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Kith, Kin and Kindness

Bent, Broken, But Unbowed (Parents)
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The Ten Commandments for Today


The first four commandments that we have looked at from the Old Testament have been summarized in the first of the great commandments that Jesus gave us in the New Testament: “Love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.” As we follow the One and Only God, put nothing in His place, honour His Name and the day He has set aside for rest and worship, we demonstrate our love of Him.

The last six of the Old Testament core commandments correspond to the second of the great commandments of our Lord: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan we discover that our neighbor is not necessarily someone we know. It extends to strangers and to those racially and culturally different from us. And it is true that the more we learn to love God the more it is possible for us to love our neighbor—whoever he might be. To love our neighbour also means to forgive him. As 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) tells us: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

In a world as deeply divided along racial, political, cultural and religious lines as ours is today, these are commands which ought to have a deep significance for us as believers. But often our issues with loving our neighbours begins a lot closer to home than the people who live next door, across the street, or anywhere else on the planet.

The fifth commandment reads: “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, NIV)

Notice first of all that this is the only one of the ten core commands that comes with a promise: a promise of long life and blessing. Because it is the only one that comes with a specific promise of blessing we can conclude,

a. that it is important

b. that the promise itself is part of the command

It is sometimes hard for some of us to honour our parents, because no one has the capacity to hurt us more than our parents can. The reverse is also true—no one has more capacity to hurt parents than their children do. But our relationship with our parents is the first of all of our relationships and the most crucial to the formative years of our lives.

There are plenty of examples we could found that centre around family dynamics, and some of these examples can be found in Scripture. God has allowed horror stories of dysfunctional families in His Word so that we understand that He knows exactly what He is asking of us when He asks us to honour our parents. He also knows that there are some people, including some parents, who are impossible to love unless we have a love beyond our own. The need for a love greater than the inclination toward affection that we are born with is why the first four commandments, and their focus on God, are so important. Our relationships with others are impossible without first getting right our relationship with God. The first step to a good relationship with an earthly parent is a good one with our heavenly Father.


In His humanity, Jesus sets the example for us. Jesus was a human son with a human set of parents. We see very little of Him in that role because we know next to nothing about his years as a child, as a teenager, or as a young adult. He appears briefly as a twelve-year-old and then disappears until He is thirty. But the episodes described for us in Scripture do have lessons for us to learn.

Luke 2:41-52

When Jesus was on the verge of manhood, which was for Jewish boys the age of 13 when they were expected to take up their religious duties and responsibilities, his parents took him to Jerusalem for the Passover. He was only 12, which might have been one of the reasons that the teachers were so “amazed at his understanding and his answers” (vs. 47, NIV) as He quizzed them in the Temple. When the Passover celebrations came to an end, Mary and Joseph headed home along with the masses of other pilgrims. They assumed that their son was somewhere in the crowd. When they discovered that He wasn’t, his parents came back to find him and Mary rebuked Him. Listen to the conversation.

“‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (vss. 48, 49, NIV).

Now, some people see disobedience and insolence in the Lord’s response. We know that Jesus never sinned, so we can’t suggest that He sinned in His attitude or in the words He used to respond to His mother. So what is happening here? Because we can’t hear His tone of voice, we sometimes “hear” the insolence, the rebellion, the backtalk that we experience from our own children when we admonish them for some wrongdoing.

But Jesus is simply stating what Mary and Joseph have forgotten: Jesus’ first loyalty is to His heavenly Father. That His parents did not seek Him out, observe what He was doing, respect it because of Who they knew He was, and stay with Him until He was finished before returning home, is perhaps more a case of absent-minded parents than it is of a rebellious son.

John 2:1-12

In this passage, Mary takes her son and his friends to a wedding to which she has been invited. She came to the Lord and strongly “suggests” by inference at least, that He solve a problem that the host has—he has run out of wine! Jesus answers: “‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come’” (vs. 4, NIV). Is Jesus disrespecting his mother here? Once again, we must understand that there was no sin in Jesus. He is simply reminding her that His mission is much greater than party tricks. Perhaps the lesson here is that we can be on “different pages” than our parents and not sin, and that we can honour them with our compliance to their requests even when it is not necessarily part of our plan for the day.

Mark 3:20, 21, 31-35

Jesus was fully engaged in ministry—so fully there was no time to eat because of the demands on His time. His mother though He was overdoing it, in fact, “When the family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (vs. 21, NIV). Jesus’ reaction may seem to some like a rejection of His family, and of His mother in particular. “A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” Here is another lesson: We don’t always have to do what our parents ask. If what they ask violates a directive from God then, as Jesus demonstrated, our first loyalty is to God.

John 19:25-27

This incident takes place just before Jesus died. His mother and one of the disciples are standing at the foot of the cross. In spite of his suffering, the Lord has something to say to these two who have the closest human relationship to Him—and to those of us who follow Him.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

As the eldest son, Jesus assumed responsibility for the welfare of his widowed mother—even from the cross.


Rodney Dangerfield was famous for saying this phrase during his comedy routines: “I don’t get no respect!” And “respect” is what honour is all about, acknowledging a person’s right to respect.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is quoted as saying: “This commandment is not qualified. It does not mean:

· Honor only if the person is personally perceived as deserving

· Honor only if the person always reciprocates

· Honor only if it is pleasing to you to do so

· Honor only if you get compliments for doing so

· Honor only if it “feels right”

· Honor only if other people also do so.

When we talk about honouring parents, many people immediately protest that their parents don’t deserve any respect from them. Many children have not had good relationships with their parents. Some come from an abusive family background. Some did not know, for one reason or another, one or more of their parents. Some were taken from their biology parents early in life and were brought up by others. All of these factors, plus others, have contributed to a society where children don’t care about their parents, let alone respect them or who, because of their upbringing, do not know what being a family really means.

One of the saddest commentaries on how far we have come from this biblical admonition is what happened in France in 2004. We are not talking about the middle ages or about some uneducated society; we are talking France only a few years ago. You might remember that terrible heat wave that all of Europe experienced. Fifteen thousand elderly people died in France alone during that time from heat-related causes. Apparently the majority of these had children, family, who ignored them and basically abandoned them. Their bodies were left in their homes while their children and grandchildren went away on vacation. As a result the French government had to pass a law, Article 207 of their civil code, which states that adult children are legally responsible for their elderly parents. Infractions are punishable by fine and possible imprisonment.

Why does it take a law to make children honour their parents by caring for their basic needs?

Again, this is related to the first four commandments, which are captured in Jesus’ “Love the Lord your God…” When we don’t have respect for God, we are not going to respect others. The second of the two great New Testament commandments grows out the first. The last six of the Old Testament commandments grow out of the first four.

Paul complained that when people refused to acknowledge, to respect God, to honour God, they had no respect for anything else. He puts it very clearly in Romans 1:28ff: “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless….”

The instruction to honour mother and father is repeated in Ephesians 6:1-3 (NIV): “Children, obey your parents in the Lord*, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’

· “in the Lord” could be either (a) because the Lord commands it of those who follow Him or, (b) to the extent that their instructions etc. are in agreement with the teachings of the Lord. Or both.

Paul repeats this instruction in Colossians 3:20. This kind of obedience is often the subject of the proverbs of the Old Testament as we find in 19:26 and 28:24. More than 30 times the subject is mentioned in the Proverbs.

He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother is a son who causes shame and brings reproach.

Whoever robs his father or his mother, and says, ‘It is no transgression,’ the same is companion to a destroyer.”


The Old Testament describes just how seriously God took disrespect toward parents. Leviticus 20:9 says: “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.” Cursing your mother and father is not only what we think of as cursing. The concordance defines it as slighting, to consider them insignificant, to lightly esteem, to treat with contempt or dishonor, to despise.

This type of reaction is often born out of abuse, either perceived or, unhappily, all too real. But whatever might cause a child to turn on a parent, the instruction is clear. Respect is due even when respect hasn’t been earned.

The Scriptures don’t address familial abuse directly. The Bible deals specifically with the subject of being a good parent, not with bad parenting, though we have quite a few examples of dysfunctional families in the Scriptures. Deuteronomy 6, which we referred to at the beginning of our study, tells us that parents are responsible for the spiritual upbringing of their children. When we read further in Ephesians 6 we find this: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (6:4). I think it’s safe to say from the inference here that not giving spiritual leadership in the family is a sure way to irritate your kids—even though that sounds odd to say. The King James Version says: “…provoke not your children to wrath…” Is there some sense here that there is an internal need from childhood for boundaries, for understanding things like right and wrong, for freedom from the chaos that not having guidelines to follow brings to our lives, the insecurity of changing rules consyantly, depending on how society determines what those rules should look like? It there a frustration with not having any absolutes in life, things you can trust to always remain the same no matter what? In a society where each individual determines for him or herself what their absolutes are going to be, chaos reigns. And chaos has terrible consequences physically, mentally, emotionally, and certainly spiritually whether it be in society in general or within the family unit.

In Genesis 9:18-28 we have a sad account of an event that took place in Noah’s life. Noah was a righteous man, but he wasn’t a perfect man. After he and his family got settled again once the floodwater had receded, Noah planted a vineyard. He got so excited about his first harvest of grapes and his first barrel of wine that he drank too much and got intoxicated. Somehow he managed to make it to his bed and get his clothes off. Noah’s second son, perhaps with all the good intentions in the world, went in to his father’s tent and found him naked, lying on his bed. Ham went out and told his brothers about their father’s condition. The brothers backed into the tent with a robe of some kind in their hands, and covered Noah without looking at him in his naked state. When Noah woke up and discovered what had happened, he was so embarrassed and infuriated that he actually put a curse on his son. That Noah should not have done what he did in getting drunk so that he was not aware of what he had done goes without saying. But the point here is that Ham disrespected his father by going into the tent, seeing his father naked and then going out to tell his brothers about it. What we don’t know is his attitude in all of this but considering the consequences it is probably safe to assume that he didn’t do it appropriately.


We noted earlier that this fifth commandment comes with a promise, one that is repeated in Ephesians 6:1-3: “…so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” The thought occurs to me that Paul isn’t talking about material blessings here when he says, “…so it may go well with you. I don’t know if anyone has done any research on the effect that not honouring your parents has, but there has been plenty of research done on the physical, mental, emotional effects of anger, bitterness, lack of forgiveness, unresolved conflict, sense of abandonment, etc. on children. Well-being is connected to the respect we show to others—in this case, parents.

When we learn to forgive and God begins the process of healing, we can enjoy the fruits of the promise that God has made. The effects of the anger, bitterness, unresolved conflict, lack of forgiveness etc. are removed.

As believers we have the Spirit of God living in us and we are commanded to look after the temple (1 Cor. 6:19) where He now dwells. Often we equate that with what we eat or drink but it also applies to filling our lives with the anger, bitterness etc. that lead to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual illnesses that destroy the temple He has chosen to make his dwelling place.

To love our neighbor as we love ourselves means that we do no harm to our neighbor, or to ourselves. The anger, bitterness, lack of forgiveness, the disrespect we show towards our parents is not only unloving towards them, but its effects on us are reflected in our bodies and make us unloving toward the temples where the Holy Spirit dwells, therefore unloving toward God!

Our human natures, affected by sin, demand justice when we are hurt. We feel that we get our revenge, that somehow those who have hurt us must pay for that hurt. Because the parent/child relationship is the first, and most critical relationship we will ever have, how we handle that dynamic sets the stage for how we will handle other relationships. If we would seek revenge because of what our parents have done, what would prevent us from seeking revenge when others with whom we have a more distant relationship, or no relationship at all, harm us?

It’s interesting how many verses in Scripture talk about revenge. Generally, every one of them reminds us to whom justice belongs. For example, read Psalm 94 which begins with: “The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant…They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice’…Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? …He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

But it is the New Testament that instructs us specifically about our attitude toward those who may have hurt us, including our parents.

Romans 12:17-21 is key here: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay.’ Says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Interestingly, there are two Old Testament quotes in these verses. The first: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay” comes from Deuteronomy 32:35 and the second, “If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of his head” comes from Proverbs 25:21, 22.

We tend to think of the Old Testament as all blood and gore, battle and beating, forgetting that it’s easy to not see the big picture in the midst of all the smaller events in history, the purpose behind all these individual events, the lessons that God is teaching, the character of God in His longsuffering, His compassion in the face of rebellion, His preparation of the ultimate remedy for the sin so graphically described in the Old Testament and so common in the New Testament right down to our age.

We have to believe that God will work it out, that He is the Judge. He is also the Jury, and if necessary, He is the Executioner who carries out the sentence.

The principles of forgiveness found in Matthew 18 always apply. Critical to the question of forgiveness is what we are to do when a relationship is toxic and even when we forgive, proximity to the other person involved continues to have a negative impact on our lives. Sometimes it is necessary to walk away from certain people. But we are never instructed to walk away in order to avoid dealing with the situation. We are also never instructed to stay in a situation where we are in danger of abuse or of being dragged into sin. Just as we need a Sabbath rest to be renewed physically, emotionally, mentally, so we sometimes need to put a little distance between ourselves and those who continue to hurt us in order to protect ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally. These are called boundaries. What we are told to do is to not repay evil with evil, do what is right, as far as we can, live in peace, and respond to evil by doing good. We are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. This too, benefits us. Only when we let go through genuine forgiveness can God heal what hurt has been caused us. When Christ died, He died to remove not just the sins we have committed but the sins committed against us. They have no more hold on us EXCEPT if we refuse to let them go.


The general rules for how we respond in Christlikeness to others apply to how we respond to our parents as well. But there are some specific things that apply to parents, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. The instructions that grew out of the Ten Commandments, for example, deal with not marrying your father’s wife and that kind of thing. Proverbs is full of tidbits about parents and children.

The New Testament doesn’t speak much about the specific subject of what honouring parents looks like except to quote the Old Testament command. We do have some examples of good parenting as suggested in Paul’s remarks to Timothy about his mother and his grandmother being of such wonderful influence in his spiritual journey. First Timothy 5 also gives us some insight. Read 1 Timothy 5:1-8 and notice particularly verses 1-2.

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

We are not to be harsh when dealing with men, but treat them as we should treat our fathers. We are to “exhort” when necessary. The King James Version uses the word “entreat” for the NIV’s “exhort” and I wondered at the difference. Strong’s Concordance doesn’t list the word “entreat” in 1 Timothy so I went to Vines Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words and was directed to the word “beseech.” Now that’s not a common word in our language today, so it needed to be looked up as well. We can guess that it would be the opposite of speaking harshly. “Beseech” and by inference “entreat” and “exhort” is to urgently and fervently to implore, or ask, to beg. Reason is to prevail rather than argument. When Paul speaks about how women are to be treated, they should be responded to as we would to our mothers and sisters, again by inference, they are to be treated with purity.

We have a further clue about honouring parents when the passage addresses the needs of widows.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” (vs. 4, NIV).

Children have the responsibility to honour a mother, or a grandmother, who doesn’t have anyone to provide for her by caring for her needs.

And in the event we might not take that too seriously, verse 8 spells out just how seriously God takes it. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

In the Biblical imagery that describes what the church is like, family is one of the most familiar. We model Christ’s concern and care of His family of believers by how we treat our families, just as the relationship between husband and wife is supposed to model the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

Jesus does mention one specific problem that connects with this idea of honouring parents. In Mark 7:1-13 we find an interesting discussion between the Lord and the Pharisees.

The problem described here has to do with Jesus bending the rules of which the Pharisees and teachers of the law had added to their tradition and of which they were so fond. The authorities were annoyed that Jesus and the disciples were not washing their hands before eating. But there was a lesson here that the Lord had to teach to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law that we need to hear as well.


The rules become simple legalism if the motive behind keeping them is not in keeping with Christ’s two great commandments: love God, love your neighbour. Behind the Pharisees’ fanatic and frantic keeping of the 613 rules plus all the traditions there was no love. According to the account we have in Matthew 22, right after Jesus had finished replying to that question about which of the 613 rules was the most important, Jesus addressed the crowd and used the Pharisees and the teachers of the law as prime example of what happens when the love gets taken out of the equation. Matthew 23 contains some of the strongest language the Lord used during His time on the planet. Calling the religious leaders of the day “whitewashed graves” is not exactly wimpy!

In the passage in Mark, Jesus says: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about your hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’”

“Coban” refers to the Temple treasury. A person could tell his parents that he couldn’t give them any financial help when they were in need or, I suppose, any support that required money, like food or whatever, because his money was promised to the Temple treasury, or to God. But he retained the right to use it for himself as long as he lived even though he wasn’t “allowed” to give it to anyone else.

Jesus is saying that we have a responsibility to look after our parents’ needs. To do otherwise when we have the means to meet those needs is an unloving act and violates the “Honor your father and your mother” rule and the great commandent to “Love your neighbor.” To try to disguise your real intent by saying that you are giving this gift to God so you can’t provide basic needs for them, is hypocrisy in Jesus’ book.

As believers we have an example to follow—Jesus—and we have an example to model. My relationship with God affects and is affected by how I keep the fifth commandment. How I keep the fifth commandment is directly related to how I will keep the sixth—and vice versa.

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