become. That’s a lot of hard work, especially for the more rowdy of us (You know who you are).
God places them in our lives as authorities and disciplinaries. They get to tell us what to do, even if we chafe against their leadership. They must discipline us so we will become adults who can function in our society. That’s a lot of responsibility for them, but we don’t see it until we become parents.
So this is what God told Israel: ““Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12, ESV) he doesn’t talk to parents about their children. But he does address children and how they treat their parents.
God gives the reason for honoring our parents, that we will have long life and experience God’s promises fulfilled. When I went over this at my church when I was pastoring one of the ladies asked me, “What if I don’t want my days to be long?”
I suddenly thought, “Gosh. What if she’s right?” But the implication in God’s blessing here is that our days will be long and good, not bad. Not everyone gets that opportunity at least for some of their life, but this is the promise God gives. When we walk with him our days are full of his goodness.
And that is the promise, that God will walk with us and we will have good days as he is with us. The long days refers to a long life, not that your days will feel like they drag on and on. It’s a promise and blessing from God, not a curse.
But to experience such a blessing we must obey the first part of the command, to honor our parents, both our father and our mother. Some people lean one way or the other. Often, sons look up to their fathers and daughters to their mothers. But we are instructed to honor both.
The Ideal Situation
Although God gave this fifth commandment to Israel at Mount Sinai Paul repeats it in the New Testament to both Jewish and Greek Christians, to the whole Church. We see him repeat the commandment and comment on it as he talks to children and their fathers.
“Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise, with the result that it will be well with you and you will have long life on the earth. And fathers don’t provoke your children but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Why does the commandment, and Paul, focus on the children instead of the parents? Don’t worry. He talks to father specifically. And we will get to all of that. Needless to say Paul points out that this is the first commandment God gives with a promise.
The four before it command the Israelites to do what God says no matter what. But this fifth commandment promises God’s blessed long life to those who follow it. Surely his blessing follows those who obey all the Commandments. And this is true.
The promise isn’t meant to coerce us into following the commandment. God makes several comments on his commandments. He explains why the Israelites must not make idols. He elaborates on the importance of the Sabbath rest. And here he gives a blessing and promise to those who honor their parents.
I think God elaborates on the Commandments when he wants to give more revelation. The rest of the Scriptures elaborate on Commandments he does not. God still blesses us when we obey his commandments.
Paul comments that it is right or righteous for children to obey their parents. He cites the fifth commandment for the reason it is right, because God has commanded it. But Paul goes further in his explanation then the commandment did on its own.
He addresses fathers, telling them to not provoke your children to anger. This could be because fathers have expectations of their children and sometimes drive them to fulfill their wishes. No one said parenting is easy, and no child comes with a manual.
Although I’m not a parent, my parents brought me up to serve the Lord. Each child is different. They have different temperaments, personalities, likes, dislikes, and goals. If parents could find ways to encourage and channel their children’s desires and abilities, they would give them a gift that keeps on giving.
The Bible doesn’t tell parents if they should follow in their parents’ footsteps or not. It doesn’t say that there are only certain vocations a child should pursue. The only job he gives every parent to do is to bring up their child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
The discipline and instruction of the Lord means children understand why their parents believe in God. They learn about the Bible and about God. They are given opportunities to commit themselves to the Lord and to know him personally.
In my Christian tradition we don’t baptize infants. Instead, the parents and the congregation commit to being good examples of Jesus to their children and training them up in the ways of the Lord.
We all have a rebellious streak in us. Most children exhibit this streak in their teenage years. Parents can’t save their children. Only the Lord can do that. But they can provide the best example possible so their children can decide for themselves.
Not So Ideal
In Ephesians and Colossians Paul is speaking to Christian parents in a Christian family setting. He is describing how Christian families operate differently than those in the Roman Empire. But there are not so ideal family situations all across America and the world.
How do you honor your parents when you are not raised in a Christian home? How do parents deal with ungodly children who have not chosen to follow Christ? It’s a little easier to talk about growing up in a Christian environment.
Because I have little experience with these situations I will do my best to give some counsel. If you are a Christian child growing up in a home where your parents aren’t Christian, you are at a disadvantage. Parents are still the authorities of the household.
The Bible calls you to honor your parents but that is difficult if they tell you to do things that are not biblical. How can you honor your parents if you have to disobey them because they are not giving you godly counsel or godly rules to follow?
We must always obey God rather than people. The Bible sets the precedent in Romans 13 when it talks about how to deal with ungodly laws and governments. But this can apply to ungodly parents as well. “But Peter and the apostles answered, saying, “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29, My Translation).
Paul said we must seek to please God rather than people (Galatians 1:10). This may bring your parents’ wrath upon you. But God has your back and will take care of you. I know it’s not an easy position to be in. Inasmuch as you can honor your parents, do so. But disobeying ungodly commands is not dishonoring your parents.
For many parents I have known throughout my ministry and life, the shoe was on the other foot. The parents are believing parents and have raised their children in a godly home. But the children have chosen not to worship the Lord or become Christians.
I have spent many hours on my knees as a pastor praying for the parents and children of homes like these. The parents consent godly standards but their authority is questioned and ignored. Their children are rebellious and don’t care about the Christian faith. It breaks the hearts of their parents because they realize the eternal consequences of such a heart condition against God.
But that is all the counsel I have for anybody, and it is great counsel. There is no power greater on this earth than prayer. Prayer still moves the hand of God. You would be amazed how much God hounds those we pray for him to grab a hold of. We will never know this side of heaven the power of our prayers.
So pray and continue to pray. The same goes for Christian children with non-Christian parents. Pray for your parents. You don’t know what God can do with those prayers. Continue to live the Christian lifestyle in front of unbelieving parents and children. God can touch hearts through our actions. At the very least, they will know what a genuine walk before God looks like.
The Fatherly Role
Paul is hard on fathers especially because they represent and provide the image of the heavenly Father to their children. Through their example they show their children what God is like. That’s a tall order, and no one is up to the challenge. But fathers must do the best they can to present an image of the Father.
With all of the fatherless families in our culture, the fathers who are there not there, and the fathers who are bad influences or even dangers to their children, we must have men who stand up and fulfill this requirement by God.
It makes it so much harder for a child to come to faith even as an adult when such a terrible father image is given to them. This may be the hardest thing God asks you to do, but you must represent him well before your children. The Holy Spirit will help you be a godly example to your children.
God calls us to honor our parents because they are his authority and guidance in our lives. They train us up in God’s ways. But not all parents are Christians. And not all children are Christians. In those times when we do not have a godly influence at home, Christian parents and Christian children must live a Christian lifestyle in front of their unbelieving parents or children.
God can use a Christian lifestyle and witness in ways we can’t imagine to win those who do not know him living under our roof. We must also pray continually for our unbelieving parents and children. God does great things through our prayers. They are powerful to break down the hostility toward him and us.
What are some other ways you would counsel Christian children to be able to honor their parents?