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Mar 19, 2023

Command with a Promise

Passage: Deuteronomy 5:16

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Deuteronomy

Keywords: children, parents, honor, obey, respect, offspring


Why is the 5th Commandment to honor parents such a big deal? This message explores that and dives deep into what it actually means to honor parents depending on your age and stage in life.


A Command with a Promise

Deuteronomy 5:16

March 19, 2023

Q:  How many of you had parents?  Good!  Just wanted to make sure today’s passage applies to everyone …and we don’t have any extra-terrestrials among us!

Review:  We’re working our way through the “Top 10” of God’s commandments found in Exodus and Deuteronomy…and we’re on #5 today. 

The 5th Commandment marks the turn from those commands that predominately focus on our relationship with God and those that now focus predominately on our relationship to people. 

They all build on each other too.  If we’re practicing the previous ones faithfully, the successive ones really won’t be an issue.  For example, if I really don’t have any other gods in my life but YHWH, the One True Living God the Father, I won’t have trouble staying away from visual substitutes or idols…or honoring a sabbath out of love for God.

So, let’s read this one together in unison.

“‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

            This command forms the foundation for all the commands relating to human interactions.  What God is telling us is that if we learn to obey the command that deals with life’s first and most fundamental human relationship, that between parent and child, then the rest of the relational commands will follow.  Conversely, failure to master this one will often lead to violation of some or all of the successive ones. 

            This command to honor parents forms THE backbone for a sustainable, healthy, moral civilization.  Children who are not taught to respect and honor parents will not respect or honor any other authority structure or position.  And, as we are learning painfully in cities like Seattle, Portland, LA, Austin, San Francisco, etc., societies collapse when people who never learned to respect God’s truth, their parents or their elders take charge. 

            This is a command that children desperately need.  It has powerful implications for parents and parenting.  But it’s children who need to learn to honor others.  If you haven’t been a parent, I have a news flash for you:  children don’t naturally, left to themselves, honor anyone except themselves.  They will, left undisciplined or put in charge (as so many parents are tragically doing today), disrespect their siblings, their sandbox playmates, their toys, their parents and everyone around them.  Children desperately need this command.  Without it, their lives will be a moral wasteland.

            So, while parents would like to be honored, children need to honor.  Parents don’t need to be honored in order to be parents of good, moral character.  But children absolutely need to honor parents in order to become children of good, moral character. 

            Secondly, when it comes to the O.T. law, there is NO other command to “honor” any other human being. God, yes.  Other humans, no.  (That call to “honor” is reinforced and expanded dramatically in the N.T. to include the family of God, the church, government leaders, spiritual leaders, and others.)  That is remarkable given that we are called to love everyone from God to strangers and neighbors.  But honor?  Only parents in the O.T.

            As we shall see, learning to honor parents, imperfect though they are, is what teaches entire societies and nations that there is moral accountability to higher authority.  This is one reason we have a growing godless youth generation.  Too many have been told from toddlers that they are in charge, they can make the rules in everything from who runs the home to, absurdly, what gender they may want to be at any given instant.  Children who

a.) do not recognize that they are responsible and answer to higher authorities, and

b.) are actually morally accountable to those higher authorities, (i.e. will get disciplined/punished if they don’t obey them)

will grow up to be adults who are selfish, miserable, angry, spiteful and anti-social.  They will go on to create societies that are violent rather than peaceful, disrespectful rather than loving, consumers rather than producers and, dare I predict it, totalitarian.  This is one reason why God’s people are called to reject political systems that remove children from parental control and impose the state over and in place of the family.  Strong family bonds are the best antidote to abusive, freedom-destroying totalitarian regimes.   So, there’s your political science application of Scripture for the day!  Now back to the command.

            In many ways, this command is also the most complex of all of the Big 10. For instance, who here had perfect parents?  (I won’t ask how many of you were perfect children!)  Living in a fallen world, every parent is somewhere along the rather broad “failed-parent” spectrum.  Some of our parents failed infrequently and ignorantly.  Others failed frequently and horrifically.  Most parents land somewhere in the middle half of that runway. 

            But this command was made for offspring along the entire 10,000-foot runway of parents and their children, from saint-like to sadistic and even satanic-like.  (I’ll have more to say about that in a moment.) We get to wrestle with how to obey this command under all kinds of imperfect circumstances, in all kinds of imperfect cultures, with all kinds of imperfect parents. 

            Let’s start out with some foundational observations about this command.  Then we’ll move into specific applications for various ages and stages of offspring.

Of all the 6 Top 10 Commandments that focus on people, this one has THE most narrow focus—the child-parent relationship.  We’re talking normally a triad of 3 people:  father, mother, child.  All the other Top 10 Commands deal with all people.  This is a very narrow slice of the human relationship pie.  Yet that dynamic between a father, a mother and a child forms the foundation of every other human relationship we will ever have. 

  • The parent-child dynamic will inform how boys and men relate to girls and women as well as other males of all ages.
  • It will inform how girls and women relate to boys and men…as well as other females of all ages.
  • This parent-child relationship will inform how we relate to all human beings of all different ages, stages and generations.

How this relationship unfolds and how we obey or disobey this command will usually determine more about the health or nature of every other human relationship we have in life.  In fact, many believe that how children view their earthly parents through the lens of this command will often determine how they view God the Father himself.  The parent-child relationship of honor or dishonor is foundational to so much of life. 

Just remember that ‘foundational’ is not the same as ‘permanent’.  No parent’s parenting and no offspring’s response to their parents is more powerful than the grace of God.  So, whether you are feeling like you made horrible mistakes as a parent or had horrible responses to your parents as their child, God is in the resurrection business.  He specializes in bringing to life what looks dead or has been severely damaged.  He delights in restoring the years the Destroyer has stolen.

So, I’d like a few questions about this command to form the structure for our study today.  The first two questions are mostly exegetical meaning questions—what is this command actually saying.

Question #1:  Who’s My Mother…and Father? 

Remember the Dr. Suess book, “Are You My Mother?”  Well, in a fallen world, that’s a question that must be asked in relationship to this commandment.  “Just WHO is your father and your mother?” 

            For most of us, there is a pretty simple answer:  the man and woman who gave us life, birthed us and raised us.  But even that definition of “parent” runs afoul of things in the 21st century where millions of children are adopted, where millions are raised by step-parents or foster-parents or grandparents.  Millions more are in homes of adults who are not married, not biologically related or not permanent.  And millions are raised by just one biological parent while today’s confused marital landscape can leave a child with multiple mommies or daddies.  The further we get from divine design of husband-and-wife, the more challenging it becomes for children to navigate this command. 

            God certainly recognizes that we live in a world with all kinds of families.  He doesn’t sanction or approve of all family types but He certainly works with every person no matter how functional or dysfunctional their family is. 

            The answer to “who is my mother/father” that I’m called to honor in order to obey this verse is, “Whomever is or has had the ROLE of mother or father at any time in a child’s life” is who we are called to honor.  For most of us that will be one mother and one father.  For many it may include one or more grandparent, foster parent, adoptive parent, step-parent or other parental role model. 

Any child who has survived childhood was not raised by wolves or bears; they were ‘parented’ by a handful of humans. 

            So, have you got the answer to the first question in your head…at least for you? 

Question #2:  What does it mean to ‘honor’ your father and mother?

  1. Biblically speaking, honor is usually relational. It is from one person to another.  God’s call upon us is to honor Him and, by extension, people who are the only beings in the universe created in the image of God.  Things have honor or specialness—like the stars or biological complexity or a beautiful sunset.  But people are to be shown 
  2. Honor is a commodity we can give away. All of us have an inexhaustible reservoir of honor. We can hoard it and never give away a drop of it OR we can lavishly show honor to every person we meet every day of our lives and never run out of it.  That is why God’s call to “honor” parents is a command.  Every child ever born comes into this world with an inexhaustible reservoir of honor to give their parents.  From that first smile they give that melts their parents to the last kiss on a parent’s deathbed, honor is one of life’s greatest riches every one of us is born with.   
  3. Honor is attitudinal. It is about giving respect, deference and preference to someone in a way that seeks to cultivate and build relationship rather than distance or destroy relationship. In this sense, honor is different from obedience.  We can obey someone without honoring them.  Young children are called to obey parents.  Adult children living on their own or having families of their own are not required to ‘obey’ their parents.  But they are always required to honor them.  Because honor is attitudinal. 

ILL:  We all know that a child can ‘obey’ their parent’s command to wear certain clothing or not engage in certain behaviors or activities while literally hating, despising and dishonoring the parents they are ‘obeying’ by their attitudes of anger or disrespect or backtalking or sullenness. 

ILL:  My wife, Sandy, lost her father to cancer when she was 8 years old.  That left her mother with a 10-acre fruit farm in central CA and 4 little girls under 10 to raise.  She had no college degree and no marketable skills.  So when she sent Sandy off to college, she asked her to get some sort of marketable skill should the same fate ever befall her.  So after Sandy got her Bible degree in college, she went on to be a pastoral secretary while she worked her way through graduate school and got her Masters in Counseling.  She did that to honor her mother and respect the wisdom she had acquired through the hardship of losing a husband. 

Honor is about attitude.

  1. Honor is actionable/practical: it involves doing things that demonstrate the honorable attitude that one has in the heart.

ILL:  Some of you may know the name Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  He was one of England’s most famous and eloquent preachers of the 20th century.  While in college, Martyn felt a call to pastoral ministry; however, his parents really wanted him to be a doctor. So, after praying about the matter, he felt that the respectful thing for him to do would be to first become a doctor to honor his parents.  So he did.  He became one of the top doctors in his field, and then he left the medical field to go to seminary and became one of the most well-known pastors in English church history.  Honoring his parents took a decade of his life.  But I think history has proven that God more than made up for that costly and time-consuming gesture of honor to his parents.

  1. Honor is visible/public: it involves doing things that others can observe.  Jesus talked about this when he criticized the Pharisees for a practice they had set up supposedly to “honor” God but which was really about enriching themselves at the expense of dishonoring parents.  Listen to the story in Mark 7:

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

            We’re not completely sure what this “Corban” thing was about.  What we do know is that it tied up an adult child’s resources in such a way that they felt exempt from having to take care of their parent’s physical needs.  It was apparently a sort of dispensation or “Temple Investment Fund” that was made to look like a really benevolent religious investment but in actuality resulted in adult children disobeying this very commandment.  Jesus and everybody could see that openly.  Their dishonor was public…just as honor is usually public. 

ILL:  Last Sunday Sandy and I went to a “service of honor” of one of our African-American Pastors in town.  He’s a young man who started a new church in the midst of Covid.  He’s been struggling and serving this little congregation for 4 years, working bi-vocationally, leading people to Jesus and shepherding them faithfully.  So, as is common in the African-American community, they had a 3-hour celebration of his 4th anniversary as pastor.  The mayor came and read a proclamation.  Two other black churches brought their choirs and sang numerous numbers.  At least 6 or 7 other churches sent their pastors to represent them.  They took up an offering just for him…a walk-up-and-put-it-in-the-basket-in-front-of-everyone offering! His father who was a pastor spoke in his honor.  Bishop Shaun Davis prepared and delivered a 50 minute message to honor him.  Honor was visible and public. 

            Folks, don’t be ashamed to honor your parents publicly.  If I have one regret thinking about this command and my parents, it is that I didn’t take more opportunity to make my honor of them public.  I wish I’d thrown more public birthday and anniversary celebrations at which I and my siblings could have honored them.  Why do we wait to do that at their funerals?  Honoring parents doesn’t end when they die, but blessing them with that gift of honor does.   

  1. Honor is It involves listening to parents…no matter how young or old you are.  Prov. 4:1-4, 10—

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
    pay attention and gain understanding.
I give you sound learning,
    so do not forsake my teaching.
For I too was a son to my father,
    still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
    “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
    keep my commands, and you will live.

10  Listen, my son, accept what I say,
    and the years of your life will be many.

This is virtually a rephrasing of the promise God gives with this 5th Commandment:  “…that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

  • Parents of younger children: you must teach your children to listen and obey immediately.  We all know that when our little child is in the front yard with cars going down the street, it is absolutely essential that they hear and obey our voice when we say, “Stay in the yard.  Don’t go in the street.”  Their literal life depends on them obeying our voice when we see a car speeding down the street that they have no idea is out there.  Much of parenting littles requires this.  NOTE:  Better to give far fewer commands to children and carry through immediately with required obedience than to give a host of instructions that your kids know you will not follow through with both immediate and required obedience.  (Address the “curse of counting” 1, 2, 2 ½, 2 ¾, 2 11/32nds…) We are effectively cursing our children when we do not command what is essential or demand obedience to what we command.  (Address harsh, angry, rigid, over-controlling demands.  Discipline should include clear times of mercy and grace if we are to point our littles to Jesus.) 
  • Parents of teens: we must be wise enough to discern when we shift from giving commands to giving advice.  In the teen years, commands are for catastrophic and irreversible issues and dangers.  Advice is for everything   ILL: Joanna wanting to house-sit her senior year.
  • Parents of adult children: Unless your adult children are about to drive off a known cliff with their family in the car, wait for them to be in a frame of mind to listen.  How do you know they are?  When they ask you for advice/counsel.  Otherwise, just vent your need to give unsolicited advice in your journal that they will read some day when you are dead and gone!
  • NOTE: WHAT we speak is critical if our children, at any ages, are to want to listen to what we say.  If we are constantly criticizing or correcting children while rarely affirming, praising and complementing our children, they will have greater difficulty listening to us when correction is needed.  But if compliments and kind words are the norm and correction or warnings are the exception, there is a much higher likelihood that children of all ages will actually be listening. 

Additionally, parents, WE are the ones responsible to teach our children the truths and Word of God.  The Bible is very, very clear on this.  The education of our children in the truth of God’s Word is OUR responsibility from morning to night, at every meal together, when we’re driving them to soccer or ballet or school and when we’re tucking them into bed.  It isn’t the public or Christian school’s job to teach them; it’s OURS.  It isn’t the Sunday School teacher’s job to teach them; it’s OURS.  Christian character formation is what God will hold parents responsible for, not teachers or coaches or professors. 

So, while I’m talking to all of us who are adults in the room, notice one more thing about this command.  It doesn’t even use the term “children”.  [That comes later in the N.T. restatements of this in Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20 and I Timothy 3:4 & 5:4,8)].  The command is to ALL OF US: “Honor your father and mother….”  This command has no ‘sunset clause’.  Even when they are dead and gone, we are still called to honor them.  Sadly, so many Eastern, non-Christian cultures honor their parents better even after they are gone than do Western cultures while their parents are still alive.

            HOW are we all called as adults to honor our parents beyond what we’ve already talked about?  Let me give you a few more suggestions.   Besides listening, besides demonstrating honor, besides adopting attitudes that honor parents, here are some more important components of honoring parents.

  1. Seek their counsel. This relates to the last point.  Wise parents of adult children won’t often if ever give unsolicited advice.  So, ask for it!  You’re not obligated to take their advice.  But just asking shows honor to one of the few people in this life who knows you this well.
  2. Forgive them. Anybody who has been a parent and is even a little in touch with reality knows that parents make tons of mistakes, sin in tons of ways against their children and damage their kids in tons of creative ways.  But we honor anyone, especially parents, when we adopt an attitude of full, quick and genuine forgiveness towards parents.  This is one of the ways in which those who have had abusive or downright evil parents can lavish honor on dishonorable parents:    Forgiveness never depends on the offender asking forgiveness.  Reconciliation does, but not forgiveness by the offended.  So all of us, when we are tempted to nurse that memory of some parental offense, need to train our hearts and minds to choose forgiveness…over and over and over again.  NOTE:  some parents are so toxic that we must maintain distance or healthy boundaries.  But forgiveness enables us to do so in a spirit of honor, or sorrow, even of love rather than resentment, anger and hatred. 
  3. Speak TO them honorably. Let’s be honest.  It’s often easier not to have a lot of communication with some parents.  But going silent is not honoring to anyone (unless it is keeping you from cursing them).  Keep sending cards, letters, texts, tweets and emails.  Keep calling as much as you can.  And WHEN you communicate, honor them with your gratitude, your love, your concern and your interest in their lives. 
  4. Assist and support them. 1 Timothy 5:3-8 makes it very clear that both children and grandchildren are responsible for the physical and financial well-being of their parents and grandparents, particularly widowed ones.  Jesus himself modeled this when he told John to take care of his mother, Mary, while he was dying on the cross.  Up to that time, as the eldest brother of the family, he had responsibility for her welfare.  Joseph had apparently died.  And now, when he was dying, he took very seriously her future care and protection.  So he made provision by inducting John into his vanishing spot.  Folks, like it or not, it is not the government’s responsibility or Medicare’s or the retirement home’s or even the church’s responsibility to care for our parents.  Hopefully they will have managed their work life well enough to have a retirement that will last them until they die.  But if that hasn’t happened, God’s call on us is to honor them by providing for them. 
  5. Pray for and with them. The day will come when you will neither be able to pray with them or need to pray for them.  That privilege will end when they die and graduate to glory.  So we must enjoy that experience now.  It is one we will never get to have anywhere but in this life. 
  6. Speak truth in love to them. One of the challenging things about honoring parents at the end stages of life is that there is often a partial or complete reversal of roles.  Children end up “parenting” their parents.  Children must start protecting their parents.  They may need to make decisions in their best interests that the parents don’t like or appreciate.  Parents revert to being like children and children must assume the role of parents in their lives.  Many will eventually have to make end-of-life decisions about what kind of care to give or withhold. 

Paul had advice for Timothy in the church as to how to handle situations where older men needed to be corrected or even rebuked.  1 Timothy 5:1-- Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. 

Again, the standard for handling life in the church comes back to how we are to treat our parents.  Errant older men in the church are to be treated or “exhorted” as we would do so honorably with our fathers.  There are times older and elderly saints need a rebuke.  But “harshness” is never to be the style of church leaders with them just as it is never to be the style of adult children with their parents. 

We haven’t even talked about many of the blessings that come to those who live life honoring their parents.  The Bible virtually assumes that adults who are seeking to honor their parents will be people who have been taught God’s word by their parents and are trying to follow it faithfully.  One of the statistically significant results of a godly lifestyle is usually longevity.  While some people die as children, teens or young adults through no fault of their own, the newspaper and our streets are filled with the sad stories of many a life cut short because they failed to heed and honor their parent’s counsel and advice. 

            But many other blessings accrue to most people who have learned to honor parents.  They grow up to be people who practice honor with most other relationships.  They develop proven character that serves them well in jobs and business.  They are people who know how to submit to authority and how to exercise it over others well.  They are almost always simply great people to be around.  Honorable people bleed honor everywhere they go.


  • Ask God, “How have I done with obeying this command?”
  • What would you like me to change to honor my parents more fully?
  • Parents: Ask God to show you what you may be doing that makes it more difficult for your children to honor you…and talk with them about it.
  • Am I honoring my heavenly Father well?
    • A surrendered life to Christ.
    • Gratitude, praise, worship and service?
    • Speaking well of Him whenever I can?
    • Communicating with Him often in prayer?


[What are the biblical grounds for honoring a parent that may not be very honorable?

  1. Even fallen, they are in the image of God.
  2. The natural relationship of parent-child is one that God calls us to honor due to the position/role, not necessarily their behavior or character. 5th Commandment, book of Proverbs, especially chapters 1-7 & 31, Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:10; 1 Tim. 3:4 & 5:4,8
  3. The hard work/labor of parenting deserves honor: 1 Thess. 5:13
  4. We are called to serve others who are undeserving just as Jesus did, Phil 2.
  5. We are called to honor parents “in the Lord”, seeing God behind/in them no matter how distantly.

Limits of obeying parents?

  • Obedience is not required once a child is an adult and on their own, i.e. either “leaves and cleaves” or moves out on their own and is self-supporting and managing.
  • Obedience is required of dependent children unless what the parent is demanding is sinful or conscience-violating.
  • Children who are old enough to discern when parental commands are sinful should seek protection, help and support from godly, safe and trusted adults.
  • Obedience and honor are virtually identical for young children under parental guidance and protection.
  • Parents who are abusive of their children should be held accountable by the church, friends and civil authorities.]

Discussion Questions for Deuteronomy 5:16

“‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

  1. Of the twelve truths mentioned in showing honor to parents, which are most meaningful to you? With which do you or your children have most difficulty? 
  2. What additional ways of honoring would your family add to that list?
  3. Talk with your children about what your parents did that taught you to honor them. What did they do that may have made it difficult to honor them?
  4. Discuss the difference between obeying and honoring parents. Is it possible to obey without honoring?  Honor without obeying?  If so, how? 
  5. Talk about the examples you see around you of the blessings that come to people when they honor their parents. The problems that come when they don’t. 
  6. How does this command relate to and build off of the first four?
  7. Where in your life would you like to grow in showing honor?

Truths about honoring parents:

  • Be relational.
  • Be generous with honor. It’s free and unlimited!
  • Honor is about attitudes.
  • Honor takes action and is practical.
  • Honor is visible and public.
  • Honor speaks.
  • Honor listens.
  • Honor forgives.
  • Honor addresses them with kindness.
  • Honor assists and supports in physical ways.
  • Honor intercedes with and for them.
  • Honor speaks truth in love.