After my blog post from Wednesday, I was given the above mentioned question to address. The 5th Commandment is about honoring your mother and father.
All these commandments – of course – are important, but there must be a reason this is the first of the horizontal commands. The horizontal commands (Commandments 5-10) are those commands that primarily reference our relationship with our neighbor; the vertical commands (Commandments 1-4) primarily reference our relationship to God.
So why Commandment #5? Why did God put it here? Why is this the first in the list of the last 6? Is it more significant than then others? Let me give you some reasons this commandment is given here and why it is so important.
First, real relationships start in the home, because that is where our discipleship and discipline and true character is seen and revealed. No one knows us better than our families and there is no better barometer of our spirituality than the family dynamic. If you want to know whether an individual is living an exemplary life, whether they are modeling God’s truth and holiness, whether they are serving God and His church, then look at how he or she relates to his family.
Second, family relationships mirror our relationship to God. Remember Paul’s instructions to fathers, mothers, and children? He wrote, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, AS TO THE LORD. … Husbands, love your wives, AS CHRIST … Children, obey your parents IN THE LORD, …” (Eph 5:22, 25; 6:1). Each of these phrases not only modifies the verbs that precede them but they give us a reflection of what is supposed to happen when each member of the family unit lives in a godly fashion. When they do that, they are mirroring their own submission or obedience or love to God. In other words, children who don’t obey God, struggle in their obedience to God; wives who don’t submit to their husbands don’t often submit to God; husbands who don’t love their wives as Christ loves the church don’t often love Christ in that same sacrificial way.
Third, parents need to live a life in a manner worthy of honor. Remember when Paul said, “Fathers, do not provoke (or sinfully irritate) your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21)? Don’t make your children’s struggle with honor you by being dishonorable. If they have a trouble honoring you, make it because of their sin and not yours.
Fourth, it is in our nature to hate authority. This is as old as Adam and Eve rebelling against God’s authority to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is in our nature to not respect and revere and honor anyone who is above us. It is in our flesh to look at those who tell us what to do and say, “I don’t think so”. We need this Commandment to remind us that we live a life of submission and honor to those who have come before us.
Fifth, we tend to de-value those who are older than us. We abandon our parents into nursing homes never visiting them. We try to fill our churches with young families only at the expense of older couples. We don’t help those who are older have a voice or influence in the world as they ought. We make them the object of mocking or jokes. We create so-called death panels in our health care system to euthanize them when they have reached a point of being expendable.
Sixth, and finally, God sets up a structure of authority in the home. We already had structure before the Ten Commandments – of course – but now we have it as part of God’s moral law. The family functions with someone leading it and for children they are to defer to their parents. We know this is the case because the responsibility of teaching truth and the law falls on those who are in authority – the parents (Deut 4:9-10, 40; 6:4-9).
Jews made this a very important commandment in their religious system because of this promised reward. One well known rabbi, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai taught, “Great is the commandment of honoring father and mother because God preferred it over the honoring of Himself.” I don’t know if I would go that far, but you can see how important this was for the Jews. We need this Fifth Commandment.
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