For a number of weeks, I have been exploring the fifth commandment and, in particular, how adult children are to obey it. “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, 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.” While heeding this command is relatively straightforward to the young child under the authority of his parents, it is much more difficult to know what it entails for adult children. Through this series, we have begun to learn some ways such honor can take shape. We have seen that all children owe their parents a debt of honor that continues past childhood. All children of all ages are to honor their parents. We have explored this from many angles and now, as we conclude, I want to explore it from just one more.
Children do not bear the full responsibility of the fifth commandment. If children are to extend honor to their parents, parents are to make it easy for them by living honorable lives. We need to repeat what we have said before: Children are not to wait until their parents prove honorable before extending honor, for the parents’ honor derives from their position, not their behavior. Yet there is still an onus on the parent to live a worthy and respectable life. And this is what I wish to consider today: How can we who are parents live lives that are worthy of honor? How can we make it easy for our children to honor us now and in the future?
Today we continue this series on honoring our parents, the series that considers how we, as adults, can fulfill the fifth commandment. Behind it is the knowledge that few of us seriously consider the fifth commandment and how we can actively fulfill it, even after we have left our parents’ authority. We have been focusing on Deuteronomy 5:16: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, 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.” We have already seen that this commandment is not only for children. At every age, we owe our parents a debt of honor and this can can be expressed in a number of ways: forgiving our parents, speaking well of them, esteeming them publicly and privately, seeking their wisdom, supporting them, and providing for them.
Well and good. That’s straightforward enough when we have a good relationship with our parents, when they raised us well, when they loved and respected us. But what about people who were adopted and never knew their birth parents? What about people who had difficult or absent or abusive parents? What about people whose parents behaved in utterly dishonorable ways? Does this debt of honor extend even to them? In all the feedback I’ve received from this series, more has focused on these concerns than any other. “Do you really expect me to honor my parents? Let me tell you about them…”
I have approached this article with caution, with prayer, with Bible in hand. All the while I have been thinking about people I know and love, many of them in my own church, who have had to navigate excruciating situations. And as far as I can see, all children are to extend honor to their parents. There are no exception clauses. I acknowledge that in some cases honor will be extremely difficult. I acknowledge that in some cases damage runs very deep. I acknowledge some past traumas cannot and must not be overlooked. And yet I still believe there is a debt of honor we all owe our parents.
It is a commandment of God. It is a commandment with promise, with divine blessings attached to it. It is a commandment positioned in a place of special honor and significance. It is a commandment pertaining to the whole life of every human being. It is a commandment with application to the home, church, and workplace, a commandment that provides a stable foundation to all of society. Yet it is a commandment that is sorely neglected today. It may not be overstating the case to call it the commandment we forgot. It is the fifth of God’s ten great commandments to humanity: Honor your father and mother.
Today I am beginning a short series on this commandment and mean to focus especially on an angle few of us have seriously explored: What does it mean to obey this commandment as adults? We understand that it applies to children and teaches them the importance of honoring and obeying mom and dad. But does the commandment stop applying the day we move out or the day we get married? Does it expire when our parents die or when they prove themselves unworthy of our respect? Does it apply to those who have been abandoned or abused? Does our adherence to this commandment change as we grow older and become independent? Maybe our questions are urgent and practical: What are my obligations toward my parents? Do I need to support them financially? Do I need to obey them even though I’m a full-grown adult? These are some of the questions we need to ask and answer if we wish to honor God by honoring his commandment.
I don’t mind saying that I have high hopes for this series. I want it to be biblical, to take the Bible as the ultimate source of truth and the only standard with the right to demand obedience and bind the conscience. I want this series to be practical, to answer real questions in real ways for real life. I want this series to be multi-cultural, to apply to people from different backgrounds and in different places in the world. I want this series to be convicting, to impact and perhaps even transform the way we live. This is true whether we are young or old, whether we are parented or parenting, whether we are dependent upon them or they are dependent upon us, whether we live under their roof or whether they live under ours.
Our kids never seem to be at a loss for words. Even with tiny vocabularies, it is astounding how well they are able to fill any silence with a thousand little syllables. We parents are a different story. In homes full of questions and needs, it can be hard for our fried brains to put together even broken phrases. Sometimes I find myself stuttering as I try to talk to my kids — like I need a hard reset.
Especially with small kids, prayers can be difficult to lace together. We have a thousand requests for our children: that they would be saved, that they would learn obedience, that they would finally learn to eat broccoli, that they would quit hitting other kids in their class, and on and on. Where do we start?
I believe one of the ways the Spirit graciously intercedes for us as parents is by giving us prayers to pray from the Scriptures (Romans 8:26).
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard parents who are members of churches say to me:
I intentionally never discuss theology or religion with my children, because I want them to believe whatever they come to believe honestly and not because they’ve been indoctrinated by us in the home. I don’t want them to be slaves to a parental tradition. I want them to experience reality on its own terms and come to whatever conclusion they are drawn from the evidence.
Such sentiments mystify me because they are at such odds with the teaching of Scripture. Just consider Deuteronomy 6:4–9:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
What I find remarkable about this text is how closely it places the mandate to teach our children to what Jesus calls the greatest commandment, namely, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 5; see Matt. 22:36–40). There is no commandment more important than to love our Creator, but what’s the very next command in Deuteronomy 6? That the law of God is to be on our hearts and taught to our children. The divine mandate is that parents should teach the Lord’s commandments to their children. Not that the parents should send their children somewhere else to learn these things, but the responsibility is given to the parents.
One of the saddest and most tragic features of our twentieth-century “Civilization” is the awful prevalence of disobedience on the part of children to their parents during the days of childhood — and their lack of reverence and respect when they grow up. This is evidenced in many ways, alas, even in the families of professing Christians. In his extensive travels during the past thirty years the writer has sojourned in a great many homes. The piety and beauty of some of them remain as sacred and fragrant memories—but others of them have left the most painful impressions. Children who are self-willed or spoiled, not only bring themselves into perpetual unhappiness, but inflict discomfort upon all who come into contact with them, and foreshadow evil things for the days to come.
In the vast majority of cases the children are not to be blamed nearly so much as the parents. Failure to honor father and mother, wherever it is found, is in large measure due to parental departure from the Scriptural pattern. Nowadays the father considers that he has fulfilled his obligations by providing food and clothing for his children, and by acting occasionally as a species of moral policeman. Too often the mother is content to be a domestic drudge, making herself the slave of her children instead of training them to be useful, performing many a task which her daughters should do, in order to allow them freedom for the frivolous. The consequence has been that the home, which ought to be — for its orderliness, its sanctity, and its reigns of love — a miniature heaven and earth, has degenerated into “a filling station for the day and a parking place for the night” as someone has tersely expressed it.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—”that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3
“My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s teaching. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck. Wherever you walk, their counsel can lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up in the morning, they will advise you.” Proverbs 6:20-22
“The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!” Proverbs 23:24-25
Perhaps there is no duty the obligations of which are more generally acknowledged than filial piety; none which in the performance yields greater pleasure; nor which, if neglected brings a more severe or righteous retribution. All nations, however sunk in barbarism or elevated by science, have admitted the strength and justice of parental claims; and the unhappy youth who resists them, stands convicted, condemned and reprobated before the tribunal of the world. On the other hand, an eminently dutiful child is an object of delight, admiration and esteem, to all who have an opportunity of witnessing his conduct; he goes through society surrounded by a glory purer than that of fame, and far more conducive to his own comfort; he is a blessing to his parents, and is blessed himself.
Children, may all of you be such—and for that purpose, I ask your fixed attention to the statement of your duties, as set before you in this chapter. The obligations of family life are reciprocal. If your parents owe to you all that I have enjoined upon them, how much do you owe to your parents? I have been your advocate with them, I now become theirs with you.
I am a child of the technological frontier — the brave new world of exciting potential and seemingly limitless possibility. I learned how to type on a typewriter; but, how to spell on a Speak & Spell. As a young boy, I played video games on Commodore 64 and Atari. It wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that Nintendo became a household object. Our family had one small TV with a rabbit ear antenna. We didn’t have cable until the mid-90’s. I distinctly remember my mom being enamored with Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and that she really didn’t like me watching the Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy (which I, incidentally, loved watching). I’ll never forget the day that my dad walked us into a computer store to buy our first home computer. I was around 10 or 11. The salesman tried to convince my dad that we would never need more than 256 MB of memory (we had absolutely no idea what that meant at the time, but now realize that he had no idea what he was talking about). Neighborhood friends had boxes full of floppy discs–on which they traded video games with each another. When I was 13, one of those friends showed me pornography for the first time on one of those discs. This brave new world of technology was becoming a frightening new world of evil breaking into our neighborhoods and homes. Now, fast-forward 30 years.
Computers, smart phones, video game consoles, held game systems and just about all other electronic devices give us instant access to everything the world has to offer. Our children will grow up in a world of virtual reality and interactive online communities. There are an estimated 4 million pornographic websites online. That number will only increase. What was once filled with shame and indignity is now celebrated and promoted at an alarming rate. Tragically, more and more children from Christian homes are being drawn to cutter websites and pagan forums — often unknown to their parents. Many are simply being secularized through the influence of their friends online. There is no way to know exactly how quickly things are moving or where it is all heading; but, if our parents were concerned about how to protect us from the worldly influences on the radio, videos, magazines and cable TV, how much more do Christian parents need to be informed, alert and vigilant in seeking to protect our children in this day of technological hyper speed!
We live in a time when what once was considered right is now viewed as intolerance. Arguably, this paradigm shift in our culture is most evident when it comes to the subject of gay marriage versus biblical marriage. The recent Supreme Court decision ruling gay marriage to be legal greatly shifted the social landscape. Add to that the barrage of media attention both covering and supporting this lifestyle choice, and we are seemingly on the losing side of the argument. All hope is not lost as believers given we have confidence God is always and fully in control and righteousness will win the day.
With that said, especially when it comes to children and specifically teenagers, it is vital in this environment for parents to be equipped to have the critical conversation about homosexuality, how to interact with those who oppose the biblical stance on marriage, and how to stand firm in the midst of this storm that has come upon us. Tom Gilson in his tremendously helpful book Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, provides that needed equipping for parents.
I am the parent of a 14 year old. She is well aware of the fact there are LGBT individuals all around. It is hard not to know given the aforementioned barrage of media attention being given to this subject. She has asked on a few occasions why the “love” two gay people have for one another is wrong. After all, isn’t it their choice and isn’t love enough. Thankfully, as parents we were able to engage such a question as we had prepared ourselves for that type of critical conversation. Unfortunately, many parents, even Christian parents, would rather just avoid speaking about this topic to their children or hope that the youth pastor brings it up sometime at youth group to get them off the hook.
Gilson rightly notes that parents have the God given responsibility to impart truth into the lives of their children. Thus, we need to understand the landscape our children live in and furthermore, we must ensure they interact with LGBT individuals in a spirit of truth and love, understanding that on most occasions, their belief system in biblical marriage will be reviled.
In Critical Conversations, Gilson first establishes how we go to this point with a brief history lesson on the LGBT movement. He then establishes the biblical framework for marriage and builds on that framework and history as well noting the “common human experience” that marriage between a man and a woman is the best approach for society and to raise children.
With that as a solid foundation, Gilson then outlines how parents should teach their children when it comes to engaging those who take a different view on marriage. We should always stand for truth and Gilson aptly reminds the reader of that important fact. He also saliently avers the need for a listening ear, a warm embrace, and a spirit of love with those who embrace the LGBT lifestyle. Gilson comments that a listening ear does not mean acceptance of that lifestyle. It simply means we are showing humanity and rejecting the incorrect stigma of homophobia often attached to those who affirm biblical marriage.
Part 3 of this book is where the real rubber hits the road and is I believe the best part. Gilson addresses a plethora of winsome arguments that can be presented to the challenges against the biblical position on marriage. He covers most all if not all the major talking points from the LGBT community and those who support that lifestyle. The proposed responses follow the guidelines he gave in Part 2 when he reminded the reader of the need to speak the truth but to do so in love. Parents should spend a great deal of time in Part 3 and after doing so, the next step is to then spend time with your children discussing these important responses.
In my humble opinion, this is a must read for all Christian parents. Do not abdicate to the youth pastor the responsibility of having the needed critical conversation with your children about homosexuality. Spend time with them with Scripture and with this book as a helpful guide. Empower them (and yourself) to be able to respond with a biblical apologetic on marriage that is winsome, truthful, spoken in love, and that destroys the incorrect notions and labels being spouted against those who affirm biblical marriage.
This book is available for purchase from Kregel Publications by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Kregel Publications and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”