Sermon on Exodus 20:12 – “Teachings of the Fifth Commandment”

Sermon for Sunday, September 12th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 20:12 ESV] 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

New Testament reading:

[Eph 6:1-9 ESV] 1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 19:25-27 ESV] 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Introduction

[Exo 20:12 ESV] 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

I’ve been emphasizing in this sermon series on the commandments that there is much more “there” than meets the eye when it comes to the commandments. Here on the 5th commandment we have many implications and applications regarding parents, respect, and the family. So to give some form of order, I’ve broken this down into 7 teachings on the 5th commandment. This is certainly not exhaustive, and hopefully won’t be exhausting to you, but rather I pray that this will be as illuminating to you as it has been to me in studying this commandment.

So let’s look at 7 teachings on the 5th commandment.

The most obvious, or straightforward meaning of the 5th commandment is simply to honor your father and mother. But before we get to that, let’s look first at something that is implied. That is, the mere fact that you have a father and a mother.

1. You have a father and a mother

Our world has gotten so strange, so evil, that such a basic biological and natural statement such as “you have a father and a mother” is looked upon with scorn. Surely many people are raised by a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, or are adopted to a new family, or even may be a “ward of the state.” Yet it cannot be denied that each and every human being has a mother and a father. We don’t have a father and another father, or a mother and another mother, but a father and a mother. And it is not the Bible that is bigoted for its position, but it is the world that is sickly unnatural for its position, ever changing. Prominent in the news this week was a former presidential candidate show with HIS “husband” together in a hospital bed with two infants that they had legally adopted. The Bible and nature speak with full consistency that children are born of women; they are born to a mother and have a father. The unbiblical and unnatural proposal of the world can only pretend, can only mimic that which is natural. Many women give birth in a hospital bed. The adoption of children does not require a hospital bed, but this play-acting as two men could have babies together, borrowed the theme of the hospital bed in a desperate attempt for normalcy. But this is not normal, it is a mockery of that which is normal. You have a mother and a father, that is implied in the commandment. Before you seek to honor them, you must realize that basic truth; you have a mother and father.

The family is the natural grouping. You choose your friends, a job, even a church. But you are born into a family.

2. Honor your father and mother

These are the clear words of the text. Honor your father and your mother.

Of all the horizontal commandments —those between man and man, commandments 5 through 10—it is this one which comes first. The commandment to honor your father and your mother is highlighted as the first horizontal commandment.

Why is it placed first? Perhaps it is stretch to say that there is a reason for this. But might it be that the position of this commandment as first among the horizontal commandments is a reflection on the vertical commandments. That is, we are to Honor our Father in heaven as our only God, and so we are to honor our earthly parents, our father and our mother. Before we have any other horizontal connections, before we interact with any other people, we have by nature a father and a mother. It all starts there. Then when we move from the heavenly to the earthly, the very first place we start is with our parents. We are conceived by them and born into the world of them. Our first interactions in this world are with our parents, and thus the first commandment in this world is to obey them, and to honor them.

Honor is “an enviable esteem, a valuable reward for excellence in station, character, or service.”

Even if your parents are not excellent in character or in service, they are excellent in station; by the very fact that they are your parents you are to honor them, to esteem them, to give great weight to them.

You are not to disrespect them or disregard them, but to respect them and to obey their lawful commands unquestioningly, instantly, and cheerfully.

3. Honor BOTH father AND mother.

Note also that this commandment is for BOTH father AND mother.

On the one hand, our media has made father to be the greatest of dunces, entirely unworthy of honor. They are bumbling, stupid men, who do not lead their families and certainly should not be listened to. How many good father figures are there in television and movies? Very few. Very few indeed.

The Christian father is not be like those portrayals in media. He is to be the leader of his family, teaching the children from the Bible, being wise in the Lord with all decisions for the household, not merely working 40 hours a week and calling it good; leaving everything else to his wife.

But even if a father is not fulfilling his duties, his children are yet to honor him. A father’s poor performance does not give a child liberty to disobey.

Father is to be honored

AND

Mother is to be honored

The commandment has both. While a wife is to be subject to her husband, the children are to be subject not just to their father, but to their father AND mother. This means mother is not to be disrespected. And a husband should never let his children disrespect his wife, their mother. She must be honored as he is honored.

Leviticus 19:3 even has mother listed first.

[Lev 19:3 ESV] 3 Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.

She is to be respected as much as the father.

4. The command is not just for children.

The fifth commandment does not end when you turn 18 years of age. It is not something that you just have to obey for a time until you can break free from the household of your parents. It is a commandment for all of your life, and all of theirs. Even after your parents are deceased, you are to honor them; you are to speak well of them or at least hold your tongue and not mar their reputation.

The obedience you owe to your parents does cease when you are no longer under their roof, but the honor you owe them never ceases. Though you cease to be a child when you become an adult, you are yet always a child of your parents and so should always honor them.

Remember, the commands are a group together, all given from the Lord, never to fade away, and always to heeded.

5. Parents have the responsibility of discipline and instruction of their children

In this point we step out from merely logical deductions from the commandment itself, and into the bigger picture of the Scriptures in whole.

And whenever we speak of such obligations—whether of children to parents, wives to husbands, church members to their elders, or citizens to the magistrate—these are always balanced with the responsibilities of parents to children, husbands to wives, elders to church members, and magistrates to citizens. The Bible never advocates tyranny, but rather leadership.

How then are parents to lead, so that their children will obey and honor them?

First, we should note, children are not to obey their parent’s commands if those commands are against God. If your father tells you to steal something, you should not do so. Obedience is limited by lawfulness; not civic laws but moral laws. We—children too—are to obey God and not man. So Paul says, “Obey your parents IN THE LORD.”

So how are parents to lead? What are their responsibilities?

When Paul expounds on the 5th command in Ephesians chapter 6 he says:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”

We see here at the Bible addresses COVENANT children. When Paul in the same place says “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” he is not speaking to children outside of the church, but to children in the church of God. He writes not to the children of the city of Ephesus, but the children of the CHURCH of Ephesus.

Since children are in the covenant and included in the church to which Paul is writing, we see that children are brought up IN the covenant; in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. From their very birth, even their very conception, children are to be raised IN the covenant. They are raised IN the Lord as family, not INTO the Lord as outsiders. Parents, especially fathers, are responsible to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

How else will they learn to honor thy father and thy mother, but from being taught from the Scriptures. You are not to present this to them as one option among many, but as the very truth of God, as it truly is.

So it is that parents—not the church, and definitely not the state—are primarily responsible for the discipline and instruction of their children.

6. Children are responsible for their aged parents

It is not only parents that have responsibility, for children do as well. Honoring your parents is not merely a verbal thing, but leads to action as well.

We aren’t just to say nice things about our parents. We are to do something. For one, we are to take care of them when they are old. Supporting them financially if needed. Children have a responsibility for their aged parents. Again, not primarily the church, and not the state through coercive taxation. The primarily responsibility for aged parents is upon their children.

Now, first and best, parents should provide for their children, even seeking to leave wealth to them. Children are not supposed to save for their parents, but parents for their children, so Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:14. But wealth does not always outlast age, and so when needed, children are to care financially for their parents.

Is is very dishonorable to leave one’s aging parents without adequate financial support or inadequate care.

So important it is to take care of one’s parents that we find Jesus doing exactly that in our Gospel reading today. Joseph seems to have died before Jesus’ ministry began. He is not present at the wedding at Cana or anything else in those years. But Jesus’ mother Mary was alive, and reaching advanced age for that era.

So how did he fulfill the fifth commandment in regards to his aging mother? He arranged to have the Apostle John provide for her, and take care of her. And John is generally considered a younger, if not the youngest of the apostles. So he’d be around long enough to support Mary until the end of her earthly life.

The text says:

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

Mary was taken into the care of John, in his own home.

Jesus, the very son of God, honored his mother even unto his own death. Though he was superior in his divine nature, he yet was Mary’s son and so humbled himself to honor her. And when he was a boy and Joseph and Mary found him in the temple they all then went back to Nazareth and it is says of Jesus “he was submissive to them.” Luke 2:51

Though we often fail at obeying the 5th commandment, Jesus Christ did so. His perfect life to take the place of ours in the eyes of God.

7. Honor all your superiors

In Ephesians 6 Paul makes clear what it is implicit in the fifth commandment – that you are to give honor not just to your parents but to all your superiors.

Who are your superiors? Well, ontologically, of our very being all humans are equal. But the Lord has designed our world with various functional hierarchies. Relationships of superiors and inferiors.

The parent-child relationship is one such example. The parents are the superiors who have certain responsibilities for their children, and the children are the inferiors who are obliged to honor their parents.

So also are their functional superiors and inferiors in such relationships as those between employer and employee, citizen and police officer, Christian and church elder. We have a society that doesn’t like the idea of superiors and inferiors. There is much talk in the modern heresy of Critical Theory about “oppressors” and “the oppressed.” Everyone is said to fit into one of those categories. Especially do they hate Christianity for the Biblical teachings on submission. And we do not, of course, advocate oppression.

The idea of submission to authorities, of obeying those above you, has grown out of fashion. So still find remnants of it in the fading idea of children calling men “sir” and women “ma’am.” And we find also in the military the idea of a superior officer. And no one thinks for a moment that such an officer is morally better or inherently more of a person merely because of their rank. It is a functional subordination, necessary for order.

As order is needed in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, so order is needed in the home. The husband is the head of the household, and the children are to honor father and mother.

So then in Ephesians 6 Paul applies this commandant to other superior-inferior relationships:

He says:

5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Now, we don’t have slaves and masters as in the ancient world. But we have employees and employers and all the other sorts of relationships of superiors and inferiors.

And as the slave is to obey the master, so the pedestrian is to obey the traffic cop and the Christian his elders.

It is important to understand again that the idea of “oppressors” and “the oppressed” is unbiblical. Such an idea is not advocated for in the Bible at all.

To prove this, consider that a person who may be a superior in one place could be an inferior in another. The lead-footed elder (neither of ours, I’m sure) is to obey the police officer. But the same police officer, in the church, is to obey his elder as a superior, even if he has pending traffic tickets in the that civil realm.

So we are to have for ALL in authority. For judge, ministers, elders, police officers, politicians (even when we think they are dunder-headed, we should refrain from dishonoring them), and our parents. Even the elderly in general. It is indeed a good thing to respect your elders in age.

Now, if you perhaps think that you are always an inferior or even being always oppressed by wayward superiors, realize that whenever you buy a product or hire a service you are in the role of the superior. The customer is always right. And while you might not have permanent employees at your disposal, whenever you hire a plumber or a carpenter or anyone else, you take the role of the superior. In that role, do not oppress them. Do not cause needless grief in arguing with them about their arriving fifteen minutes late or delaying payment for their services.

It is imperative that we treat inferiors well. Yes, employees need obey your employers. But employers must not threaten or curse their employees. I spoke to a young man in our very village who recently quit a job after his boss shouted at him one too many times. Especially in our day when employees are hard to come by, we should treat so well those who work for us, wether we own a company and have full time employees or whether we are a temporary employer in hiring a service to our house – a plumber or carpenter or something else. Be good to your employees.

And Fathers, Paul says, “do not provoke your children to anger.” Teach them discipline and instruction in the Lord for it is from the Lord that all authority is given and it is to the Lord that all must answer and it is because of the sinless Lord Jesus Christ that salvation is known; in Him alone who obeyed this commandment for our sake. And so we pray in Jesus’ name that by the power of His Holy Spirit we do indeed all obey the 5th commandment, honoring our parents, and teaching our children, to God’s glory forever, amen.

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