Shorter Catechism Qs. 63–66
Q. 63. Which is the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment is, Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Q. 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and preforming the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.
Q. 65. What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honor and duty which belongeth to everyone in their several places and relations.
Q. 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.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”” (Ephesians 6:1–3)
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1)
We hear it said with such a conviction. “Just wait until they become teenagers.” There is an air of unassailable certainty about it. It will happen. Your children for now love you, respect you, obey you. But it will not last. Their love will be replaced by contempt, gratitude with complaint, and the exasperated parents will find sympathetic nods all around from other parents who have lived through it, assuring them “It’s normal.”
Normal? No. The norm (i.e. the standard) is stated in the fifth commandment. See Exodus 20:12 above. And the norm is stated again in the New Testament. See Ephesians 6:1–3 above. That is, we need to be clear about what we define as normal. As Christians what is normal is what the Scripture says is normative. In other words, we should never accept as normal (i.e. acceptable, inevitable, understandable) the strain between parents and children. For God’s people the normal thing should be children honoring their fathers and mothers with love, affection, and obedience. That is our normal, because God’s word is our norm.
Yet the strain between parents and children is normal, in the sense that it is so widespread. Christians are of course not immune from it. Sin always corrupts what is most precious, and Satan always attacks what is most dear. So, then, what is the function of the fifth commandment? Is it simply another reminder of what we are unable to do? Does it exist only to break the hearts of parents who live with the guilt of parental failure?
The fifth commandment indeed does (like all of God’s Law) remind us of the devastating presence and effect of sin in our lives. Sometimes the most godly parents who have done “everything right” live with the ache of children who have turned from them and from God. The fifth commandment thus works to transfer our confidence from our parenting skills to God’s mercy. Parents should probably spend less time reading parenting books and spend more time in Word and prayer.
The fifth commandment also sweetly woos the children with a promise, “that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” The original context of this promise was, of course, the Promised Land, the possession and the enjoyment of which depended on Israel’s covenant faithfulness. But interestingly, Paul repeats the promise to the Gentile church in Ephesus living outside the Promised Land. For now, let’s just assume[^assume] that Paul understood the Bible better than we do, and that he was perfectly justified in not only repeating the fifth commandment to the Gentiles, but also repeating its promises.
This is, of course, the Holy Spirit graciously shepherding us to reject the lies of Satan. Ever since the Garden, the Serpent has been whispering into our ears that it will not go well with us to listen to God. It is a lie. It will go well with us if we obey. God promises his blessing. He is greatly pleased when we obey, and he will honor those who honor him, and dishonor those who dishonor him. Children, know that in the fifth commandment God is showing you a path of blessedness.
Lastly, the fifth commandment calls the parents to live worthy of children’s honor. Perhaps we can spell this out in a few ways. Parents, show compassion to your children. Hate sin, and forgive quickly. Set a model of seriousness nourished with grace. And when they realize the ways you sin against them, they will respond in kind.
Parents, model humility for your children. God has ordained various authorities to which we owe honor and respect. When parents humbly honor the authorities over them, be they familial, political, spiritual, as God’s kind provision for their good, your children will learn likewise to honor your parental authority God has placed over them.
Parents, model quick repentance to your children. Do not put on a facade of never sinning, and always being right. Show your children that you respond humbly to correction from Scripture, from your pastor and elders, from the body of Christ. Show them there is redemption from sin, that there is a way back after stumbling. As you honor your heavenly Father and his parenting over you, your children will learn to honor you and your parenting. cripture is infallible and inerrant.