Now that we’ve gotten past the controversial husband/wife instructions, let’s spend a day on the parent/child relationship.
Of course, just about everybody’s relationship with their parents and their offspring is complicated. The reason is simple: Every human being is a sinner (with one exception), and thus every human relationship—including the filial—is tainted to some degree with it. No parent is perfect except our Heavenly Father, and no son has ever obeyed and honored his parents with perfection except for the Savior.
But the fact that all of us fall short of God’s standard doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as a good relationship with one’s parents versus a bad one. And as always, the more we do things his way instead of our own, the better off we’ll be.
The first thing we need to examine is Paul’s command to children to obey their parents. Please note that this is addressed to children, not everyone. The way I’ve always understood this is that it applies to you as long as you’re living in their home and financially dependent on them. The biblical pattern, set near the beginning of the human race is “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Once you leave their home, you’re no longer under a blanket obligation to obey them.
But as long as you live in their house or are financially dependent on them, then you have to submit to their authority (just like we do with government and wives submit to their husbands) unless and until they tell you to do something contra Scripture. But more than merely obeying them (with a slave’s reluctance, just enough to avoid punishment), Paul says a child needs to honor his parents. This is an attitude which leads to obedience.
What does Paul mean that this is “the first commandment with a promise”? The fifth Commandment tells us to honor our parents so that we’ll enjoy long lives on the earth. This isn’t—as some have joked—because your parents will kill you if you misbehave. If your parents are godly parents and you listen to them (even when what they’re saying doesn’t make sense) you’ll tend to live longer. As in the Proverbs, this isn’t a categorical promise like “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” But in general, if your parents had any sense at all, and especially if they tried to raise you in a God-fearing home, then you’ll have a better and longer life in this world if you obey them. This particularly pays eternal dividends if their influence leads you to faith in the Savior. If so, then your debt to them is literally incalculable.
If you’re grown up and out from under your parents’ authority, you might think that this passage doesn’t apply to you. Au contraire! Of course this categorical standard of obeying your parents doesn’t apply once you leave home and aren’t financially dependent on them. BUT. . . verse 2 reminds us of the command to honor our parents, and that lasts throughout their lifetime, and even beyond. Even after they’re dead and long gone, you should still honor them. This means you speak to them and about them with respect; if nothing else, you respect their position even when they’re not acting respectably (same principle as with our relationship with government). For the sacrifices they made, particularly if they influenced you towards the God of the Bible, you should honor them many times over.
I realize that most of my blog readers aren’t children living at home. But today’s passage reminds me of the fact that I owe my parents so much for their sacrifices for me. They fed me and clothed me and provided for my every need. Much more than that, they brought me to church and provided an atmosphere in which the Bible was read. Were they perfect? Of course not. But for what they did for me, I honor them and thank them.
I also recognize that a lot of people reading this had really really really imperfect parents, maybe even abusive or absent ones. Hopefully you had a father-figure who—to some degree—provided what your “bio-dad” didn’t. If so, you need to honor and thank them too.
If you’re reading this and following the Lord, chances are someone in your life was a “father” in some sense. If they’re still with us in this world, you might consider taking a moment to thank them. And honor them. It’s only right.
Father God, for all the “fathers” and “mothers” in my life, whether they had that official title or not, thank you. Help me to honor and thank them. You used them to bring me to you, and for that I owe them more than I could ever pay.