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The Ten Commandments

Honor Your Father And Mother

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 6, 1986

Selected highlights from this sermon

The Bible has a plan for the family. In the midst of fragmenting homes, God commands that we should honor our parents. We are called to heed the wisdom of our elders. 

We can honor our parents in many ways: through our obedience, actions, and attitudes.

Our parents aren’t perfect, but we are called to obey nonetheless.

All of us know that in our land today there is a scourge. It seems to be affecting homes everywhere and that is, of course, the break-up of the home, the tearing apart of what God has put together. And the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” is the one that is centrally located within the heart of God’s social program for the world because He is very concerned that the family be strong. That’s His emphasis, and when the text says, “Honor your father and your mother,” it’s God’s way of confirming once again the need for affirmation and the great responsibility that rests with parents as well as children.

Before I begin to discuss that commandment, because obviously on the face of it, it seems as if it applies to children, I want to say first of all a word to parents. Why is it that God says, “Honor your father and your mother?” Why does He say that to children? Well the answer is because God invests in parents an awesome responsibility. Did you know that so far as God is concerned, parents really represent Him to their children? You are God’s representative to your children, parents. You say, “Well, I don’t like that. I want to back out.” You can’t. God has appointed you to be His representative to children, the children that you have borne, and there’s no way that you can back out.

Now that’s why parents have such a tremendous amount of power in the lives of their children – awesome power. The father particularly has power. In fact, there are those children whose father has been dead who still exercises authority over them from his grave. They can be 30 years old, they can be 50 years old, and they are still spending a great deal of their time trying to overcome either the good influence, in which case, of course, they would not have to overcome it, but to respond to it, or the evil influence of a father who perhaps rejected them, beat them, hated them, and said awful things about them.

And so let’s remember that God invests that kind of authority in parents. And I am reminded of a college student who was dying because of a car accident and who said to her mother, “Mother, you have taught me how to hold my cigarette, you have taught me how to be popular, you have taught me how to dress, you have taught me how to use contraceptives, but you have not taught me how to die. Tell me. How do I die?”

And so you have parents all throughout the country to whom God has given this awesome authority but they are not doing what God appointed them to do. But the Bible says, “Children, honor your father and your mother.” And the question that I want to answer today is how is this done? How can those of us who are children, who still have parents that are alive, fulfill this commandment, which God has staked out with clarity?

What I want you to do is to begin by turning to Ephesians 6 because one way that we can honor our father and our mother is by obedience. I’m speaking here of obeying them by our actions. That’s one way that we can fulfill the commandment. This is what the text says in Ephesians 6:1. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise) - and here is the promise - that it may be well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Children obey your parents. You fulfill the commandment by your actions.

Now, young people and others that are here today, when do we obey our parents? Well, first of all, we obey even when it hurts, even when the will of our parents seems to be contrary to our own desires and our own inclinations. The text says, “Obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.

Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that his parents learned an awful lot after he became twenty years old? What he meant was that even though before he was twenty he thought that his parents were “out to lunch,” he discovered that the older he got the more wisdom he discovered his parents had. Isn’t that true of all of us? All of our parents seem to become incredibly educated some time after we became 25 or 30.

Now let me say that as someone who has done some marriage counseling in my life, when a couple comes to me and they say, “We’ve got problems and we are really thinking of splitting,” or whatever the problem may be, I very frequently ask them a question because I am interested. The text says that if it isn’t well with you it may well be because of some disobedience in your life. And so I will say to them, “Now when you got married did you get married with your parents approval?” And so often, not all the time, the answer is, “Yes, you are right. We didn’t have our parents’ approval. My mother told me not to marry that guy. There was something about him that she didn’t like and I thought that she was prejudiced or that she was narrow minded, but mother was right. Father was right.” Why? It’s because the text says, “That it may be well with you.”

Your parents may have much more wisdom than you are willing to give them credit for, and so the Bible says, “Children, obey your parents.” You get married without their approval and you’ll spend a good part of your life trying to prove them wrong, and you are going to try too hard. All kinds of problems will develop because the Bible says this is right, “that it may be well with you,” and “that you may live long upon the earth.” You obey them even when it hurts. You also obey them when they are wrong, by the way.

Now there is nothing in this text that says in a footnote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right, (parenthesis) except when they happen to be wrong.” My Bible doesn’t say that and neither does yours. Parents sometimes are wrong. There’s no question about it. And parents are sometimes inconsistent. But the Bible says that if you want it to be well upon the earth you obey them even if what they might be asking of you may be a little bit harsh. And you may not think that they are reasonable. They may even be wrong. The Bible says, “Obey them that it may be well with you.”

Jesus, the Bible says in Luke 2:51, came to His parents. This, of course, was when He was there in Nazareth and made the trip back. You’ll notice it says, “And he was subject to them.” He put Himself, as the Son of God, under His parents’ authority, even though He was the Son of God, and certainly eventually had more insight, I should say, than they did. Oh, I can imagine somebody meeting me at the door, and that’s why I have to say this next part, and they’ll say, “Is there ever a time when a child should not obey his parents?” And the answer I think is yes. If your parents ask you to break some commandment of God, if they ask you to steal or to commit adultery, if they tell you not to believe on Jesus Christ, then I think you should disobey them.

I have a friend who is a very successful pastor, and I admire him because God has greatly blessed him, and he told me one time that if he were to have obeyed his parents he would never have accepted Christ as Savior. They were opposed to him believing in Jesus, but he said, “Today I am a Christian, and then God called me into the ministry and they didn’t like that either.” But the call of God and the will of God in his particular circumstance enabled him to see that he did not have to obey his parents in that respect. But he honors his parents. There’s no question about it. He gives them honor. He is willing to do all that he possibly can to mend the fences. And isn’t it interesting that years after his decision to accept Christ as Savior and go into the ministry his parents now have mellowed a great deal and they have accepted that, and now they are open to the Gospel in a way that they weren’t many years ago. He gives them honor but he realizes that there is a conflict between the higher will of God than the rule of his parents.

But those are very rare circumstances. They do exist. They do happen, but the Bible simply says, “Children, obey your parents.” Why? It is so that it may be well with you, and some of you here today can testify that it isn’t well with you, and the reason may be because of rebellion against your parents.

Second, we can obey not only in our actions. We can obey in our attitude. You know all of us know the story of the little boy who was asked by his parents to sit down, and then he said later, “I’m sitting down but in my heart I am standing up.” There is such a thing as obedience just because Mom and Dad are bigger than I am, the boy says. Like the father who whipped his child and said, “Remember I am doing this in love,” and the little boy said, “I wish I were big enough to return the favor.”

And so there are children who say, “I am obeying my parents but just wait until I become old enough to do my own thing.” How do you have the right attitude? First of all, have an attitude of thanksgiving. Gratitude! Your parents do a whole lot more for you than you can possibly remember or appreciate until you have your own, and then you find out how much they do for you.

Somewhere I read that it takes a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child today from point zero to past college. I don’t know if that’s right or not but I do know that it takes a tremendous amount of work and effort to rear children, and appreciation is so important. Those of us who are older and now know that, we have the responsibility of thanking our parents and giving gratitude to them, as I did last night when I called my mother in preparation for Mother’s Day. So what we should be responsible for doing is to have hearts that are filled with gratitude.

But you know that another thing, young people, and I say this particularly to those of you who are still in your homes, and in that sense directly under your parents’ authority, is to have not only an attitude of gratitude but honesty. If there is anything that your parents appreciate, it is the knowledge that when you speak, you speak truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So many times what happens is young people develop lives that their parents don’t even know about. So they say to Mom and Dad, “I’m going to John’s place,” and they may even speak the truth, but John’s place is just a stopping off point to go somewhere else. And there are young people who live such schizophrenic double lives where they are developing a whole secret network of relationships and sins, independently of their parents’ knowledge, and what a tragedy that is.

As I was thinking about that this past week, I was reminded of this true story that has happened more than once back on the farm. You know what farmers used to do is they would take a hen that was sitting on eggs and they would put duck eggs under her, and she didn’t know the difference. She had not done any research on the nature of eggs, I guess, and she found that they looked like chicken eggs. So she hatched little ducks – ducklings. And Mother Hen would go around and she would find them food, and she thought that she was taking care of her own kids, mind you. And then day as they would come to what is called a dugout – a little pond of water (and I saw this with my own two eyes – it was something to behold), suddenly those little ducklings would pop into the water and swim. And Mother Hen would be absolutely incredulous. She’d be having an identity crisis there on the shore. She’d be running around and she’d be clucking and making all sorts of sounds, and trying to figure it out. “These are the kids I bore and look at what they are doing.”

You know, I’ve often thought of that story because there are many parents that are like that. They are rearing these children and they think that they are training some chickens and suddenly they find out they’ve been rearing ducks. Suddenly they find out that this child whom they thought they knew and understood is very different from the truth of what they believed. There’s a whole world out there that the child is getting involved in. And as soon as that child gets old enough to say goodbye to Mom and Dad, and as soon as he comes to the point where Dad is no longer physically stronger than he, he says goodbye, and he does his own thing and the parents can’t understand it.

I plead with you parents today, and young people, would you get together in your homes so that you understand one another, so that you can deal with issues that arise with honesty and integrity and transparency so that you know who you have in your home and both of you are responsible for that?

Do you know what the Bible says in the Old Testament? God says, “Whoso curses father or mother, let him be put to death.” It also says, “He that strikes father or mother, let him be put to death.” God is saying, “Honor your father and your mother that it may be well with you.”

You say, “But my parents are so strict. They are so harsh. They belong to the previous century.” Listen, young people, God may know that you needed parents just like that to keep you out of evil. You know? He just might know what’s best for you, and since we don’t have any opportunity to choose our parents, God has placed us under their authority and we ought to recognize that they are accountable to God, even if they mislead us certainly, but that we are subject to them. Why? It’s so that it may be well with us, says the text of Scripture.

Now, honor them with our actions, with our attitude, but also with the attention that we should give them. And here particularly I speak of those of us who are older children who have a responsibility for aging parents. In fact, I think that when God gave the Ten Commandments He very probably had in mind the responsibility of young people taking care of their older parents as they approach old age.

The Bible says in Leviticus 19:32 we should honor the aged and revere God. That’s interesting. God places those two in the very same verse. He says the person with the gray head should be honored. It says that in a number of places in the Old Testament, and that passage in Leviticus says that. God says, “Respect them, honor them and revere God.”

We are living in a society when old people are a drain on the economy. We are living at a time when they constantly are being set aside. They are being put into nursing homes, and sometimes that may be a necessity. I don’t want to lay any guilt upon people for that in certain circumstances.

One day I was in one of those homes and I asked the woman who was in charge, “How many of these people do you think have children who come here with some degree of regularity – at least a few times a year – and visit them?” And I was just astounded at her answer. She said, “About 30%.” And I said, “Do you mean to tell me that 70% of these aged people who are in here have no relatives, no friends, no children that ever come to see them?” And she said, “Yes.” I mean can you imagine what that must be like?

A number of years ago – it must be at least ten – I knew a woman who told me a remarkable story. She said that her children totally disowned her. She had not heard from them in years. They acted as if she did not exist. They would not respond to any letters. They would not give her any information. They would not allow her to see her grandchildren. She had two daughters. I even wrote a letter to those daughters, hoping that somehow they could be reconciled to their mother. She said, “The last time I saw them was when my husband died. They came to the funeral and they would not speak to me. They came only to the funeral home and left.”

Now frankly, friends, I don’t know what that mother did to bring this dishonor upon her, but I would simply say that I can’t think of anything that any mother could possibly do that would cause her to deserve such rejection and such alienation. That’s tragic, and the Bible says that we have a responsibility to those who are our parents, to take care of them, and Jesus scathed the Pharisees because they found ways around that responsibility.

Turn with me for just a moment to Matthew 15. These Pharisees had it worked out in such a way that they could circumvent the commandments of God, and Jesus was angry with them as a result of it. In verse 3 Jesus is speaking and He says to them, “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’” That’s Christ’s interpretation of the Old Testament. You don’t even have to curse them. Jesus said, “You speak evil of your father or your mother, let him be put to death.” Parenthesis! God has not changed His mind about this. The fact that we do not put children to death is because we are under a different era when there are certain penalties that God does not ask us to implement, but He takes care of these matters. But God’s opinion of rebellious children has not changed. It says, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.” But now Jesus said in verse 5, “But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’” Then Jesus said, and I’ll explain it in a moment, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”

What the Pharisees did was this. Here they had money – good money. God had said, “Honor your father and your mother. Take care of your aged parents.” They said to themselves, “We’ve got to find some way around that so let’s take this money and let’s dedicate it to God, and if we dedicate this money to God, He is a higher power than our parents. Then we can say, ‘This is God’s money and therefore we can use it for our own investments if God entrusts His money to us, but we do not need to give it to our mom and dad.’” And Jesus said, “Because of traditions like this you are invalidating the word of God. You are finding by theological sleight of hand ways to circumvent the responsibility that God put upon your shoulders to take care of the aged. They took care of you and now you have a responsibility to take care of them.”

You say, “Well, how do we do this?” Well, first of all, certainly economically from the standpoint of economics if they need money, if they need support. You know that the Bible says in 1 Timothy 5, “For if you do not take care of those in your household you have denied the faith and you are worse than an infidel.” I don’t think that only means that I have a responsibility to my wife and to my children. That responsibility in those days involved the extended family as well. You are saying, “Does that mean that grandparents always have to move in with children?” Not always, though in some instances it may mean that. Certainly it has economic implications. It has, more importantly, social implications where the aged people are made to feel as if they are a part of the family, and they are not rejected simply because they have become ill or because they create inconvenience for us, and difficulty in terms of our schedules, where we are willing to draw a circle and include them even at sacrifice and expense to us.

A number of years ago on television there was a little vignette that was trying to emphasize the needs of the aged. In the first frame there was a picture of a grandfather, a father, and a son. And the grandfather’s hands were very shaky. He could no longer hold a bowl with steadiness, and so he happened to drop a very precious piece of china onto the floor, and it shattered. And the father, namely the man’s son, was very angry. “Now that’s the trouble with old people like this. They mess things up. They don’t even know how to hold a bowl anymore.” And so the son banished his father into a room, closed the door and gave him a wooden bowl. You can drop that.

A couple of days later the father was out in the yard and saw his son at work. He said, “Son, what are you doing?” He noticed that the boy was carving something. The boy held in his hand an almost finished bowl and said, “Dad, I’m making this for you.” Now, bottom line: You’d better watch the way you treat your parents because that’s possibly the way in which your children will treat you. God says, “Honor them that it may be well with you.”

And isn’t it amazing to think that some day we will be old and our hands will shake and we won’t be able to hold that bowl. You’d better watch the way you treat your parents because it may well be that that’s the way that you’ll be treated, and I can think of nothing as hurtful as being rejected by the very ones that you brought into the world, the ones which you nurtured and helped along, and now suddenly because you are a burden, and because you are old, and because you cause such inconvenience to their schedules, you are put away somewhere where there is very little love and communication. God says, “Honor them. Even if you are selfish, honor them.” Why? That it may be well with you, the text says.

Now, I can imagine that there is someone here saying, “I just wish this sermon was over because I never had parents who loved me.” You may say that you were rejected, that you were abused. You perhaps were born illegitimately. Maybe you had in the back of your mind a lot of questions about your own identity and as to who you really are, and maybe even who your parents are. You say, “I didn’t have all of these social niceties that many people like you, Pastor Lutzer, had, being reared in a good home.” Does that mean that you have to be a social misfit for the rest of your life? Does that mean that there is no way for you to have emotional wholeness? Well, I am glad to be able to tell you today that the answer is no. There is hope for you. There is hope for anyone because first of all, the body of Jesus Christ has a responsibility to take up the slack where there has been failure. And sometimes we’re not very good at that but I trust that we are getting better at it, recognizing that we all have to take upon ourselves sometimes beyond our physical family those who may have felt left out of earthly families. But also the Bible holds special promises for those who are without an earthly family. That’s why God said repeatedly in the Old Testament, “I will be a father to the orphan.” No earthly father, no earthly mother? God says, “I’m going to move in and take over. I’m going to fill up the vacuum. I’m going to take up the slack.” And God also says, “I will be a father,” he says to the widows, because now they are without a mate, and God says, “I’m going to have to move and in a very special way take certain responsibilities now that that woman does not have a husband.” And that’s why David said, “Even though my father and my mother forsake me and they don’t understand me so they turn against me and they reject me, the Lord will take me up. I become a member,” he says, “of the new family, and God moves in and takes over.”

Yes, there are a lot of scars and lots of hurts. We could not even begin to bear them if we knew all the hurts that are in existence in the radius of a mile around this church. We couldn’t even enter into them if we knew the hurt and the alienation and the rejection of children, and the tearing of emotions as the result of the splitting of the families. We can’t even begin to bear the hurt, but there is a God who is able to heal and to bring wholeness where there is brokenness. As someone said, “God can make you whole if you give Him all the pieces,” and that’s what God wants us to do.

All of us, I think, remember Ethel Waters. We remember her primarily because she used to attend many of the Billy Graham meetings, and in those large crusades she would sing, “His eye is on the sparrow,” and she’d end by singing, “And I know He watches me.”

Now Ethel Waters was the product of a rape relationship. A 14-year old girl was raped and Ethel was conceived and born. If she had been living in our day and age it would have been a classic instance when an abortion should have been performed, but she was conceived 70 years ago at a time when you just had a baby if you were pregnant. But as a result of that rape relationship Ethel was born and rejected. I remember hearing her say, “Every child needs at least one lap to sit on.” Every child should have at least two laps to sit on, and then hopefully some others – some aunts and grandparents too. But Ethel said, “I’ve never had a lap to sit on.” That was her way of saying, “I was rejected and shunted about.” Who wants a child conceived in that kind of relationship?

But then as Ethel grew older and received Jesus Christ as her Savior she said, “You know, I don’t have time to even think about my past hurt. I am so busy praising the Lord.” Well, you know I can’t help but think that His eye was on that sparrow. And I say to those of you today whose hearts are heavy because you came from alienation and hurt and rejection when your father and your mother forsook you and when the circumstances of your birth were questionable, and you can’t figure it all out; God is there to pick you up, to bring you into the family, to include you, to call you by name and to say, “You are mine and I’m going to move in and make up for your loss, for what you should have had and didn’t.”

Do you belong to a Savior who is able to do that today? Some of you, perhaps with hurt in your life, do you know Christ personally? He wants to forgive you and to receive and to love you and welcome you forever into God’s family.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, today we want to thank You so much for Your wonder and Your grace to us as Your people. Father, we want to thank You today for the good homes that many of us have had, and we think particularly of those who can’t say that. We ask today that You might heal the broken-hearted, that You might set at liberty those who are bruised. We pray that You might move in those areas where there has been a vacuum, and hurt and rejection. We ask today for those who do not know Christ personally as Savior. We pray that they might believe on You. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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