The Fifth Commandment

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

Negative commands in any law code tell people what not to do, while positive commands describe how they must live as citizens. As an elaboration of the basic code of the kingdom of heaven (love of God and neighbor), the Ten Commandments include both positive and negative laws. The fifth commandment is a positive command — we are ordered to honor both father and mother (Ex. 20:12).

When we consider the fifth commandment and what it is designed to accomplish, we see that it has benefits for both parents and children. Scripture recognizes the family as the basic building block of a well-functioning society, using it as a metaphor for the covenant community when it speaks of one’s brothers and sisters and of the adoption we enjoy as children of God (Deut. 10:9; Rom. 8:15). Families where there is consistent discipline and the children are encouraged to love and respect both parents tend to produce individuals who are productive, law-abiding members of society. As one commentator has put it, cultures that do not encourage obedience to the proper authorities sow the seeds of their own destruction. The command to honor one’s father and mother carries with it the broader implication to submit to one’s employer, governmental officials, and any other duly instituted authority, for those who cannot honor their fathers and mothers will by no means be able to honor those other leaders whom God has established (Rom. 13:1–7).

Additionally, the fifth commandment benefits the parents. There will come a day for most of us when we will not be able to continue our present level of work and when we might need help taking care of ourselves. Given the selfish nature of human beings in general, it is no surprise to see children forsaking their parents because they “get in the way” or “cramp their style.” The elderly are often deemed useless in our society. The fifth commandment reminds us that in the eyes of the Lord, no aged person is useless to the kingdom of God. Even when they have reached adulthood, children are to respect and honor their parents, especially those godly parents whose righteousness has been rewarded with a long life (Prov. 16:31). Christian homes must be the last place where the elderly are cast aside and youth glorified, and they must also be the first place parents can turn for help in old age.

Coram Deo

Honoring parents requires us to see that their special needs are met in retirement, especially when we cannot meet such needs by ourselves in our own homes. Honoring them means that we do not forget them; rather, we must make sure they are well cared for. Honoring our parents also means that we care for aged people in our congregations, visiting them and seeking to learn from them.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 19:32
Deuteronomy 21:18–21
Ephesians 6:1–4
1 Timothy 5:1–16

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