"History," Martin Luther said, "is like a drunk man on a horse. No sooner does he fall off on the left side does he mount again and fall off on the right." That is a powerful image of the history of ideas. The prevailing opinion one year is out of vogue the next. That is perhaps no more true than when it comes to theories as to how to raise children. Before WWII it was assumed that the authoritarian approach was best, that there was nothing that a little belt leather couldnt cure. Following the war Dr. Spock became the authority and parents were encouraged to nurture, befriend their kids, guard their self esteem. Dont spank, but talk to your kids, reason with them. The drunk, having fallen off the one side, promptly falls off the other, so that today, parents have thrown up their hands at the whole enterprise. History is replete with debates of nature vs. nurture, of heredity vs. home. So for a period the fad of birth order reigns supreme until displaced by another. Another authority says that every child is like a computer, arriving on this earth already programmed, so that everything from adultery to xenophobia is tied up in our genetic make-up. But before you fall off one side of the horse or another, remember, as a child, youve inherited both from your parents.
The answer lies in understanding our proper place in light of Gods Word. It is in Scripture where we find the sobering commands as to how our family is to be structured and how our relationships should be guided.
Since last September we have worked our way through Pauls letter. Having laid the groundwork as to what God has done to secure our salvation, joining us together with Christ as our head, we have come to the second half of this letter where the truth of our position in Christ is applied in how we are to relate to one another. If Christ is our head, then how I respond to you is very important. Several weeks ago we read how we are commanded to be careful how we walk. Not like the drunk, falling into one ditch after another. Rather, we are to evidence the filling of the Spirit by our mutual submission to one another. That submission will be seen in how we view our worship as well as how we view each other. In 5:22 Paul gets quite specific about this issue of submission as he deals with our everyday relationships. If youve followed along each week, you will have noticed that we are skipping over the end of chapter five where Paul gives the commands for husbands and wives. We are setting this aside because since this morning we have a number of our young people making their profession of faith.
To Whom is the Command Given: Children
How many of you have parents? Raise your hands. It should be most of you. If there ever was a sermon that applies to everyone, it is this one. A sermon on marriage applies only to those married, if on parenting it helps to have kids. But this one command affects all of us, whether we are six or 66, whether we see our mom and dad every day, or they passed on years ago. But when Paul deals with children, that is everyone in this room.
But, although it applies to all, young and old, we must not overlook the fact that it applies to children and that children of believers are a part of Gods people.
Remember the audience to whom Paul is writing; it is the Church. And within the Church are children. Scripture does not know of a strange third category of people: believers, unbelievers and children. They are the recipients of Gods commands because they are also recipients of Gods promise. The command always follows the statement of what God has done. Gratitude in obedience comes only in light of grace.
What is Expected in our Actions: Obedience
This is perhaps the first verse every parent teaches his child, because the assumption is that if they know the Law of God, theyll keep the Law of God, at least that is our wish. But for many parents, obedience is synonymous with staying out of trouble, or at least not doing anything that will make my life as your father any more miserable. But what does "obey" mean?
The word comes from the combination of hupo - under and akouoo - hear. Literally it means to come under the hearing of another. It means listening and learning, doing what one is told. The word is used of creation which was obedient to the commands of Christ as well as the soldiers carrying out orders by their superior. The best example of this call to compliance is found in the book of Proverbs. This collection of sayings is primarily geared to parental instructions as to how to live wisely. (Proverbs 1:8;2:1; 3:1; 4:10)
Unfortunately, far too often we know that this kind of listening does not take place. The reasons can be varied. For some it is because the parents are too self-centered to be bothered with calling their child to obedience. It takes time and effort as well as a variety of means to train and instruct. Well examine this in the coming weeks. For others the lack of a biblical understanding of authority is the key.
A few years back an article appeared in the Journal of Education in which a disgruntled school teacher handed in her resignation with the following comment. "In our public schools today the teachers are afraid of the principals, the principals are afraid of the superintendents, the superintendents are afraid of the board members, the board members are afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the children and the children are afraid of nobody." One foreigner to our country said the thing that impressed him most about America was the way parents obeyed their children.
There are wrong reasons for obedience.
Heredity: In many cultures this is the reason for obedience. There is an awe for flesh and blood. It is pure biology. In other cultures the reasoning may not be based on biology, but on the belief that if you dont properly venerate your ancestors, theyll come to haunt you, and I dont mean spend a weeks vacation in your basement. Bill Cosby used to say: "I brought you into this world and I can take you out!" But that is not our basis for obeying parents.
Wisdom and Experience: "Ive been around longer!" There is indeed some truth here. It was Mark Twain who noted "When I was 14 my father didn't know anything. By the time I turned 21 I was amazed at how much the old man learned in 7 years." But that reasoning is pragmatic. Lets face it there are plenty of kids who before they reach adulthood have far surpassed their mothers or fathers in wisdom. Weve known those kids whose parents were drunks or neglectful, so the child matured in a hurry. Obedience doesnt come on the basis of chronological age or an increased number of life experiences.
Control of the finances: There is the quintessential parental quote: "As long as you eat my food and live under my roof, youll obey!" Figures were recently released as to how much we spend on our kids to raise them. Middle income families spend between $8,400 to $9,500 for each child, each year of their life until their 18. Add college on top of that and we spend about a quarter million on each kid. But we dont buy their obedience.
What is the reason for children to obey their parents? Obey your parents ... in the Lord
The basis for obedience to parents is an obedience to God. The two are connected. The home is the incubator for how we view God, our place in the universe. It is there we learn how to respond to authority and unconditional love. It is there we are taught, sometimes well and others times poorly, what a father is, so that when we respond to God as our Father, we have an image what that means.
It is common to divide the decalogue into two tablets with the first four being our duty toward God and the next six our duty before others. The first command of each relates to the command to honor God alone and our parents. The Jews placed honoring mother and father not under the horizontal obligations, but how we relate to God, for the first and clearest example of Gods character is our parents. The honor we owe to God is first learned at home. This is why under Jewish Law rebellion against parents was considered a capital offence. To curse ones parents demanded stoning.
Are there any parameters or limitations here? Are we always to obey parents given our age?
Everyone wants to get out of this command by thinking of the exceptions. But exceptions only prove the rule, not destroy it. Certainly there are limitations
The limit of obedience that which contradicts Gods other commands
The limit of time that which contradicts other obligations. In the previous section Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24 that in marriage a man leaves his father and mother. Here the issue of obedience is changed. The command to obedience assumes a minority status.
What is Expected in our Attitudes: Honor
Paul moves from the one aspect of the fifth commandment to the commandment itself. Having laid out the external demonstration, he shifts toward the internal motivation. The command from which he called young, covenant children to follow is based on a command which knows no boundary of age or circumstance. For each one of us to know how to walk wisely in our age we must know what it means to honor.
The word used here for honor is "timao" which literally means to place value on something, to attribute status. That strikes at the core of what honor means. To honor is to esteem and value. How much are your parents worth? That is how much you honor them.
Paul here is quoting the Old Testament. In Exodus 20:12, the word translated honor is "kabod," which can be translated "glory" but literally means to make something heavy.
How do you make your parents "heavy"? Well, it's not by feeding them a double portion of Kopps Custard. Honor here is similar to our saying that "the person carries a lot of weight, dont take them lightly."
Honor forms the basis of obedience, but goes far beyond a childs conformity to rules.
Honor is the unsentimental moral nucleus for your relationship with your parents. While all else changes as you grow older, as you mature issues of obedience will be transformed, authority will mutate, but honor continues. The one thing is always true you must honor them.
Honor is not about the gaggy platitudes of a sentimental Mothers Day card, even though she may love those things. That is not honor. Honor is a decision to treat them with dignity, courtesy. This is not about obeying, trust, intimacy or even love.
Obedience can be demanded, but honor can never be forced.
Far too often we confuse external conformity to demands to a willing heart. We settle for obedience, but what God demands is honor. A sullen teenager who begrudgingly does what he or she is told may be obedient, but not honoring.
How should we honor our parents? There is the obvious.
Speak to them with respect.
There come many points in our life when we realize that our parents have feet of clay. Their status as gods crumbles. Often in our early teen years we recognize this and so we stretch our wings a bit and think adulthood implies we can take them on. It doesnt. That they are our parents means we have to treat them not on the basis which they deserve, but because of their office.
Speak of them with respect.
This one is harder still. We can feign respect in their presence, giving deference to them while they see us, but when theyre out of sight, the dishonor flies. If you are a parent, what do your kids hear you say about your parents?
Seek their counsel.
While they do not command our honor due to their wisdom, the fact that they are our parents means we should acknowledge their experience. Again, the Proverbs of Solomon is replete with examples of a father and mother instructing their son, calling them to listen.
Seek to provide for them.
According to a Gallup poll, 85% of Americans think it is the responsibility of adult children to care for their elderly parents. The same percentage said they would consider asking their parents who they were unable to live alone to move in with them. However 70% of the elderly say they have never received financial help from their children.
We too easily take government assistance to the elderly for granted, but such programs are relatively new in American history. As recently as 1937, 45% of the elderly depended on family or friends for financial support. In 1944, 66% of Americans considered it the duty of children to support aging parents, and at that time between 30% and 40% of aged Americans were supported by their adult children. Yet by 1976, only 1% of senior citizens were receiving any regular income from family members. Governmental authority at various levels has often been given responsibility for this commandment; adult children in particular will need to examine carefully how well they or their governmental surrogates are handling the above-noted characteristics of honor.
Reports have been growing concerning the abuse of the elderly in our society by con artists, inefficient government bureaucracies, pharmaceutical companies, and the children themselves. Newsweek magazine reported a disturbing trend of turning hospitals into a dumping ground for Granny. Abandonment of the elderly in emergency rooms appears to be more usual than we would imagine: 38% of hospitals responding to a survey by the Senate Aging Committee reported "as many as eight elderly patients dumped on their emergency wards every week.
But 1 Timothy 5:3-8 makes it clear that our honor extends beyond getting our drivers license or our wedding license.
It might seem odd to say that we honor our parents by forgiving them, but some of you as adults have wrestled with this command when your mother or father have let you down or even been downright evil. Your parents may have died years ago, but their voices still ring in your head, their harsh belittling comments cut you to the quick. And you wrestle with the question: "How can I honor them when they were so mean?"
The confusion comes because you are still operating from the perspective as a young child. Your parents are still your image of God. While youve grown up, you expect them to fulfill your need for God and in so doing have created an idol, a false image of what a parent is meant to be. Their sinfulness, their fallenness leaves you angry. What you need to do is to move beyond your parents and see your heavenly Father as the only true Father there ever has been.
How is This Done?
If honor is a heart issue we need a change of heart.
This change of heart cant be created by us, but has to be done to us. The final verse in the Old Testament contains the wonderful promise by God that Gods prophet Elijah will come and turn the hearts of the father to their children and the heart of the children to the fathers. That promise was fulfilled by Christ in a very wonderful way.
In the familiar story of the prodigal son we see how God the Father handles disobedient sons. (Luke 15:11-32)
Remember what the son does; he demands his share of the inheritance. When does a son normally get an inheritance? At death. So when this son requires his portion, it is as though he wishes his father dead. With total disregard for his father, he takes off, dishonoring the family name and squanders everything the father gave him. But what happens next, when the kid comes to his senses, when he at last realizes how he has dishonored his father?
While the son returns hoping to be nothing more than a slave so that at least he could get nourishment, his father is waiting, looking for him. It is the father who embraces his boy, welcomes him back into his home. In the story there is the next scene with the elder brother who resents the welcome home of this rebellious brother.
His anger is understandable when you think about it. Because what does this father do? In verse 22 he calls for the best robe to be brought, a ring put on his finger and sandals on his feet. On top of that the fattened calf is slaughtered. Those items dont come cheap. Those are the potential inheritance of the elder brother.
But while the story makes the point of Gods gracious forgiveness of those who have rebelled and return, we can see in this story that we have an elder brother unlike the one in the story. The Son of our heavenly Father is our elder brother. The robe with which we are clothed is His, the ring and sandals, too. But rather than becoming angry at our acceptance, Scripture reminds us that the love the father lavished on his lost son is love provided for by the elder brother. If we know Christ and squander our inheritance by our disobedience we have an elder brother who will cover us with His righteousness. He will even be the lamb slaughtered so there can be a feast.