12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some years ago I read a great book written by a fellow named Dr. Kevin Leman. He is a very funny yet very wise Christian psychologist and a prolific author of more than 30 books, including the one I’m referring to right now entitled Have a New Kid by Friday. It is his contention that if parents will follow the game plan that he lays out in that book, they can have a much more obedient, respectful, and compliant little Buford or Rachel as he puts it in just 5 days. In fact, he says it can even happen in 2 days.
Now I don’t have time to share with you what he suggests you do each of those days to improve your child’s behavior, but let me read to you a short selection from his first chapter where he talks about one of the biggest problems that parents have these days with their kids. He says: “…in today’s society, children even shorter than a yardstick are calling the shots. They’re part of the entitlement group – they expect anything and everything to come their way, with no work on their part, just because they exist. In their eyes, the world owes them – and owes them big time.”
Well, I share all of this with you because today as we continue our study of the 10 Commandments under the theme “The Fundamentals of Our Faith – Straight Talk for Crooked Lives,” we have the privilege of looking at the 4th Commandment where God instructs us to “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Now we parents love this commandment, don’t we? We love to wave it under our kids’ noses and say, “Remember what the Good Book says. Honor your father and your mother. So you’d better do that or else.” But something that a lot of parents don’t realize is that this commandment also comes packed with a whole host of responsibilities that they are to fulfill when it comes to parenting their children. We heard it before in our Epistle reading for today where the Apostle Paul says in Eph. 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
I really wish the translators of that verse would not have used the word exasperate there because Paul is making such an important point and that particular word is one that we don’t hear or use a lot these days. So what exactly does it mean to exasperate? Well, some of the definitions I came across were “to irritate, to aggravate, to infuriate, to frustrate.” The original Greek word that is used here means “to make angry, to provoke to anger.” So how exactly might we parents do that with our children? Well, some years ago I jotted down some of those ways, so let’s begin our study of the 4th Commandment by examining a few of them.
For starters, we exasperate our children when we show favoritism. Now hopefully none of you parents intentionally do that in your home, but sometimes it’s pretty easy for our children to get that message from us. For example, if you have one child who does quite well in school and another one who struggles with their classes and homework, it would be very easy to say to the latter in a moment of frustration: “Why can’t you be like your older brother? He never had any trouble with these math problems when he was your age?” Or it can carry over into the whole area of sports where you might have one child who is an unusually gifted athlete. Everything they try, they’re good at. But then there’s your other child who can’t run without tripping over their own feet or put a basketball through the hoop if their life depended on it or connect a bat with a baseball no matter how slow you throw it. When you’re cheering your little athlete on and making over about what a great job they did or what a great game they played, even though you’re not intending to do it, your non-athlete child can very easily see that as favoritism.
In the Bible, we see some horrible family disasters that occurred because of favoritism. For example, Abraham favored his 2nd-born son Isaac over Ishmael his firstborn son and that led to problems that still exist today in their line of descendants as the Jews came from Isaac’s line and the Muslims came from Ishmael’s. You’d think Isaac would have learned from his father’s mistakes, but he didn’t. When he and his wife Rebekah had twin sons named Jacob and Esau, Isaac favored Esau while Rebekah favored Jacob and that led to a whole host of problems. Then you would think Jacob would have learned from his father’s and his grandfather Abraham’s mistakes, but he didn’t. When he had 12 sons, he favored Joseph over all the others and had no qualms about showing that favoritism, which in turn led to a sibling rivalry and jealousy that culminated in Joseph’s older brothers selling him into slavery.
So showing favoritism definitely does not work in the home. It exasperates our children. So also does inattention when your child is trying to tell you something. And I’m sorry, men, but we’re notorious for that. Because of how God has wired our brains, we can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time, at least not very well. So if you’re reading the paper or watching television and your child is trying to tell you something, put down the paper or turn off the TV, look your child in the eye, and give him or her your full and undivided attention.
And then let me give you one more way whereby we exasperate our children, though there are many others I could share. How about setting a poor example for them, not practicing what you preach, telling them to do one thing while you do another? For example, how can we parents expect our children to refrain from using profanity or other types of inappropriate language if we don’t do it? How can we expect them to keep from lying if they hear us telling a lie to a friend over the phone? How can we expect them to go to church every Sunday if we’re not willing to do it? The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” just doesn’t cut it for the mom or dad who wants to be a godly parent.
I might also add one more thing here and that is the importance of saying “I’m sorry” to your child. Let’s face it, parents. There are going to be times when we blow it with our kids. There are going to be times when we blow up at our kids. I remember years ago listening to a radio broadcast featuring Christian counselor and author Gary Smalley who is now with the Lord in heaven describe a time when he just lost it with one of his kids. I don’t remember the exact situation, but he gave one of his sons a tongue-lashing far worse than the boy deserved. Have you ever done that? I’m ashamed to admit that I have. And he used a term on that broadcast that I’ve never forgotten. He said that he crushed his son’s spirit. After that verbal tirade, he said it was like the boy just kind of folded up within himself, like a delicate flower might do. And Gary knew he had crossed the line. He knew he had gone too far. So instead of storming off and trying to justify what he had done, he took his boy in his arms and through tears of remorse he admitted he was wrong and asked for his son’s forgiveness, which the boy was more than happy to give him. In fact, one thing I’ve discovered over the years of being a parent and a grandparent is that children are among the most forgiving people on earth. But getting back to that story, do you think Gary Smalley’s son ever forgot his dad’s apology there? I doubt it. In fact, I can just picture him remembering back to it when he may have lost his temper a time or two with one of his kids. So when you’re wrong, parents, admit it, apologize, and seek your child’s forgiveness and you will be setting a wonderful example for them to follow when they hurt you or someone else.
And what about you children? I’ve had a lot to say to parents so far this morning, but I haven’t said anything to you kids. And there’s no way I can leave our study of the 4th Commandment without doing that. So what can I say to you? Well, perhaps nobody said it better than Martin Luther in his explanation to the 4th Commandment that most of us learned in Confirmation, however many years ago that may have been. After quoting the 4th Commandment, he then says: “What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we do not despise our parents and masters, nor provoke them to anger; but give them honor, serve, and obey them; and hold them in love and esteem.” One word that is absent from there but strongly implied is the word respect. And that, unfortunately, is something that is absent in far too many homes these days. Many of you will remember the TV show called “The Simpsons” which for the most part depicted parents as bumbling buffoons who had no clue how to parent or do much of anything else for that matter. That show taught that the kids rule the roost. They are the smart ones in the home and the parents’ job is to simply serve as suppliers for all of their selfish and indulgent desires.
Contrast that view of parents with the one that many of us older folks were raised on – the Ward Cleavers, the Andy Taylors, the Ozzie and Harriets, the Father Knows Best – and there is a world of difference, isn’t there? Now I’m not saying that children were perfect years ago, but at least most of them had a healthy respect for their parents and for all others who were over them in authority. Why, they even used phrases like “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.” Nor am I saying that all kids are bad or evil today because they’re not, but I’ve talked to enough teachers in recent years to know that respect for authority is something that is sadly missing in many of them and therefore missing in their homes, their schools, their churches, and so on.
So children, respect your parents. Or as Paul puts it in Eph. 6:1: “Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Did you catch that? Obeying your parents is right; it’s God-pleasing; it’s a good thing to do. And I might also add, it’s a wise thing to do. You know why? Because your parents have a huge reservoir of wisdom and experience that you don’t have at your young age. Contrary to what you may think, they actually know a whole lot more than you. And they base many of their decisions about you and your upbringing upon that wealth of knowledge and experience. I remember when I went off to college and began to experience life on my own, far away from my parents’ watchful eye, I don’t know how many times I thought to myself, “Wow, Mom and Dad were right. They really did know what they were talking about.”
So the question is, how do we get our children to honor us, to respect us, to hold us in love and esteem as Luther puts it? I think Paul gives us the answer to that question in verse 4 of Ephesians 6 where he says: “… bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” What exactly does that mean? It means to do all that we can to fill our children with the truths of God’s Word as long as we have them under our roof and under our influence. That means bringing them to church, taking them to Sunday School, having family devotions, teaching them to pray. It means making God real to them in their everyday life so that they develop a close personal relationship with him. It means bringing them to Confirmation where they can study the basic and essential doctrines of the Christian faith. It means helping them to make right choices which can sometimes be tough choices, especially when the church or their faith are being pitted against some of their extracurricular activities. The more of God’s training and instruction that they get into them, the more honoring, respectful, and obedient they are going to be to you and to others who are over them in authority.
Let me close then with this gentle reminder to all of you parents. Your children are the only worldly possessions you can take with you to heaven. You can’t take your money, your home, your car, your career. But you can take your kids. So even though the commandment we’ve looked at today is most obviously about your kids honoring you, it’s also about you honoring them. And there is no greater way you can do that than by preparing them from infancy on for an eternity in God’s glorious presence made possible through all that his Son Jesus Christ did for them and for all of us through his perfect life, his sin-paying death on the cross, and his victorious resurrection. Amen.