Summary: God puts us in this world with a small subset of the human race to begin relating to. Our parents are the first representatives of fallen humanity that we meet and our first model for authority figures that we’ll meet later in life.
Jesus said that the commandments are summed up in the dual command, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbour as yourself." Well today we come to the fifth commandment. This seems to be about loving your neighbour, but it’s one of the first half so maybe it’s also about loving God. In fact it’s true, isn’t it, that our love for others begins with love of God. It’s when we grasp the depth of God’s love for us that we begin to grapple with the need to love even our ugly neighbour. And it may be that this commandment about the need to love and honour our parents is meant to be the bridge between those that are about our relationship with God and those that are about our relationship with our neighbour.
Your First Struggle with Authority
God puts us in this world with a small subset of the human race to begin relating to. Our parents are the first representatives of fallen humanity that we meet and our first model for authority figures that we’ll meet later in life. Now that may be a good or bad thing, depending on how well they carry out their duties as parents. But whatever happens, the way they exercise authority will affect the way we respond to authority figures in later life. If respect for authority is lost in the home, chances are it’ll be lost at school, in the workplace, or in society.
Two forms of authority
It seems to me that there are two forms of authority exercised by parents: authoritarian and authoritative.
The authoritarian style depends on power to force obedience from others. Power is exercised through fear of punishment or threat of violence in one of its many forms. You’ve probably seen this is some parents. You may have done it yourself. It commonly takes the form of something like this: "Why should I do it?" "Because I said so." "What if I don’t want to?" "Then you’ll be sorry!" Or something even more explicit perhaps and usually said with a raised voice.
Authoritative parenting on the other hand allows discussion, gives reasons, helps the child to see that the instruction isn’t arbitrary or mean-spirited. It allows for a child’s immaturity. So, for example, it doesn’t punish unfairly for childish mistakes. It still expects compliance, it still sets limits, it still punishes where necessary, but it works at getting compliance willingly rather than out of fear; it works at increasing the child’s maturity so they can end up setting their own limits.
In Ephesians 6, when Paul’s addressing both children and parents he says this: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ... 4And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Notice that the key to both those instructions is "In the Lord". Christian parenting is carried out as though it were being done by Christ, or by God. When God gives us laws he explains them, he reasons with us, he treats us with respect. So too parents need to treat their children with respect as they exercise their authority over them.
Well, if there are two types of authority there are also two responses to authority: honouring and rebelling.
Some children honour their parents’ authority, and we’ll see in a moment what honouring entails, while others simply rebel.
Now this isn’t easy for children is it? I mean our natural human inclination is to want to rule the world. As children grow up they actually begin with a fair bit of control over their world. A baby just has to cry and someone will come and pick it up, feed it, change its nappy, or play with it as the situation demands. But then as it grows older it discovers that the world doesn’t revolve around it after all. And usually by about two years old those rebellious genes have kicked in. At that point authoritative parenting is essential for both the child and the parents. If they handle it well, they’ll end up with a child who honours them - most of the time at least - and probably all the time in private.
But let me address those who are children or teenagers still living under the authority of parents. How do you respond to the authority of your parents? Do you give in to the temptation to rebel, to assert your own sovereignty over your life? Or do you honour your parents as those God has placed over you, for the time being at least? Do you obey your parents in the Lord?
The Meaning of Honour
Well, to help you think about that some more let’s talk about what’s meant by honour here.