Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-4 (NIV), Lord's Day 39 (p. 910)
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Exodus 20:12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Ephesians 6:1-4 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 39
What is God's will for you in the fifth commandment?
"That I honor, love and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I obey and submit to them, as is proper, when they correct and punish me; and also that I be patient with their failings- for through them God chooses to rule us."
People of God:
I want to start by pointing out that this command, even though it is not mentioned, has two sides.
First look at the command . It is a straight forward addressed to everyone who is a child, everyone who has parents, who has had parents, and the instruction is simple, "Honour them!" The command does not attach any conditions.. For example, it does not say "Honor your parents if they are good parents." Rather, it is a universal command, honor your parents, no matter what, even if they were in your eyes not worthy of honor. In the following series of sermons on this command, we are going to look at how we can honor our parents, even when they are far from perfect. Notice this morning though, that the command is universal, there is no room for exception.
There is, however, a second side to this command. We see this clearly when Paul refers to the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6 verses 2,3 - notice verse 4 - "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Right after mentioning this fifth commandment, Paul has a clear instruction to fathers (we may apply it to both parents) regarding how they treat their children. Parents are not exasperate their children, that they not, (in a different translation), to provoke their children to bitterness. The dynamics of what Paul is telling us is that it is possible for parents to be hard to honor, it is possible for parents to treat their children in such a way that rather than honor, there will be bitterness, exasperation, unhealthy emotions.
So this evening, we want to spend a few minutes looking at this theme of being an honorable parent. What is an honorable parent, in the sense of what is a parent that is easy to honor?
To answer that question I suggest to you that honor attaches to what we are, not what we do. Throughout America, where children it seems are dishonoring their parents more and more, one of the reasons is because we, parents, have forgotten this fundamental truth! Honour attaches to what we are, not what we do. We are called human-beings, not human-doings, our value and therefore our honor is in what we are, not what we do. What we do only earns honour when our actions are integral expressions of what we are. This may sound abstract, but just one illustration will bring about the point quickly. In the US, the president is riding a wave of popular support in his job rating (that is what he does ), but if you ask Americans if they respect Bill Clinton as a person, the majority responds with a resounding "NO!" He may be doing great things, but because most people agree they cannot trust what he has to say, and especially in the more recent accusations of rape, he is hardly honored. Honor attaches to who he is, and right now, there just seems to be very little to attach honor to.
The truth is, for any person in a position of authority that the scriptures and the Heidelberg Catechism here remind us to honor and especially for us as parents (the focus of this sermon) honor attaches to what we are, not what we do.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the host of a popular radio broadcast on CKPR at 6Pm has written a book How could you do that? The Abdication of Character, Courage and Conscience - a book which I think brings out well that in North American culture, we have lost sight of what it means to be human, to be involved in developing faith driven character, courage and conscience. I suggest to you that it is these that attract honor. Let me explore that with you for just a few minutes.
Scriptures teach that the sanctifying work of the holy Spirit is the development of character. Let me give you a definition of character that I am working with. Character is that quality in our person which brings our good intentions into action. It is the bridge between intention and action. I believe that most people have good qualities and good intentions. What is so very clear is that good intentions are often not realized in action. We all like to say we love our neighbor, character brings that intending love into action. If we have the good intention, let's say a new years resolution to loose some weight, it is character that carries that intention into determined action. If we intend to tell our children that we love them every day, it is character that drives us to say "I Love You" even if at times we might be angry and not feel like it. In our time and culture, maybe all times and cultures, we have started to think that what is important is what we accomplish, not what we are. With regard to our children, we fail to realize that our greatest accomplishment is what we are. Children measure what we are. They hear our intentions and then watch our actions, and if the two lack integrity - the integrity of character, they see very quickly that we do not practice what we preach. Our lack of character gives them no compelling reason to honor us. If we insists on them following through with their good intentions while we ourselves do not, they see the lack of character and remember it for a long time, sometimes with anger and bitterness.
So many American parents are involved in doing this and that for their children, driving here, driving there, giving their children every possible advantage. The truth is, our children have a very short memory when it comes to what we do for them. What they do remember over the long haul is what we are for them. When our actions reflect the integrity of character, honor results.
The second thing that has to do with what we are is conscience. Conscience is the bridge between our values and our actions. A major part of rasing children is influencing and shaping their value system. We all hope that our children will grow up valuing family, valuing the community of faith, respecting authority, valuing hard work and appropriate rewards, valuing healthy relationships, clear communication, the list can go on. You have your values, you live by them. Conscience is that internal warning mechanism that tells us that our actions are inconsistent with our value system. It is the bridge between our values and our actions, it keeps the two in line, coherent with each other. The truth is though that we all to often sacrifice a bit of our conscience just for the sake of personal gain, entertainment, or to satisfy our desires and pleasures, maybe to vent off steam. For Example:
A father instructs his children to respect the police - then gets a ticket, and in the process of driving away, calls the police a variety of names. Maybe you have never done that, maybe you have, even as you did it, your conscience bothered you ! We dare sometimes think that the conscience is a bother, but in truth it is a God given instrument telling us our actions are inconsistent with our values. Honor attaches to those who because of their values will consistently behave in a certain way. Their conscience works with their values to make them predictable in the sense of being rustworthy. And it is far easier for a child to honor the parent whose actions are faithful to biblical values, faithful to values expressed and expected. When a child sees a parent who will not listen to their own conscience, they quickly learn that conscience is a bother rather than a gift from God. It is what we are as human beings, our character, our sensitive conscience listened too, that makes it easier for our children to respect and honor us.
The third thing that Dr. Laura suggests we have abdicated is courage. I will give you a bit of my own spin on courage.
Courage is the bridge between our faith and action.
This was the challenge for the nation of Israel, for Joshua, who was told to be of good courage. Israel at the edge of the promised land. There only Joshua and Caleb demonstrated the courage of faith(Numbers 13). Repeatedly, throughout the scriptures, God's people are called to courage - the courage that puts what we believe into action. So many of the lessons of faith are lessons learned only when we take the step of courage believing that God will provide, that God will take care of us, that God will bless our obedience. Faith, true faith results in courageous actions. Scripture never encourages us to fear anything but God.
Again, one of the struggles that young people often have is that though their parents express faith, they are members of the church etc. But when in parents because of a lack of courage it is hard to see how this faith results in action, in changed lives, in obedience to God, in character and conscience, children start wondering what faith really means. If becomes hard for them to honor their parent's faith.
This command, "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." which applies to all of us first speaks to all of us as parents! Be parents worthy of honor! Remember honor does not attach to what we do, it attaches to the character, courage and conscience that our children get to see every day while they live with us. And in truth, one of the best gifts that we can give to our children that will bless them for years to come is to be for them parents worthy of honor, because in us they will see the basic project of life before God: Living ourtthe character of Christ, the values of God's will and the dynamics of faith. When we have worked on character, courage and conscience, our children will find in the long run that our lives are worth emulating. We become parents worthy of honour.
So people of God, as you hear this command, here the word of God that instructs us to be parents who live lives worthy of honor, who work on what is in our hearts first - because that is the foundation of our family lived out every day for our children's blessing.
Next time we look at this law - we will look at what it means to honor parents as children.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.