Honour thy father and thy mother

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Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 3:14-21

It’s interesting to read modern alternatives to the Ten Commandments. When people today are asked about their own vision of the Good Life, their silence on the subject of God is deafening.  Few people today see God as having anything to do with the “Good Life.”   Maybe that’s not surprising.

What is surprising, is when Christians consider God to be irrelevant to the ten commandments.  Some Christians try to cite the ten commandments as a ‘common sense’ morality that could be detached from the God who gave them.  They’d like to argue that the whole world not only can agree on them, but that it pretty much has.  They claim that the law written on these tablets of stone is some “natural law”, known by all – at least ‘deep down.’

Yet in reality these are particular commands from a particular God to a particular people.   And the prohibitions on killing, stealing, lying, etc, flow out of the particular Lord He happens to be.

On Mount Sinai the unseen LORD begins by stating how particular He is – “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  (Exodus 20:2)  And His first three words to His people are strictly theological:

1. Have no other gods before my Presence (i.e. my Son).

2. Do not bow down to or serve any other gods.

3.  Do not carry my name vainly.

Then straight away we reach the fourth command: Sabbath – a Jewish observance if ever there was one.  And together these first four commands (often known as “the first table”) are the foundation for the last six.  Particular love for this particular covenant God is not an optional preamble – it is the very heart of the law.

Then, having established the priority and power of the first table, we now come to the second table – love for others.  And here is the first word that flows out of love for God…

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)

The very first command regarding love of people makes it unavoidably concrete.  Not everyone has a spouse or siblings or even a neighbour.  Everyone has a mother and father.  And so our Heavenly Father says “Start there.”  Not with an abstract love for humanity but with those relations closest to you.

Linus, a character in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, once remarked: “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.”  He identifies a real issue for the human heart.  We can easily nurse a feeling of goodwill towards humanity. But loving the actual people in our lives is where we constantly fail.  Yet that’s what we actually need if all our talk about loving the world is to take flesh.  We don’t need more love for “the world”.  We need to love the people we live with.  And so the Father says: “Love your parents.  Honour them.”

As the Apostle Paul will say, God the Father is He “of whom the whole family [on] … earth is named.”  (Ephesians 3:15)  Therefore to honour our heavenly Parent we must honour our earthly parents.

Conversely, if we fail to honour our earthly parents it’s a sign we are out of sorts with God.

In Romans 1, Paul reveals a litany of sins.  He says of the human race estranged from God:

Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.  (Romans 1:30)

We probably don’t think that “disobedient to parents” belongs on such a list.  But for Paul it summarizes what’s wrong with the human heart.  Our natural inclination towards childish rebellion is chilling when you think about it.

Before we’ve even learnt to speak we rebel in all sorts of ways against those who have begotten us.  We owe them our existence and yet we oppose them with a mad mistrust. Dishonour of parents is symptomatic of our dishonouring of God.

The Good Life is different.  The Good Life – as lived by Jesus – loves our heavenly Parent and honours our earthly ones.  At the beginning and end of His life Jesus showed what this will look like (Luke 2:49-52John 19:26-27).

The saying is almost true: Charity doesn’t quite start in the home.  It starts in heaven.  But when the life and love of Jesus gets into us, the first outworking is in practical service to our nearest and dearest.

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