Summary: The health of family life has a significant impact upon the health of society.
“Law & Order: SPU – Putting Life in Order”
Ex. 20:12; 1Tim. 5:1-16
A Sunday school teacher, in her class of 5 & 6 year olds, had just finished discussing this commandment about honoring your father and mother. She asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill!” It’s so easy for us to make a commandment say what we want it to say that we often miss the underlying basic principle behind God’s desire and will through the commandment. It’s especially easy to do so with this 5th commandment, where the underlying basic principle commands us to make a sound investment into our families – for our sake and for the sake of our society.
Let’s begin by taking a look at THE BASIC MEANING of the commandment. “Honor your father and your mother…” Consider THE PRINCIPLE of God’s command. The Israelites had spent all those years in slavery, so even though they lived in family units, their lives were owned, run, and controlled by the ruling powers of Egypt. But now they were free and God wanted them to invest in and ESTABLISH A NEW ORDER FOR LIVING – a new order that would not only bring vibrancy and stability to their lives but to their society as well. So God told them that they were to invest in growing a stable family unit.
But how to do so was the question. The Hebrew word for ‘honor’ means ‘to give weight to or make weighty with respect.’ So the sense of the command to ‘honor’ indicates ‘TO PRIZE HIGHLY, CARE FOR, SHOW RESPECT TO, AND OBEY PARENTS.’ History shows that the Jews caught this principle. From the Old Testament right up to today, the traditional Jewish family structure has always been built on order and stability that gave them strength and discipline. At the very heart of this structure was a high reverence and respect for parents and older members of the family.
Pastor Maxie Dunham summarized this succinctly. “I believe one of the primary reasons Judaism has survived across the years is precisely its family structure. The Jews survived the Holocaust and thousands of years of anti-Semitism because the Jewish family had a sense of identity and a sense of order. It doesn’t matter where the family is on the Sabbath, when the Sabbath comes, they stop and pray. It didn’t matter what Hitler and all the powers of Nazism said, when Passover came it was time to tell the story, even if the family was gathered in a concentration camp and there were no candles to light. There was a sense of order and identity that gave them roots and strength and perspective and discipline. At the heart of that family structure was a reverence for parents, a high regard, a respect, an esteem for the older members of the family. The elderly were honored and cared for.”
With this brief background we can understand THE PRACTICALITY of God’s command. Two major concepts stand out. First, by God’s design THE FAMILY UNIT IS THE PRIMARY, MOST IMPORTANT UNIT OF ANY SOCIETY. From Genesis on it is very clear that the family is the core of life. That’s why God added the promise of long life for those families who obey the command – obedience to the command ensures the stability of the culture. The Bible is brutally honest in showing how strong, stable families impact society positively and how weak, unstable families impact society negatively. The Israelites knew that it is the orderly functioning of the family unit that ensures life. They did not depend on or defer to schools, books, videos, televisions, child experts, scouts, or any other person or entity to build the family; parents took it as their God-given responsibility. It is a responsibility that still lies with parents today. The transmission of values, the sharing of foundations that lead to order in society must take place in the home. The 5th commandment teaches, indeed commands, that the family structure and function is the number one priority for stability in the home and in society. One of the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire was, in fact, the breakdown of the family unit. It should not surprise us that through the years statistics consistently show that in the traditional Jewish communities there is significantly less juvenile delinquency and crime than in the average American community. As the late Edgar Hoover – long time influential Director of the FBI – wrote, “A child who has been taught to respect the laws of God will have little trouble respecting the laws of men.”
In the early 90’s Bishop Charles Bennison of the Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo, wrote powerfully: “It is the Christian parent in the Christian home who must, with the grace that comes from God through his church, begin to remake our culture. If our culture has slipped into unsound habits of irresponsibility and egocentricity (and it has), the Christian home is the place where those values can be cherished and made to grow in influence. If our culture has learned to put a disastrously high premium on competition (and it has), the Christian home is the place where the cooperative virtues can be a strength and delight. Nowhere in our culture is there an institution that can more vigorously and deeply serve the needs of our maturing than the Christian home.” The family unit is the primary, most important unit of any society.