Focus on the family - Deuteronomy 5:16

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 17th June 2001.

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See if you can guess where these words come from and when they were written: "The world is passing through troubled times. Young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no respect for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they know everything, and treat older people’s wisdom as stupidity. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest, and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress." Well you may have thought that that article came from Disgruntled of Doncaster, or Irate of Immingham, someone writing in to their local newspaper after some youth has just walked off with their garden fence or a girl has stuck chewing gum on their letter box. But actually, believe it or not, those comments come from the thirteenth century, 1274 to be precise, and they are the words of a man called Peter the Hermit. Whilst the crimes may have changed, yet the generation gap still remains. Eight centuries on and those words are as relevant as they day they were penned.

Now this evening we are continuing our series in the Ten Commandments. What has struck me again as we have studied them together is how timelessly relevant they are, and how very applicable they are to 21st century life. Whilst we may struggle to put them into practice because of their very high standards, yet the message is never in doubt. And as we come to this fifth commandment, to honour our father and mother, we are struck again by the simplicity and clarity of the message and yet the challenge to do something about it. Like all of these commandments, this one will again show us how short we fall and how hard it often is to obey.

And yet it is vital that we do seek to obey this command, because it gets right to the heart of our society: And that is the family. You’ll have noticed that we have shifted from commandments which deal with our relationship with God, to commandments which deal expressly with our relationship to each other. Now of course in the Bible there is a fine line between the two. Our relationship with God is shown in the way we deal with others. But what is notable is that it is our relationship with our parents which stands at the top of the bill. For in God’s mind the family is at the heart of society. It was in Israel and it should be today.

But today the family is an institution that is very much under attack and under increasing pressure. And there are a number of factors which have led to this pressure. There is the issue of work, whereby we are having to work harder for longer hours and for less pay. Often in a family where there is a mother and father, both parents will be working. So time is more and more squeezed. Lifestyle changes have meant that we are sometimes like ships passing in the night even though we live under the same roof. It’s been said that the average family spends only 1 meal a week together around a table, and the average father only 39 seconds a day speaking with his children. TV, working different hours, microwaveable food, and many other pressures have eroded away that family time. And, we are also finding that children seem to grow up much quicker and facing issues which a previous generation would have faced at a later age. Sexuality is one example, as well as pressures from exams and money and material possessions spurred on by advertising. So all these things mean that the family is being put under immense pressure. The generation gap is being increased and families rendered meaningless cohabitations.



And it is into this intensely pressured situation that we find ourselves that God speaks this commandment. Honour your father and mother. In a world of many different tunes, God’s word sounds as a clear bell which we would be wise to pay attention to. So what does God have to say about this situation? What does God mean by this command to honour your father and mother? Now let me say at the start that we’ll find no easy answers to that question. We’ll find some important principles which the Bible lays down, but God leaves us to work out much of the practicalities for ourselves. And of course each of us here will come to this commandment with different feelings about our parents. For some the experiences will be very positive, for others, painful and difficult. But God has much to say to everyone here tonight whatever we have experienced. So let’s turn to that Word and we’ll find three things about this commandment:


1) A Continuous Principle

2) A Changing Practice

3) A Compelling Promise

1) A Continuous Principle

So first, then, a continuous principle. Let me read to you the commandment again: "Honour your father and mother, as the Lord God has commanded you." Now you may remember that the book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ speech to the people of Israel as they are about to enter the Promised Land, forty years after their first attempt. So here Moses is recapping the law. And, he says, it still applies to this new generation. What God commanded forty years ago is still just as relevant. But notice who this commandment is spoken to. Have a look at verse 1 of Deuteronomy 5. Moses summoned all Israel and said…." Here before Moses are all the people. Moses didn’t tell the adults to switch off whilst he told the children commandment five, and then to tune back in for number six. No. This command is spoken to all the people. It applies to everyone, whatever your age and whatever your stage of life, not just small children. In that sense it is a continuous principle. It is a commandment which, if you like, we never grow out of.

So what does it actually mean? Well to honour means literally to treat as weighty. That doesn’t mean that we must weigh our parents on a set of scales, rather that we must give them proper honour and respect. Now let’s notice first what this doesn’t mean. God could have said a number of things about parents to Moses that day on the mountain. He could have said to us to obey our parents. But he doesn’t. As we’ll see there are times in life when it is appropriate to show honour by obedience. But not whatever age we are and not in every circumstance. So honour does not mean flat obedience. God could also have said love your parents. But he doesn’t. Now that is obviously very important, since for many loving a parent may be a very difficult thing to do. Honour is more than love, though there are similarities. So not simply obey and not simply love. And that be a relief for some. Rather honour.

So positively what does it mean to honour or to treat as weighty? Well someone has defined ‘honour’ as to "give proper respect to" our father and mother. Now notice that it is to our fathers and mothers. Both are to be honoured equally. Some all male households ought to take note. And notice too that it is proper respect. As we’ll see there are difficult times when we must disagree or even go a separate way from that which our parents may wish, but that doesn’t mean that proper respect is withheld. It is not simply respect for respect’s sake. Often we say that respect must be earned. Rather here, the honour is given because our parents are just that. They are our parents. So to honour our father and mother is more an attitude of the heart. And I think that is why this is not a negative command, like the remaining five ‘you shall nots’. Rather this one is positive. It is therefore without restraint, something endless, which must be done to the full. It is not something that can be measured, for there is always more to do and it will be seen in practical ways. And nor it is something that we can lay down laws for. Each person will have to work it out for themselves. So the continuing principle. For all people at all times. But what does it mean in practice?


2) A Changing Practice

Well let’s turn to our second heading, a changing practice. And obviously this is the question which we all want answered! But before we launch in, we need to take care that we don’t fall into the trap of the Pharisees. For they loved to add their own laws to God’s laws, so they could fulfil them to the letter. They tried to do the bare minimum to make sure they were OK with God. But God’s attitude is that we should fulfil these laws right to the very maximum that we can. It’s a bit like the story I heard of a schoolboy who got his results at the end of term. And every subject came in two categories. One for actual achievement graded A-E, E being the worst, and secondly a category for effort, graded 1-5, 5 being the worst. And the schoolboy’s aim was always to get A5 in every subject, to be the best with the least effort. Unlike PE for me which was E1! Well that is the Pharisee’s attitude. Jesus constantly warns to beware having such an attitude. Rather we are to seek to fulfil God’s law, not just to the letter, but right to the full spirit of it as well.

Now whilst the principle is continuous yet how we honour our parents will differ from generation to generation. And the Bible mentions at least three, in each of which Jesus himself is an example to us:


a) Honour in Obedience- So first there is honour in obedience. Let me read to you Ephesians 6 v 1: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." And then Paul quotes the fifth commandment. So here Paul is specifically addressing children who are dependent upon their parents and telling them to obey. As minors, the best way they can honour their parents is through obedience. But notice what kind of obedience it is: It is ‘in the Lord’. Part of their Christian discipleship will be to obey their parents in all things lawful and godly. So if you are a child dependant on your parents, not having fully left home, then God commands you this evening to show your honour for your parents by obedience. And the Bible makes it clear just what shame and disgrace disobedient children bring on their parents. So we read in Proverbs, which have much practical wisdom on everything from parenting to business, in chapter 10 v 1: "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother." How true that is! So sons and daughters, be wise and you’ll bring joy to your parents. Or again in Proverbs 17 v 21: "To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool." Rather parents should have the joy of being proud of their children. Children should not bring dishonour to their parents by the way they live, which of course is possible to do even when our parents have died. So honour in obedience. And that is exactly what Jesus was like. Luke tells us that as a twelve year old boy, Jesus was obedient to his parents. He is a model of honour in obedience.


b) Honour in Independence- But then secondly there is honour in independence. And the Bible mentions two areas where we are specifically to be independent from our parents. The first is in the area of marriage. The Bible makes it clear that when we get married we leave and cleave. We leave our parents to cleave to our husband or wife. And the marriage service makes that clear in a physical way. When Debbie and I got married she walked into the church with her father and out of the church with me, a fair exchange I thought! But it would be very odd if after the reception we had said our goodbyes and gone back home with our respective parents. No we’re now independent, a new family unit. But that doesn’t mean we’re free from honouring our parents. It will take a new form. It will mean thinking carefully about how often to see parents once married, how often they get to see the grand children etc. And for some couples this can cause difficulty. But from the Bible it is clear that to honour our parents means first and foremost to love our spouse and put them first. So our relationship with our parents changes, but the commandment still applies. Getting married isn’t an excuse for dishonouring our parents.

But the other way independence is seen in the Bible is in our commitment to Christ. Here our allegiance to him must come first. In Matthew 10 vv 34-35, Jesus says that he has come not to bring peace but a sword, and "to turn a man against his father and a daughter against her mother…" The context here is of allegiance to Jesus. This must come even above our most cherished relationships. Now of course this can mean some extremely painful times with our parents. We were hearing from Elsa Lynch a few weeks ago about how her becoming a Christian led to big battles with her parents who refused to allow her to go to church or read her Bible. Elsa had to make some very tough decisions about her allegiance to Christ, whilst seeking to honour her parents. What is clear though in the NT is that Jesus promises a new family for us when our own family disowns us. Our Christian brothers and sisters are to be a source of comfort to us. And of course to turn to Christ despite our parents’ wishes is ultimately to honour them. For we are doing what is right, even if that right won’t be seen by them until eternity. In some countries, sadly, allegiance to Christ may led to serious persecution from family members. I had a friend at university who became a Christian from a Moslem background, and as result he had to leave his native country and live in England through fear of being killed. And again Jesus himself is an example of someone who has to put God first. In Matthew 12 Jesus firmly refuses to go along with his mother’s wishes because he is doing his heavenly Father’s work. So honour in independence. And this is perhaps the hardest thing to do because it leads to a lot of pain. And yet, the command to honour still applies. Even if we are independent, in marriage or in commitment to Christ, or simply through being an adult, that doesn’t mean our parents should be dishonoured.


c) Honour in dependence- But then thirdly there is honour in dependence, dependence not of child upon parent, but of parent upon child. And I guess that this is the most pressing issue for many of us. Many of us will perhaps have one or two elderly parents who are increasingly dependant upon us. Are we exempt from honouring them then? Well no. Let me read to you what Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5 v 8: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Paul is very clear that w need to care for our parents. Now how we do that will vary from person to person, depending on our capabilities and situation. But in an age which is increasingly dismissive of the older generation, it is vital that the Christian be counter cultural. The older generation are a vital part not only of society but also of our church body. We must learn from their wisdom and experience in the Christian life and life as a whole.

Listen to how one eight year old boy put it: "A Grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own, so she likes other people’s boys and girls. A grandfather is a man grandmother. He goes for walks with boys and they talk about fishing and tractors. Grandmothers don’t have to do anything expect be there. They are old, so they shouldn’t play hard or run. They should never say: "Hurry up!" Usually they are fat, but not too fat to tie children’s shoe laces. They wear glasses and funny underwear, and they can take off their teeth and gums. They don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like why dogs hate cats and why God isn’t married. They don’t like baby talk like visitors. When they read to us they don’t skip bits, or mind if it is the same story over again. Everybody should have one, especially if you don’t have a television, because grandmothers are the only grown ups who have time." A very perceptive eight year old! And a reminder that the charge to honour our parents is something that must happen when they become dependant upon us. And again Jesus is an example in this area, as some of his last words on the cross were to the apostle John to make sure Jesus’ mother Mary would be cared for. So that’s the changing practise. But the principle is clear: Whatever stage we are at, honouring our fathers and mothers is something which is ongoing.


3) A Compelling Promise

But then thirdly there is a compelling promise. For Moses says that the people should honour their fathers and mothers "so that you may live long in the land and it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you." And as Paul says in Ephesians 6, this is the only commandment with a promise. Now why is this so? Well one answer is to say that since the family is the basis for a stable society, then it is right that this stable environment be protected. And if the children honour their parents then that will work its way through society. Good families produce good children, so the thinking goes, and society is better for it. Well there is certainly some truth in that. That is why Christians should battle hard against prevailing pressures to break up families. And it has been shown that stable families are the best place to raise good, responsible children. And that’s not surprising given that this is the way God intended us to live in the world.

But there is more to it than simply the sociological level. The answer is seen in the role of parents in Israel. Parents were to pass on God’s promises and teaching to the next generation. They were to show them what obedience was and what the consequences of disobedience were. So if a child honoured his parents, part of that honour would be seen in his adoption of the godly principles the parents passed on. And so when the child obeyed the faith parents passed on, then they too would live in the land, being obedient to the same promise keeping God as their parents. As so this would happen from generation to generation as children obeyed and honoured their parents as so continued to live obediently in the land God gave them.

Now when Paul translates this to a Christian context, he says the same thing about Christians. They too will live in the land, not of course the land of Israel, but heaven. The best way to honour Christian parents is to accept the God they know and love and to come eventually to live in heaven with them. And that is the promise related to this command. That’s why being a Christian parent is such a great privilege and responsibility. And that is why being a child of Christian parents is such an incredible blessing. So those with Christian parents, are you honouring your parents by loving the God they taught you? And if you are a parent, are you seeking to teach this wonderful God and his ways to your children? For that is your responsibility. And that is God’s compelling promise.

Honour your father and mother. It’s a tough command isn’t it? But as we finish I want us to remember that we do have one Father who will never fail, who is unfailingly loving and will never let us down. Are you a son or daughter struggling with your earthly mother or father? Trust in your heavenly father to guide you and strengthen you. Or are you a parent struggling with bringing up children? Look to your heavenly father who gives wisdom and care. And for each of us- honour your father and mother. A continuous principle, a changing practise and a compelling promise.

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