Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ten Commandments ~ Honor your Father and Mother

As we have been looking at the 10 Commandments we have seen how they act as boundaries that God gives us in order to protect the bonds of relationship. The first 3 commandments were given to protect our relationship with God and as we follow those commandments we find that our relationship with God, our faith and trust in God, grows. The fourth commandment, which calls us to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, was given to help protect our own health and well being and in many ways this is the only commandment given solely for our benefit and if we will take time to rest we find that our lives will be improved in all kinds of ways. Now the last 6 commandments are all boundaries that God gives to help protect and strengthen our relationship with others. Whether it is our family, friends or neighbors – God created us to live in community with one another and each of these commandments teaches us how to do this and as we follow them we will experience the blessing of stronger families, stronger marriages and a stronger community and world, and it all starts with Exodus 20:12 - Honor your father and your mother.

It is not by chance that God begins teaching us about strong relationship by having us look at the relationship with our parents because it is that relationship which is the foundation of all others. In many ways we learn how to interact with others from our parents and through our families. If you think about it, families are the first school, the first hospital, the first government, and the first church we all experience and so the family is the foundation of all other social organizations and all of our other relationships so if we are going to have strong relationships outside our family we need to work on healthy relationships at home and it all starts by honoring our father and mother.

Now take notice of the word that God chooses here. God doesn’t say love your father and mother, which is what we might have assumed God would have said since God is all about love, and God doesn’t say obey your parents, at least he doesn’t say it here, he says it elsewhere in the Bible, but here, at the very beginning, God says honor your father and mother and the word honor literally means to give weight to, or to take seriously. Honor means to value and respect, it means that we need to take seriously who are parents are and what they say. While we live in a culture where parents are often made the object of blame or ridicule, we need to take the principle of honoring them seriously because God takes this principle seriously, look at Dtr. 21:18-21.

What we see here is that there are serious consequences when we don’t honor our parents. Now let’s be clear that this passage in Deuteronomy is not calling for us to put a child to death for being rebellious. When it says here that the child is a drunkard and glutton, we are assuming that the child is an adult who has made choices to not listen to the wisdom of his parents or follow their example, so we aren’t talking about a child here but we aren’t talking about this kind of consequence for rebellious children of any age. What we need to take from this passage is the understanding that God takes seriously the command to honor our parents and so should we. It shows us that there are consequences in our lives and in all of our relationships when we don’t pay attention to this primary relationship with our parents.

Another interesting passage that shows us how important healthy relationships are with our parents and how foundation they are to all of life is found in 2 Timothy 3:1-2. Here God says that rebelling against parents is a sign of the end times, it’s a sign that the order God wants for the world is gone and when that is gone – the rest of the order God wants for the world will also begin to crumble and the reason is because it is our relationship with our parents that is the foundation of all other relationships and when that is gone – the rest of society is not far behind. What bothers me is that the entertainment culture of today often makes out parents to look like fools which opens the door for children and teens to disrespect their parents instead of honoring them, and while the world may tell us it is ok to turn away from our parents and not take them seriously, God says something completely different, and for life to be healthy and families and communities to be strong, we need to listen to God.

So we need to honor our parents and this means different things in different situations and at different stages of life. When we are young children, honoring our parents means listening to them and doing what they say. We learn how to honor all authority by learning how to submit to the authority of our parents when we are young. As we become teenagers giving weight to our parents means giving them respect even when we think they do absolutely everything wrong. Let’s be honest, when we are teenagers we often think that our parents don’t know anything and so adolescence can be a difficult time to live out this commandment. It’s true that as teenagers it is important to learn how to become our own person and learn to make our own decisions and deal with our own consequences in life, but we can’t do this at the expense of our parents. As a teenager, honoring our parents means respecting them and appreciating them for who they are and how God provides for us through them and it means taking seriously what we still have to learn from them.

As an adult, honoring our parents might mean continuing to take the time to maintain a relationship with them. As we begin to live our own lives and have our own family, it can become easy to pull away from our parents and maybe even ignore them, but there is no honor in that. Honor here can mean making sure lines of communication remain open and relationships remain strong. It’s making sure we take time to spend with our parents and allowing healthy relationships to develop between children and their grandparents. I was talking with a grandmother this week who felt so blessed to have a granddaughter in her life that was more like a daughter to her and through their relationship I could see the blessing that comes when we honor our parents and one of the most influential persons in my life was my Grandmother and one of the reasons my relationship with her was so strong was because she and my mother had a strong relationship and even more importantly she and my father – her son-in-law, had a good relationship.

Honoring our parents needs to continue throughout life and when this commandment really becomes important is when our parents become older and have greater needs. We need to remember that these 10 Commandments were given in a day and age when there was no social security or Medicare; there were no IRA or pensions to provide for people in their golden years. As people got older they were completely dependant upon their children for physical care and support and so this commandment has as much to say to grown children who need to honor and care for their aging parents as it does to young children who need to listen and follow what their parent’s direction.

While our society is clearly different today than ancient Israel, the truth is that as we age – we still need our children and our families - maybe more than ever. Too many people today are growing old alone. Too many people are facing tremendous needs without anyone there to help them through the difficult times. It’s not that there aren’t children, they just aren’t physically close by. As families spread out all over the state, country and world, we have to be more intentional in making sure we are honoring our parents and care for their needs.

While Jesus never said much about how young children were supposed to treat their parents, he did say something about how adults are supposed to care for their parents as they got older. Look at Mark 7:9-13. There were people who neglected to care for their parents and the excuse they gave was that the money they would have used to take of them they would give to the church as an offering and Jesus is clear that this practice is wrong. Giving to the church isn’t wrong, it’s neglecting our parents which is wrong. Honoring our parents doesn’t end when we become thirteen, or get married or have children of our own – honoring our parents needs to continue for a lifetime.

So this commandment might say different things to us at different stages of life, but it all comes down to giving weight to our parents. It comes down to respecting them and valuing them for who they are because if nothing else - they are the ones who gave us life. But how do we honor parents who have not been worthy of our respect? We have recently seen in the Casey Anthony story how not all parents are worthy of honor and so we have to ask ourselves what this commandment means in similar situations. The first thing to remember is that this is not anything new. There have been bad parents from the very beginning, in fact the Bible is full of stories about parents who did not always treat their children well, or set a good example, and yet it was right into all of that dysfunction that God gave this command and it wasn’t given with stipulations like honor parents that are worthy of honor – it says honor your father and mother – period. So we have take this call seriously and prayerfully think about what it means to honor parents that might not be worthy of honor and respect.

If you have come from a family where abuse or neglect from a parent was all you experienced, the first step in honoring them might simply be to accept that this was the situation and allow God to begin to heal and redeem. In Romans 8:28 it says God works for the good in all things and so we know that God works in bad situations and I believe how God works in these bad situations to bring about redemption and healing. Nothing can change history, nothing can change the past, but God can bring healing today and into the future, so if you struggle to honor a father or mother because of their actions and behavior –acknowledge that to God and ask God to work in you to find his grace and freedom.

The second step might be to come to a place where forgiveness can be offered. When we are able to forgive our parents we begin to find freedom to live in God’s grace and power and become more fully the people God wants us to be. In some cases forgiveness can lead to restored relationship which can bring more fullness of life, but unfortunately redeemed relationships are not always possible and in some cases the best thing might be to simply part ways and in those situations honoring our parents might simply mean praying for them from a distance and thanking God for the life that they gave you. Since God never abandons his children, neither should we abandon totally our parents and we don’t abandon them when we place them in the hands of God and ask God to bless them.
When parents are good and kind and faithful and loving – this command is easy – when they are not, it’s hard, but just because things are hard doesn’t mean we can ignore God’s word. The same is true with all of God’s teaching. It’s easy to love those we like and hard to love our enemy, but the call of God is to love our enemy. It’s easy to be generous when we have a lot to give, but the call is to give faithfully and even sacrificially at all times, even when we think we have nothing to give at all. We can’t ignore this command to honor our parents just because our parents frustrate us or infuriate us – we simply have to work harder in asking God to teach us and show us what it means to honor them.

While this command is really a call to honor our parents, let’s not forget that God has also given pretty clear instructions to parents as well. Look at Ephesians 6:1-4. It’s here where God says that children are to obey their parents, but it goes on to say that parents are not to exasperate their children but bring them in the training and instruction of the Lord. Parents are called to love and care for their children, they are called to teach them about God and I say we do that best by showing them the grace and love of God in our own lives. Parents need to live lives worthy of honor so that children can find it easy to honor them.

When I look around today and listen to people talk about families, I am concerned that we really do struggle with having strong and healthy relationships within our families. I hope that you will pray with me for families and for stronger and healthier relationships between children of all ages and their parents – it is this relationship we need to get right so that we can live long and faithfully in the world God has given us.