Pleading the (Other) Fifth
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
The topic for this week’s blog took shape in a somewhat differently than topics generally do for His Own Heart. As a matter of fact, the planned topic for the week was well underway in production when what you’re about to read surfaced and just wouldn’t go away.
The process began with an exhausted friend’s comment that “there are no perfect parents.” I agreed for neutrality’s sake, then added a spontaneous afterthought:
“It all balances out, though, because there are no perfect children.”
The conversation was very tongue-in-cheek, but it led me toward a serious consideration of the passage listed above. As children, it’s one of the first of God’s Ten Commandments many of us are taught from the list given in Exodus 20:1-17. At that point in our lives, verse 12 basically exhorts us to obey and respect our parents, but what are its implications as we move from cradle roll to youth group to late teens and finally into adulthood?
Taking what I thought would be a brief break from scheduled study a few days ago, I found myself delving deeper and deeper into the context of verse 12, the simply-stated command it gives and the open-ended promise that follows it. Amid the delving, I also came into contact with some sound suggestions for application of that context as posted on Susan J. Nelson’s blog, Women of Noble Character. I’d like to share her list with you here as a direct quote and in her own voice. In no way does Nelson suggest that these 10 items are exhaustive or exclusive when it comes to honoring one’s parents, but I believe her ideas serve as a strong blueprint as a Christ-follower begins to carry out this fifth commandment. In order to aid with clarification, I have added a few bracketed phrases through the list.
- Be thankful for [parents] and show your gratitude.
When we enter this world from our mother’s wombs, we are pretty helpless. We haven’t learned yet to feed ourselves, walk, communicate or do any form of self-care (um, change our diapers!). Our parents take on all of these responsibilities. We may drive them crazy as we grow up, but they continue to put clothes on our backs, provide food and run us from practice to youth group (if you were raised in a Christian home) and so much more. Even if your parents were (are) unbelievers, they have still raised us and deserve our gratitude. To honor your parents begins by being thankful for them. Almost daily, we see stories in the news of abusive parents or parents killing their children. If you still live on this side of the earth, your parents did at least a few things right. Abuse is never OK and there will always be situations where adult children need to separate themselves from their parents, but even if gratitude feels impossible, as Christians we are to be thankful even in dark circumstances as God uses those circumstances for His good. [See Romans 8:28.]
- Communicate with [parents].
There are numerous verses in the Bible about communication and the importance of it in building relationships. God wants us to have deep relationships with others and your first relationships are the ones with the parents that He has placed in your life [e.g. Psalm 139:13]. God chose your parents just for you and building (or mending) that relationship is important to Him. To honor your parents, you need to talk to them. Ask about their day, how they are doing. Ask questions about when they were growing up. Learn about the milestones in their lives and what you have in common. Often, weeks or even months go by without someone talking to their parents, but the Bible makes it clear that Christians are to handle this differently. In 1 Timothy 5:8, we read that anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
- Talk to them and treat them with respect.
In Ephesians 6:2, the word for honor (τίμα) is translated to mean to determine the value of something. The value of our parents is incalculable. In this verse, Paul reminds us that the commandment is to honor our parents and to see them as valuable. We are not honoring our parents if we are short with them, show irritation or use unkind words. How we talk to others is a reflection of how we feel about them. [See Matthew 12:34.] To honor your parents, your words should honor them as well as your actions regardless of age. … When we show resentment or frustration towards our parents, we are reflecting a heart that is not grateful. In addition, we are sinning by not giving our parents the position of authority and respect that God has ordained. We need to treat them, in speech and deed, as some of the most important people on earth.
- Seek [parental] advice and wisdom.
In point two, above, we discussed the importance of talking to your parents. While you’re talking with them, ask for their advice. [See Proverbs 1:8-9.] Not only will they be pleased that you trusting them to share their wisdom, but they will most likely give good advice. They watched you grow, nurtured you and probably know you in ways that no one else does. It should go without saying, but if your parents are not believers, you should avoid asking them for spiritual advice.
- Pray for (and with) [parents].
Another way to honor your parents is to pray for them. Pray for their health, relationships, vocation, if they are still working. Pray for their walk with God (or for their salvation if they are not believers). Additionally, if you struggle with how to honor your parents, ask God to help you in this area.As we go through the daily trials of life, we sometimes forget that our parents are going through difficulties, as well. There are financial struggles, health issues, friends and loved ones passing away and more. There is no end to the list of ways that we can pray for our parents. Praying for your parents is a way to honor your parents.
- Encourage your parents.
In the above section, we were reminded of how difficult aging can be. Encouraging your parents in their later years is a beautiful way to honor your parent. If your parents are believers, encourage their walk with The Lord. Thank them for their Christian example. … Encourage them to share their wisdom or to disciple younger men and women as [the opportunity arises]. Paul reminds us in Hebrews 10:25 that we need to encourage our elders and friends as time goes on. If your parents do not have a relationship with our Savior, you should be encouraging them to repent and give their lives to Christ.
- Forgive your parents.
One of the most important ways that you can honor your parents is to forgive them. Every parent makes mistakes in raising their children. I know that I have made my fair share of mistakes in raising my own children. No parent is perfect. All have made poor decisions at one time or another or have said or done things which have hurt us. Let go of any bitterness or resentment and forgive them. If you are unable to forgive, you (and your parents) are unable to move forward. You will be stuck in the mire of anger and resentment, which is unhealthy for both of you. You can honor your parents by extending grace and forgiveness to them. So much of how we deal with and honor our parents comes down to pride. We have perhaps seen the worst of them and have seen them sin towards others and towards us. The Bible, however, is very clear that the way we treat our parents has significant consequences, not only for our life on earth, but for our spiritual life, as well.
- Tell them the truth.
Lying to one’s parents has been going on since Adam and Eve started a family. It’s both amazing and sad to know how many children lie to their parents. Perhaps because the children (even as adults) fear the consequences or perhaps they simply don’t want to disappoint their parents. As uncomfortable as it may be to tell them the truth, it is extremely important that children never lie to their parents. [See Proverbs 12:22.] Relationships cannot thrive if they are built on a bed of lies. If you have lied to your parents confess the truth to them and ask them to forgive you. There are few things that can honor your parents more than telling them the truth.
- Take care of your parents.
In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus deals a strong rebuke to the Pharisees. He accuses them of using their religion as an excuse for not taking care of their parents. In fact, Jesus will accuse them over and over of setting up a religion that hurts the elderly, especially widows. Paul maintains [as referenced above] that we are worse than an unbeliever when we do not take care of our parents…[yet] sadly there are those that look for every opportunity to take advantage of them. The Investigation (Discovery Channel) has aired numerous programs on children stealing from or murdering their parents for money – and that’s just in the family! The Bible calls Christians to be set apart and to feel honor for the opportunity to care for our parents. We are called to show honor to them by helping them in their last days on earthIf you are currently helping your parents, know this: the Lord is pleased with you and you are a great example to those around you (especially YOUR children who one day may need to take care of you).
- Talk Well of Them Publicly and Privately.
Finally, you can honor your parents by how you speak of them privately and to others including strangers, friends and even our children.We can give them such high regard in one-on-one conversation as well as in how we talk about them to others.
As simple and as logical – maybe even as stereotypical – as many of the items Nelson lists may sound, they took on renewed and amplified importance in light of the context of our main Scripture this week. I’ll reprint it here for your convenience, then I would like to show you an irony of the passage that left me speechless when it struck me this week.
Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
that the Lord your God is giving you.
This verse in Exodus 20 marks the fifth of Jehovah God’s Decalogue– or Ten Commandments – as delivered to His chosen people, Israel, through His servant Moses. And make no mistake: these commandments and their morals apply just as much to us today as they did to every Israelite encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Beware of anyone who suggests anything less.
Often, the ordering of lists like this one reflect priority for the Christian life in current times. That said, here is the beautiful and challenging irony of God’s instruction that His children honor their earthly parents. Scholars agree – and it should be pretty obvious to the rest of us – that the first four commands given in Exodus 20 pertain to one’s relationship with his or her Creator God while the remaining six have to do with one’s relationship with his or her fellow man.
Re-read Exodus 20:1-17 if you’d like to test the theory for yourself. In light of that theory, and considering the order of the items listed in that passage, let’s zero in on the placement of the command in question within that list. Do you see it?
Right there, smack-dab between guidelines for my treatment of God the Father of all and for my treatment my brothers and sisters sits the guideline that measures my treatment of my earthly parents. I would like to suggest to you, then, that in many ways this fifth commandment serves as a bridge of sorts; it connects our treatment of God to our treatment of others. To state the suggestion differently, the level of respect and reverence we have for God is reflected in the level of respect and reverence we demonstrate to our parents. Likewise, the level of treatment and respect we demonstrate for fellow man directly reflects the level of treatment and respect we practice toward our parents, which also reflects back to God.
Because when we treat our Heavenly Father as He instructs, then treat our earthly parents as He instructs, it follows that we’ll treat others as He instructs.
Admittedly and as stated above, the equation can be a challenge to balance in a fallen world of sin, especially when the child has left the proverbial nest and become what we classify as an adult. I get that. But I also get that if one’s relationship with his or her earthly parents was serious enough for God to etch in the stone enough of His Top Ten list of guidelines for all ages, it’s serious enough for us to practice at all ages.
– Copyright 2018 Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.