As we examine the Scriptures on this topic, we find that the central duty that Christian offspring have is the duty of honor. This honor has different manifestations depending on the time of life, but there is always honor at the center. And this means, in its turn, that learning how to be a Christian kid means learning how to honor.
“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Our text is the fifth commandment, first given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in Arabia (Ex. 20:12). The commandment is repeated again in the second giving of the law, near the end of the forty years in the wilderness. In this second giving of the fifth commandment, the language is a little more expansive. “Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Deuteronomy 5:16). This version refers back to Sinai, and it promises a good quality of life, not just a long life.
When Paul quotes this commandment in Ephesians 6, he is referring to the form of it in Deuteronomy because he includes “that it may go well with thee.” He calls it the first commandment with a promise. As came out in discussion with one of you, the word for first is protos. This can mean first in a sequence, but it cannot be the meaning here—the second and third commandments also contain promises. The word protos can also mean chief, or preeminent, or best, or principal. In Luke 15:12, the robe that is brought out for the returning prodigal is the best robe, and the word used is protos. And so this fifth commandment is the chief commandment with a promise. It is the key to many of God’s intended covenant blessings for us.
TWO STAGES OF HONOR
Scripture requires that children honor their parents, and this is a commandment that does not diminish in force as you grow older. The honor is rendered differently according to your time of life, but it does not
When you are a dependent child, your honor is demonstrated fundamentally through obedience (Eph. 6:1). The word for obey means to heed, or to listen. So Paul says, “children, obey,” and the reason they are to obey follows in the very next verse, which is Paul’s reference to the fifth commandment. More on this in a moment.
When you are grown up, what then? How do grown children show honor to their parents? They are to do it through practical financial support.
“For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 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 mightest 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, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (Mark 7:10–13).
So when children are little, living at home, and mom and dad are paying the bills, the appropriate response is simply obedience. And after children are grown and independent, they are not independent of the obligation to honor, which they render by means of practical support. This is a design feature. It is how things are supposed to be.
WHAT THIS OBEDIENCE LOOKS LIKE
So if you are dependent on your parents, you are to honor them through obedience. And remember that the commandment includes your mother. Sons, you are to obey your mothers. “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20). This is the one part of your life where the patriarchy does not apply.
There are three elements to this that I would point out.
The first is that you are to do what you are told. “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:28–31).
The second is that you are to accept the discipline they apply to you. “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?” (Hebrews 12:9).
The third is that you are to learn how to work hard. A lazy son is one who brings shame to his parents, and it your task to bring honor to them, not shame. “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: But he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Proverbs 10:5). “He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, Is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach” (Proverbs 19:26).
If you do these three things as a child, you will be in a good position to do what you are called to do as an adult child.
Scripture teaches that the oldest son, even if he is the son of a less-favored wife, is to receive a double portion of the inheritance. This was because he had the primary responsibility for caring for his parents as they aged. “But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his” (Deuteronomy 21:17).
But this is a cycle. Parents lay up for children, so that the children have the wherewithal to care for them . . . and then some. “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Corinthians 12:14). A righteous man should receive from his parents and be willing to care for them, and also to leave an inheritance for his grandchildren. “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: And the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Proverbs 13:22).
But life is messy, and there are times when the oldest son is unable or unwilling to do what he is called to do. What then? The rest of the family is still involved. “If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:16).
“But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Timothy 5:4, NKJV).
“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8, NKJV).
THE GOD WHO BLESSES THROUGH CHRIST
When confronted with our responsibility to treat this commandment as the chief commandment with a promise, if we try to shy away from it all as somehow “unrealistic,” we need to confront our own unbelief. This is the chief commandment with a promise, and so our reluctance is unbelief in Christ. “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” (2 Corinthians 1:20). If all the promises are amen in Him, then how not the chief of the promises?