Summary: In the Fifth Commandment God gives us freedom as he calls us to live in obedience to our parents


Ephesians 6:1-3

Obey Your Parents

We live in a society that admires disobedience and rebellion.

If you don’t believe me think about how many TV programs and movies there are which portray parents as clueless morons.

We value independence – and we resent having anybody tell us what to do.

More and more parents are being disregarded and disrespected.

Now I know that part of this is the fault of parents.

When you hear constant yelling at children from the house three doors up.

When you laugh because the children have locked the mother out of the house – and she is swearing at them to let her in.

When you see what can only be described as useless parents who are nothing more than a hindrance.

Then you can understand why there is disrespect.

But it is also true that young people are becoming more and more disrespectful to their parents – and obedience is becoming an old-fashioned idea.

Into this scenario the Word of God speaks

Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12

This is how God wanted the families of Israel to function. And God was really serious about this.

Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.

Leviticus 20:9

If someone 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 glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to 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 there is a discipline technique.

Some people look at that and say, “Come on God, don’t be so serious. They are just kids.”

Firstly, let’s recognise this wouldn’t happen to young children. They are not just kids, they are young adults.

They didn’t just go out a throw stones at 8 and 9 year olds.

8-9 year olds are usually not drunkards – and if they are you are a bad parent.

Secondly, we need to understand that this is serious. We see the seriousness when we look at the promise attached to this command.

So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Because we are so tuned to being individuals we immediately think that this promise is say,

“If I honour my parents I will get to be really old”.

But that isn’t really what is being taught here.

Which is a good thing because we’ve probably known lots of people who were respectful to their parents, but didn’t live to a ripe old age.

The LORD isn’t talking to the people as individuals. He is talking to them as a community.

The promise was “so that you … you the people of Israel … may live a long time in the land that I am giving you. Remember that we are reading from the book of Exodus.

The people of Israel had been brought OUT OF Egypt, but they had not yet entered the Promised Land. Which of course was “the land God was giving to them.”

This is a powerful promise … the LAND promise.

Even today the war in Israel is all about the LAND.

Not as a geographical space … but as the fulfilment of a promise by God.

This command is saying, “Your long term place in the LAND is connected to the way that children obey parents.”

So this is a serious situation, because we show honour to God by being willing to show honour to our parents. Not just when you are younger – but also when you are older.

And when this honour to parents disappears … that means honour to God is disappearing … and this will be followed by the LAND disappearing.

Which is exactly what continued to happen in the history of Israel.

When society structures broke down … and especially family structures … the LAND was taken away.

The LORD was serious about this commandment.

But is God still serious about this commandment today?

Well we know God is serious because the command is repeated in the New Testament.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Ephesians 6:1-3

There is no doubt this is going back to the fifth commandment.

New Testament believers obey their parents.

It is at this point that all sorts of questions come up.

What if the parents are wrong?

This one perhaps depends on perspective.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around . But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

It might be a surprise for some children but as parents we do know a few things.

But we are also aware, aren’t we parents, that we do get it wrong.

We pressure our kids in ways we shouldn’t.

We have regrets and wish it could be different.

We know we have really messed up sometimes.

Parents do get things wrong.

Sometimes parents have a knack of saying stuff that is really hurtful.

“You are so useless”.

“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

“Get a job and do something with your life.”

If you are a parent you know exactly what I mean.

How do we honour when there is so much about parenting which is wrong?

Is there ever a time when children outgrow this command?

As we get older don’t we have less responsibility to obey.

Surely you can’t keep on listen to your parents.

Surely they don’t have the right to keep telling you what to do?

And there is the other side of the issue as well. Because isn’t it true that some parents try and get this obedience by getting their own way?

It is subtle, but it happens.

You are going to be at my birthday party, aren’t you?

You don’t think it is a good idea to move to England, do you?

You weren’t planning to buy such an expensive house, were you?

Following the Scripture isn’t always easy. But we also know God enables us to do so.

And we have said all along that the commands are designed to help us have the freedom to enjoy God.

So how do we discover the freedom in this command?

Well the first thing we do is look to Jesus and see what Jesus did.

And what we discover is that Jesus obeyed. You might remember the time Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem for a Passover when Jesus was 12 years old.

Jesus came along. When it was time to go home – Joseph thought Jesus was with Mary and Mary though Jesus was with Joseph.

Which makes those who have left their children behind somewhere feel a bit better.

Anyway – Joseph and Mary come back to Jerusalem the next day and find Jesus in the temple talking with the temple leaders.

The leaders are amazed at the ability of Jesus.

Mary and Joseph were not so convinced that the 12 year old Jesus had not honoured them.

48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

What does Jesus do?

He has just amazed the leaders of the Jerusalem temple with his knowledge of the Scriptures.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.

Luke 2:48, 51

Jesus lived the command – because the command gave Jesus freedom to enjoy God.

Not the freedom that comes with being in the temple.

But the freedom of being the child of God who honours His parents.

What we are seeing in Jesus is this:-

If you can’t honour your parents who you can see …

… how will you ever honour a God who you can’t see.

Obedience to parents leads to freedom – the freedom of really knowing who God is.

And that works in all sorts of situations.

When you grow up in a Christian home and you are surrounded by Christian example and influence – you get to see Jesus in action through your parents. Millions of people have come to understand the freedom of knowing God in those circumstances.

When you grow up in a home that doesn’t know Jesus. And you become a Christian later in life. You still look at your parents and honour them, because God is calling you to show them honour even though they are not believers. And you learn that the freedom of knowing God is a freedom that drives you to care and love your parents even more.

When you grow up in a hurtful home, or an abusive home, and then you become a Christian. You look to your parents and you recognise that they need more love than ever. They need forgiveness. They need a transformation. In the freedom of knowing God comes the greater freedom of being released from the pain and abuse and hurt which enables you to move on.

It all comes back to having that relationship with God. And then growing in God and seeking to put this obedience into practice in your circumstances. Which is going to look different for all of us. So, in that light, let’s ask those two questions again

What if the parents are wrong?

This is a difficult one. Because we live in a world where many are not believers – and we have parents who are not believers.

And so there will be times when parents are wrong because they have a different world-view to us.

And even parents who are Christians we know our weaknesses and short-comings.

And this is where we get some good direction from Jesus.

For Jesus, who obeyed his parents, also said.

For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:35-37

Parents are great teachers, but terrible deities.

As children you are not always going to do what they tell you – because your commitment to Jesus comes first.

As parents we need to recognise that we can’t act like God in the lives of our children. Because they are not our children are they. They belong to God.

There needs to be great discernment here – but also much grace. Living in obedience to God means giving honour at all times – even when there are differences of view.

Under the grace of God we move forward as parents knowing we are not the deities in the lives of our children

Is there ever a time when children outgrow this command?

Ephesians 6:2-3 is helpful here.

—“so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

We need to understand that there is a cycle in life. The way we treat our parents has a long term impact. There is a great Grimm’s Fairy Tale that makes the point well.

It is the story of an older man who lived with his young son and his son’s wife. They also had a 4 year old boy. The old man’s eyes blinked, his hands shook. When he ate food the silverware would rattle against the plate. He often missed his mouth. Food would be spilled on the tablecloth.

This upset the young wife. She appealed to her husband to do something. They decided to move their dad to a corner at meal time away from the family. He would set alone in the corner eating out of a bowl, sitting on a stool. The old man would look sadly at the others and desired to be with them. One day the man dropped his bowl and broke it. His son and daughter-in-law said, If you a eat like a pig then we will serve you like a pig. They made a wooden trough for the old man to eat out of.

Not long after, they came upon their son playing with some pieces of wood. The dad asked what he was doing. The boy looked up, smiled and said, “I’m making a trough to feed you and mama when I get big.” The next day the old man was back at the table eating with the family again and no one ever scolded or mistreated him again.

Honour your father and your mother

This is written as a command to give you the freedom to enjoy God.

He gives us the freedom to move beyond the past.

The mistakes we made as parents – and the mistakes we made as children.

He gives the freedom to enable reconciliation to take place.

Where breakdown and hurt can become healing and acceptance.

He gives the freedom to learn to trust Him as we give obedience to our parents.

They don’t always get it right – we know parents don’t we that we don’t get it right.

He gives us the freedom to move bitterness, hurt and pain which comes from having parents who were alcoholics or workaholics, abusive or neglectful, or cold and uncaring. The freedom to not be defined by the past actions of others. Showing honour, even to those who have dishonoured us.

This is the freedom which we have to enjoy God – even when our parents did not make life enjoyable.