the commandments. today.
The fifth commandment marks a slight turning point in the Ten Commandments, as it begins a series of commands that focus more specifically on human relationships, beginning with an imperative to honour parental figures in our lives.
Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)
The Big Idea
In a world of close contact, for the Israelites good family relationships were so important; if sour, this would have had a huge impact on the wider community. Age was also considered a mark of seniority that demanded a level of respect. It also carried an implied level of responsibility to parents, ensuring that they knew their role was to impart wisdom and teaching to their families. The aim was to train the family in the ways of righteous living, in keeping with God’s character, which is why this idea of honouring one’s parents was so important.
How should we understand this verse today? Many of us have perhaps grown up being confused as to its meaning, especially as family dynamics have changed significantly. We can look at our parents, and want to be honouring, but not understand how to do that, especially if they hold different views on Christianity. It is not a call to total, unquestioning obedience to our parents, but rather a call to treat them in an honourable way; the way that God would have us treat those who gave us life. We are called to love our parents.
Obeying it Today
How then do we put this commandment into practice?
Don't complain about them
Whilst all of us can so easily fall into the trap of having issues with our parents, the way of dealing with this in a loving way is not to talk badly about them, complaining at any opportunity we have, and moaning that they don’t understand us. Just because they are our parents does not make them immune to harsh criticism! In James 3, he talks about the power of our words – their ability to be destructive – and sometimes I think we forget this. This is not to say that parental figures are perfect, we know they are not, or that we have to pretend that they are. God knows our struggles, and he wants to hear the prayers of our hearts. However, often we fall into the trap of feeling sorry for ourselves and wanting to release this in harsh words.
Don’t ignore them
God has placed us in families for a reason, and whilst we know they do not function perfectly, we were created for relationship. One of the most destructive things we can do it isolate ourselves from the people naturally closest to us, who have watched us grow and shared in our stories. Unless there is a legitimate reason that a relationship should not be pursued, it is important that we continue to love and pray for our families.
Some things we can do…
- If your parents aren’t Christian, could you invite them to attend Church with you on a Sunday, with the promise of a meal afterwards? Sharing our faith shows our heart for our parents to know God
- Try not to instantly dismiss life advice parental figures give, simply because they are the ones giving it. Age does bring a wealth of experience that is important to recognise and respect.
- Learn to keep on being good learners. When we were younger, learning new things, such as riding a bike, were exciting. Usually it was our parents who were teaching us these things. As we grow up we can lose this heart of learning, but it is a lifelong skill that will put us in good stead.