Fifth commandment

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 7 – The Ten Commandments – proof that you and I are sinners, not just other people

Do you honour your Father and Mother?

Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you

Deuteronomy 5:16 (NIV)

Few people even know about this commandment, let alone take it seriously.  Respect for parents is not a widespread feature of British society.  This commandment is not only for young children.  It is equally about how adults treat their middle aged or elderly parents.  God has created the very concept of parenthood to teach us something about Him.  We would have no way of knowing what the word “Father” means if He had not created human fatherhood as a model. 

That is one reason why it is so tragic when children are abused or mistreated by their parents.  It can give them a warped view of what a human father is. That then creates a negative image of what God the Father must be.  God’s ideal is for every parent to reflect to their children something of what He is. Then every child can later look upon God the Father in a positive light and grasp the concept of God’s Fatherhood.

God wants us to learn respect for our human father and mother so that we can develop the ability to respect our heavenly Father.  If we do not have respect for our human parents, then we will never have a proper respect for God the Father either.  You have both or you have neither.  So, the way we treat our human parents is a training ground.  It is where we begin to learn how to have a right relationship with God the Father. 

Moreover, if we dishonour our human parents we also dishonour God Himself. He created the family unit as the building block of human society.  The family is of great importance. It must work vertically, between parents and children, but also horizontally, between siblings, and members of the wider family too.  If family life is not honoured and valued then society will disintegrate.  That is what we are seeing happening in the Western world now. 

There has probably never been so much crime, degradation and chaos as we see now.  It principally flows from two things: the abandonment of Christianity and the breakdown of family life.  Where there is no respect for parents, then family life as a whole will also break down.  Once that goes beyond a certain point, then society in general breaks down.  That is what we are seeing now, with promiscuity, divorce, abortion and disfunctional families.

For all these reasons God wants us all to honour our parents, not only when we are very young but throughout our lives.  Even if we are in our seventies, we are still under a solemn duty to honour our elderly parents, to the very end of their lives.  The final years of frailty and dependency, when elderly parents need your help most, can be a time of great blessing.  Yet it is increasingly resented as an unwelcome burden, which should be avoided, even by euthanasia. 

The final years of an elderly parent can be your God-given opportunity to serve them and honour them in ways you may have neglected to do when they were younger and fitter.  Take that chance gladly.  Make the most of it.  Cherish those final years.  God will bless you for everything you do to honour your parents.

The question therefore is do you do this?  Do you honour your parents now, and have you honoured them in the past?  It is not just a question of buying them cards on Mothers Day or Fathers Day or visiting them from time to time.  It is much deeper than that.  We are to actively honour our parents in practical ways, and to make it a priority to do so.  We are to go out of our way to respect and care for our parents.  Do you do that? Moreover, it is not only our own parents, but all elderly people who should be honoured: 

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:32 (NIV)

However, in Britain today there are huge numbers of elderly people who live alone and who never receive a visit from anybody for months on end.  Many more are in nursing homes and rarely, if ever, receive visitors.  Obviously, there are many families where things are done well, and great care is taken of elderly parents.  But in some families elderly parents and relatives are not well cared for.  That is one reason why there is a growing movement to legalise euthanasia.  If we do, and it seems inevitable, then it will be disastrous for our society. 

In many families children, both as teenagers and adults, show contempt, disrespect and disregard for their parents.  They take them for granted, receive without giving back, and fail to show gratitude for all that their parents have done for them.  One of the most painful things we ever have to experience is ingratitude.  The pain of that is multiplied according to the closeness of the relationship.  The ingratitude of an acquaintance hurts far less than that of a close work colleague.  Even that hurts far less than the ingratitude of a family member.  However, the ingratitude of one’s own child is the ultimate.  Few things can be more painful than that. 

It may be that even looking into this subject is painful, because your family background may not have been a happy one.  Alternatively, maybe it was happy but you now know, as you look back, that you have not honoured your parents as you should?  Have you thanked your parents meaningfully and adequately?  Do you repay them?  Do you care for them now and put yourself out financially, and in terms of time and effort, to look after them? 

It is common to see people focusing upon their expected inheritance from their parents rather than on what they can give to their parents, especially in their old age.  In fact, caring for them ought to be the emphasis.  The ‘social security’ system throughout history has always been based on the family.  It is the job of all children, when they grow into adulthood, to care for their parents and to make sure that all their material needs are fully met. 

Our society, in the West at least, has delegated that duty to the state so that we have now lost the habit.  It does not even occur to many of us to care for our elderly parents.  In fact, a peculiar thing happened to me some time ago.  It serves as a useful illustration of this point about who is primarily responsible for our parents.  A man rang my law firm when I was in practice and was put through to me as he wanted to speak to a Christian Solicitor.  He said that his parents were elderly and were retired missionaries.  His father had started to develop dementia and he wanted his parents to be given advice and help with drafting powers of attorney and generally arranging their affairs.

He then said, very revealingly. “But my parents don’t have any money.  That’s why I’m looking for a Christian firm to act for them“.  He explained that he wanted it to be done free of charge.  It seemed to me that he was making two inaccurate assumptions:

a) that a Christian Solicitor should feel an obligation to act for someone else’s parents without charging anything.

b)  that he himself had no duty even to consider paying the legal fees of his own parents and could validly offload that burden onto me.

It’s only when you pause and press the replay button that the full significance of that second assumption hits you.  That man saw absolutely nothing wrong or unusual in what he’d said to me.  His mind had never formed the thought that his parents’ welfare was primarily his own obligation, rather than mine.  But see how Apostle Paul speaks about this:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8 (NASB)

When I was in practice, I was always very willing to donate the time of myself and of my staff in a good cause.  But that is not the issue here.  The point is that he did not want to give his own money to provide what his own parents needed.  In fact, such an idea was so unthinkable that he had never thought of it.  He wanted me to be generous to them instead of him being so.

I wish I could say that men like him were rare, but they are not.  His was a very typical view.  There are multitudes of people, even amongst Christians, who think the same way. They have never even considered whether there could be anything wrong in that.  I have focused on our duties to our parents at some length because it is not a well-known commandment.  Even those people who are aware of it find it difficult to believe they have broken it.  Yet, you may now realise that you have, perhaps, broken it many times? 

By the way, have you noticed that this is the only one of the Ten Commandments that also carries a promise, …”so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land…”  So, those who do what God requires and honour their parents were promised long life and success/security.  Although we are no longer operating under the Law of Moses, I believe God still honours that principle today.  That should give you all the more reason to take it seriously.

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