Scripture: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20: 12 ESV
Observation: As the Apostle Paul notes, this fifth commandment is the first with a promise (Ephesians 5:2). But as most theologians deduce, the Lord’s blessing extends not to the individual but the nation as a whole. If the younger generation of Israel expects to live long in the land (implying maintaining possession), they must honor their elders, the guardians of their covenantal relationship with Yahweh. Indeed, as Ezekiel prophesied (a millennial later), God would scatter his people among the nation to purge them of evil: showing contempt toward their mothers and fathers, sojourners, and widows (Ezekiel 22:7, 15).
So how did God expect the younger generation to honor their parents and elders? Again, Paul provides a clue: “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6″1). This caveat indicates that they must respect authority in a manner that corroborates his law, implying that honoring does not include submitting to our parents’ or elders’ ungodly requests. But honor does include elements of showing care and affection toward them. Paul also addresses this aspect in his letter to Timothy. He exhorts the church to honor their widows and specifically directs adult children to care for their parents, all of which is “pleasing in the sight of the Lord” (1 Timothy 5:3-4).
Takeaway: Several years ago, while leading a Bible study with medical students, a student excitedly shared with our group that a visiting evangelist at her church said that the Old Testament laws no longer apply under our New Covenant. On the contrary, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law, did not abolish it but brought clarity under his covenant of grace. As it pertains to honoring parents, Jesus not only affirmed this command but called out the Pharisees and scribes for compromising the law by adding a provision that permitted children to dishonor their parents under the guise of redirecting their time and resources (Corban) to God rather than care for their parents (Matthew 15:5-7).
Whatever the reason for Corban’s misapplication of its original intent to honor God, it is easy to understand why we might struggle to revere our parents when their actions are ungodly. But when we justify withdrawing our care for them, we place ourselves in the judgment seat by deeming that they are undeserving of God’s love and mercy flowing through us. Conversely, under such painful circumstances, when we unconditionally honor our parents’ position (as God’s vessels for giving us life) and sacrificially care for their well-being, we bring honor to God. And, as a whole, it will go well for the body of Christ.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that you are a good, gracious, and sacrificially loving Father. And we thank you for the example of your Son, who always sought to revere you. Would you please grant us your grace to honor our parents and elders unconditionally, even when they act dishonorably? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling