Sermon — Exodus 20:12, Honor Your Father and Your Mother

14 Jun

Because of some technical challenges, the audio for two recent sermons was not able to be posted. Therefore I am posting it here and on the blog section of our church website (

This morning we enter a new phase in the Ten Commandments. Up to this point we have been looking at commandments that have to do with our relationship with God: no other gods, no idols, not misusing God’s name, remembering the Sabbath day. But today we begin to look at those commandments which have to do with people. You really can divide the ten commandments into two parts: the first part has to do with love for God and the second part has to do with love for people. And this is the way Jesus summed up God’s calling for each of our lives when He talked about the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. But I think the order is important. Loving God comes before loving people. The reason for this is that you can’t love people rightly and consistently until you love God. All your attempts to love people apart from loving God will largely be self-centered. This is what Paul was hinting at in 2 Corinthians 5. “Jesus died that we who live might no longer live ourselves but for Him who died and rose again.” Now we no longer view anyone from a human point of view. We don’t look to people for what we can get from them but for how we can bless them. But this only happens because we have been touched by the love of God and we love Jesus and because we love Him we want to love others. Apart from love for God we will just be self-centered. So this love for God is critical. It is so counter-cultural. Our culture puts love of self first, love of others second and love of God last. But God in His Word reverses that order. Love for God is most important, not only because He is more worthy of our love than any other but also because love for Him feeds and fuels our souls so that we will rightly love others and even have a right view of ourselves. The great reformer John Calvin said it like this . . . “The first foundation of righteousness is the worship of God. When this is overthrown, all the remaining parts of righteousness, like the pieces of a shattered and fallen building, are mangled and scattered. Apart from the fear of God men do not preserve equity and love among themselves. Therefore we call the worship of God the beginning and foundation of righteousness.”

So the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, as we read in Proverbs 1:7. And as we said in the second week of this series, when we looked at the first commandment, our chief problem in America is that we do not fear the Lord. We do not hold Him higher than our own opinions or our own pursuit of pleasure. Failure to worship God alone leads to idolatry and to a disregard for God’s majesty and holiness in our words and actions. And where a nation has a weak love for God, culture will break down and society will be weakened. But true love for God brings strength to nations and blessing to churches. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

One of the first places societies that forsake God falter is in the family. That is why the first of the commandments about human relationships is Exodus 20:12, Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

So when God starts talking about how we should love one another, He starts with the family and the responsibility of children to honor their father and their mother.
So I want to begin this morning by looking at the meaning of the text and then conclude by showing you how this text applies to us as a nation and as a church and as individuals.

The verse begins with the word “honor.” The Hebrew word for “honor” is kaved. It carries the idea of something that is weighty or heavy. To honor someone means to treat them with deep respect. The Bible speaks often of honoring God. We respect and reverence God because He is God and because He is our ultimate authority. On this Memorial Day weekend we honor those who gave their lives in service of our country because they sacrificed themselves for our nation. We honor our graduates for the time and effort and persistence they gave to their education.

But in this commandment we are not honoring military heroes or graduates, we are honoring our father and our mother. This is the commandment that is given to Israel and is repeated for us in the book of Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament. God gives this commandment as the first commandment concerning our love for one another. I believe this is because the family is the cornerstone of our strength as a nation. Where families are strong society and church flourish. Where there is family weakness, there is floundering. In my experience, at least 80% of the problems church members are going through relate directly to family strife. How many of the deep hang-ups you have in your life spring from your family background? Of all the people from the streets who come to the church asking for help, almost every one I have ever talked to has a strained or non-existent relationship with their parents. So God gives this commandment first among the relational commandments because it is so important to the good of His people.
Notice that we are to honor father and mother. Sometimes in our day the Bible gets a bad rap about favoring men over women. It is true that God makes distinctions about the roles of men and women in the family and in the church but the full equality of women is affirmed all throughout Scripture, and is reaffirmed here. The other cultures of Israel’s day would not have had a commandment like this. There would have been a command to honor fathers but not mothers too. So both parents are due honor. To honor our parents is a whole life endeavor. We should honor them as children by obeying them and by respecting them. We should honor them as adults by letting them be with their grandchildren and by caring for them in their old age. We see these truths clearly elsewhere in the Bible. We see the aspect of obedience in the first couple of verses of Ephesians 6, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” We also see it in Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. And we see it in Proverbs, Proverbs 6:20 My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 3:1-2 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, 2 for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. And also Proverbs 1:8,9 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.

We see the command to care for our aged parents in 1 Timothy 5:4 Honor widows who are truly widows. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. We also see it in Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 15, Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ Here Jesus is combining Exodus 20:12 and Leviticus 19:3. 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. Just like with the Sabbath command, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for twisting the true purpose of the command of God through their man-made rules. Jesus’ concern here was that the Pharisees were failing to honor father and mother by not caring for them in their old age.

And then there is one verse which brings both ideas of honor together. It is Proverbs 23:22 Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Here we have the two main aspects of honoring our parents in one verse.

So we honor father and mother by listening to and respecting and obeying them as a child and then by caring for them as they grow old. But this is not the whole story in verse twelve, because the fifth commandment is not just a commandment, it is also a promise. Here’s the promise . . . that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. There is a reward attached to this commandment that is not spelled out with the other commandments. This reward is tied specifically to Israel as a nation and the promise is that where honor exists in families, the blessing of God will be on His people. This is not a promise that every individual who honors father and mother will live long, it is simply an acknowledgement that right family relationships have the blessing of God. God will make Israel a strong nation when there is right honor for parents. Of course, this ties in with the parents teaching the children the things of God. Fathers and mothers are urged throughout the Bible to teach their children, to nurture them spiritually. The blessing of God is tied into both the parent’s nurture of children and children’s respect for their parents and concern for their well-being. This is why, in Ephesians 6, right after children are told to obey their parents, we read, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” So this promise is saying that life and strength will come to Israel when a culture of God-honoring families is widespread among the people of Israel.

So the bottom line is this: God commanded His people Israel to honor their fathers and mothers by listening to and obeying them in childhood and by caring for them in their later years. The result was that when such honoring was taking place, life and strength flooded into the culture and stability and blessing resulted. That is the explanation of the commandment. Now let’s move on to application.

When we come to applying this verse to our lives, we see that this is where it becomes tricky. Many of you have probably tuned me out the whole time today because your father and mother were such awful people that you can’t imagine honoring them. Others may be tuning me out from guilt. You feel like you were such a bad parent that you are not worthy of your children’s honor. You have so many regrets about how you raised your children. Others come from homes where mom or dad just left, they abandoned you. Still others come from hypocritical homes, where church attendance happened every Sunday but abuse happened behind closed doors. In all likelihood, some of you saw your father hit your mother. Some of you were probably hit by your parents in ways that went beyond a simple corrective spanking. And all the while they were a deacon or a Sunday School teacher. Maybe you had a mother who yelled and screamed and carried on and drove your father into the ground and crushed your spirit too. And you struggle with how to honor them when they treated you like this. And perhaps the most personal and painful of all, there are probably a few of you here who were sexually abused by your father or mother. Or maybe they turned a blind eye when an uncle or cousin or brother or sister abused you. And you wonder how you can possibly obey this commandment when they took advantage of you in such a way? There is so much pain in this room when it comes to families.
So is there any hope if you have faced one or more of the situations I have outlined above? Is there any hope for our nation or church if we have such a checkered past? Well, yes there is. Past is not destiny. We serve a Savior who died and rose again from the dead. There is always hope. But in this area, it isn’t easy and it isn’t simple. But I want to outline for you just a few steps you can take to follow this commandment and bring blessing to your life and the life of your family.

First of all, if you have failed as a child or a parent, repent. You can’t change what you have done, but you can ask forgiveness and commit to a new way. It may be that the relationships can never fully be what you might hope they would be on this earth. That doesn’t mean they can’t be good and it doesn’t mean you have to despair. In the end, your adult children would prefer a repentant father or mother making efforts at restoration over the continuation of stony silence. Keep going. Live in an attitude of repentance. Many of your parents are longing for you to tell them you are sorry about your disrespect toward them. Many of your children are longing for you to repent of your anger or your put-downs. Today, apologize and turn away from sinful behavior, whether you have dishonored your parents or been a poor parent.

Second, forgive. Nothing says you really understand the gospel better than when you can forgive someone who is undeserving. You didn’t deserve the mercy of God but He gave it. You offended someone infinitely greater than you by your whole life of rebellion and self-centeredness, how can you withhold true forgiveness from the fellow-sinner who offended you? This doesn’t mean the one who abused you will be able to have full entry into your life. I can forgive a thief without immediately inviting him over to my house. There may be some time necessary for trust to be re-established. Release them from living under your judgment and depend on the Lord to judge rightly and be freed from the burden of continued bitterness. Today, forgive that one who hurt you. You may be able to do it personally. Maybe you’ve told them of your forgiveness before but you know there are still pockets of your heart where unforgiveness lingers. Let go. Maybe this afternoon you need to go a graveside and have a few words. That’s OK. Move toward forgiveness as a way to follow this commandment and bring honor to God and strength to your soul. Let me say here though that while forgiveness is a wonderful thing, it does not mean that you let yourself continually be abused. If your husband is hitting you, you need to keep yourself safe. You need to separate until there can be true restoration. You should not be ashamed to call the police or to get help. You should not allow yourself or your children to be put in danger by someone who beats you. You don’t deserve this. It is not your fault. It is sinful. Let me be clear that I am not talking about any situation I know about. Since I have been here, I have only been told of one instance of a physical abuser in a family and that was decades ago. But my guess is that there are probably others. This sort of thing thrives in the darkness. Your abuser will guilt you into not telling anyone, maybe even threaten you. But you need to do what is right, for your sake and for the sake of your children. This certainly goes for sexual abuse as well. Don’t let it thrive by hiding. I am glad to talk with any of you who are going through such things. Just send me an email or call and we can get together. There are others in our community who can help you as well. So my word there is, yes, forgive, but also seek to deal with the problem in a constructive way.

Third, if you have been abandoned, your life is not ruined. If your dad left you, you are not hopeless. If your parents divorced, you are not hopeless. Consider Psalm 27:10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in. I remember one time talking with a brother in the Lord who was interviewing to be the pastor of a church and at the last minute it fell through. And he called me crying and he kept saying, “I’ve got nothing. I’ve got nothing.” And I gently reminded him, “You’ve got the Lord.” And I could sense an immediate change in Him. The Lord is your perfect Father. You will find in Him peace and strength. He will deal rightly with you. Your life is not over if your parents failed you.

Fourth, if you are a parent of young children now, strive to be a godly man or woman, seek to love God and pass on that love to your children. You are not perfect, but God can use you if you will trust in Him. What our church needs and what our country needs more than anything else is strong, godly families. Christians don’t have a lot of room to bemoan the changes to the family going on in our society when so often the godliness of our own families is so weak. If you are constantly berating your children, if you are not nurturing them in the things of God, if you are not loving God yourself, now is the time to chart a new course. You don’t have to follow a certain formula, you just have to have a passion for God and depend on the power of the Holy Spirit at work within you. God has given you everything you need to lead your family in godliness. You don’t need a seminary degree or great intellect. You just need a rock-solid commitment to honoring God.

Fifth, if you are a child or teenager here today, strive to honor your father and your mother, regardless of whether they are godly parents or not. Of course, if they call you to do something against God’s Word, you must obey God rather than men but otherwise, follow their instruction. Live before them with respect. You may be the most mature Christian in your household. Your main place of witnessing may be your own home. Be a light. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. If you have good, godly parents, don’t give them a hard time. They will probably be a little more restrictive than some of your friend’s parents. If they are godly parents they are going to have some standards designed to protect you. It may be not letting you stay out til all hours of the night. It may be certain standards about how whether you will have dating or courtship and what ages these things might begin. They may have standards about what you can do for entertainment. They may have chores for you to help you develop self-discipline and to learn to serve. What I am asking you to do is to submit to these things with a heart of love, even if you can’t understand them. And again, dads, let me remind you that we are told not to be harsh with our children, so we don’t want to lay burdens on them we aren’t willing to bear. So what I’m trying to say to you children and teenagers today is this: most of you have parents who love you. If they are not godly, pray for God to change their heart. And strive to honor them. This will bring blessing to your life. In my experience, the people who are struggling most in life are often the people who have strained relationships with their parents. Not always, but often. Steer clear of that trap by honoring your father and your mother.

In the end, we need Jesus. The Israelites couldn’t keep this command. In fact, one of the reasons they were exiled was because of breakdown in the family. Among their many sins we read this in Ezekiel 27 verse 7, Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. And so when we get to verse 15 we see this, “I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you.” And in the end of the Old Testament, in the book of Malachi God says that when Israel is restored the hearts of children will be turned back to their parents again. Israel didn’t live by this commandment. And it is obvious with all the strife and family breakdown in our society that we can’t live by this commandment. In fact, Paul says that this cultural breakdown we are seeing is a sign that we could be living in the last days. Look at 2 Timothy 3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. Sounds just like our world today and we have no hope of standing against it without Jesus. The only hope we have of not being conformed to the world but being transformed is Jesus. He is the only one who can make us that shining city on a hill.

We don’t need to go back to the 1950’s to change our culture. The days of Ward and June Cleaver are over and they had their bad aspects too. We don’t need to go back to Little House on the Prairie to be the families God wants us to be. In this age as in all other ages the answer is not found in our ability or in our circumstances or in our wealth. The answer is found not in the 20th century or the 19th century, it is found in the first century, at the cross, where Jesus, the perfect Son of God, takes the penalty of your sin. Your life exchanged with His. Your sin forgiven, the Holy Spirit given, heaven assured, earth renewed, a transformed life, a destiny tied not into what you have always been but into what He is. This is the life He has provided. This amazing love that loves the unlovable can so touch you and empower you to repent, to forgive, to hope in God and to follow His Word whether you are a parent or a child.
Maybe the missing key to your family has been Jesus. You come to church, you do the traditional thing, but He is not at the center. He is not the power in your marriage. Obeying Him is less important than doing your own thing. You don’t have to give up your personality or interests to follow Jesus but you do have to give up calling the shots. Will you do that today?

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