The fifth commandment links the first four commandments with the remaining five. Commandments one through four teach us how to love and respect God. Commandments five through ten show us how to love and respect our fellow man. Proper respect toward our fellow man begins in the home. The fifth commandment teaches us how to honor and respect our parents.
The fifth commandment is the first commandment with a promise. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). The Apostle Paul referred to this promise when he wrote, “Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise)” (Eph. 6:2). A long life is promised to those who have the proper respect for their parents.
Young children and infants, who are properly trained, usually regard their parents with awe. Children who are properly trained will esteem their parents and will be compliant. A parent is almost like God to an infant. The fifth commandment emphasizes this frame of mind-an attitude of reverence and humility so often seen in a small child. If this attitude and frame of mind are established at childhood, it will usually continue for life. When called of God this attitude will automatically be transferred to God and the Christian will have no difficulty obeying the Ten Commandments. The fifth commandment is the link between the first four commandments and the last five. It is an awesome responsibility on the part of parents to teach their children to properly honor and respect them. The Bible tells us, “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:3). Fear, as used in this text, means to have reverence and respect. It is essential for the long life promised by the fifth commandment that this attitude toward parents be established at an early age. Parents who are successful will never regret the effort it took to implant this behavioral pattern in their children.
Notice the blessings the Bible promises for those who honor their parents. One benefit is found in Ephesians 6:3, “That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” Along with the assurance that we can have a long life, this promise ensures a happy life. This is quite a contrast to those who live a short life, full of misery and unhappiness. A number of positive statements are found in the book of Proverbs regarding respect for one’s parents. One who respects his parents and fears God will obey God. “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee” (Prov. 3:1-2). Peace of mind, serenity, and a long life are promised for obedience to the commandments of God. Notice this next text. Here we see the parent-child relationship-that of the physical father and the son-transferred to God-the spiritual Father. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). Countless tragedies and sorrows are experienced by those who refuse to allow their lives to be directed by God. Situations from which they cannot extricate themselves are often the result. But, the same can be said about children who refuse to respect and honor their parents. The lives of many young people are snuffed out because they refused to listen to the advice of their parents. What are young people told in the Bible? “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones” (Prov. 3:7-8). What is the implication here? That even good health results from taking advice. The major problem with many young people in desiring to make their own decisions early in life is the tendency to think they already have all the answers.
While obedience to one’s parents should last throughout childhood, obedience to God should last a lifetime. Obedience to parents is the type; obedience to God is the antitype. The fundamentals of obedience learned as a child make learning to be obedient to God much easier. Discipline by the hand of a loving parent is a part of childhood. Discipline by the hand of God is very much a part of the Christian experience. In Hebrews, chapter twelve, we read,
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (Heb. 12:5-11).
Eternal life is the result of learning the lessons of life, lessons that often require God to discipline us in one way or another. We must develop character in order to attain to the Kingdom of God. Character is the ability to recognize right from wrong and then to always choose the right in opposition to the wrong. Life’s goal should be to develop a habit of righteousness in our lives as we maintain a right relationship with God.
Parents who teach their children how to respect and love God have already established that relationship in their own lives. As a result their children will be brought up in the admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). This principle is related by the prophet Isaiah. “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa. 54:13). Peace and safety are the reward for being a willing and compliant pupil of God. These children will experience soundness in their hearts and minds. A proper relationship with one’s parents leads to a proper relationship with God. Parents are the type; God is the antitype. The right relationship with God begins by learning the principles of obedience as a child. This is why the Bible states, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). “Doing right” as a child sets the pattern for doing right throughout life. The right thing to do is to learn to obey one’s parents. This is one of the most meaningful ways of showing honor. One who has grown up in a home where parents are respected will have little trouble coping with the many things required in this life to be physically successful. In the Bible many good results are shown to come by “doing right.”
But parents must be worthy of the honor they expect from their children. Parents are headed for disaster in their child-rearing if they teach one thing and do other things that are contrary to that teaching. Children pick this up very quickly. Actions do speak louder than words. A parent who is a hypocrite cannot expect good results from his role as a child trainer. Parents who do not live up to what they teach can expect little attention from their children. Parents must set the proper example. No child is going to respect a parent who tells him to respect him but shows himself unworthy of that honor. A child will not listen to a parent who does not live up to what he teaches. Children of hypocritical parents tend to view God in the same way. They will ignore the many Bible admonitions that warn of the pitfalls in life. The result will be a life of anguish and suffering.
Child training must emphasize the importance of God. After coming out of Egypt the ancient Israelites were admonished, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons” (Deut. 4:9).
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it (Deut. 31:12-13).
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:6-7). The people of Israel failed to carry out this instruction. New generations did not take this responsibility seriously and soon the nation drifted off into idolatry. They forgot God. At birth children know nothing. Their training and their education determine how they will turn out in life. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Any curricula that teaches a child the way he should go will make God the most important part. The fifth commandment will be foremost in this teaching.
The family and the home is the heart and core of the nation. How nations finally turn out depends a lot upon the family unit. According to God, what is the model family? Notice the following Scriptures. “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (Psa. 127:3). This text is important because it demonstrates that parents are partners with God in creation. Children belong to the Lord. “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” (Psa. 127:4-5). Every home should be a happy home. Discipline, a necessary tool to bring about good results in child rearing, is important, but the end result should be positive. In this manner children can grow up to become useful citizens and future candidates for God’s kingdom. Children must be given boundaries. Children without boundaries grow up without restraints. If they are not taught restraints they often grow up to become criminals. While some discipline may be necessary, the parent should always have the best interests of the child at heart. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15). How a man turns out in life is often determined by the discipline imparted to him as a child. The attitude and habits of a child can be seen at an early age. “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right” (Prov. 20:11). A child who readily accepts God as an adult is one who was taught the fifth commandment when young. Timothy, an outstanding young man in the New Testament, had been properly trained as a youngster. Paul wrote, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul tells 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. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:12-13). Timothy was a reflection of his mother’s training. He was a credit to his family and to God. “The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice” (Prov. 23:24-25). Good adults do not generally become good adults by accident. They are the result of diligent training on the part of the parents.
Honoring and respecting one’s parents should apply as long as one lives. Notice, “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old” (Prov. 23:22). Parents who are aged need the love and respect of their children. Jesus rebuked the Jews of His day for the neglect shown to aged parents.
But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition (Matt. 15:3-6).
The Bible states, “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deut. 27:16). This command is not limited in time. Obviously it should be applied all our lives. “He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach” (Prov. 19:26). The New Testament gives this instruction. “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). Jesus as a child was obedient and respectful to His parents. He was in subjection to them. “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). As an adult He obeyed His heavenly Father as well. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10).
What is the result of a lack of respect and honor toward one’s parents? How does God view contempt by children for their parents? Notice these Bible examples. “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him” (Lev. 20:9). “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death” (Ex. 21:15).
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).
“The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it” (Prov. 30:17).
And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them (2 Kings 2:23-24).
The fifth commandment reads, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). It is the first command with a promise-the promise is for a long and happy life. It is well worth the effort.