“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 5:16
Father’s Day was this last weekend, and I found myself reflecting on this text from the Ten Commandments. Our relationship with our parents is complex, particularly as we move through our lives as adult children. All kinds of questions arise, like what does honor look like, and what if our parents aren’t that honorable? Abraham—the subject of our message last Sunday—certainly was a father figure who didn’t always act in a way that consistently engendered honor. Our parents are not perfect, sometimes tragically so. But this is not a command that hinges on conditions. So we need to come to terms with it.
Tim Challies, Pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, connects this commandment to the principle of submission to authority. If we cannot honor our parents, how can we honor God, who gives us the command? The command does not imply that our parents are always right, and that they should always be obeyed blindly. Obedience is a component of honor, but principally for young children who still live under the care of their parents. But honor does imply that we recognize and respect the inherent authority of our parents. Challies observes that the human parent/child relationship ought to reflect the relationship we have with God—selfish rebellion should never enter into it.
It’s interesting to consider this idea of authority. The punishment for those who rebel against the authority of their parents in the Levitical codes was severe—Leviticus 20:9 states: “All who curse father or mother shall be put to death.” This isn’t the only text that measures out harsh consequences for fractured parent/child relationships (Exodus 21:15,17; Deuteronomy 21:18-21). On the one hand, parents might use these passages to oppressively dominate their children, and on the other children may scoff at them and their underlying truth as hopelessly archaic and outdated. But there are reasons the mandates are present in scripture, so we need to find a way to interpret them rightly.
We certainly don’t consider dishonoring our parents as a capital crime. In fact, in our independent and youth-obsessed culture, rebellion against our parents is expected—even celebrated. But there is a consequence to not honoring our parents. Challies quotes John MacArthur: “Children who respect and obey their parents will build a society that is ordered, harmonious, and productive. A generation of undisciplined, disobedient children will produce a society that is chaotic and destructive.” Perhaps the reason that honoring one’s parents is so important biblically is that it proves to be the bedrock of ordered society, of living in harmony. Again, honor is not the same as slavish obedience, particularly as we leave the home of our childhood and create one of our own. But the respect and care embedded in the concept of honor may foster right relationships beyond the parent/child relationship.
See you Sunday, John!