This post is by Jani Ortlund. Ortlund is the wife of Dr. Ray Ortlund Jr., lead pastor at Immanuel Church in Nashville. The Ortlunds have four grown children and six grandchildren. Jani is also the author of His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy: Living the Ten Commandments and Giving Them to Our Children (Crossway).
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The Fifth Commandment is about the flow of human relationships, and the home is the key to all relationships. God is commanding us to honor those in authority over us and to require the children in our lives to respect us. God loves us in this command by showing us how to live together in close family units, which will in turn affect every relationship outside our homes.
Honor begins in our homes. Honor comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to be heavy” or “to give weight.” It involves taking someone seriously into account, offering profound respect and a place of importance. The opposite of honoring someone is trivializing him, treating him as if he didn’t matter.
Are we living with sensitivity within the range of relationships into which God has placed us? Are the children in our lives seeing us model respect for those in authority over us? If children learn respect in their homes, they will be able to respect other people in authority. We mistakenly believe that we give respect to those in positions of authority because they have earned it. But respect cannot be based solely on personal or professional qualifications. Respect is based on the position that God has given that person.
Think of David in 1 Samuel 26 where he spares Saul’s life yet again. David knew that God had appointed him as the next king over Israel. He also knew that Saul was out to murder him. Yet when David had the perfect opportunity and encouragement to kill Saul, what was his response? David submitted, even at the risk of losing his life, to the authority God had placed over him.
Your family has been established by God. You were placed into your family by Him. Families were established by God to be those nearest and dearest to us. This Commandment is placed even before marital faithfulness because what child can respect his spouse if he never learned how respect is supposed to work within a home?
This Commandment does not say, “Honor your mother and father when they are good to you, when they are honorable.” All families struggle, but ignoring your family is not an option for a Christian! Nor does it say, “Honor your father and your mother until you have formed your own household.” We don’t honor our parents because they deserve it. We honor them because the nature of the gospel is that God gives us what we don’t deserve. We don’t do it for their sake—we do it for Jesus’ sake.
Think of Jesus. He created His parents! In Luke 2:50-52, Jesus is twelve years old. When He stayed at the Temple in Jerusalem instead of sticking with His family, His parents didn’t understand Him at all. They just didn’t get it. Yet He returned with them and “was submissive to them.” And He continued to honor His mother, even as He was dying (John 19:26-27).
This Commandment is not teaching us how to have great families. It is teaching us how to be a great family member.
What are some ways we can honor our parents? Let there be a distinction in your mind between turning away from false advice, or even wicked ways, and turning away from your parents themselves.
- Speak kindly to and about them. Do you save your most glowing compliments for your best friend? “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
- Show them consideration—make time for them. Do you feel your duty is done with the Sunday afternoon phone call? “Love is patient and kind…it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:4,6).
- Let them into your life. Let them share your highs and lows. “Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice” (Prov. 23:25). Do you share your deepest intimacies with others but never open up to your parents? Jesus warned about this in Matthew 15:4-6.
- Provide for them. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
Not only must we model the Fifth Commandment. We must require it of our children. We must help them understand how respect for authority is the thread that governs our society and ultimately preserves our freedom. They need to see that this is from God.
Children must learn that respect is not a matter of preference—it is a mandate from their eternal Father! Honoring your parents in the early years is largely manifested through obedience. Why are children to obey their parents?
- Because parents stand in the place of God to their children, performing God-like functions (loving, providing, caring, protecting, etc.) as God’s special agents. When young children disobey their parents, they are rebelling against God. Disobedience to parents indicates a corrupt, out of control, anti-God spirit (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
- Because it pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20).
- Because it is for their best interest (Deut. 5:16: Eph. 6:3).
Children disobey for two reasons: Either we let them or the pain they have experienced from disobedience in the past is not enough of a deterrent to keep them from disobeying again. How can you best help your child to obey you?
- Model it—make obedience a part of your life. It must be just as much “Be what I am” as it is “Do what I say.” Obedience is for all of God’s children. You are under authority, too—God’s authority. And it is your privilege to be there.
- Define your priorities. What are you willing to go to the mat for? What’s really important to you? Spend your energies here.
- Follow through on your instructions until you have been obeyed. Say yes whenever you can. But when you say no, mean it. When your child hears a firm “No!” and survives the frustration that inevitably follows, he is strengthened. He has learned self-control and endurance and will be better able to tell himself no when he is on his own.
- Teach your child to respect people and property. In words and actions, children must show that people and things are not targets of their scorn and anger.
- When you must discipline, make the pain of the discipline outweigh the pleasure of disobedience, or it will be meaningless to your child.
- Give many rewards. Children should learn that good and pleasure go together as surely as sin and pain. Reward cheerful obedience, good manners, kindness, respect, hard work—all those qualities that you long to see developed in your child.
God is lovingly at work in this Commandment enriching relationships. He is sensitizing every one of us to the privilege of belonging to one another. When His grace is upon us we discover who we are, how we fit in, and the blessings begin to flow (Eph. 6:3).