The First Commandment With Promise

Stable families are the foundation of strong nations. The Fifth Commandment shows us how to keep our families and nations strong.
From the August 2004 Trumpet Print Edition

Let’s realize it! News headlines show that our Western society is confused about what makes up a family. Some are working mightily to convince the public that there should be a new definition of family. Let’s not sleep through this vital issue. Ask yourself: Can there actually be a new definition of family?

The homosexual lobby has made strategic moves to redefine the family by using the courts to legally approve same-sex marriages. Some homosexual couples have adopted children. Others have brought children into this world through artificial means. These couples desperately want recognition as family.

In the United States, Massachusetts is the first state to recognize same-sex marriages. The city of San Francisco, Calif., has done the same. Seven other states have court cases pending. Same-sex marriage is legal in three provinces of Canada, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium. Strong movements are pushing same-sex marriages in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Spain. The fight is on. Homosexuals are calling their recent legal moves a real victory. We must recognize that there is much more going on here than concerns about insurance or tax benefits.

Here is the truth of the matter. The time-honored institutions of marriage and family are under vicious attack. In fact, these institutions have been under assault for decades. Informed people, including educators, journalists and newscasters, know there is a well-organized conspiracy against traditional family. Do we see that traditional family life is threatened? Since the 1960s, the new morality, rampant divorce and feminism have severely weakened the family. Now, the homosexual movement wants to deliver traditional family its final death blow. Who is willing to stand up and fight for family?

We must come to recognize that to redefine the family is to destroy the family. Stable traditional families are the backbone of any strong nation. History shows that when family life—husband, wife, children—falls apart, so does the nation.

Questions are being asked and answered in the media: Is a family a husband and wife and biological children? Is it two men or two women in a so-called committed relationship and adopted children? Is it two men or two women with children conceived by artificial means? Yet, a more important question never considered is: Do human beings even have the authority to define what a family is?

Fifth Commandment Stated

In our series on the Ten Commandments, we have been showing you that the Ten Commandments are a law of love. People are confused about how to love God and how to love each other. The commandments teach us how to do both. The Apostle John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous”

(1 John 5:3). God gave man the commandments to help us truly love and experience real love in all of our relationships. The commandments are not a dreadful curse as so many believe.

The first four commandments define how to have the right relationship with God. Keeping these commandments preserves that relationship. The remaining six show us how to have the correct relationships with other human beings. The Fifth Commandment is the first and most important of the final six. In fact, the Fifth Commandment, when understood in all of its depth, defines and safeguards the most basic of all human relationships—the family!

From Mount Sinai, God spoke this command to the newly forming nation of Israel: “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). It is easy to recognize at first glance that this commandment requires children to both honor and obey their father and mother. Honor and obedience reflect true love. But when we stop and meditate on it, the commandment says a lot about family!

Notice that the commandment does not say honor your father and father, or your mother and mother. It states clearly honor your father and mother. This statement clears up all confusion about what constitutes a family. Here, and along with the Seventh and Tenth Commandments, is the great Creator God’s definition of family—a man and a woman bound in holy wedlock, and children. There are no other alternatives! When obeyed, these three commandments protect the God-designed institutions of marriage and family. We’ll cover the seventh and tenth in detail in future articles.

Stable Families—Strong Nations

The Fifth Commandment doesn’t stop with a definition of family. There is much more. God also explains why all children must honor their parents. There is a serious life-and-death reason.

At the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments, Israel was at its very beginning as a nation. It was to be different than any other nation ever begun on Earth. It was to be God’s nation. He was to be its sole ruler. God gave the Fifth Commandment to the people of Israel so they could live long upon the land. Do we see the incredible knowledge here? Many other nations had already come and gone before Israel’s birth. God considered respect for parental authority as the key to its longevity!

The Fifth Commandment carries both a fantastic promise and a severe warning. That promise and warning are not solely for Israel. Remember that the Ten Commandments are binding on all mankind. God simply made Israel aware of them first. God gave the Fifth Commandment to mankind so we could live long upon the Earth.

The Apostle Paul confirms these truths. He taught the Ephesians, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3). Notice Paul’s in-depth teaching. He was the apostle to the Gentiles. He was a natural-born Israelite who knew the tragic history of his ancestors’ failure as a nation. The Assyrians had removed the northern 10 tribes from their land more than 700 years before. Even though the tiny nation of Judah had come back from Babylonian captivity, the Romans held the people of Judah underfoot. There were causes behind these historic events. Disregard of the Fifth Commandment was a major factor. Paul understood that no one need repeat such history.

Here Paul instructs the children of Gentile converts to keep the Fifth Commandment and then goes on to explain why. Paul takes special effort to show that the Fifth Commandment is the first commandment with the promise of long life on the Earth. Paul applied this commandment to all people—not just those of his own nation. So must we.

God placed within the Fifth Commandment His revealed instruction that stable families make strong nations. When all children honor and obey parental authority, incredible blessings result, including peace, wealth and health. God warns us: Destroy the family unit through dishonor and disobedience, and our nations will suffer the miseries of crime, violence, war and eventual destruction!

A Cause of World Violence

We are living in extremely dangerous and violent times. Do we know the causes for the effects we are suffering? God gave Paul a prophetic glimpse into our day. He recorded for us the leading causes for world violence. He stated clearly, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents …” (2 Timothy 3:1-2). Are we surprised that one of the leading causes of world violence is children disobeying their parents?

Ours is an extremely selfish age. Men of all nations are full of greed and covetousness. Nations go to war to steal what others have. We have become extremely arrogant and proud. We boast of all our scientific and technical accomplishments. In doing so, we ignore God, who has blessed us with the talent and ability to attain such wealth and power. In addition, we have also allowed our family life to degenerate. We have built a permissive society that has little regard for obedience toward parents or any constituted authority.

Government and military leaders are working feverishly to protect Western society from violent terrorist attacks. Better intelligence, security procedures, armies, police and weapons will not spare us from increased violence. Getting back to building strong, obedient families would solve a majority of our modern violence problems.

Is this an oversimplification? Experts know that most adult violent offenders start out at a very young age.

We must understand what current trends in youth violence mean. During the 2003-2004 school year, 48 people died in school-related violence—more than in any year in the past decade (USA Today, June 28). Yet experts seem to give conflicting analysis about youth-violence statistics. Some experts say that crime overall is dropping off. Yet USA Today notes that school-safety advocates see a sharp rise in gang-related activities. Gang watchers know that gang activity is spreading like a plague to hundreds of cities nationwide. This means it is most likely that the coming school year will be even more violent. What can we do? Simply throwing more money at the problem will not solve it.

Let’s admit the truth. The youth violence crisis has its origins in early childhood in the home. A person’s attitudes about authority, property and how to treat others starts in the nursery. To stop world violence caused by adults or youth, we must fix our families.

Focus on Father

Remember, the Fifth Commandment is one of the magnificent ten points of God’s eternal, spiritual law. Thus, it carries great weight in the eyes of God. The commandment opens, “Honor thy father and thy mother ….” The Hebrew word for honor is kawbad, meaning abounding, rich or to promote to honor. This commandment applies to all of us throughout our lives. God requires us to abound with honor for our parents in both words and deeds.

Under the Old Testament dispensation, violations of this commandment were punishable by the death penalty. “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. … And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:15, 17). This shows the high importance that God places on this command.

The First Commandment requires mankind to give honor to God’s high office of authority as Creator. The Fifth Commandment requires all men to honor the highest human office—that of parents. This commandment then forms the bridge between the two great sections of God’s law. We will never attain true spiritual and physical success without giving honor and obedience to God. Do we see that the same is true of our human parents?

The relationship of children to their parents is an exact type of the spiritual relationship between converted Christians and God the Father. The lessons of honor, deep respect and obedience learned in the parent-child relationship stay with a child for life—even into eternity! In the eyes of a small child, a parent stands in the place of God. A parent is the child’s provider, protector, love-giver, teacher and law-enforcer.

Effective child rearing and the child’s response to such training will determine to a large part his later relationship to society. It most assuredly will affect his relationship with God.

Notice that in the commandment, God mentions the father first. This means that fathers should hold the first, or preeminent, position in families. Why? The human father pictures God the Father (see article, page 27). Children should be rich in honor and obedience to their fathers. Yet, fatherhood has taken a real beating for decades. There is a real, active conspiracy against fatherhood. Request a free copy of Conspiracy Against Fatherhood by Gerald Flurry. This eye-opening booklet will alert you to the war against “the core institution of our society.” To truly fix the family, we must put fathers back at the head of our families.

Every father needs to come to understand that he represents God to his children. Knowing this demands that the father make himself honorable. Of course, a mother must do the same. Both must live a life worthy of the child’s respect. Paul said children were to obey parents “in the Lord.” This means that parents must be living up to God’s high standards. Certainly, many parents today are living wretched lives unworthy of a child’s respect. Some parents even lead little children into sick lifestyles like child pornography. God does not expect any child to submit to such an abuse of authority.

Blessings for Obedience

A father’s primary responsibility is to teach his child to obey all authority. A child needs to grow in the knowledge, wisdom and experience necessary to make wise judgments. It is vital that fathers teach young children to obey immediately, without question. Parents should not coax a child into obedience. Certainly, there are times when giving explanations and reasons are appropriate. But in cases of emergencies, there may not be time or opportunity to give reasons. This flies in the face of modern child-rearing philosophy. But it is imperative, for the child’s safety, to learn the habit of obeying immediately when a command is given. It may not only spare your child’s life physically, it will also help lead to your child’s spiritual success.

The ultimate goal of all child training is to teach children to obey God. As a child matures, fathers and mothers should provide much instruction about God the Father. Wise parents make it known that God is the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Earth and universe. God-fearing parents teach their children to honor and obey their great spiritual Father with even more love than for their earthly parents. Truly understanding parents make it clear that God will richly bless them for obedience.

Think about the blessings that naturally come from the habit of obedience to authority. Young people who hold deep respect and obey those in authority don’t become criminals. Never would they consider robbing, beating or murdering another human being. Never would they consider getting into drugs, abuse of alcohol and the misuse of sex. Obedience to the Fifth Commandment results in the building of character that leads to a long life. A young person with a respectful and obedient nature avoids recklessness, violence, wrong companionship and rebellion against authority, which often lead to death.

Obedient and respectful children are secure children. Children need to have their boundaries set for them. Children want limits set. They are truly happy with rules and guidelines. Teens need a curfew! Children intuitively know that parents must shoulder the responsibility of being the authority. When parents don’t use authority, a child feels unloved, unprotected and insecure.

An obedient child does not suffer from frustration. The disobedient child is a frustrated child. Feelings of guilt and rebellion fill his mind. The child who loves, honors and obeys his parents lives a happy, carefree, purposeful life. When matured into adulthood, the child’s spiritual life should follow the natural progression from honoring his parents to honoring God.

Do we see how the Fifth Commandment shapes a peaceful human society? Do we see how the Fifth Commandment is necessary for a child’s spiritual relationship with God?

Honoring Elderly Parents

The time comes for many when it is no longer necessary or right that a person should strictly obey his parents. However, there is never a time when people should cease to honor their parents—especially elderly parents. To honor parents as we grow into adulthood means that we place a high value on their work and effort on our behalf when we were younger. The habit of obedience in youth should naturally grow into the habit of expressing deep and continual appreciation for parents. Adult children convey this kind of honor in acts of courtesy, thoughtfulness and kind actions.

What thinking man or woman has not come to realize the magnitude of the effort of parents? It is often only as mature adults that we begin to recognize the countless hours of work it took to raise us. There were sleepless nights dealing with our sicknesses. What young wives and mothers have not considered the numbers of meals prepared and the loads of laundry done by their mothers? What young husbands and fathers have not considered the hours of instruction and play time provided by their fathers? What husband has not remembered the overtime hours his father gladly performed on the job to provide the extras every family desires?

When parents grow old, it is time to return the same depth of love and service. Many parents ache for the love, affection and attention of their grown children. Yet, to the shame of many adult children, in many cases this kind of love never comes.

Thousands of elderly parents are shut up in stifling nursing homes simply because their children are unwilling to take the responsibility of caring for them. Some elderly must rely solely on meager government financial support, when their children are able to help financially.

Jesus Christ personally dealt with this same sin in His day. The so-called religious men at that time excused themselves from providing for the necessity of their parents. They said that the money necessary to support elderly parents was Corban, or dedicated to the service of the temple altar. Corban was not a part of God’s tithing system, but an additional offering given to gain favor with God. Christ upbraided these hypocrites: “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death” (Mark 7:9-10). Here Jesus Christ gives a powerful application of the Fifth Commandment. These men reasoned around God’s commandment. By doing so, they were sinning against God. We must be careful not to water down God’s law.

Christ continued, “But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (verses 11-13). Jesus Christ’s teaching could not be plainer. Adult children must give financial assistance to aged parents if it is possible and the need is there. We must never excuse ourselves by saying something like, “All my extra funds are dedicated to God!”

The Perfect Example

Jesus Christ said, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Christ made this comment to the disciples the night before His death. He kept the Father’s commandments. Jesus Christ’s entire life is a stunning example of obedience to the Fifth Commandment. He obeyed God the Father implicitly. He also obeyed His human parents. This obedience produced the greatest blessing for all mankind—our Savior.

Referring to Christ’s childhood, Luke records, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Because of obedience, Jesus Christ grew in wisdom and spiritual strength.

In this same chapter, Luke gives us the only detailed account of Christ at a young age. It is an amazing picture of honor, respect and obedience. At age 12, Jesus and His family had been in Jerusalem keeping the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. On the return trip, Joseph and Mary assumed Jesus was with other family members in the caravan (verses 43-44). He was not. He had remained in Jerusalem to gain more information about God the Father and His laws. Of course, this caused His parents concern. They went searching for Him immediately.

Joseph and Mary found Christ in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers” (verses 46-47). Jesus came to an incredible maturity at a young age. Why? Certainly, it was in large part the result of a stable family life. His human parents obviously provided for Him and taught Him. They taught Him much about God from the Scriptures. When asked by His mother why He remained in Jerusalem, He answered, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (verse 49). This was not a disrespectful answer. He was reminding His parents that they had taught Him that He had a commission from God. At 12, He was more than likely letting them know He was coming to a deeper understanding of what God the Father expected of Him.

All parents can learn a deep lesson from this history. Because Jesus Christ obeyed the Fifth Commandment, He lived a life free of fear, frustration and insecurity. Not being rebellious, He had the mental freedom to really search out and learn God’s plan as revealed in Scripture. Obedience brings incredible blessings into a child’s life.

The end of this story is that Jesus Christ returned home to Nazareth and was subject to His parents (verse 51). What an incredible example to follow!

Paul also gives us a beautiful summation of Christ’s obedient life in Hebrews. Paul writes, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). As a human, Jesus Christ learned about the incredible value of the Fifth Commandment. Paul shows that He was made perfect through obedience. Jesus Christ could never have been our Savior if He had not obeyed God and His human parents, Joseph and Mary. We will never attain salvation if we don’t learn to honor and obey God and our parents.

Jesus Christ honored His parents to the very end of His life. We know from Bible history that Joseph died some time before Christ’s ministry began, because there is no mention of him in any account where Christ is dealing with His family members. Mary had become a widow. But she remained under Christ’s care. The most remarkable account of Christ love, concern and care for His aging mother came at the time of the crucifixion. While suffering the most excruciating death, Christ saw to His mother’s welfare. John records, “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:26-27). Here Jesus made sure that John would take care of Mary after His death. While most any other man would focus on self, Christ focused on obedience to the Fifth Commandment. He remembered the labor, concern and teaching that His mother had given Him since infancy and extended to her the honor that she deserved.

Children and adults: Remember to follow the perfect example of Jesus Christ. Let’s all obey the Fifth Commandment—the first commandment with promise.