“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
The first four Commandments deal with our duty to God. The last six Commandments deal with our duty to man.
Our Lord Jesus Christ summarised the two tablets of the Law when He answered the question concerning which is the greatest Commandment. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great Commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two Commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.’” Matthew 22:36-40
What We Sow That Shall We Reap
Grimm’s Fairy Tales include this story:
Once there was an old man whose eyes blinked continually, and whose hands trembled uncontrollably. As he had no place to live, he moved in with his son’s family. His daughter-in-law hated it when at the dinner table he constantly rattled his silverware and spilled his drinks. In anger and exasperation she insisted he eat his meals alone in the corner, separated from the rest of the family. He began to eat alone, looking occasionally at the family sitting at the table. Then, one day, when his hands were shaking so much that he knocked his bowl onto the floor, his meal spilt onto the carpet. The daughter-in-law screamed: “If you are going to eat like a pig we’ll feed you like a pig!”She placed a wooden trough on the floor and told him that he would have to eat out of the trough like an animal. This he did.
Some days later the woman’s young son came into the house excited to show her something he had made: “Look Mommy! I’ve made a trough to feed you and Daddy out of when I get big.”
The woman began to cry as she realised what a terrible evil she was guilty of. From that day forward the old man ate his meals at the table with the rest of the family and the daughter-in-law did everything she could to make up for the cruel way that she had treated her father-in-law.
Abandoning the Elderly
Today in so many ways we see cruel disrespect for elderly parents who are frequently abandoned in old age homes and neglected. One of the first ministries I had was preaching in Old Age Homes. Many complained to me how they “never” had visits from their children.
“Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Proverbs 23:22
Five Categories of Parents
Thomas Watson articulated the Puritan tradition in his exposition of the Fifth Commandment, by distinguishing between five categories of parents that we need to honour: political fathers, ancient fathers, spiritual fathers, domestic fathers and natural fathers.
“You shall rise before the grey-headed and honour the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32
But What About Bad Parents?
Some people will inevitably say: But surely this Commandment cannot apply to me. My parents were horrible and abused me while I was growing up. Surely God cannot expect me to honour evil parents?
Actually, Yes, God does require us to honour our parents no matter how bad they may have behaved.
Genesis 8 to 9 gives an example of men who honoured a parent who was behaving badly. Soon after the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard. When the grapes were ready, Noah made wine and got so drunk that he passed out in his tent. He was in a shameful condition when one of his three sons, Ham, saw him. The Bible tells us that Ham immediately went out and told his two brothers. But Shem and Japheth honoured Noah by taking a blanket and walking backwards into their father’s tent to cover him up. The Scripture informs us that Ham and his descendants were cursed for failing to honour his father, even though Noah’s behaviour at this time was clearly dishonourable. The relatives of Shem and Japheth were blessed by God because of how they had honoured their father.
Those children of famous people who write “tell all” books which put their parents in a bad light disgrace themselves and displease God.
Honouring Those in Authority
Parents are commanded to teach their children to honour all lawful authority, starting with their own parents. Children who are not disciplined and taught to honour their parents while they are young, will not honour them when they are older.
Learning From History
Commenting on the Fifth Commandment, Dr. James Kennedy observed that in his decades of ministry he had seen numerous people fired, but “poor job performance was very rarely the reason. In most cases, the problem was one of attitude, a rebellion against authority.Why?Because they never learned respect for authority at home.‘Why has my life been so miserable?’they ask.‘Why do I have so much trouble in so many different areas?’Because they never learned to honour their father and mother. They have no respect for any type of authority, they are not thankful for anything they have been given and ultimately they will bring the entire nation to ruin"
A Shameful Failure
Shamefully, the first sin I committed after surrendering my life to Christ was to dishonour my parents. It was 3 April 1977. I had attended an evangelistic rally at a cinema in Pinelands. As the preacher proclaimed what Christ had done for me he asked the question: “What have you ever done for Him?”
I was stunned and ashamed. I’d never done anything for God. My family was secular. We never attended church services. Sunday School had never been part of my life. We did not even pray before meals. Like my father, I described myself as an “Agnostic.”
Now, all of the arguments I had picked up over the years against God and Christianity seemed awfully puny as I bowed before the Creator of the universe. I realised that I was lost and there was nothing I could say in my defence. I knew that if I died that night, I would go into an eternity separated from God – in hell. I was a selfish, self-centred, ungrateful creature. I had never even so much as thanked God for the life He had given me, and for His many evidences of grace in my, and in my family’s, life.
There was no way I could possibly deserve God’s love, but I felt this absolutely overwhelming compulsion to stand up and go forward and make a public commitment of my life to Christ. The very least I could do was to thank God for all that He had done in Christ for me.
They were singing “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me” as I walked down the aisle and bowed down in prayer at the front of that cinema in Pinelands. It was the most exhilarating experience. There could be no doubt whatsoever. God was reaching down and putting life within me. I had been deaf, dumb, blind and dead in my trespasses and sins. For the first time my spiritual eyes were being opened. For the first time I could consciously sense the presence of God. In fact I was absolutely overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of God, His love and His mercy. I trembled before His holiness and power even as I reveled in the joy of knowing that my sins were forgiven. I was a new creature in Christ!
I wanted to jump and leap and shout and proclaim what God had done. This was a completely new experience for me. With a German mother and an English father, we Anglo-Saxons didn’t particularly go much into expressing emotion about anything. But as I walked and skipped on the way home from that cinema that night, all kinds of emotions were bubbling up within me. What was I to say at home? I couldn’t wait to tell my parents what God had done.
However, as I opened the door, I saw that someone had beaten me to it. A friend of the family, who had also been at the rally, had rushed over to inform my incredulous parents that their son had gone forward at one of these “Billy Graham things!” Jeers and scorn greeted me.
Later that night, as for the first time in my life I bowed in prayer at the side of my bed, I was ashamed that the very first witness I’d given to my parents had been to dishonour them and argue. I despaired at the sinful desire to justify myself rising so quickly out of the heart of one who had, at that very hour, given his life to Christ. I did not yet have a Bible. But I knew that I had sinned against the Lord in my attitude and in my words and actions towards my parents that night.
At War With the Pastor
Equally shamefully within a year of my conversion I was dishonouring and criticizing the pastor under whom I had been converted and discipled, Rev. ‘Doc’ Watson. When, approximately a year after my conversion, I testified of being filled with the Holy Spirit, the pastor and deacons warned the congregation about the danger of “Pentecostalism.” I was bewildered. I had no idea what Pentecostalism was. I’d read in the Book of Acts of disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit, and I had experienced an overwhelming, exhilarating, overflowing of God’s Holy Spirit and had testified of it. At that stage I had never attended any other church. I did not even know of any Pentecostals, and had never anticipated the controversy that my testimony would engender.
Soon I found myself part of a clique of highly critical youth who came together to criticise the church leadership. We would literally listen to the sermons of Rev. ‘Doc’ Watson in order to find something to complain about. We even convinced ourselves that our pastor had committed “the unforgivable sin”in blaspheming the Holy Spirit! After months of disgraceful backbiting, the Lord brought great conviction of sin upon me. As I realised the evil that I was guilty of, I went to ‘Doc’ Watson, confessed and committed myself to being in submission to his leadership, and obeying his instructions. Soon it became clear to me that there was nothing wrong with ‘Doc’ Watson, the problem was within my heart and soul.
Submitting to the Shepherd
From these very unpromising beginnings, ‘Doc’ Watson became my mentor. And shortly after founding Frontline Fellowship, he became Chairman of the Board of our mission. Doc Watson always took a keen interest in our mission. He applied his critical mind to our work and many were the constructive criticisms that I, and our mission benefitted from. I will always be grateful for the time and energy which ‘Doc ‘ invested in discipling me and guiding our mission, particularly in its formative years. He was a great and effective evangelist and pastor. I regularly remember the self-deception that blinded me to this. And when I took seriously the command in Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” I came to realise what a tremendous blessing I was denying to myself by failing to honour this Command.
Honouring My Parents
By God’s grace I had the opportunity to honour and support my parents for many years. Only once did I miss Christmas with my parents. It was December 1983 and I was on a mission trip to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. I later felt convicted that I should have rearranged my mission schedule to ensure that I was with my parents over Christmas. After that I never again missed
celebrating Christmas with my parents. After my father died in 1986 I endeavoured to visit my mother as often as possible and to have her around to my home for Sunday lunch as frequently as she was willing. When my mother lost her leg and invalided, Lenora and I gladly took her into our home, and built a flat at the back of our property to house her. It was a joy and privilege to have my mother for the last three and a half years of her life staying in our home, being involved in the schooling of our children, and joining us for family Devotions and Sunday worship.
Honouring Spiritual Fathers
The Lord also revealed to me ways in which I could honour my Spiritual fathers. I wrote letters of appreciation to Francis Grim of International Hospital Christian Fellowship, thanking him for the example he was, and what he had invested in training me for Missions. As my first mission trip, to Mozambique, had been under his leadership while I was part of Hospital Christian Fellowship, I dedicated the book In the Killing Fieldsof Mozambique to him.
As Dr. Fritz Haus had first introduced me to the doctrines of the Reformation while I was a theological student at the Baptist Theological College, I requested him to write a Foreword for The Greatest Century of Reformation book, and to be an honoured guest speaker at its launch. I invited Dr. Fritz Haus to be an Honorary Member on the Advisory Board of Frontline Fellowship, and to minister at various of our Biblical Worldview Summits, and at our mission house.
Fathers of the Faith
Shamefully, as a new Christian, I picked up a hostility to Reformer John Calvin and ignorantly repeated some outrageous accusations that I had heard others say. However, as I learned more of our church history, I realised that I had been taking part in the dishonouring of a spiritual father. Since then I’ve had numerous opportunities to put the record straight and to honour the accomplishments and integrity of John Calvin. Lenora and I named our youngest son after Calvin, and I’ve written numerous articles, and produced different PowerPoint lectures on the life and teachings of John Calvin.
It was to honour our fathers in the Faith that I wrote The Greatest Century of Missions and TheGreatest Century of Reformation.
As Goes the Family So Goes the Nation
The health of the individual family hinges on obedience to the Fifth Commandment. However, much more is at stake here. “As goes the family, so goes the nation.” If children do not learn to respect their own parents, they are not likely to respect any other kind of authority later in life. Those who do not learn to respect their parents at home, are not likely to respect teachers at school, and when such people graduate, they are unlikely to respect the law.
The Distinction Between Honouring and Obeying
This Commandment does not require us to always obey our parents, but we must always honourthem. This speaks of our tone of voice and attitude of heart which should communicate respect and honour. The Bible warns of serious judgment on those who dishonour their parents:
“The eye that mocks his father and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out and the young eagles will eat it.” Proverbs 30:17
Honouring parents (especially unreasonable, unbelieving parents) does not involve giving in to all their various schemes to draw their offspring away from dedication to God. If parents are overly possessive, overbearing and domineering, their adult children are not obligated to invest undue time and energy pandering to their dictates and manipulations. Our first and primary duty is to honour our Heavenly Father, the Lord God, our Creator and Eternal Judge. Our responsibility to honour our parents comes second to our duty to God. Devotion and honour to our parents must not in any way undermine our devotion to God.
Protections and Stability
The Fifth Commandment protects young people from pride and arrogance by calling for respect for elders and preventing the younger from doing just as they want. The Fifth Commandment offers protection against the anarchy and instability of youth. The Fifth Commandment gives stability by protecting us from impulsiveness, rashness and inexperience. Obeying this Commandment is a pathway to blessing.
“The Lord said…Be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy. Each of you must respect his mother and father…I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:1-3
Dr Peter Hammond
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