A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five- and six-year-old class. After explaining the fifth commandment to “Honor your father and mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without hesitating, a little boy raised his hand and said, “Thou shalt not kill.”
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we will think about the fifth, “Honor mom and dad.” The day our son was born, this became my favorite commandment. It seems so easy and straight-forward: parents are to be obeyed.
This commandment appears in the New Testament in Ephesians 6, “Children, obey your parents, for this is right. Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy a long life on earth.”
Just a word about context. In Roman culture, virtually full power was given to the father over the son, whether the father wanted to imprison his son, (maybe you have thought about that?), put him in chains (not a bad option during the teenage years), or put him to death. The father functioned as magistrate in the family. He could decide life or death for his newborns. Weak and deformed children could be killed, usually drowned and unwanted daughters were often exposed or sold. Such power was often abused. The mother, on the other hand, had no legal power in the family.
Aren’t you glad we live in 21st century America? Think how far we have come with families.
A Greco Roman writer, Hierocles, said that parents are to honored as earthly gods, and that kids have duties to parents because we parents are the images of the gods. So, I say to my kids, “I am a god.”
“Honor your father and mother so that it may go well with you and you may enjoy a long life,” says the fifth commandment. I always felt that way at 1524 Choctaw Street, Dothan, Alabama. “If I don’t obey mom and dad then I’m not going to live very long.” It’s really good for your health to obey mom and dad.
There is also a parental responsibility, “Fathers (and moms) don’t anger or agitate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” I know that in the daily stress of family, sometimes we want to “ring each other’s neck.” One time Sheri was shopping for a new dress shirt for me. The clerk asked her my neck size and she said, (making her hands like choking), “Oh about like this.”
It is interesting to me that Christian authors write “how to” parent books based on Ephesians, as if this is a manual for parenting. Effective parenting varies from one ethnic community to another, from one socioeconomic status to the next, from one culture to the next, and from one child to the next. Parents with more than one child know that each child is different. Since most families in the Bible were disasters, and since Paul never married or parented, I wouldn’t say that the Bible or Ephesians in particular is a manual on parenting. Good advice, yes, but manual no.
But regardless, we should try to honor our parents when we can, and we parents should not agitate or provoke our children. We all know that some parents are hard to honor—some have abused children or deserted children. Many parents are deeply flawed and honoring them is very difficult.
In the biblical spirit, honor them the best you can.