The Fifth Commandment
Why so much juvenile delinquency? Why so much disrespect for all law and constituted authority? The true answer is found in this 5th installment of a series expounding God’s Ten Commandments.
Youthful violence and insolence characterize the age in which we live. Broken homes are increasing. Teen-age crime is literally sky-rocketing!
Former Judge Samuel S. Leibowitz (at that time was one of America’s most respected authorities on juvenile problems) set out to find the answer to the frustration of America’s youth. He decided to go to the Western nation with the lowest reported incidence of juvenile crime, Italy.
He sought the answer from police and school officials throu8ghtout the nation. From ever part of Italy, he received the same answer: Young people in Italy respect authority.
Then Judge Leibowitz had to go into Italian homes to find out why. He found that even in the poorest homes, the wife and children respect and honor the father as its head.
Judge Leibowitz found that the modern do-as-you-please, “permissive” world does not really make a child happy and balanced. Rather, he found, a child wants the solid walls of discipline and rules around him, defining his world telling him exactly how far he can go.
Just as will be expected of him in the adult world, a child must be disciplined to do things he does not necessary want to do. From babyhood, a child must be taught to respect and obey his parents.
Judge Leibowitz concluded his investigations with a nine world solution to juvenile delinquency: “Put Father back as the head of the family.”
The remarkable answer to juvenile problems given by this eminent authority goes deeper than might be realized. For it goes to the very source of the problem. “A lack of deep-seated respect for constituted authority beginning in infancy and continuing throughout life.”
This problem has its origin in childhood in the home! Long before a child is even aware of the existence of the church, the school, the nation, he is forming attitudes and habits toward those who are his superiors in the nursery, the home, and the neighborhood.
Developed from infancy, this part of a child’s character will undoubtedly affect his thoughts and actions for the rest of his natural life!
In discussing the first four commandments, we found that they define man’s relationship with God. They teach us the magnitude of God’s power and name and exhort us to remember Him as Creator of all that is.
The 5th commandment is placed first among those which governs our human relationships. It is not only chief in importance among these when we understand its full meaning, but it acts as a “bridge’ between the two sections of God’s law.
For true obedience to the 5th commandment is inevitable linked with obedience and honor toward God Himself.
Our Creator knew this when He inspired it to be “the first commandment with promise.”
“Honor thy father and mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12).
But why “honor” our parents?
The true answer reveals the depth of this commandment and its true important. If only every parent on earth might come to realize the tremendous influence upon a child’s later life that automatically comes as a direct result of obedience or disobedient o this God-given command!
This commandment is one of the “Ten Great Points” of God’s eternal, spiritual Law. Under the Old Testament dispensation, the penalty for directly and flagrantly violating this law was death!
“He that smites his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:13, 17). That is how importance this command is in God’s eyes!
The home and the family unit is the basis of all decent society. And the relationship of children to their parents is an exact type of the spiritual relationship between true Christians and God. The lessons of character learned in that relationship may last children the rest of their lives and for eternity!
In the eyes of a small child, a parent stands in the place of God Himself. For the parent is the child’s provider, protector, lover, teacher and lawgiver.
A child’s only training and response to this relationship will in large measure determine his later response to the larger relationship with society. And, ultimately, it is certain to affect his relationship with his spiritual Father in heaven.
The New Testament magnifies this command in many places. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour the father and thy mother, which is the first commandment wit promise” (Eph. 6:1-2).
The original command to “honor” father and mother applies to all of us throughout our lives. But in this place children, specially, are told to obey their parents “in the Lord.”
Because of his total lack of experience and judgment, it is absolutely necessary that child be taught to obey his parents instantly and without question. Explanations and reasons for this may and should be given to the child from time to time. But, at the moment a parental command is given, there may not be time or opportunity to give the reason why!
Therefore, it is imperative that a child be taught the habit of unquestioning obedience to his parents. For, until the young child develops, his parent stands to him in the place of God. And God hold them responsible for teaching and directing the child properly.
By direct implication, a parent is bound by the 5th commandment to make himself honorable. For to be honored, one must be honorable.
Every parent needs to realize that he represents God to his child! Realizing this, he should live a life worthy of the child’s deep respect and reverence. Then, he should teach his child to honor and respect both of his parents.
As the child matures, the parent should instruct his child about the existence of the great spiritual Father of all life, the Creator of heaven and earth, the sovereign Ruler of the universe Almighty God.
Christian parents should teach their children to honor and obey their spiritual Father with even more implicit faith and love than they do their earthly parents. For the GREATEST lesson that a child or anyone can be taught is that of fear and obedience to the One who set in motion all life in the first place!
The only stipulation placed on a child’s total obedience to parents is the phrase “in the Lord.” This has no reference whatever to the spiritual condition of the parents. From the beginnings of Christianity, young people sometimes have become truly converted while their parents have no. But, as a child develops into a youth and comes to know God personally, the instruction to obey his parents “in the Lord” may on rare occasions limit his obedience toward parents who are hostile to the ways and command of his Heavenly Parent.
In such unusual cases, if one is old enough to understand, then he is old enough to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:19). But, even then, he is bound to honor his parents in their role as his providers and earthly guides, and to submit to any punishment they might wish to impose.
Thus, a child will be taught the habit of obedience. He will learn to respect authority. In due time, if his mind is opened to know the Supreme Father of all life, he will already have learned the very basis of God’s character loving obedience to God, and deep respect and reverence for all law and constituted authority.
The Apostle Paul re-emphasizes the blessing attached to the 5th commandment: “That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3).
If a young person had been taught from childhood a deep respect for his elders and the habit of obedience toward those lawfully set over him, he would never become a juvenile delinquent! He would never think of robbing or beating an elderly person! He would never think of contemptuously defying school or police authorities.
In plain language, he would never display the willful rebellion and rottenness of character which is becoming too common among modern American and British youth! Obedience to the 5th commandment automatically results in the building of habits and character which tend to long life. A young person so trained will avoid the recklessness, the violence, the wrong companionships and the rebellion against authority which often result in untimely death.
And, in its ultimate meaning, those who learn to respect and obey their parents and later because of this training God Himself, will certainly “live long on the earth.” For, as Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek (the humble and obedient): for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
There are also many everyday blessing to the obedient child. Certainly not the less of these is the sense of security. As Judge Leibowitz pointed out, a child is confused unless he is told the bounds of his activities. But if a child is told what those bounds are by his parents and stays within them he is then relieved of the responsibility which he innately realized his parents must shoulder.
Frustration is another problem which is alleviated! The disobedient child is a frustrated child, for his mind is constantly plagued with feelings of guilt and rebellion. A child who loves, honors and obeys his parents is a blessed child indeed! He will tend to live a more truly happy, carefree and purposeful life. And in his spiritual life, he will pass through the natural and beautiful sequence from the honoring of his parents to the joyful worshipping of his God!
Thus far we have dealt primarily with the application of the 5th commandment to children and young people. But the original command to “honor” our parents is not addressed to children but to everyone.
The time may come when it is no longer necessary or right that a person should strictly obey his parents. But the days should never come when he should cease to honor them.
The word “honor” has a much larger meaning than that of obedience. It indicates a high respect as for worth, merit or rank. It denotes a feeling of high esteem and reverence.
A person who has properly obeyed his parents in childhood later expresses his honor for them in a deeper appreciation of the comforts and training they provided him as a child. This honor expresses itself in courtesy, thoughtfulness and kindly deeds.
As we mature, it becomes increasingly evident that untold hours of work, of anxious thought and agonized prayer were bestowed for our welfare by faithful and loving parents. It should become the delight of every decent man and woman to return this love which our parents created.
In the evening of life, many parents long for this affection and fellowship with their children more, perhaps, than for any other blessing. Let us think and act on this opportunity to return the love our parents so freely gave!
To the everlasting shame of our professing Christian society, thousands of elderly parents are reduced to living on a mere pittance that comes to them through governmental agencies. In all too many cases, the children are able but simply unwilling to provide additional comforts as generous as their ability allows.
Jesus Christ gave one of the most forceful interpretations of the 5th commandment in its application to this very problem. In His day, men were excusing themselves from providing for the necessity of their parents. They were saying that funds which might have been used in this way were “Corban,” that is, dedicated to the service of the altar. These funds were not part of God’s tithes, but rather an additional offering which was used to gain favor in approaching God.
Reproaching these hypocritical religionists, Jesus said: “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, honor thy father and thy mother; and, whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death” (Mark 7:9-10).
Jesus continued: “But ye say, if a man shall say to his father or mother, it is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightiest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; making the word of God of none effect through your tradition” (vs. 11-13).
Jesus condemned these hypocrites! His words plainly teach that a Christian person must give material and financial assistance to his aged parents if it is possible and their needs so require. He must not excuse himself by saying that all his extra funds are “dedicated to God”! This is part of our obedience to the 5th commandment.
Jesus Christ lived the message He taught. His own personal life is a dramatic illustration of obedience to the 5th commandment. Just before His death, Jesus said: “I have kept my Father’s commandments” (John 15:10). Through obedience to His Heavenly Father, and to his human parents as well, Jesus grew in wisdom and maturity even as a youth.
Speaking of His childhood, Luke records: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).
Then we read the remarkable account of His trip to Jerusalem for Passover at age twelve. After the days of unleavened bread, His parents started the trip home without Him, supposing Jesus was with neighbors or relatives (vs. 43-44).
This in itself shows that Jesus’ parents relied on His dependability and good judgment supposing He was with other young people in the caravan as the group headed back toward Nazareth. As parents, Joseph and Mary had learned to truth His obedience and wisdom.
But now, perplexed about Him, perhaps, for the first time in their lives, they turned back and finally found Jesus. They did not find Him in a pool-hall, nightclub or place of amusement! The found Him in God’s temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (v. 46). He had remained to investigate and learn more of the way of His Heavenly Father!
Remember, he was only twelve years old. But His parents had instructed Him from God’s Word. And he had heeded their instruction! He had studied diligently. He had grown in the knowledge and understanding of God’s ways.
Now, even in the midst of these highly educated doctors of the law, Luke writes: “And all that head him were astonished at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47).
When Jesus’ mother asked Him why He had remained behind in this way, He said: “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49)?
Jesus undoubtedly gave special emphasis to some of these word: “Didn’t you know, Mother, you who have always taught me about God that I must be about His business?”
There must have been a special understanding between them when Jesus said: “I must be about my Father’s business,” as He looked at Joseph and Mary. For it had been a long time now since His supernatural conception and birth, and Jesus may have been gently reminding His human guardians that He fully understood, more than they had realized, the nature of His birth and that His real Father was God in heaven!
But although gently reminding them of this, “he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” (v. 51). So Jesus continued to respect and obey His human parents while maturing physically and preparing for His Divine mission in behalf of His Heavenly Father.
Even in His dying moments, while suffering one of the most agonizing death ever devised by men, Jesus honored and loved His mother to the very end.
Just before He died on the stake, John wrote: “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:26-27).
Here Jesus made final provision for His mother to be taken care of by John after His death. At a time when the thoughts of all other men would have been of self, Jesus still remembered the 5th commandment and extended love and honor to the woman who bore Him, who had nourished Him from infancy, who had taught Him form the scriptures, and who now stood in this awful place unafraid and unashamed weeping at His death.
Remember the perfect example of Jesus Christ! “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”