Summary: The fifth commandment is not directed at teens, but to families and children of every age. This is the first of the commandments dealing with human relationships.


(Exodus 20:12)

Parents of teenagers point to this commandment often. A father of four teens said, “There’s nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won’t aggravate,” and another said, “Insanity is contagious. You catch it from your kids.”

An astute philosopher once complained, “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders. They love to chatter in place of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, babble before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” Socrates made that comment more than twenty-five hundred years ago.

The fifth commandment is not directed at teens, but to families and children of every age. This is the first of the commandments dealing with human relationships: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

The family is the most important human relationship. God established it in the Garden of Eden when He brought two humans together and told them to multiply. They were Adam and Eve, male and female.

Family life is at a crossroads in our society. An epidemic of child abuse and neglect puts children in terrifying situations. Children are the focus of more violence than any group. The womb, designed by God to shelter the unborn, has become the most dangerous place on earth for children. Children are also among those most likely to suffer from poverty. Forty percent of all Americans living in poverty are children. The war on drugs is ultimately a battle for the souls of our children. Crack-addicted babies and preteens dealing narcotics suggest the price we pay.

Lance Morrow wrote in Time magazine, “Children have lost status in the world. Teachers have endured a long decline in public esteem. Day-care workers rarely earn a living wage. The role of mother is being rewritten, and that of father as well. A generation of children is being raised in the midst of a redefinition of parenting. Childhood has become a kind of experiment.”

God established the family to be the primary child-rearing and human-nurturing institution, but family life has entered an era of enormous instability. The result is the deterioration of moral life in our civilization. One man writes, “For more than twenty years . . . the institution of the family has been subjected to an endless array of bad ideas, including the sexual revolution, open marriage, no-fault divorce laws, devastating taxes, hostility to children, abortion on demand, ridicule of homemakers, war between the sexes, and the plague of obscenity.”


The family has a divine origin. People propose “alternate life-styles” but God established the family. Chaos results when we abandon His norms for society. The ecological imbalance would cause us to fear for the earth’s survival apart from a biblical perspective. As He ordained ecological norms, God also established sociological standards. The first of these is the family.

The Genesis record suggests that God was thinking family from the very beginning. Jesus referred to this, saying, “at the beginning of creation God ’made them male and female.’ ’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will be-come one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one” (Mark 10:6-8). One man and one woman establish a new family unit. As that family is blessed with children, God requires that the children honor the father and mother, and that the parents be honorable.


For some children these are difficult words. John Huffman, author and Presbyterian pastor, tells of preaching on this commandment sometime ago. Expecting that some would be troubled by memories of less than honorable parents, he was still surprised by the intensity of one letter he received. A woman, present in that service, wrote three typewritten, single-spaced pages on 8 1/2” X 11” stationery.

She told of being the daughter of a man who sexually molested her older sister to the point that after four years she ended up having his baby. She described many overheard, middle-of-the-night conversations between her father and mother, one of which ended with repen-tance. But the pattern started all over again.

As sad as this story is, it is even more complicated by the fact that her father was a missionary, a pastor, and more recently a teacher in a Christian school. She writes, “Unable to reconcile the differing pictures of my father, the missionary/minister with his arms raised to God before his congregation in the morning and my father sleeping with his daughter during the nights, I placed the painful memories deep within my subconscious mind.”

She writes on, describing how these painful memories came back to haunt her as she established her own marriage and later went through a tragic divorce. In later personal conversation . . . she described her own feelings about her mother who knew the facts but entered into an enabling collusion with her father which led to cover-up and continued prac-tice.

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