We live in a land that has no fear of God before their eyes, and right on schedule, neither do we honor our parents. If it is not going well for us in the land, this is one of the main things we must recover: the fifth commandment is the first command with a promise of blessing. The fear of the Lord and true justice go together (Ps. 19:9).
The Text: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:32).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
In this brief case law, based on the Fifth Commandment, God instructs His people to fear Him, and to do so by acts of honor, respect, and reverence for fathers and mothers, the elderly, and all in authority.
FEAR OF THE LORD
The fear of God is obedient to God (Dt. 6:2). Abraham feared the Lord and was obedient to the command to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22:12). The midwives feared God and did not obey the king’s command to kill the baby boys (Ex. 1:17). Obadiah feared the Lord and hid the prophets from Ahab (1 Kgs. 18:3). The fear of God is merciful (Lev. 25:43, Dt. 25:18). The fear of God puts away idols and false worship (Josh. 24:14). The eye of the Lord is on them that fear Him (Ps. 33:18), and He hears the prayers and delivers those who fear Him, setting His angel round about him (Ps. 34:4, 7). God’s judgments and wrath teach His fear, but God is also merciful and forgives, so that He may be feared (Ps. 90:11, Ps. 103:11, 13, Ps. 130:4). In all of these ways, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7). Thus, by the fear of the Lord are riches, honor, and life (Prov. 22:4). The fear of the Lord is strong because it trusts in God’s justice and goodness (Is. 35:4). The fear of God is His covenant gift, so that we and our children will not depart from Him (Jer. 32:40-41).
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT
The Shorter Catechism says that the fifth commandment “requireth the preserving the honor and performing the duties to every one, in their several places and relations, as superior, inferior, or equals” (WSC LXIV). Likewise, the Heidelberg says that the fifth commandment requires, “That I show all honor, love, and fidelity to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me; submit myself with due obedience to their good instruction and correction; and also bear patiently with their weaknesses and shortcomings, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand” (Q. 104).
Notice that the Bible teaches that we have different kinds of fathers and mothers: magistrates are fathers and mothers (Is. 49:23), the elderly are community fathers and mothers (Lev. 19:32), ministers of the gospel are fathers (1 Cor. 4:15), and then of course heads of households are fathers and mothers, including both biological parents as well as masters and by extension employers (Eph. 6:1, 5ff).
It is the fear of God that teaches us to honor those in authority, who must also rule in the fear of God (Ex. 18:21, Eph. 6:9), which means obedience to His written word (Dt. 17:19). The fear of God establishes true authority and its limits.
In the Second Commandment, idolatry is prohibited with the warning that God is jealous, “visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6). We know from elsewhere that God does not automatically hold children guilty for the sins of their parents (Ez. 18:20), so this means that the curse of generational sin is simply that children tend to imitate the sins of their parents and become guilty that way. And frequently it happens through generational animosity and resentment.
This is why our Old Testament ends with the promise of God turning the heart of fathers to children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest He come and strike the earth with a curse (Mal. 4:6). Jesus came to fulfill this prophecy (Lk. 1:17), and the central way He does this is by providing forgiveness for the sins of parents and children. Sins extend for three and four generations, but God’s mercy is available and extends to thousands of generations (Ex. 20:6).
First, get your heart right toward your parents. This may require you to get your heart right with God first. Turning your heart toward you parents means repenting of all your bitterness and resentment before God and them. Having forgiveness for them is a decision and a promise, not a feeling. If you are still under your parents’ authority, you must obey them cheerfully.
Second, if things have been particularly rocky, strained, or distant, do everything you can to make it clear that your heart is turned toward them. You are open to a better relationship. And do that first by communicating love and respect for them. Despite major failures or flaws there is almost always something to admire or be grateful for.
Third, the fear of God teaches us not to fear man, since the fear of man is a snare (Prov. 29:25). This includes fearing your parents. You are to honor them but not fear them, and this means that your honor is to be governed by God’s Word (just like their authority), not by whims, feelings, or unbiblical demands. When a man leaves and marries, a new household is formed, and those responsibilities must be honored as well. Honor is thoughtful and strategic about visits, vacations, time spent together, and tries to anticipate and mitigate challenges.
Finally, commit yourself to honoring parents and fearing God in word and deed. Sometimes this means covering the sins/nakedness of your fathers, bearing with their weaknesses patiently, remembering their frame (Gen. 9:23, Ps. 103:14). Fear God and reject all mockery and disdain of parents; remember that there is rich gospel blessing in this work.