“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
My wife and I lost three of our parents during the past 12 months – her mother and my father and mother. Her father passed away 13 years ago. My mother passed away a week ago. All of them lived into their 90s, so we were fortunate to have them for as long as we did. However, losing three in one year has led us to think a lot about what it means to “honor your father and your mother.”
All of us, if we live on earth long enough, will lose our parents to death. If you have lost your parents, my deepest sympathy. It’s especially hard when they suffer at the end of their lives. Reading through letters and other materials after their passing is also difficult to do, but comforting at the same time. Looking at family pictures can be a wonderful way to honor your parents. The picture at the top of this blog is one my wife took of what my parents could see out their apartment window. It is a reminder of the life they spent together and what they mean to us.
I also find tremendous comfort in God’s Word during difficult times. I hope you do, too, as we look at what God says to every child – of every age.
The Ten Commandments are divided into two primary groupings: Love of God and love of others. A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test Him: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus began His answer with a question.
“What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?‘ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” Luke 10:26-28
Matthew records the same (or possibly a different event) with a slight variation from Luke:
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
Notice that Jesus referred to them as “two commandments” and called the first one the “great commandment.” Loving God is always first. Loving others as yourself is second. Then Jesus added, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” That’s how important these commandments are to all people. What was Jesus quoting?
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Jews know this as the great Shema Yisrael – “Hear, O Israel.” It embodies the Mind and Heart of God concerning all things. He created the human race in His Image – including the capacity and need to love. Our love is first to be directed to God, then others.
The Fifth Commandment
The first four Commandments in the list of Ten from Exodus 20 concern loving God. Commandments 5 – 10 concern loving others. The first commandment about loving others is to “honor your father and your mother.” As the Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians, the Fifth Commandment “is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2-3) We owe our existence to God through our father and mother. God created the human race with the physical ability to reproduce (Genesis 1:28). It is because our parents reproduced that we exist. That is the first reason to “honor” them.
What does it mean to “honor” our parents? The Hebrew word that is translated by the English word “honor” is kabed. It is in the imperfect tense (meaning it is an incomplete action) and means “to be heavy.” This was meant in the sense of a differentiation between “heavy” and “light.” To say that something was “heavy” was to mean that it was worthy and had value. To say that something was “light” was to mean that it did not have worth and was to be despised. Kabed also carried the idea of being connected to respect and power.
Even as God called on the Tribes of Israel to demonstrate a “heavy” respect for their parents, He promised that obedience of the Fifth Commandment would lead to two things: “that it may be well with you” and that “you may live long on the earth.”
Honoring father and mother is the basis of a good society. Dishonoring father and mother is the basis of a bad society. That’s a simple idea, but true. Honoring father and mother also leads to living a long life on the earth. Why? Because God gave parents the responsibility of teaching their children about the covenant He had made with them. The covenant contained the words of life.
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Deuteronomy 6:6-8
That was God’s purpose. However, what about children whose parents did not teach them the ways of God? What about parents who did nothing to earn the respect of their children? Doesn’t that nullify the Fifth Commandment? No, it does not. The commandment says nothing about honoring parents who do everything right. It simply says, “honor your father and your mother.” The promise that things “may be well with you” and that “you may live long on the earth” is based on children respecting their parents — no matter what kind of people their parents are or were during their lives. We are not commanded to “love our father and mother,” but to “honor” them.
How long are we to “honor” our parents? Until we go to elementary school? Until we go to high school? Until we go to college? Until we get a job and move out of the house? The Fifth Commandment has no time limit. Honoring our parents is for their entire lifetime. The promise of blessing for honoring them is for our entire lifetime — “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
We live in a “throw-away” society. When someone or something has lost its ability to meet a need we have, we toss it to the side as worthless. We as a society are doing that with many important things, including our parents, and it is costing us God’s blessing in our life and the life of our family and country. God is watching all of us and holding us responsible for how we treat Him and others during this lifetime. He has given us His Commandments to obey because He knows best how we can be well and live long in this life.
My mother was our last living parent. The grief we feel is for her and our other parents who proceeded her in death. They were not perfect parents and we were not perfect children, but we honored them during life and continue to honor them in death. We know we will see them again one day and rejoice with them in resurrected bodies that are strong, vibrant and pain-free.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4
I agree with the Apostle John who wrote – “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”