“Why is the grass green?” “Why do stars twinkle?” As they get older children start to ask, “Daddy, why do I have to obey you?” There is a better reason than “Just because!” “Because I’m bigger,” or, “Because I said so.” The Fifth Commandment, Exodus 20:12, is not just about telling children that they need to obey. To keep that commandment (whether as a child or a parent) you need to understand what it means to live in the light of God’s gracious promise.
Honor your parents in the Lord. Children, obey your parents! God is speaking directly to you here. You must obey your parents. This may be difficult at times. Parents are sometimes arbitrary. They do err (at least that is true of me!). They are sinners. Look at the example of your Lord, who, though he was sinless, had parents who were not, Luke 2:51. Obedience is difficult because we are sinners by nature, not fond of authority. We want to do our own thing. God requires whole-hearted obedience. Honor includes your attitude, Ephesians 6:1,2. Seek active ways to obey. Obey in the Lord. Your relationship to the Lord provides the motive for obedience. Perfect obedience is found only in Christ, who obeyed perfectly, Hebrews 5:7-10. His obedience and suffering were done in your place and for your benefit. He obeyed because you don’t always obey! Gracious family life means that you depend on God’s grace.
Honor your parents. This responsibility is lasting. Maturity does bring an end to parental care. Marriage marks this point, as does a certain age. Yet respect is always required. Teenagers need to remember this! Honor is the term that also refers to the weight of God’s glory. Children are to care for their parents. This is your responsibility, 1 Timothy 5:3,4,8. Christ rebuked those who neglected this, Matthew 15:4-6. This commandment reveals God’s authority structure. The Fifth Commandment requires you to submit to God’s authority. The home is the place obviously included, and the place in which we begin to learn obedience and respect. God has ordained other areas of authority as well. In these too, he requires respect for authority, see WSC 64. Remember that when you see a traffic officer! Keep it in mind as you deal with governmental officials. Remember this commandment as you wrestle with less than upright, and even openly unjust governments. Authority is ultimately vested in Jesus Christ. It belongs to him because of his completed work, Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:15-20. Understand the limitations on obedience. Obey God, rather than man. But don’t use this as an excuse of being sloppy in extending respect. “Jesus is Lord, and in submitting to him, we submit also to those structures he has ordained for our good and even for our glory. We find joy in submitting to others when we know that it is to Jesus as Lord that we ultimately submit, who is above all authority, and who, as the God-man, is himself in submission to the Father.” (Edmund P. Clowney, How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments, p. 73).
Parents, nurture your children in the Lord. Parents are responsible for proper discipline. Your care for your children is one of the most important responsibilities God has given you. Teaching characterized Abraham and was a sign of his being faithful to God’s covenant, Genesis 18:19. Instruction in Deuteronomy 6 is a whole life matter. Proper discipline is a mark of any office, Titus 1:6; 1 Timothy 5:4,5,12. The responsibility of mothers is included in Paul’s commands to fathers. He does speak of the activity of mothers in this area, Titus 2:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:5. Mothers and fathers, you together are responsible to God for what goes on in your family. Don’t exasperate your child. Godly discipline should not have frustration as its result. Don’t frustrate by over-discipline. Don’t exasperate your child by inconsistency. Be patient. Bring him to self-responsibility. Discipline is from the Lord. God’s chastisement is a sign of his fatherly love, Hebrews 12:5-8. The Christian is not punished by God—Christ bore the full penalty for your sin, but he is chastised. Instruction and training must grow out of grace! Raise your children in the instruction of the Lord. Admonishing is not just for children, Colossians 3:16. It involves the changing of sinful patterns and habits. Use the Scriptures to confront your child. “Whether we are children, or parents, or pastors, or simply friends, it is important to grasp Paul’s method as well as the substance of his message: never express the obligations to obedience without also stressing the motivation of grace. The whole letter is built on such a pattern. . . . It cannot be over-stressed how important it is that we communicate this to our children.” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians, p. 158). Fathers, are you leading in family devotions at some point in the day? This instruction is your responsibility as a Christian parent. This instruction is not just something you do a certain set hours. Rather, it is something that permeates the life of God’s covenant people, Deuteronomy 6:6,7. Ask yourself, what is your example teaching?
Live in the grace of God’s promise. Live as the family of God. Ultimately, you cannot have godly family values without living as a part of the family of God. Your life as a family is part of your life as the church, which is God’s household. Your life as a family grows out of the fact that you are made in God’s image, that you reflect the submission, love, respect, and communication that is found in the members of the Trinity. Keep the family name, the name into which you have been baptized. Appreciate the full significance of your (and your children’s) baptism. Your baptism says your are united to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. But don’t imagine that God’s grace is automatically conferred by getting wet. The reality of union with Christ should control your life as a family. (You might find helpful Dr. Gaffin’s article, “For Us and for Our Salvation,” in the April New Horizons.) What is your family like? Is the scene one in which parents are attempting to control chaos? Has the home degenerated into a motel and fast food place? Look for practical ways to reinforce the idea, not only that the family is a place where people speak to one another with a certain amount of civility, but also where we reflect the commitment of belonging to Christ. Recognizing that being the family of God is foundational helps to include those who may be without a family at this time in their lives.
Enjoy the blessing God has promised you. God did bless his people. He did bring them into the promised land, and they did enjoy his blessing and prosperity. Yes, there are some who dishonor God, but live many years. Remember that even a lengthy time on earth without God is not really a blessing. And if you are facing difficulties and frustrations despite seeking to live as God’s people, remember that God uses even these to draw you closer to himself. Calvin: “When we have gathered all the afflictions, troubles, and griefs that we can have into one heap, yet we see well. . . that God makes us feel the taste and savor of his goodness, in that he gives us our sustenance in this world.” The promise did not apply only to the people of Israel at Sinai. God promises to bless you today. This is the first commandment with a promise, Ephesians 6:2,3. Note the enhancement of the promise in Ephesians compared with Exodus. God’s promises do have value for eternity, but they also have very practical implications for life here and now. Your long life of blessing on the earth has a connection with an eternal life of service and fellowship with God following the resurrection.
Are there rules in your home? Certainly. But the foundation is not rules, but rather the grace of God and the promise of his blessing as you trust him and live in obedience to him.