Honor Your Father and Mother

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Exodus 20:12

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called The Ten Commandments for Today, and this morning we are looking at the fifth commandment on honoring your parents.

Exodus 20:12 – “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (NIV)

The fifth commandment deals with the family. The family was the first institution created by God and is the most basic unit of society. Civilizations rise and fall with the family. Faith in God rises and falls with the family, and therefore the family is under constant spiritual attack. It is not surprising, then, that two of the Ten Commandments deal with family. The fifth command commandment deals with the parent-child relationship, and the seventh commandment deals with marriage and sexuality.

The fifth commandment is reflected in the principles of almost every culture in all places at all times. It is a universally recognized principle that children should honor and respect their parents. The parent gave the child life; therefore the child owes everything he has to the parent. This is naturally recognized. It is built into the fabric of life. Ancient Greece, the Orient, Africa, South America – wherever you go children are expected to honor their parents. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote: “Reverence for parents stands written among the three laws of most revered righteousness.”

And so it is disturbing to recognize that two of the distinguishing marks of our own culture with regard to the parent-child relationship are: 1) an increasing loss of authority for the parent, and 2) an increasing disrespect of parents from their children. We see loss of authority for the parent in many ways – absentee parents, the abdication of authority promoted by permissive parenting styles, even government interference with some aspects of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The loss of respect for parents is tied to this loss of authority. It is also reflected and reinforced by the media, which targets young people for advertising now more than their parents. Just look at the change in television from the 1950’s. Somewhere along the way we went from “Leave It to Beaver” to “Beavis and Butthead.” Homer and Bart are a whole different ballgame than Andy and Opie.

The Bible tells us that disobedience to parents will be one of the signs of the end times: 2 Timothy 3:1-2: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents . . .” Sounds almost like a description of 21st century America, doesn’t it?

The family is in deep trouble today, and we need more than ever to study God’s word for solutions. And one of the solutions is found right here in the fifth commandment.

I. Obligations of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12)

Let’s look first of all at the obligations of the fifth commandment.

    A. Children Should Honor Their Parents

The first obligation is that children should honor their parents. So how do you do that? How do you honor your father and mother?

1) First, you respect their position over you as parents. Leviticus 19:3 says, “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” You should show respect with your words, with your body gestures and with your attitude, not only when you are in their presence, but also when you are not.

2) A second way you honor your father and mother is by loving and valuing their person. The word honor means “to esteem and value as precious.” Honor goes beyond simple respect for position and extends to the heart. Proverbs 23:26 says, “My son, give me your heart.” And Proverbs 31:28 speaks of children rising in the morning and calling their mother blessed. The very last words of the Old Testament speak of turning “the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

This distinction between respecting the position and loving the person is especially important when you are dealing with a parent who acts in less than respectful ways, for example, an alcoholic or abusive parent. You may not be able to respect the person in such cases, but you can still respect their position as parent and love their person regardless of their faults. Of course, you will need the Holy Spirit’s help to love and forgive those who have hurt you.

3) A third way you honor your parents is by submitting to their authority. We read in the gospel of Luke that twelve-year-old Jesus went down to Nazareth with his parents and “was obedient to them.” (Luke 2:51) Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

4) And then a fourth way you honor your parents is by accepting their discipline and instruction. The book of Proverbs says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Proverbs 1:8-9) Or as one paraphrase puts it:

My son, listen to your father’s instruction;
Don’t ever turn away from your mother’s teaching.
For their words are like a precious crown upon your head,
Like trophies you can wear around your neck.

My daughter, you also listen to your father’s instruction.
Don’t ever turn away from your mother’s teaching.
For their words are like flowers in your hair,
Like a beautiful necklace worn close to your heart.

    B. Parents should help their children observe this command

So that is the first obligation of this command: children should honor their parents. But there is a second obligation, and this one falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents, not the child. Parents have an obligation to help their children observe this command.

When people rebel against authority, sometimes the person in authority must share the blame with those who are rebelling. For example, let me share with you the tale of two teachers. This is a real-life example, by the way. Two teachers have the exact same group of kids in their classrooms. The kids are rowdy and unmanageable in one classroom, but they are quiet and respectful in the other. Now the kids are still wrong to be rowdy and disrespectful in the first classroom, but obviously the teacher has something to do with it as well.

The reason I know about this example is because I was the two teachers! The first classroom was me in my first year of teaching, and the second classroom was me in my second year of teaching – same group of kids, but a whole different atmosphere. What was the difference? The first year I didn’t know what I was doing! The second year I had learned a lot more about classroom management. You might want to call it progress, but I prefer to call it survival.

Listen, you can’t change your ancestors, but you can do something about your descendants! So how can we as parents help our children to observe the fifth commandment?

1) First of all, instruct them in God’s ways. Deuteronomy 6:7 says to take God’s commandments and “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This is one of your primary responsibilities as a parent. Of course, that means you must be learning God’s ways yourself in order to teach them. There are so many resources to help you with this today, and if you are not sure how to get started, please talk to me, and I will be glad to help you with this.

2) Secondly, discipline your children. The book of Proverbs is full of good counsel on this. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother . . . Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” (Proverbs 29:15,17)

3) Thirdly, provide for your children’s needs. The apostle Paul says in a different context that “children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” (2 Corinthians 12:14) The context is different but the principle is the same. It is the parents’ responsibility to provide for their children’s needs. By this, I mean their physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Sometimes, not always, a child is misbehaving because his needs are not being met in a certain area. We need to make sure we are not contributing to the problem by not meeting a child’s needs.

4) And then fourthly, do not exasperate your children. That’s what Ephesians 6:4 says: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” The word translated “exasperate” means to frustrate them or provoke them to anger. Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” The word translated “discouraged” there means “to lose heart, to be broken in spirit.”

Parents, you need to be careful how you treat your children. You are the primary motivator in their lives, and you can help them fly or you can take the wind right out of their sails. Do not frustrate them; do not provoke them to anger or make them bitter.

    C. Reasons why you should honor your parents

You might wonder, “Why is this command so important? Why should I honor my parents?” Well, God not only gives us his commands in Scripture, but he also gives us the reasons why we should follow his commands. Let me give you six quick reasons from the Bible why you should honor your parents.

1) First of all, it is right. That’s what Ephesians 6 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1) Proverbs 23:22 says, “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” We owe our parents our life and our gratitude. Parents sacrifice so much for their children, but we never really understand how much until we become parents ourselves. I used to hate it when the pastor said that when I was a kid. Now I really like it! But seriously, kids, your parents make so many sacrifices for you in so many areas. Do you have any idea how expensive you are? I heard someone say, “We don’t raise kids anymore – we finance them!” Children, honor your parents because it is right.

2) Secondly, it pleases God. Colossians 3 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20) Notice you are to obey your parents not just because it pleases them, but because it pleases God. That puts honoring your parents on a spiritual level.

3) A third reason why you should honor your parents is because it teaches you respect for authority. Romans 13 says this: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2) Did you get that? The authorities that exist have been established by God. When you rebel against your parents, you are really rebelling against authority, and you are rebelling against God as the ultimate authority. Honoring your parents will help teach you respect for authority.

4) Fourthly, it places you under God’s protection. Proverbs 6 says this: “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.” (Proverbs 6:20-23)

5) A fifth reason is because it brings peace and joy to your parents. In Proverbs 27:11 Solomon says, “Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.”

6) And then a sixth reason to honor your parents is it helps you grow in wisdom. Listen to Proverbs 4:1-4: “Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.’”

II. Violations of the fifth commandment

    A. Ways of dishonoring your parents

So far this morning we have talked about what it means to fulfill this command. Now I want to take just a bit of time to look at the various the ways the Bible says that we break this command. Deuteronomy 27:16 says, “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” That is the negative corollary to the fifth commandment. The word translated “dishonor” here means “treat lightly or with contempt,” thus bringing dishonor to the family. Let’s look at some of the ways the Bible tells us that we dishonor our parents.

1) First of all, we dishonor our parents when we disobey them. Disobedience to parents was taken very seriously under the Old Testament law. We read in the book of Deuteronomy: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Now obviously the death penalty for disobedience to parents no longer applies today. And yet disobedience is still one of the primary ways we dishonor our parents and break the fifth commandment.

2) Secondly, we dishonor our parents when we curse them. Exodus 21:17 also laid out the harshest of penalties: “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” Have you ever cursed your mother or father? It is dishonoring to your parents and a violation of the fifth commandment.

3) Thirdly, we dishonor our parents when we strike them. Exodus 21:15: “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.” Once again, even though the death penalty for this would no longer apply today, striking your parents is still a serious way of dishonoring them. I hope you never have and never will strike your own parents.

4) Fourthly, we dishonor our parents when we steal from them. Proverbs 19:26 – “He who robs his father and drives out his mother is a son who brings shame and disgrace.” Proverbs 28:24 – “He who robs his father or mother and says, ‘It’s not wrong’ – he is partner to him who destroys.” Stealing from your parents breaks both the eighth commandment and the fifth commandment.

5) And finally, we dishonor our parents when we neglect our elderly parents. When we grow to be adults, our relationship with our parents changes. We are no longer under their direct authority as when we were children. But we must still honor them. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of his day for neglecting their parents. Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:3-6)

In ancient Greece you could lose your rights as a citizen if you did not support your parents in their old age. Neglecting their care included failure to provide for physical needs as well as failure to provide for adequate burial when they died.

There is an old Grimm’s Fairy Tale about a family with two children and an elderly grandfather. The grandfather could no longer eat neatly at the table. At first the parents rebuked him; then they made him sit in the corner; eventually they took away his knife, fork and spoon and placed food in a trough where he would eat with his fingers. One day the parents saw their children playing outside. They had some wood, a saw, a hammer and nails. “What are you building?” they asked. Their children replied: “A trough for you when you get old!” Are you taking care of your elderly parents? What goes around comes around. What are you teaching your children right now about caring for the elderly?

    B. Consequences for the home

The fifth commandment is critically important for the proper functioning of the home. There are consequences for the home when we obey the fifth commandment, and consequences for the home when we disobey.

1) For the parents, it is a matter of joy or grief. Proverbs 10:1 – “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.” Proverbs 15:20 – “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.”

2) For the child, it is a matter of life or death. Proverbs 4:4 – “He [my father] taught me and said, ‘Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.’” Proverbs 30:17 makes the point in a particularly gruesome way: “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.”

3) For the household, it is a matter of harmony or strife. Proverbs 17:1-2 highlights the importance of harmony in the home: “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) Unfortunately, too many homes are filled with unnecessary conflict and strife simply because parents and children do not follow the fifth commandment. Micah 7:6 describes an extreme example of what many people face today in their homes: “For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.” (Micah 7:6)

God meant for the home to be a place of peace and refuge from the attacks of the world outside, but for many people today the home has become a daily battleground and combat zone instead. What a shame. If you are experiencing strife at home, bring that strife to God, and ask him to help change the atmosphere in your home.

III. Promises attached to the fifth commandment

Finally, God has attached great and precious promises to the fifth commandment. There are two of them. Live long, and live well. Exodus 20:12 -“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 5:16 – “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Ephesians 6:1-2 – “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 6:2-3)

Simply put, life goes better for those who honor their parents. They avoid many of the dangers that can cut life short or cut off the enjoyment of life, and thus as a rule, they live longer and better. It is the way God designed it to be.

CONCLUSION: In conclusion, remember that we cannot keep any of the Ten Commandments in our own strength. We need God’s help to keep his commandments, and we need God’s forgiveness for where we have failed. Praise God that he has made both help and forgiveness available to us through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ fulfilled all of God’s commandments perfectly for us, and then he died on the cross for our sins. All we need to do is turn from our sin and put our faith and trust in him.

Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow.

(Elvina M. Hall, 19th cent.; John T. Grape, 1835-1915)

© Ray Fowler

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