This commandment, as Paul says, is the first with promise (Ephesians 6:2). Why is this one, of God’s ten words singled out to receive a promise? First, let’s ask another question, who is this promise for? Those who honor the father and mother, of course, right? Yes, but perhaps like me you’ve always thought of this promise in a personal and individualistic way. Two passages now convince me otherwise.
Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time (Deuteronomy 4:40 ESV).
You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:32–32 ESV).
Same promise, but here we clearly understand the promise to refer to the nation as a whole remaining in the promised land. So it is here with the fifth commandment. In Deuteronomy this promise is attached to the whole of God’s law, but first, the fifth command is singled out, and this promise is specifically attached to it, why? Because if children do not obey this command of Yahweh, they won’t obey any, and thus they will be thrust from the land. If children do not learn Yahweh’s commands in the home, they won’t learn them, and thus they, they nation, will be thrust from the land.
The family is foundational for covenant faithfulness. Failure here means covenant failure altogether. Charles Hodge, once president of Princeton Seminary when she was a bulwark of orthodoxy, wrote, “The character of the Church and of the state depends on the character of the family. If religion dies out in the family, it cannot be elsewhere maintained.” The Puritan with mad pastoral skills, Richard Baxter, asserted,
We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed. The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all. What are we like to do ourselves to the reforming of a congregation, if all the work be cast on us alone; and masters of families neglect that necessary duty of their own, by which they are bound to help us? If any good be begun by the ministry in any soul, a careless, prayerless, worldly family is like to stifle it, or very much hinder it; whereas, if you could but get the rulers of families to do their duty, to take up the work where you left it, and help it on, what abundance of good might be done! I beseech you, therefore, if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion.
Many blame the church today for the absences of children and young adults, and there is fault, but indirectly. The church has put extraordinary resources, time, and effort into children and youth, but statistically something like ninety percent leave the church and the faith during college. Why is this? I believe there are a handful of reasons, but one of the leading ones is that the church is putting their time and resources into the wrong place. It wasn’t the failure of Israel’s temple program for tots that spelled disaster for the nation, but the failure of the family. The church should aim at parents, and in particular it should aim at fathers. The church’s failure to children is that she has failed to disciple men.
The flip-side of this command is spelled out in Colossians and Ephesians.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (Colossians 3:20–21 ESV).
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.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.(Ephesians 6:1–4 ESV).
Children are to honor. Parents are to be honorable. Father’s are responsible. The discipline and instruction a child is should be under is God’s. Parent such that your child is relating directly with God. Labor to ensure that the honor rendered to you, is honor rendered to God.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:4–7).