Now if you would please take a copy of the Scriptures and turn with me once again to the book of Exodus, chapter 20, as we continue to examine the teaching of the Ten Commandments together. We have looked at the first four commandments and we looked at the Sabbath command last Lord’s Day, which brings us to the fifth commandment and the beginning of what’s often called the second table of the Law. The first four dealing with our love to God, the honor and reverence we owe to God, and the remaining six the way we love our neighbors as ourselves. And as I say, we’ve come to the fifth commandment which is, “Honor your father and your mother.” Before we read it in its context, we’re going to bow our heads first of all and pray together. Let us pray!
O God, would You open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of Your Law, for Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
Exodus chapter 20 at verse 1. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:
“And God spoke all these words, saying,
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’”
Amen, and we give thanks to God for His holy Word.
The fifth commandment, Exodus 20 verse 12, is without a doubt a word, a tract, for our times. Its message speaks with sharp clarity and holy urgency to the context in which we live in contemporary America. Its immediate focus, though it is much wider, its immediate focus is the family – its dynamics, its health, its essence, its essential structure, and importance. It presupposes as normative the union of one man with one woman for life in the bonds of marriage, and that in the context of that union they will, should God bless them with children, raise a family together in stability and respect. That is the God-ordained plan for human flourishing outlined in the fifth commandment and it is not the world in which we live today, is it? For example, the Pew Research Center recently reported at the end of 2014 that 34% of children are living with an unmarried parent up from only 6% in 1960, 19% in 1980. Another study shows that at any one time nearly one-third of all children 18 and under do not live in the same home with their fathers, and less than half spend their entire childhood with both of their parents. Americans are delaying marriage later and later in life, and more are foregoing marriage altogether than ever before. While the fifth commandment envisions a stable home environment with a mother and a father, today in America less than half of our children are born in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. Family life in our culture and in our day is more complicated and less reflective of the Biblical norm than it has ever been.
So the fifth commandment is a tract for our time and we badly need to hear its message, so let’s turn our attention there please. Exodus 20 verse 12, “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” I want to offer three metaphors, three images that help us understand the scope and the meaning and the use of the fifth commandment. First, it is a bridge command, then secondly, a blanket command, and then thirdly, a beacon command. The fifth commandment is a bridge, a blanket, and a beacon!
- A Bridge Commandment
First of all it is a bridge commandment, and by that I simply mean that the fifth commandment links the two tables of the Law. It is the perfect bridge between the first four commands calling us to honor God with our hearts and our eyes, our tongues and our time – commandments one to four – bridging those commands with the remaining six calling us to love our neighbors sacrificially and well, in a manner that will please the Lord our God. There is a sense, as I said earlier, in which the fifth commandment stands at the head of the second table. It belongs to the category of loving our neighbors. And yet there’s also a sense in which the fifth commandment stands as the bridge, the connector, between commandments one to four – the way we honor God – and commandments five to six – the way we love our neighbors. Notice for example the word with which the fifth commandment begins, “Honor your father and mother.” That word, honor, “kabod,” in Hebrew, is often translated, “glory,” especially when used of God. It means something like, “weightiness, gravity.” It’s one of the great worship words of the Hebrew Bible! Deuteronomy 28:58 uses this word to speak of “the glorious, awe-inspiring name of the Lord.” Psalm 22:23 uses this word to call “all you offspring of Jacob” to “glorify him.” Isaiah 24:15 calls the world to worship using this word saying, “in the east, give glory, give honor to the Lord. In the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the name of the Lord God of Israel.”
The connection between the first four commandments, loving God, honoring God, and the remaining six, loving neighbor, is made especially clear in Malachi chapter 1 verse 6, where the prophet, actually God through the prophet, uses the category and language of the fifth commandment and applies it to the way we treat God Himself. Listen to the echoes of the fifth commandment in Malachi 1:6. “As a son honors his father and a servant his master, if I then am a father, where is my honor? If I am a master, where is my fear?” Do you see the point? The honor that the fifth commandment requires a son to give his father is analogous to the honor we all owe to God. There’s a link, do you see, between the first four commandments and the fifth commandment. The fifth commandment is designed to echo the big idea at the heart of commandments 1 to 4 and to apply it to the relationship of parents and children. God is to be honored as a father and we are similarly to honor our own parents with an honor and a reverence and a love that is the mirror image. The loving reverence that is to mark our family relationships should echo the loving reverence of our relationship with God Himself. We are being reminded, aren’t we, that piety and practice, the way we live and the way we worship, are profoundly bound together, they fit together intimately, which means there is no way to truly honor God while dishonoring your family, dishonoring your parents. What applies in our vertical relationships, is to apply in our horizontal relationships as well.
Or to put it another way, the family, and especially the way that children honor parents, is designed by God to reflect the honor God Himself receives in our lives. You may even say that the way children honor parents and the dynamics of relationships within a family, is a good barometer of the place that the Lord holds in the hearts of the members of that household. When there is a deep rupture in the relationship between parents and children, when fathers and mothers are estranged from their sons and daughters, it really ought not to surprise us when, upon closer scrutiny, we discover a growing spiritual gulf in the lives of parents and children alike, where the Lord God Almighty is not held in the honor He is due.
And we could say the opposite as well and find great comfort here in the fifth commandment, not just warning and rebuke. Where God is honored, where we pursue His praise, where Jesus is the pearl of great price, more precious than anything else, when we make it our great desire and our constant aspiration to live for the smile and the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” of our Heavenly Master, when God is honored we will find that dishonor and despite and anger and the festering resentments that too often creep into family life begin increasingly to shrivel and die. In an environment where Jesus Christ is cherished and loved and honored and revered, that is a hostile environment to disrespect and loveless-ness in the home. A home where God in Christ, by the Spirit, is given honor and glory, generally speaking, will be a home that is marked and characterized by honor among parents and children. So first of all, this is a bridge command. It connects together the honor God deserves and the way we treat one another in the home and in society.
- A Blanket Command
And that brings me to the second point. This is a blanket command! That is to say, it covers, it blankets a wide range of human relationships. Certainly it speaks very directly and obviously to the relationship of parents and children. Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord.” Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” And then Paul, in Ephesians 6:2 quotes the fifth commandment. To put it bluntly, children, God wants you to do what you’re told. Obey your parents in the Lord! Now that little phrase, “in the Lord,” is important. It means on the one hand, that sometimes when we’re commanded to sin we must disobey, but we also know, don’t we, that our parents have our best interest at heart, for the most part. What they ask us to do is what God wants us to do, and so it is part of our duty, in the Lord. It is part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus to reverence and respect them, to honor them and to obey them, quickly, cheerfully, and respectfully.
Now I know that sometimes can be hard. Parents can be a frustrating bunch, right? It doesn’t go away as you get older; sometimes it gets worse! Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years!” Moms and dads can be frustrating! We sometimes think we know better than they, but God is calling us to be humble, and to accept instruction, and to honor them enough to do what we are asked as a way to say, “I love Jesus, I want to please Him, and as part of my desire to honor and please Christ, I will seek to honor and obey my parents.”
God’s Word for Parents
And of course at the very same time, God has a word for parents. Right after telling children to obey, in Colossians 3:20, Paul says in verse 21, “and fathers” – isn’t it interesting that fathers in particular are singled out? There’s a word for dads! “Fathers, do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged.” Don’t be the source of discouragement in your home! Similarly, Ephesians 6:4, right after quoting the fifth commandment Paul says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” If you want children who honor you, be sure to pursue their hearts with Gospel words and Gospel instructions. Parents, practice patience; do not panic. Trust Jesus with your kids! I think it was Frederick Douglass who said that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Isn’t that powerful? “It’s easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” That’s our calling, parents. Strive to be honorable in the ways you treat your children so that your children, in turn, might learn to honor you. Love them, that they might love you. Love them with Gospel that they might love you for the Gospel’s sake.
The fifth commandment certainly deals with parents and children, but it is a blanket command. It covers many more relationships than simply the relationship of parents and children. Actually, it speaks to the way we relate to authority wherever we find it. Let me commend to you the exposition of the Ten Commandments that you will find in the Westminster Larger Catechism. It is a remarkable treatment of the way God’s Law applies to our lives, and in particular, its treatment of the fifth commandment. It shows us that a number of categories are addressed here, not just parents and children – civil authorities, the government officials placed over us, church leaders, even those older than us in society at large. The Bible makes that point, for example, when it calls civil powers, government officials “parents.” The Larger Catechism cites Isaiah 49:23 as a proof text; “Kings shall be your foster fathers and their queens your nursing mothers.” Similarly, Romans 13 reminds us to “be subject to the government authorities for there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God. For because of this, you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed them, taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue, respect to whom respect is owed, honor” – there’s the language of the fifth commandment – “to whom honor is owed.”
How do you speak about your leaders, especially when you disagree with them? What is your vocabulary? And what does that say about your heart, and your posture, and your attitude as you are called here to show honor to those set over you by God in His providence? The level of political discourse in the current debates in our country, the mocking, sneering asides by the pundits and the talk show hosts, tells us, doesn’t it, that we have fallen far from the honor which the fifth commandment calls us to give to those placed in positions of authority. And it does have a way of desensitizing us as Christian people to our duty, to normalize disrespect and dishonor, even to those with whom we differ most. We are called to show honor even when we differ and disagree! Parents and children are here; civil authorities are here. Leaders in the church are covered here too. Galatians 4:19, Paul addresses believers as “my little children.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7 and 11, he likens his ministry to the tender care of a mother, the encouragement of a father. Even those older than us in society are to be shown honor and reverence as fathers and mothers. 1 Timothy 5:1-2, “Do not rebuke an older man, but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters in all purity.”
So long as obedience to men does not require us to break God’s Law, the fifth commandment, do you see, calls us to give all reverence and honor and obedience in the Lord to everyone in a position of authority, and dignity, and prominence in our society, whether politicians and government leaders, church officers, moms and dads, even those who are older than ourselves. It is a blanket command and it calls us, frankly, to a revolutionary way of behaving and treating one another in an age of cynicism and disrespect. How remarkable, distinct, a church would be that embraced and lived out the fifth commandment before the eyes of a watching world. As Jesus put it, you remember His words, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples.” How? “By your love for one another.” By the way you honor one another, by the respect and charity you display in your dealings with one another. Honor like this stands out, particularly in these days. What a witness we might give to the world of the revolutionary power of the Gospel to renovate lives should we live in obedience to the fifth commandment.
- A Beacon Command
So the fifth commandment is a bridge command, it is a blanket command, and finally it is a beacon command. That is to say, like a beacon that guides ships into a safe harbor, the fifth commandment directs our steps into the way of blessing. Notice the promise that is attached to the fifth commandment! “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” You remember where Israel was at this moment in salvation history at the foot of Mount Sinai on their pilgrimage out of Egyptian bondage through the wilderness toward a land God had promised, and into the land of Canaan, a land that they did not yet possess. And here God is saying, “If you will live according to My Law, I will give you not just the land for your own possession, but a long life with which to enjoy the land that I will give you.” Now there’s a temptation at this point to spiritualize this promise all together. And to be sure, this side of the cross and the empty tomb, some of this has to be adjusted slightly. There is now no longer a promised land for the church; there’s no parcel of land in the earth held out to us. Rather, the meek shall inherit the earth. A new creation is God’s promise to us. And we taste some of that heavenly reality, that new creation reality even here in the midst of a fallen world as we trust in our Savior. And of course that is implied in the promise made out to us here.
Blessing and Obedience
But if you go back to Ephesians chapter 6, verses 1 and 2, where Paul is pressing the obligation of children to honor their parents in terms of the fifth commandment expressly, you will see him continuing to apply this promise. And he doesn’t spiritualize is away, although he does slightly modify it. There’s now no longer a promise of a specific homeland for God’s people, yet he does say, “Honor your father and your mother, this is the first command with a promise, that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” There is a promise of general blessing in this life to those who live in conformity with God’s Law, in obedience to His standards. God promises that a happy life ordinarily will be found in an obedient life. The blessedness promised, ordinarily follows honorable human relationships, especially in the home, but also in the church and in society at large. Blessing and obedience are connected, do you see? The good life and the obedient life go together! Sometimes suffering intrudes, to be sure, but God’s promise stands true nonetheless. “Them that honor me, I will honor.”
Jesus Obeyed his Earthly Father and Mother
But you’ll say, “I am a sinner. Yes, I trust in Jesus, but I fail! I failed together to honor my father and mother as I ought. I can’t obey the fifth commandment perfectly. I haven’t obeyed the fifth commandment perfectly. What hope is there of blessing for me then?” And in answer we must say the hope of blessing is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. No one ever kept the fifth commandment so well as He. You remember how, after being found in the temple as a young teenager, Jesus went down with His parents, Luke chapter 2 verse 21, He went down to Nazareth “and was submissive to them.” He obeyed His father and His mother. You remember how in John 17, on the eve of His betrayal, He prayed, “Father, I have glorified You on earth having finished, accomplished, the work You gave Me to do.” He was obedient to His Father in heaven! In the Garden of Gethsemane, crushed, buckled under the weight of our sin and guilt, and the suffering He knows our penalty deserves, our sin deserves, He cried out for deliverance and yet was able to say, “Abba Father, not My will but Yours be done.” He was obedient to His heavenly Father. And then nailed to the cross, John 19:26 and 27, His body and His soul racked in agony, He looked at His mother and said, “Woman, behold your son,” speaking of John, and to John He said, “Behold, your mother.” He wanted to make sure that John would look after and care for His mother after He was gone. He honors His mother! “Though he was a son,” Hebrews 5 verse 8, “he learned obedience by the things he suffered.” Philippians 2:8, He is the one who “humbled himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He is the perfectly obedient Son who honored His earthly parents and above all His heavenly Father.
Jesus Obeyed on Our Behalf
And His obedience is our refuge and our hiding place. He has perfectly fulfilled the fifth commandment so that our breach of it might be forgiven and we might, by His grace, begin to keep it more and more. When we trust in Jesus, the obedient Son, the inadequacy and the guilt of our slight and meager obedience is blotted out and our feeble attempts to keep God’s Law as believers is made acceptable to God and a delight to His heart, cleansed by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, so that evangelical obedience, Gospel obedience, not perfect obedience, yet obedience clinging to Jesus, receives the blessing promised not as a matter of merit, not as wages, but as a gift of grace lavished upon us. Not because we have deserved it, but because Jesus Christ, the obedient Son, has perfectly deserved it for us and pours it out upon us. Here’s a great motive for obedience, obedience to the whole Law of God, and obedience in particular to the fifth commandment – Jesus has obeyed that our disobedience might be forgiven, and our imperfect obedience made acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God, so that blessing, despite our failures, may never the less roll down upon us. Who would not strive to obey when such grace is promised to help and assist us and to follow even our weakest attempts in our Master’s service?
The fifth commandment, then, is a bridge command. It connects the first four commandments and the last six together, teaching us to honor God and as we honor God, we will and we must begin to honor our neighbors as ourselves. The fifth commandment is a blanket command. It covers, it blankets a wide range of human relationships and calls us to radical humility, a culture of respect that cuts across the grain of our society. What a witness people who live like this can bear to our disrespectful age. And the fifth commandment is a beacon commandment. It shines brightly, “The path to obedience lies this way.” And ultimately points us to our Savior who is the obedient Son in whom God holds out grace to all who believe. May God help us and make us fifth commandment people, make us a fifth commandment church, marked and characterized by honor and respect among ourselves that we may show a world of disrespect and dishonor and cynicism what the Gospel does, renovating and transforming hearts and lives and homes to the glory and praise of our Savior. Would you pray with me please?
Our Father, how we praise You for Jesus Christ whose blood and righteousness, whose obedience forgives and cleanses, has won pardon for our disobedience, and takes up our meager efforts in Your service as we trust Him and renders them acceptable in the sight of God so that the promised blessing might be ours, not because we have merited it but because He has. Grace upon grace then is given to us in Him. Help us to rest on that grace and begin to live the fifth commandment life, a life of honor and respect so that the world looking on may see people whose lives are characterized by the kind of obedience that is the mirror image of the obedience of Jesus Christ Himself. For we ask it for Jesus’ sake, amen.
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