Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Bridge Between

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Exo. 20:12)

The fact that God wrote His list of ten prerequisites to holiness on two tables of stone has caused many to speculate on how they were divided. The most obvious answer would be five and five, but this would include the fifth one in with the first four that deal with our relationship to God. Therefore some would divide the commandments into two groups of four and six. I, however, am inclined to see the fifth as a bridge that connects the two. The subtle parallel between our relationship to our parents—especially our fathers—and our relationship to God, is too significant to be overlooked. Indeed Albert Barnes (1798-1870), in his notes on Exodus, has said, “All faith in God centers in the filial feeling. Our parents stand between us and God in a way in which no other beings can.” A child’s response to his or her parents—especially a grown child—is so interwoven with response to God that to assert fellowship with either one of them without the other is an empty, unsatisfying claim. First, I think a distinction must be made between obedience and honor.

Notice that the commandment does not use either the word “children” or “obedience.” This is because it is a life-long commandment, demanding honor, which only involves obedience when the son or daughter is a child. Genuine obedience is unquestioning (unless it requires disobedience to God’s laws); and to apply this criteria to adult children is to undermine personal responsibility and stunt developmental possibilities. There can be no growth without questions and the possibility for change. As G. Campbell Morgan, in his lessons on the Ten Commandments, points out, “A boy will never be a man if he must always obey his parents.” The grown child need not thrust aside parental teaching in a blustery show of independence; but, on the other hand, he or she must understand that parental teaching cannot be the sole consideration when making decisions about the determination of one’s own life. The child who seeks to fulfill the fifth commandment will seek counsel of godly parents, and that counsel will weigh heavily in his or her decision making processes, but he or she will recognize that the final responsibility for those decisions rests with him or her. For this reason, the heaviest vote in any decision should rest in the oracles of God.

In yet another example, honor to parents is shown by speaking respectfully to and about them (1Kings 2:20; Prov.31:28); and by giving reverential recognition (Gen.46:29; 1Kings 2:19). In a passage of curses against reprehensible behavior, we read this cutting sentence: “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother” (Deut.27:16). Would this not speak of those sons and daughters who are ever belittling their parents, in or out of their presence, whether living or dead? It is a sobering thought, to be sure. Honor is also seen in the grown child’s solicitous care of his or her aging parents. Our Lord exemplified this with His own mother (Jno.19:26-27). And it was He who berated those who give offerings to the church, while neglecting parents who were in need (Mk.7:9-12). One of my husband’s greatest sorrows is that, as a young pastor of a growing church, he gave sacrificially to missions, while his aged mother lived on meager means. He realizes now that while he made sure she had what she needed, she never received what she deserved.

Children should honor their parents as long as they (the children) live. They should do it, first and foremost, because it is commanded by God. They should honor the love and the cost that went into their upbringing. Godly parents often take more care of their children than themselves. Thomas Watson reminds us, “Children never can equal a parent’s love, for parents are the instruments of life to their children, and children cannot be so to their parents.” To honor one’s parents is “well pleasing” to God (Col.3:20). So much so that we are told in Ephesians 6:3 that it is a potent ingredient for long life. It is not so much “the announcement of a personal reward” as it is “the declaration of the result of accepting and acting upon a philosophy,” suggests Campbell Morgan. He expains, “Character moulded in the atmosphere of honor to parents has within it the element of quiet power which tends to prolong life. On the other hand, character formed in an atmosphere of insubjection has within it the element of recklessness and fever which tends to the shortening of life.”

It goes without saying that children, young and old, will find it abundantly easier to honor honorable parents. Parents who deprive their children of physical, emotional, or spiritual needs, or who provoke them to anger by disproportionate, unfair discipline, partiality, or hypocritical living, saddle their children with a task well nigh impossible to accomplish—rendering honor and respect. Still, the command stands; and God considers it so important that He places it in the place between our relationship with Him and those around us. In many cases it is a “bridge over troubled waters,” because so often our failure to succeed in life—especially in the Christian life—is a direct result of our failure to give proper honor to those who were God’s first gift to us…our parents.

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