There are 613 commandments contained within the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Out of those 613, the 10 Commandments have served Jews and Christians for the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Within those 10, we view 1 of those commands as the commandment for children:
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
You may have not thought about it this way, but that’s what we do. We believe that commandment number 5 is geared for those 18-years-old and under still living under the care of their parents. But is that how it was delivered? Did God give the other 9 to adults, and this 1 to the children.
Not a chance. Commandment #5 was giving to 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds.
Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
As Paul neared the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians, he included instructions concerning the family. His first instructions in chapter six were for children to obey their parents (Eph 6:1). The phrase “in the Lord” is not to be understood as obeying Christian parents only, but children were expected to obey their parents regardless of the parents’ spiritual standing.
For children without ideal Christian parents, honor for the individual parent may be difficult at times, but Christian children must muster honor for at least the office of parent at all times.
Paul’s command to obey parents in the Lord adds a deeper spiritual implication to the command. Children must understand that when they obey their parents, they are also obeying the Lord.
Paul viewed this obedience so significantly that he grouped disobedience to parents in a list of sins next to murder, greed, and other unrighteous acts (Rom 1:28-32). One of Paul’s signs that the end of time is nearing is the presence of disobedient children (2 Tim 3:2).
Paul provided no indication that problems existed in the Ephesian church concerning family relationships, but he obviously saw the need to regard family instruction as an appropriate teaching regardless of circumstances.
For many Christians, the home is often the most difficult environment to live with the attitude of Christ (Phil 2:3-5), but Paul held this environment to be one of the most critical in which to show mutual honor.
Not only did Paul instruct children to obey their parents in the Lord, but he also told this church that obedience is simply the just act for children according to God’s plan for the family.
While the term translated “children” could refer to adult children, Paul probably intended his message for younger children who were still impressionable and prime for spiritual molding.
Paul might have intended his message for teenagers who were not old enough to live on their own but still young enough to receive discipline.
A Lifetime Pursuit
Even though this commandment is meant more toward younger children, honoring parents is a commandment to be kept in some sense throughout a lifetime.
As young children grow into adults, the specifics of obedience will change, but the parents’ divine right of honor should never change.
While the command for children to obey their parents originated at the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:12), the New Testament includes this command five times other than this passage (Matt 15:4; 19:19; Mark 7:10; 10:19; Luke 18:20).
God’s original command (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16) instructed children to obey in order to flourish in the land. Paul, speaking to Jews and Gentiles removed from the idea of inheriting land that the original hearers anticipated, changed the ending from “live long in the land” to “live long on the earth” (Eph 6:3). This subtle shift indicates that his audience was not anticipating prospering in a certain geographical location, but they did desire for their lives to prosper in general.
Paul’s intention through this subtle change was to indicate that obedience to parents provides needed structure in the lives of children.
Regardless of your parents’ age or character, God has commanded you to honor them. You may not heed their advice, you may not obey their instruction (for you adults), and you may not desire to imitate their example, but honoring them honors the Lord (Col. 3:20).
If the only reason you can find to honor your parents is because God commands it, then you have reason enough.
Think about it this way: would you want your children to talk about you to your grandchildren the way you talk about your parents? Would you desire the same type of care that you are offering? Do you hope for your children to copy the respect you show your parents?
Little eyes are watching and they often repeat examples. Heavenly eyes are watching as well and he takes honoring one’s parents as an act of honoring him. The choice is simple. The application is difficult. But the reward is great.