Deuteronomy 5: Honoring Parents, Honoring God
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Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. - Deuteronomy 5:16
According to God’s law, children’s relationship with their parents was inextricably linked to God’s kingdom promises, and even to their own personal welfare. Honouring one’s parents was meant to be a way to sustain the good life of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Disobedience and dishonour was an evil that would lead to the fall of the nation (Deuteronomy 28:15ff).
My permissive Western society has gone through periods where rebelliousness in children is not just tolerated, it is celebrated. From Rebel without a Cause to the Little Mermaid, loyalty to one’s parents is seen as a mantle to be shrugged off and forgotten. What would our parents know, anyway? That’s the message so often shared with us in the media we consume.
But while it’s easy to blame our Western society, that’s not the whole picture. Sure, many of us were brought up to believe that individuality, consumerism, and a quest for experience were far more virtuous pursuits than obedience to our parents. But let’s face it: our rebellious streak long predated our understanding of the wider world around us. It came from a fundamental impulse in our psyche that says to the rest of the world (God included): ‘You can’t tell me what to do.’ That fundamental impulse doomed the first humans in Genesis 3, and in every generation that followed them.
God’s commandments, on the other hand, set up what appears to be a radical counter-narrative. The first and greatest need of God’s people is to love the Heavenly Father who made them (Deuteronomy 5:6-7). All else flows from that. To parents is given the solemn responsibility to educate and love and bring children up to know and trust their Creator (Deuteronomy 6). Therefore they are to be honoured in that role.
In the rest of the Old Testament, we saw how well that went. God’s people couldn’t love God as they should have. They kept on turning away. Parents committed horrendous acts against their children (for example, 2 Chronicles 28:3) and the nation was condemned to exile. Humanity’s deep-seated stubbornness needed a better solution than rules and regulations. They needed the transformation and salvation that only Jesus could bring.
But even this side of Jesus, the relationship between parents and children is still important. Paul mentions it in Ephesians, focusing on the promise (Ephesians 6:1-3), but he also adds an extra dimension: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
This doesn’t come easy. Many parents have experienced a time when a request to go to bed has been met with tears, or a carefully prepared meal has been rejected by one of their children. Parents can struggle with their own tempers, weariness and sinful attitudes. Far too often peaceful family life is torn by conflict, impatience and strife. Love is costly. Jesus gave us the ultimate example of costly love in the way he honoured his Father (John 8:49).
Honouring the older generation is a way we express our desire to honour God. It is sometimes a painful reminder that we aren’t in fact the final word on everything. It requires humility. It requires an admission that our career paths, lifestyles, wants and needs are secondary to a greater plan. Yes, our parents are sinful, and they won’t always get things right. But God’s plan in the Law was of a tightly woven community of people, teaching each other about his laws, loving one another sacrificially and serving one another for the sake of God’s glory to the nations. Parents raise and sacrifice their own wants and needs for the sake of their children, and in return they should be honoured by the next generation.
In recent years, I have learned first-hand the value of honouring my parents as they age and require more personal care and attention. It isn’t a burden but a privilege. As someone who has grown up immersed in the Western individualism, it’s been an eye-opening experience too. You see, it turns out God knows what he’s talking about, after all.
The Lift Up Your Hearts devotional series for the month of March 2021 are provided by Canon Craig Roberts, CEO, and his colleagues from Anglican Youthworks in Australia. Today’s devotion was written by Kris Young, Lecturer and Pastoral Worker, Youthworks Year 13 Gap Year. You can find more of Youthworks excellent resources here.
Pray with us today's prayer request:
BHP School, Diocese of Barishal, Bangladesh. The Diocese established the BHP primary school in a very poor area with low literacy levels. In particular, girls are disadvantaged by a lack of education, working as children in unsafe situations and being vulnerable to child marriage. Bishop Shourabh and his wife Suchitra are looking to improve the facilities. Please pray for: 1. the continued Christian witness; 2. for gospel partners to help the school develop the site.
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