As I'm working through the Ten Commandments this year from the pulpit, I have been struck again by the high place of the directive from God to "honor your father and mother." The commandments are broken down into two sets - usually referred to as the two tablets (the first four that have to do with our vertical relationship with God and the second six have to do with our horizontal relationships with others). The pivot command - commandment number five - that transitions between these two topics is the one for us to honor our parents. At the same time that I've been studying the commandments, I've been reading the proverbs. The proverbs are obviously concerned with each of us living with wisdom - making the best moral decision in every situation. And the number one piece of advice that the Proverbs give to us in living wisely? You got it - listen to your parents. Solomon goes on and on to his sons about the importance of heeding his advice and listening to the instruction of their mother. So, all that being said, why does God care so much about how we respond to our parents? And how do we help our children understand the importance of following our instruction when they are young and still under our daily care?
1. Learning to respect our parents is important to God because it is the first authority relationship we have in our lives and reveals to us how we feel about God's authority in our lives. The context of the Ten Commandments seems to be saying to us that the first horizontal relationship that demonstrates our allegiance to God is the way we relate to our parents. In other words, kids need to learn to respect their parents so that they can learn to respect God. As I have said many times from the pulpit, everyone lives their lives under authority. Submission tends to be a nasty word in our culture because it implies a lack of independence and individuality, but in reality, we all have to submit every day. We have employers and police officers and government officials and church leadership and others who make decisions every day that impact our lives. We are called by Scripture to respectfully submit to their authority. Why? Because God teaches us how to follow His authority and direction by teaching us to follow human authority. Kids need to learn to respect and honor their parents so that they will learn to respect and honor God. God instituted the family and the leadership of parents in the home to teach children what it is like to live under His authority. As we help our kids respect and listen to us, we are helping them respect and listen to God.
2. Learning to respect our parents is important to God because all other human relationships flow from this first relationship. The second half of the Ten Commandments cover many different kinds of human relationships (those with strangers, spouses, friends, and neighbors). The way the commandments read to me in order show that our relationship with mom and dad at home will impact how all of these other relationships work out. In other words, if a child struggles at honor Mom and Dad, he will struggle to honor his spouse, love his neighbor, and respect his co-workers. All of these relationships are intermingled. Parents, we have a high calling to teach our kids to respect our authority not just because it helps them understand God, but also because it helps them learn how to relate in a healthy way to others. If a child is disrespectful at home to his parents, he will be disrespectful to his teachers, his coaches, his peers, his boss, etc. They are all connected.
3. As parents, we need to be especially aware of influences that teach our children that disrespect to their parents is acceptable and normal. While all parents work hard to keep grossly immoral influences away from their kids, we can struggle to filter those influences that encourage a disrespectful attitude toward parental authority. A disrespectful tone or attitude usually doesn't show up as blatantly inappropriate because the parents in TV shows have done something that seems to deserve the disdain of the children. In fact, our cultural dialogue over the last thirty years has been more about absent parents than disrespectful children. When parents are divorcing or overworking or emotionally distant from their kids, our highest priority as a culture can seem to be to get parents in line. And while I agree that parents (myself included!) need lots of help and grace and instruction, the Bible makes the case over and over again for how children should respect and honor their parents. As parents, I believe that you and I have a heavy responsibility to make sure that our kids learn respect for authority from an early age.
Ultimately, the command to honor our parents is the fifth command, not the first. It follows the command to not have any other gods before the true God. I repeat this at the end of this post, because I have seen the danger of parents who develop children who live in dependence on their parents and never learn to stand on their own two feet. We are called to honor our parents, but not worship them. As parents, we are called to teach our kids to love God first and in response to God's instruction, to respect our authority. In the end, I don't believe these are two separate goals. They work together every day. As parents, we help our kids love God first and most as we model that for them and help them to relate to us in honor and respect.