Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:1e “. . .for this is right.”
Obeying parents is part of the moral structure of the Universe. Obedience is the law of creation. Each heavenly body stays in its place due to adherence to God’s command. Without obedience everything would crash into chaos.
Obeying parents always “is right” because it, too, rests on the very nature of things. This edict is established for all ages, and cannot change with the spirit of the times. It is not merely beautiful, or a concession to old customs and traditions. It is not only becoming, befitting, or merely a cultural nicety. Obeying parents is not a convenience to make life easier for parents.
Childhood obedience to parents “is right” because it is God’s will. It matters not what psychological surveys and sociological studies theorize, or what Dr. Spock or anyone else thinks. Obeying parents is “right” because it has been declared “right” by the only One who has the right to determine what is right and what is wrong. Family, State, and Church are divine institutions. Thus, the rules governing them are rooted in the will of God, not man.
God is so wise and so good that whatever He commands in the Bible should be obeyed without question or hesitation. Young people, obey your parents, not merely to please them or your pastor, but because “this is right” in
God’s sight. Repeat often to yourself, “I must obey because God wants me to.”
The Christian family member must ever place priority on responsibilities, not rights. Both are important, but each must be kept in proper perspective. Responsibilities come first. They please God, develop good character, and enrich relationships. Rights are secondary. When the clamor for one’s own rights predominates, relationships are damaged, disrespect abounds, and rude selfishness becomes the miserable order of the day.
Young people, God’s command is plain, and He expects us, however young, to obey. Samuel was a child when God called him (1 SM 3:1-4). King Josiah was 16 when “he began to seek after the God of David” (2 CH 34:1-3). Jeremiah sought to escape God’s will, saying, “I am a child.” YHWH replied, “Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (JR 1:6-7). Solomon challenged, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (EC 12:1). Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 TM 4:12).
Eph. 6:2a “Honor thy father and mother;. . .”
Obeying parents is so “right” that at Sinai (EX 20:1; 31:18) God spoke it with His own voice, and wrote it with His own finger on tablets of stone. God spoke and wrote the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” “Honor” is “timao,” which denotes preciousness, as in the name Timothy, which means precious to God. To “honor” parents means to treat them as precious.
Obedience is the outward duty, “honor” the inward disposition. The outward act must reflect an inner attitude. We must not be like the boy described by Kent Hughes. Made to sit in the corner by a schoolteacher, the lad said to himself, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”
To honor our parents means to count them as dear, of great value. “Honor” includes obedience, “for mere ceremony is of no value in the sight of God” (Calvin), but also entails much, much more. Obedience must flow from a reservoir brimming with love, gratitude, respect, and high regard. “Honor” perfumes obedience, and makes our submission beautiful through and through.
Obedience is not to be rendered reluctantly or solely to escape punishment. “The obedience paid for fear of stripes is the obedience of a mule, not of a son” (Hare, Homiletic Comm.). God wants us to obey readily, willingly, rejoicing that we have the privilege to contribute to a parent’s ease and comfort.
By turning his focus from obedience to honor, Paul has expanded his audience. The fifth commandment was given not only to children, but to every Israelite. We grow too old to obey, but never too old to honor, parents. If our parents are dead, honor them. Cherish their memory, though they are gone.
Young people, “honor thy father and mother.” Adults, “honor thy father and mother.” Every person can in very practical ways show “honor” for their parents by giving them at least three things: provision, pride, and praise.
First, “honor thy father and mother” by giving them provision. Christians are under the mandate of Scripture to care for their parents as long as they live. In the context of caring for widows, the Bible says, “If any provide not for his own,. . .he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 TM 5:8). We are obligated to care for our own parents and, after we marry, our spouse’s parents. Never leave them in need or in loneliness. Be good to them always, and provide for them when they can no longer care for themselves.
Young storks bring meat to old storks which are no longer able to fly. Eneas is remembered for leaving all else behind in order to carry his aged father out of Troy when it was on fire. David Livingstone learned Gaelic that he might be able to read the Bible to his mother in the language she knew and loved best. Jesus, on the cross, took time to care for His mother (JN 19:25-27).
We are responsible for our birth-parents and parents-in-law until they die. We dishonor our fathers and mothers if we forget and neglect them. They spent twenty or so years caring for us at the beginning of our lives. We must return the favor, if needed, by caring for them at the end of their lives.
Second, “honor thy father and mother” by giving them pride. Make them proud. Never cause them pain or embarrassment. Epaminondas the Theban, after winning a battle, said, “My chief pleasure is that my parents will hear of my victory.” Most parents deem their children the pride of their life. Successful children make parents proud. We owe our parents the best we have to give.
Years ago I watched a couple take their son to juvenile court. The three entered together, only the parents returned. The youth was taken into custody. The parents left arm in arm, literally propping each other up, and had to walk directly by me. What was that look on their face? Pain? Shock? Courage? Ultimate tragedy? I still cannot describe it, but I know it was not pride.
I grieve over youth and adults who stubbornly wallow in sin, thereby breaking a parent’s heart. This message is being delivered to some who are at this very moment dishonoring their parents. Father and Mother weep for you, but you do not care. Is there no compassion left in your heart? Live for God and make your parents proud. “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you” (PR 23:24-25 NASB).
Do not torment your mom and dad. To hurt parents leaves them scars, and haunts our memory. Dr. Samuel Johnson, as a lad, was often asked by his father to help him sell books in the marketplace. Samuel was too proud, and would not lower his dignity. Fifty years later, Dr. Johnson’s conscience haunted him. Unable to forget what he had done to his dad, he one day put on common clothes, and went to the very spot his dad used to stand on to sell books. Boys laughed, adults made fun, but Samuel did not care. He was doing an act of penance to soothe his conscience. “Honor thy father and mother.” Now!