THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN THE 21st CENTURY
5) HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER
The first four commandments concerned God and his plans for the earth. The last six look at our own homes and families. The fifth commandment stars with the word 'honour'. The Hebrew word for honour carries the meaning that it is imperative that your parents are to be treated with respect. Every Israelite must give his parents the weight of authority they deserve. Israelites lived in a patriarchal society, where the oldest male in the household had the last word in taking decisions, and had the responsibility for teaching his children the right way to live. He was the head of the family. Conversely, even teenage boys were obliged by this law to obey their parents. If they were persistently disobedient, they could even be handed over to a court to be punished – see Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
Honouring parents also meant that you were responsible for caring for them in old age. In a society where there were no state pensions, this was an important part of the social order. It is reasonable that if our parents sacrificed money and time to feed, clothe and instruct us when we were young, we should repay them when they are old and unable to care for themselves. Sadly, the Jews by the time of Jesus had invented a way to avoid this responsibility. Jesus was angry about this – see Mark 7:10-13. A man who had had a serious disagreement with his parents could vow to put the money he would have spent looking after his parents in their old age into the Temple treasury instead. That way he could pretend he had kept the Fifth Commandment by giving the money to God, and the priests would be very happy because the money would find its way into their pockets.
One result of children growing up to respect and obey their parents when they were little was that when they grew up they would be more likely to respect their Heavenly Father, God. Thus the Fifth Commandment was also linked to the first four, which all relate to our attitude to God, while at the same time the Fourth Commandment is the first one to bring our eyes down to earth, and our relationship to people down here.
What does the New Testament say about the Fifth Commandment? It insists that it is still important in the life of a Christian. We have already seen that Jesus endorses keeping the true spirit behind this Commandment. Let’s look at Ephesians 6:1-3. Here Paul quotes the Fifth Commandment and applies it to Christians. He also points out something we might have missed. He says it was the first command in the Law to offer a reward: if the Israelites kept this commandment, they would live long in the land God was giving them. This could apply at the level of individual people i.e. God would grant men and women who cared for their elders long life, or perhaps at the national level, i.e. the nation would long continue to dwell in the land of Israel. This would probably be true anyway, because a society where people respect authority is likely to last longer than one where there is rebellion and revolt.
What about caring for our parents in old age? This, too, is essential for believers. See 1 Timothy 5:4, 8. Anyone who neglects this duty is not worthy to be called a Christian, Paul says.
That brings us to the present day, because there is a great spirit of rebellion in our world. Especially on the West we find children disobeying parents, and treating them as equals, even using first-name terms to address them. Then when they become old, they are put into Old People’s Homes and visited once a month. Of course many children today grow up without two parents, or with step fathers who treat them badly. At the same time, and for the reason we have already discussed, lack of respect at home leads to lack of respect for teachers at school, and the boss at work, and the police. When a society as a whole turns its back on God, one of the first things you notice is that children disobey their parents – see Romans 1:28, 30-32. This is typical of our evil age, and it will get worse until Jesus returns to teach a better way.
So it is important that as brothers and sisters we teach our children from a young age to do what they are told, and be quiet when we are speaking to someone else, and to say Thank you and Please, and obey family rules at home. In doing this we are giving them a good foundation for the future. Now we come to a question that is frequently asked on this topic. “If I am still living at home when I am baptised, do I still have to obey my parents?” The answer depends on what it is they are asking you to do. If the request is reasonable, for example ‘please get home before dark’, that would obviously be something we would do without question. But if the command was ‘you must not have anything to do with those Christadelphians!’ we would have to disobey. It falls into the same category as when the government commands us to take up arms and fight to defend the country. When there is a conflict between what God wants us to do and what our parents want us to do, we must obey God rather than man. And when it comes to caring for our unbelieving parents in their old age, we still have a duty to support them and see they have food, clothes and warmth.
So, in summary, the Fifth Commandment asks us to respect and care for our parents. And it promises us God’s blessing if we carry out this duty faithfully.
(NEXT MONTH: 'YOU SHALL NOT MURDER')