“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12)
We come now to the Fifth of the Ten Commandments; the midway point in the Decalogue. If the first four Commandments concern themselves with man’s interaction with God, and the second of the two tables of the Law comprise man’s interactions with his fellow man, then this Fifth Commandment stands somewhere in between. It is a bridging Commandment joining the first table of the Law of Moses with the second.
Although the injunction directs us in a relationship to other people, those other people occupy a peculiar position of authority and responsibility. Before any of us know anything about God, it is our parents who stand in the place of total care and ultimate charge for our nurturing and well-being. Additionally, it is the parents of a child who bear the accountability for disciplining and correcting their children.
In the giving of this Commandment, we see the importance of two major factors in the life of God’s people — those both of Israel and later of the Body of Christ. First is the eminent role that the family unit would play in the life of Israel. If a nation is a building then the families residing therein are its bricks. For what is a nation if it is not a great collection of families living in a certain geographic region? Communities begin to crumble from within when the integrity of the family is compromised. When mothers and fathers fail to fulfill their God-given roles (or are entirely absent from the family physically or emotionally!), children grow up with no sense of boundaries, no perception of duty and responsibility, and no moral compass to direct them.
Secondly, we have the factor of government and authority in the lives of God’s people. The earliest governing authority in life is a child’s mother and father. A failure to honor, respect, and submit to that most basic of authorities in a person’s life paves the way for a difficult life of confusion, pain, and rebellion. And, as we see in the details of this Commandment, a typically shortened life at that. A person who will make a practice of rebelling against parental authority early in life will never learn what it means to comply with other authority that he will inevitably be placed under throughout his life. Whether it is those in management in the workplace or civil powers upholding the laws of the land, the child who refuses to recognize the authority which God has placed in the hands of his parents will sentence himself to a life of struggle and undue difficulty; a life which will often be abbreviated by his own error.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4)
The Apostle Paul gives the Christian a New Testament commentary on what the Fifth Commandment means for us. Although no specific burden is given to the parent in the giving of the Commandment at Mt. Sinai, we see that, under Christ, the parent is charged to deal with their children responsibly and justly. Mothers and fathers should not discipline their children through rage and anger, but should lovingly, though firmly, correct their children. So often it is easy for us to respond to our children’s misbehavior based on how mad they are making us, but this should never be our motivation. The seriousness of their offense is not determined by the personal loss, inconvenience, frustration, or embarassment they cause us, but rather the punishment should be meted out in appropriate relation to the “crime.” And correction should always be the goal, not retaliation.
Spankings have become unpopular in recent years and self-proclaimed “experts” have cautioned that using corporal punishment will cause our children to grow up with a host of emotional health issues. While many parents have misused this disciplinary tool and have abused their kids by pouring out their own uncontrolled anger on their helpless little ones; a calm, reasonable, appropriate spanking can do a great deal in setting a misbehaved child back on the right path. As the Book of Proverbs tells us:
“Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” (Prov. 23:13 ESV)*
The Fifth Commandment stresses the importance of proper submission and relationship with all of the authority we will encounter during our life on Earth. Yes, sometimes these authorities are unjust and corrupt, but we are never instructed as Christians to rebel against authority, whether or not it is good or bad. It has always blown me away that Paul could urge his readers in Rome to, “…be subject to the higher powers for there is no power but of God…”(Rom. 13:1) when the most despicably evil and vile emperor ever to reign over the Roman Empire sat on the throne. Nero indiscriminately murdered Christians by the droves, in cruel and horrific ways, simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, even during this time, the Church was never told to defy his power, but to submit to the higher powers of government.
Some parents are a real danger to their child’s safety and, in those cases, I do believe that it is the duty of society to place those kids out of harm’s way. But many kids feel that rebelling and disobeying their parents is okay simply because they do not like the household rules that they live under. To do so is to disobey the Fifth Commandment and to set in motion a habit of defying authority throughout our lives whenever we disagree with it. This is not the will of God neither is it a Christian’s duty or privilege to do so. We must remember that all authority, from our parents to the highest governing authorities in our respective nations, rule over us only by the consent of the Lord. After all, Nero did not reign in Rome forever. Eventually, other emperors would occupy his position, rulers who dealt more fairly and humanely with the Lord’s people. We can be certain that, if an authority over us is corrupt, God will only permit that situation for so long. Ultimately, it is the Lord Himself Who stands in control of every aspect of our lives. We do well to submit to the power of those whom He has set over us.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
*English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.