Q: What is the fifth commandment?
A: The fifth commandment is: Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
As we cross the halfway point of the Ten Commandments, the vector of these moral guidelines change from vertical to horizontal; we are considering less explicitly a proper relationship to God and now more directly proper relationships to other people.
It’s important to understand that these commandments are not limited to their literal surface meaning. Instead, as we’ve seen, they are essential in nature; we are invited to reflect on the core concerns at the base of what seem like simple directives and note that they encapsulate a whole host of moral and ethical issues that ultimately humble us to the fundamental failings of our sinful nature.
Therefore, this exhortation to honor parents really reflects much more than that; it is an indictment on how we treat other people, whether we are related to them or not.
One of our fundamental duties as parents is to help socialize our kids, that is, guide how they are to get along with others. They, in turn, are to recognize and cooperate with that purpose. Already it is impossible, at this point, to do either perfectly. We need only look to Christ at Gethsemane to understand how difficult it can be to obey even someone you may be in absolute harmony with — and, conversely, to command that kind of obedience.
We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to obey anyways, and the rest of Scripture gives us plenty of guidance as to God’s intentions for community, fellowship, and citizenship.
We see from the Trinity, that separate and defined roles, responsibilities, and hierarchies are honored while maintaining a sense of togetherness and wholeness. There is a unity not only in purpose but in identity.
We see from the church that what determines that identity is not kinship, prior history, commonality in background, or tribal affiliation but the grace and election of God. We are told to uphold and exploit our differences while strengthening our alliance through time, tradition, and sacrifice.
We see throughout the Old Testament that leadership is really allowing oneself be an instrument of divine will with humility, kindness, and moral rectitude in the face of circumstantial pressures, temptations, and expectations. And fealty not only reveres such an office but improves it prophetically.
We see throughout the New Testament that we are to compassionately and persistently engage the surrounding world even while keeping our alienation from it. We are to constantly challenge the scope and definition of family, community, and kingdom in the light of the cross and resurrection.
We see in the Revelations that fellowship is ecstatically perfected and performed in eternal worship.
May our children see these lessons enacted and articulated within our families. Let their honor be really not of ourselves, but of our Father in Heaven, hallowed as He deserves.