Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/6/99
In 18th-cent. America lived a secular and profane man named Max Jukes. Since then he has had 1,026 descendants. 300 of them spent time in prison; 190 were prostitutes; 680 were alcoholics. They have cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, and made no contribution to society whatever. One of his contemporaries was named Jonathan Edwards. He has had 929 descendants, of whom 130 were pastors, 86 university professors, 13 university presidents; 75 published books; 5 served in the U.S. congress and 2 in the senate; and 1 served as vice president of the U.S. They have never cost the state one cent, but have contributed immeasurably to every are of public well-being. While it does not always work out so dramatically, their stories certainly illustrate the importance of the influence of godly--or ungodly--parents. That is why the Apostle continues his discussion of the role the familly plays in the church fulfilling its mission by talking about the honor children owe their parents (v. 1-3) and the way the parents can be worthy of such honor (v. 4). In doing so, he quotes one of the 10 Commandments and makes some particular applications of it.
The first thing to notice is the importance of the Commandment which forms the spine of this passage. In the Decalogue, it forms the bridge between the First Table of the Law, which deals with our relationship with God, and the Second Table, which deals with our relationship to our fellow man. That is because the family is the first place where the rubber of submission to God meets the road of human relationships. God's authority is delegated in limited ways to the parents in the home, the elders in the church, the teacher in the school, and the government in the state; but the family is the place where the pattern of love, respect, and submission is first set. Your parents are a type of God in many ways: they brought you into existence without your consent or your help; they nurtured you when you were helpless; and they gave you your first concepts of right and wrong. Therefore your relationship to them is crucial: if you do not learn to honor God and submit to his authority in them, the concept is not going to dawn on you out of the blue later without either a miracle or much grief or both.
If the relationship is that crucial, then parents need to be the kind of people to whom their children can naturally give honor and obedience. You cannot be a good parent without being a godly parent: immersed in Scripture, faithful to the church, setting an example. If you are these things, then you may receive honor from your children and pass it on to God.
One always hears about the "children of Israel," which once led a Sunday School student to ask, "Didn't the adults ever do anything?" Well, they got this commandment to honor parents commanded to them. All are to honor their parents. Paul makes a specific application of that principle to children: obedience is the form honor takes for them. Most of you are in that awkward age when you are between childhood and adulthood, and wonder when the transition is made from obedience to more adult forms of honor. Biblically, the answer is in Gen. 2:24. When you leave your parents and cleave to your spouse, you set up a new family unit with a new head; then the authority is transferred along with the responsibility. Age has nothing to do with it. If you are 50 and still living in your parents' home, it is their home and they have the right to set the rules there.
Children must obey, but all must honor. When you move out, that honor simply takes a new form. It certainly includes respect, reverence, and love. Whether they deserve respect has nothing to do with it. You honor them for Christ's sake. It may involve supporting them when they are old, as they supported you when you were young.
Next week we will look more closely at the details of how this works out at various stages of life. In the meantime, let us remember that the point of all this is to enable the Church to fulfill its mission of being a Temple to the glory of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who ever perfectly honored his Father, and He can do it in us still today.
Here endeth the lesson.