Perhaps, youthful friend, you recall that in my contributions to this column I am attempting to answer certain questions presented to me by the young people in my congregation. It so happens in the providence of God that I have just finished a sermon for the coming Lord’s Day on the Fifth Commandment which is also, as you can gather from the title of this article, the subject of the question we wish to answer. The question reads: “How far does obedience to parents go? Must we allow ourselves to be so completely dominated by our parents that we are not able to think, act, or believe independently? If personal conviction interferes with parental beliefs must we give up our own beliefs in the name of ‘obedience’?”
We may begin by paying attention to some basic principles involved in the Fifth Commandment of God’s Law. The commandment in question literally reads: “Honor Thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” We are interested in only the first part of this commandment; Honor thy father and thy mother. To understand the meaning we must remember that this commandment stands at the beginning of the sec second table of the Law of God. Jesus told us that the basic principle of the entire law is the love of God. This first and great commandment is that we love the Lord our God with our whole being; the second is like unto it and is that we love the neighbor as ourselves. (cf.Matthew 22:37-40) This does not mean that God has given two different commandments; the first requiring love to Him, and the second requiring love to the neighbor. Rather, Jesus means to say that there is one basic principle involved in the whole law, in every commandment, and that is that we love God. The second is like unto, that is, the second is rooted in and derived from the first and great commandment. This means that we are to love the neighbor with the love of God and for God’s sake. Apart from the love of God in our hearts it is impossible for us to love the neighbor. Still more, our love for God is exactly revealed in our love for the neighbor. Paul says in Galatians 5:14: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (cf. Romans 13:8-10) Because this is true, the Apostle John writes in his first letter, I John 4:20, 21: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. . . and this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” The first principle of the 5th commandment, then, is the love of God. More specifically, it is the love of God as revealed in obedience to Him through obedience to our parents.
It is the authority of God that is at stake here. We ought to be very clear on this. It was argued once in my Young People’s Society that the commandment says “Honor” and does not say “obey”; hence, one must honor his parents but is not required to obey them. This, however, is not the case at all! It is true, of course, that we must honor in the sense of respecting and loving our parents, and that, too, for as long as they live. It ought to be evident at the same time that the commandment requires more than proper respect. In fact, it may be said that honoring and respecting one’s parents is possible only in the way of obedience to them. That this is what God intends with this commandment is plain from His Word in Leviticus 19:3, where He says in no uncertain terms: “Ye shall FEARevery man his mother and his father.” Under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul teaches the same in Ephesians 6:1-3, where the Word is: “Children obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and thy mother; which is the first commandment with promise. . . .” Hence, if we are to love God according to the 5th commandment we mustobey our parents.
But we said above that it is the authority of God that is at stake. That is true very simply because all authority is God’s. That we can understand when we know the true nature of authority according to the Bible. Authority is not sheer power as the man of the world would have us think today. It’s not “might makes right.” This is how the world operates, but not the church and the child of God. Neither does authority come from the “will of the majority” or the “consent of the governed,” as American democracy teaches. That may be theMEANS God uses to establish rulers but that is not theSOURCE of authority. Authority is, briefly, three things: 1) The right to declare for others what is right & good, 2) The right to demand of others conformity or obedience to that standard, 3) The right to judge and execute judgment (rewarding or punishing) others. Now that authority belongs exclusively to God, because He is the Creator and Sustainer and Ruler of all things.
That authority God has conferred upon Christ. Jesus said: “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” And the Bible says in Eph. 1: 19ff that God has put all things under Christ’s feet. Thus before the exalted Christ every knee must bow (Phil. 2). And that same authority of God in Christ is conferred upon our parents. Parents have the right to declare for us what is right, and demand unquestioned obedience to what is right and punish us when we do the wrong, not because they are older or wiser or stronger, but only because it pleases God to govern us by their hand! The Heidelberg Catechism (not nearly as outdated as some would have us believe!) is dead right when it says in Lord’s Day 39 that the 5th Commandment requires: “That I show all honor, love, and fidelity to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, andsubmit myself to their good instruction and correction,with due obedience; and patiently bear with their infirmities and weaknesses, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand.” (emphasis mine, R.D.) Very bluntly, this means that to disobey parents is to disobey God. And, what is more, to disobey parents and thus God is to hate both parents and God!
This has terribly serious implications for our parents, implications that ought to make every God-fearing parent tremble.1 The Lord addresses these words to parents: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4) Provoking our children to wrath means more than just being unreasonable or unfair or tactless and thus making our children angry. It means that; but more, it means we must not put our children on the road to hell. Provoking to wrath is the opposite of bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is failure to do that! Bringing them up in the ways of sin and the world, failing to instruct them in the fear of God; this is making our children liable to the wrath and punishment of God. Parents must not do that! They are called to train up their children in the way in which they ought to go (Prov. 22:6). Passages likeDeuteronomy 6, Psalm 78, Col. 3 and others all emphasize the same truth. It is the solemn duty of parents to rear their children in the fear of the Lord, in His commandments and precepts and judgments. And that is a full time task, according to Deut. 6! That is not done by mere word of mouth but by the very example of our day-to-day living.
And when parents are faithful to that calling they have the God-given right to expect total submission from their children and youth! The Bible tells youth as well as children to obey their parents. That word obey means to follow up a call or to yield to someone. That means youth must follow up the call of God that comes to them through their covenant parents. They must yield to them totally. To use the language of the question: obedience to parents goes all the way! Yes, we must allow ourselves to be completely dominated by our parents so that we do not think or act independently. AndMOST CERTAINLY if our personal convictions interfere with parental beliefs we MUST give up our own beliefs in the name of obedience. We MUST for God’s sake and out of love for Him! Anything less is disobedience to the Lord God!
The ONLY exception to this is when parents are remiss in their calling and teach or require of their youth that which is plainly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God! Then, obviously, we must obey God rather than men. But as long as parents require what God requires and as long as they are bringing us up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord we must obey and yield ourselves totally to them.
Youth often forgets that. The world’s rejection of the authority of God has more influence upon us than we probably care to admit. Youth tends to think of parents as the “old man” and “old lady” who belong to a bygone age and are just a bit (to say the least) out of touch. This they call in the world the “generation gap.” Parents are too old-fashioned. The old ways are no good for the “NOW generation.” Youth today needs a “new morality” (which is no more than the same OLD IMMORALITY called in the Bible “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”—cf. I John 2:15-17); in fact, youth wants an entirely new “life style” according to which youth does “his own thing.” With all of this parents are simply “out of tune!” So youth refuses to listen and goes his own way.
Youth of God’s covenant hear and do the Word of God! Honor thy father and thy mother! They are God’s friends and they bring you God’s Word and they rule over you because they know you are God’s heritage (Psalm 127) entrusted to them by Him to be instructed in His fear! There is no generation gap among covenant parents and their children and youth. The Bible is the eternal, never changing, always relevant TRUTH of God!
For God’s sake obey them. Do not be a friend of the world. Love not the world! Refuse to be led astray with the radical youth of today’s world, the hippies and yippies. Do not join the Godless revolutionaries of today’s young people. Do not be fashioned according to their drug and alcohol oriented life style.
Rather, love God by loyal and willing obedience to your God-given, covenant parents. In this way lies God’s blessing for you, your parents, and your church.