Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
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Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.Exodus 20:12
WSC 63. Which is the Fifth Commandment?
A. The Fifth Commandment is, honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.11Ex 20:12.
WSC 64. What is required in the Fifth Commandment?
A. The Fifth Commandment requireth the preserving the honour, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors,1 inferiors,2 or equals.31Eph 5:21; 21 Pet 2:17; 3Rom 12:10.
WSC 65. What is forbidden in the Fifth Commandment?
A. The Fifth Commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honour and duty which belongeth to every one in their several places and relations.11Mt 15:4–6; Ezk 34:2–4; Rom 13:8.
WSC 66. What is the reason annexed to the Fifth Commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the Fifth Commandment, is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.11Dt 5:16; Eph 6:2–3.
We have been studying the Ten Commandments as part of our series of studies based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It is worth repeating that the Ten Commandments is the most crucial piece of legislation in the entire history of mankind.
Of all the laws of God, the Ten Commandments alone was spoken by the LORD audibly in the hearing of His people as a whole. It alone was inscribed by the finger of God, not once but twice. It alone was kept in the ark of the covenant, which was placed in the Holy of Holies in the Holy.
The Ten Commandments, it would appear, can be used to summarise all the commandments of God that are found in the Bible. All the commandments of God can be reduced to one or more of the Ten Commandments.
With this in mind, let us consider the Fifth Commandment:
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
The Lord helping us, let us consider six principles surrounding the application of this commandment according to the acronym HONOUR.
- Honour does not only belong to Parents
- Obedience is often part of Honour
- No; married persons need not obey their parents
- Office calls for obedience, age calls for respect
- Under Some Circumstances, Obedience is Wrong.
- Rejoice in the LORD’s promise of long life
1. Honour Does Not Only to Parents
The words of the Fifth Commandment, as given in Exodus 20, is “Honour thy father and thy mother.” However, our Shorter Catechism, Question 64, teaches us that the Fifth Commandment has to do with our relationship with superiors, inferiors and equals.
How do we show that from Scripture?
In the first place, it is clear from Scripture that we are to honour not only our parents but also all who have been set in authority over us. We see this in Romans 13:1:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Notice how Paul is expounding on the Fifth Commandment? He would refer to the rest of the commandments in the second table in verse 9. Why does he not mention the Fifth Commandment? Because he has been dealing with it from verse 1! In any case, under this principle that the Fifth Commandment has to do with all who are set in authority, we see that it actually deals with the submission of subjects to their magistrate, wives to their husbands and slaves to their masters too, or in other words inferiors to superiors.
In the second place, we see that whenever the New Testament deals with the relation of inferiors to superiors, the reverse relation is also given. So, for example, before Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands in Ephesians, he exhorts both husbands and wives to submit to one another or to honour one another (v. 21). Likewise, in 1 Peter 5, as soon as Peter tells the younger to submit themselves to the older, he says, “Yea, all of you be subject one to another” (v. 5), which is to say that even the older should submit to the younger. Obviously, how the older submits to the younger differs from how the younger submits to the older. But it is clear that the Fifth Commandment also comprehends the duty of superior to inferiors.
In the third place, we should note how the Scripture teaches us to “Honour all men” (1 Pet 2:17). Now, the context indicates that Peter has in mind the Fifth Commandment, so it is clear that the Fifth Commandment has to do with honouring our equals too.
It is for this reason for the answer given in our Shorter Catechism, Q. 64.
What is required in the Fifth Commandment? Answer: The Fifth Commandment requireth the preserving the honour, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.
Conversely, Q. 65 asks, “What is forbidden in the Fifth Commandment?” Answer:
The Fifth Commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honour and duty which belongeth to everyone in their several places and relations.
Simply stated, the Fifth Commandment is not only about honouring our parents. It is about honouring all men according to where the Lord has placed them in society relative to ourselves. It comprehends how we are to relate to our peers, how children are to relate to their parents and vice versa, how husbands are to relate to their wives and vice versa, how employers are to relate to their employees and vice versa, how teachers are to relate to their students and vice versa.
There is an order in the Godhead in that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Holy Spirit is third, even though they are equal in power and glory. God would have us recognise that there is an order in society even though all men are created equal. And God would have us relate to one another according to our differing stations in life. We owe duty and honour to everyone according to where the Lord has placed us in relation to them.
But now note our second point, which is:
2. Obedience Is Often, but Not Always, Part of Honour
This point is relatively straightforward. Although the Lord did not say it on Mount Sinai, we know intuitively and biblically that if you are a child, then honouring your parents means obeying them. Notice how the apostle Paul quotes Exodus 20:12 in Ephesian 6:1-3:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.Eph 6:1-3
Clearly, in Paul’s and the Holy Spirit’s minds, the Fifth Commandment means obedience for children. Paul says to the Colossians:
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.Col 3:20
Children are to obey their parents not in some things, not when they feel like it, but in all things and at all times.
Children, young people, if you are not obeying your parents, or if you argue with your parents when they give you an instruction, you are dishonouring them and sinning against God by breaking the Fifth Commandment.
The fact is obedience is often included in honouring. This is true in many circumstances, but especially so in the case of children regarding their parents.
But take careful note of our third point, which is:
3. No; Married Persons Need not Obey Their Parents
This may sound shocking if you are hearing it for the first time, but it is a biblical fact.
If you are not married, you must obey your parents. Indeed, it may be argued that you have a moral responsibility to obey your parents even if you are forty or fifty years old and have not been married. But once you are married, you are no longer required to obey your parents. Why? Because according to the institution of marriage, you have left your father and mother. This is stated in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
But does this mean that you are freed from the Fifth Commandment regarding your parents if you are married? Of course not! What it means is that you are no longer to obey them. However, you continue to be obliged to honour them by respecting and providing for their needs. The apostle makes it clear in 1 Timothy 5:8 that a professing believer is worse than an unbeliever and infidel if he does not provide for his widowed parent. Christians should never need to be compelled to provide for their parents through the “Maintenance of Parent Bill,” which became law in Singapore in 1995. All children, no matter how old, must honour their parents. But nowhere in the Bible are we taught that married persons must still obey their parents.
Let me put it this way: there is a difference between honouring by obedience and honouring by respect.
Parents have a right to give commandments to their children and make laws in the home, and those who are still under the oversight must submit to these laws (cf. Prov 6:20-21).
Parents, however, have no more right to give commandments to their children once they are married since marriage involves leaving one’s parents. Yet every person, married or unmarried, must continue to respect their parents. So, wives, even if you have to disobey your parents because your husband gives you a contrary instruction, you must do so without disrespect. Similarly, husbands, though you must consider your wife before your parents, you must never be disrespectful to your parents or parents-in-law in your decisions.
Indeed, while obedience is not always part of honouring, respect is always part of it. Respect and honour, as we noted earlier, are not only for superiors but also for equals and even inferiors.
But now, apart from the parent-children relationship, when does honour include obedience, and when does it not?
Well, as a rule of thumb, consider our fourth point, which is:
4. Office Calls for Obedience; Age Calls for Respect
Now, it is clear those appointed to offices of authority must be obeyed by those who are placed under them by God’s providence. Children under the oversight of their parents must obey them. Parents are God’s representatives to raise their children in His fear and nurture.
Likewise, Paul teaches us to obey the civil authority because they are the ministers of God. What does this mean for us? This means that when we break the law of the land, we are breaking the Fifth Commandment.
In the same way, the apostle to the Hebrews teaches us to obey the elders in the church. He says, Hebrews 13:17:
Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
Let us not forget that we must obey the instructions of those who bear office appointed by the Lord.
But let us not forget the Scripture also teaches us that we must respect those who are older even though we do not always need to obey them. The apostle Peter says, “ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder” (1 Pet 5:5).
Do you know that in the book of Leviticus, there is a call to the younger to stand up when an older man comes into the room? This is what the Lord says in Leviticus 19:32, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.”
I believe this is an application of the Fifth Commandment.
Brethren, children and friends, it is sad that a kind of Hollywood insolence has invaded our culture so that many of us have begun to address our superiors and elders by their first names.
But I believe if we are to teach our children to respect those who are older, it may be necessary for us to revert to the practice of our childhood to address those who are more elderly as uncles and aunties, or by their surnames. But more importantly, let us learn to render honour unto those who are older. What does this mean? This means that even if we disagree with someone older, we must not arrogantly rebuke him. “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father” (1Tm 5:1). Our children and young people, especially, must be taught this vital virtue.
But now fifthly, let us understand that…
5. Under Some Circumstances, Obedience is Wrong
When is obedience to our parents, civil authority or church authority sinful? Obedience is clearly sinful when the instruction given contradicts the word of God. “We ought to obey God rather than men” said the apostle Paul and the other apostles (Acts 5:29).
As part of keeping the Fifth Commandment, our obedience must always be “in the Lord.” Paul says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (Eph 6:1).
Thus, if obeying man will cause us to disobey Christ, we must disobey. Our Lord taught this principle when He said: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).
Practically, this means distinguishing between opinion and conviction. If your father or someone in authority requires you to do something against your conviction, you must not obey. But if it is something which you do not like to do, or if it is something of indifference, but you feel or prefer something else, then you ought to submit.
Let me illustrate: Suppose your boss tells you that you must wear a tie to work every day. What should you do? You don’t like to wear a tie. What should you do? You should submit because you are not required to sin against the Lord.
But now, suppose your boss wants you to work on the Sabbath. Or suppose your boss wants you to wear a miniskirt to work every Friday. What should you do? You should not obey. You should protest. You should resign, if necessary, for the demand crosses the bounds of decency or morality. To obey may involve you in sin.
So, you see, obedience can sometimes be sinful. But let us remember that respect is never wrong. We are to honour all men. How much more must we honour those older than us or placed in positions of authority, even if we disagree with them? Peter, writing to the church during the period of persecution by emperor Nero, says: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1Pt 2:17).
How do we reconcile what he says and the disobedience God’s people exhibited when they refused to engage in emperor worship? The principle is while obedience is sometimes sinful, respect is never sinful.
But finally, let us learn to…
6. Rejoice in the LORD’s Promise of Long Life
The Fifth Commandment is the first commandment with an explicit, direct and particular promise. The Second Commandment has a promise too, but it is implicit, indirect and general.
The promise in the Second Commandment, though principally relevant to the Second Commandment, also applies to the other commandments. But not so the Fifth Commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Ex 20:12).
The apostle Paul expands the promise of the commandment by removing the geographic boundary of the land of Canaan. He says, “Honour thy father and mother… that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph 6:3).
The Scripture often speak of long life as a blessing from God. Here, God promises that if you keep the Fifth Commandment, you can expect not only long life but also that providence will cohere well for you. This, of course, does not mean that those who die early are, therefore, breakers of the Fifth Commandment, apart from those who were stoned in the Old Covenant and those who are executed for committing gross crimes in the land. But it does mean we can take encouragement in the Lord’s blessing that if we keep the Fifth Commandment, we will be granted long life as far as it will serve God’s glory and our own good. Our Shorter Catechism, Q. 66 puts it this way:
WSC 66. What is the reason annexed to the Fifth Commandment? Answer: The reason annexed to the Fifth Commandment, is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.
Let us keep the Fifth Commandment and believe and rejoice in the Lord’s promise that it will be true and will come to pass that we shall see the good of Jerusalem through a long, happy life as long as it shall serve God’s glory and our good.
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, children in Christ, and friends, we live in perilous days. These are days when men, women, boys and girls, even professing believers, are lovers of themselves more than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:2). These are days of individualism and selfishness.
Our children are taught from a very young age to compete and look out for themselves more than others. They are taught to look at their teachers as paid employees or, at best, partners in learning rather than as superiors. They are taught to respect another person only if he is intellectually superior. Never mind if he is older; never mind if he is in a position of authority. What matters is whether he is worthy of respect.
In this way, the place of the Fifth Commandment is being eroded, if not dismantled, in our society. It is no wonder that many of our teachers are traumatised by the disrespectful behaviour of children in the schools. It is no wonder that even in the church, many young people show no respect to the elderly or the officers, whereas our older folks know how to be respectful.
- It is no wonder that we need laws such as the Parent’s Maintenance Bill to force children to support their parents when they are old.
- It is no wonder that so many older people have been abandoned by their families and have to fend for themselves.
- It is no wonder that many marriages are breaking down.
A neglect of God’s law is slowly destroying our society. Unless the Fifth Commandment is taught and emphasised again, our nation will destroy itself.
Nevertheless, let us understand that no one, not even Christians, can keep the law perfectly. And let us also understand that unless God changes our heart, we will find it most burdensome to keep the Fifth commandment. If we are compelled to keep the Fifth commandment by the force of law, we will become a nation of hypocrites.
What, then, is the solution? The solution is Christ Jesus our Lord. Only Christ Jesus can save us from sin. Only Christ Jesus can change our hearts so that we can love God’s law and walk in the way of righteousness and joy. Only Christ Jesus can heal the hurt in our hearts due to our children’s failure to keep the Fifth Commandment. Only Christ Jesus can give our nation real peace.
Today, if you are convicted of sin, or made to realise that only Christ can help you in your sad state, will you not go to him? Go to him with all your guilt, burdens, and care, and plead with Him to save you. Go to Him as He has invited. All that the Father has given unto Him will go to Him.
Today, if you hear His voice, go to Him. He will not cast you aside. He will give you the rest that your soul craves. In Him, you will not only have a long life as those who keep the Fifth commandment will enjoy. In Him, you will have eternal life, abundant and free. Amen.