But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18
A MISUNDERSTOOD COMMANDMENT
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
The Apostle Paul, under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quotes from the Old Testament. He quotes the Fifth Commandment (of the Ten Commandments). And he applies it to both Jewish and Gentile believers in the New Testament. The Fifth Commandment, as given to Moses on Mount Sinai, reads:
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12)
Paul, in writing to the Church of Ephesus (a pagan, Gentile city in Asia Minor) changes the wording slightly. It is no longer “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Israel).
Paul now applies it to both Jews and Gentiles and says, “That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” In other words, the Commandment is not just for Old Testament Israel. It is for all men in all times and in all places.
NO AGE LIMIT GIVEN
The Bible never gives any age limit to the command to “Honour thy father and thy mother.” But many today will object by pointing out that Paul limits this command to “children” (in Ephesians 6:1).
One common mistake most pastors make is to read into the text a modern understanding of the word “children.” They often assume that the word “children” in Ephesians 6:1 means only minor age children (those under the age of 18).
But a careful reading of the Bible will not bear out this modern assumption. The Word of God often uses the word “children” to refer to full grown adults who are children, grandchildren, or more distant descendents of a certain parent. Consider the meaning of the word “children” following verse of Scripture:
“Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)
In the above verse, Moses was commanded to lead the “children” of Israel out of Egypt. The “children”of Israel at that time numbered over 600,000 men age 20 and up that were able to go to war (Numbers 1:45-46). It included elders like Moses and Aaron and the 12 heads of the 12 Tribes (Numbers 1:1-4).
Thus the word ““children” in the Bible can and often does mean full grown sons and daughters, grandchildren and more distant descendants of a certain man. When Abraham bowed before the “children”of Heth (Genesis 23:7) he was bowing before full grown men—one of whom sold him a burial place for Sarah.
GROWN, MARRIED CHILDREN OBEY THEIR FATHER
Centuries before Moses, old, feeble Jacob (renamed Israel by God) decided to go down to Egypt before he died (Genesis 45:28). His grown, married sons obeyed and carried him down to Egypt. All of Jacob’s sons were by that time fathers, and two of them (Judah and Asher) were grandfathers (Genesis 46).
Yet none of them questioned their father’s decision. They simply pulled up roots (wives, children, grandchildren, cattle and sheep) and traveled to Egypt as their father Israel had decided.
Need the reader be reminded of the three sons of Noah? All three were born about a century before the Flood. All three were married before the Flood. All three resisted the mocking influence of uncles and aunts, cousins, in-laws, friends and neighbors.
All three grown, married sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japheth) obeyed their father and helped build the Ark. All three obeyed their father and gathered a year’s supply of food for the Ark (Genesis 6:21). All three believed God and honored their father in spite of the fact that the entire world ridiculed their father Noah.
The entire 35th Chapter of Jeremiah is devoted to God’s approval of the Rechabites. These descendents of Jonadab the son of Rechab were grown, married men (Jeremiah 35:8). They refused to drink wine or buy land because their father (ancestor) Jonadab, the son of Rechab had commanded them thus.
OBEDIENCE TO GODLY PARENTS BRINGS A BLESSING
Their ancestor Jonadab had live about 200 years before Jeremiah’s time in the days of Elijah the Prophet and Jehu king of Israel (2 Kings 10:15-23). God was so pleased with the obedience of these full grown men to their father Jonadab, the son of Rechab that he told Jeremiah:
“Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever.” (Jeremiah 35:19) The obedience of the full grown, married men to a long dead ancestor, brought a blessing from God. There will always be at least one of their descendents in each generation that will be a truly saved man by the grace of God alone.
Indeed, a blessing came also upon the three sons of Noah. They survived the worldwide flood and later lived to raise families and see their grandchildren and generations beyond.
A blessing also came upon the sons of Israel. They were saved from famine by the very brother (Joseph) that they had betrayed and sold as a slave years earlier. Had they disobeyed Jacob and refused to go with him to Egypt, things would have most probably gone badly for them.
CURSE FOR DISHONORING PARENTS
Exodus 21:15 “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.”
Leviticus 20:9 “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.”
Deuteronomy 27:16 “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.”
Hitting or verbally cursing a parent is sin worthy of death. Even treating them lightly (with contempt) comes under the curse of Almighty God. This isn’t just Old Testament. The New Testament lists disobedience to parents along with many other sins committed by adults as worthy of death:
“Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do
them.” (Romans 1:30-32)
SOCIETY, GOVERNMENT AND GOD
The most basic unit of any society is the family. It is the first God ordained institution in the book of Genesis. God has placed parents in charge of the family. To disobey a parent is to disobey God. To strike a parent is to strike out at God.
To curse a parent is to curse God. To set light by a parent (treat them with contempt) is to set light by God. Whenever there is a breakdown in parental authority, there will follow a breakdown of law and order in society.
Noah was human government in his time (Genesis 9:6). His job was to determine who lived and who died—to judge between right and wrong in criminal cases such as murder. God honored both the blessing and curse of Noah (on Shem, Japheth and Canaan) because of his God ordained parental authority.
And so it was in almost all nations for many generations. The head of a clan or tribe was usually the father of his people. The early Greek and Roman fathers had the power of life and death of everyone in their family—by law.
It was the same with almost all ancient cultures, whether Oriental, Middle Eastern, African or European. A disobedient adult son (old enough to be a drunkard and a glutton) could be put to death on a word from his Hebrew parents (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
Parental authority is the basis for all human government. The breakdown of parental authority is a precursor to a breakdown of all lawful authority. The breakdown of the family means the eventual breakdown of a society.
HONOUR THEY FATHER AND THY MOTHER
Thus we see that the command to “Honour thy father and thy mother” is not just for Old Testament Jews. It is also for New Testament Christians. In fact, it is required of all men—everywhere—at all times.
It includes both respect and obedience to all lawful commands of parents. By lawful we mean any parental request that does not break any of God’s Ten Commandments. Obviously a parental command to do evil is not to be obeyed.
The common excuse of “I don’t agree with my parents” doesn’t hold water with God. You may not agree with them, but you must still honor and obey their lawful commands and comply with their lawful requests. There is no age limit given or implied. The Fifth Commandment is binding as long as we live. It is for our good and the good of the society in which we live.
According to our Lord Jesus Christ, “Honour thy father and thy mother” includes financial support for them in their old age (Mark 7:9-13). The KJV word “honour” often implies financial support, whether of parents, or of pastors (2 Timothy 5:17-18) or of God’s work in general (Proverbs 3:9-10).
The writer of this editorial is now an old man. He did not grow up in a Christian home. Before his conversion to Christ at age 21, he did not honour his parents. He has paid a heavy price for this ever since.
Although forgiven by the precious blood of our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, he still bears the scars of disobedience to parents in many ways. May the reader beware and keep the Fifth Commandment through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
And may our pastors begin preaching the full implications and scope of the Fifth Commandment. They need not limit it to minor age children. Our families, our nation and our world all desperately need it. In America today, “Honour thy father and thy mother” remains a misunderstood commandment.
George Theiss is a combat veteran of Vietnam who now follows the Lamb of God. He and his wife, Christy, have been married 42 years (in 2019). They have 8 grown children. You can contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2002 through 2019 by George Theiss