Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sermon: Ephesians 6: 1-4 Honour Your Parents

The other night, we watched a programme on BBC3. The World’s Strictest Parents. So if you thought your parents were strict, you haven’t seen anything yet! The programme follows two rebellious British teenagers who are sent to live for a week with parents in some other country and culture. Monday night’s sent two teenagers to America, where they rebelled against the new rules before coming round to liking their temporary parents and making up with their own parents back home.

We’re continuing to work our way through the Ten Commandments, and tonight we reach the halfway stage. Commandment number 5, honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. We’ll focus on our reading from Ephesians, where the commandment is repeated, but also expanded.

I’m well aware, though, that even as we begin to think about these things the objections and the problems may have started in your head. Perhaps speaking of parents at all is painful for you if you’ve had a traumatic childhood, or lost a parent at an early age. Perhaps you know that your parents aren’t Christians, which leads to stress and pressure at home. Perhaps you think they’re too strict. Or perhaps your parents have both died, and you want to tune out at this point.

Please don’t! We’re going to try to be as practical as possible, as we look at what the commandment says, why it tells us to do it, for how long, and how. So what, why, how long and how.

So first of all, what. Paul in Ephesians tells us to obey our parents (as well as quoting the commandment to honour them). But what does that mean? As one of the commentators writes ‘The command to honour is hugely demanding and also tantalisingly vague.’ (Motyer) Demanding, but vague.

Perhaps we need some concrete examples. Teenagers, what happens if your parents ask you to help with the housework, or keep your room tidy, or doing homeworks? Do you do what they say, respecting them and their decisions, even when you don’t like what it is they’re asking you to do? You’d rather be out with your friends, or even coming to SET or church, but they want you to go visit your long lost auntie Mabel. Paul is saying to obey them in the Lord, for this is right.

Or what about when you have moved out of home, maybe got married. Do you still honour your parents? Do you still respect them, calling to see them, helping them to do things?

I want to give you a couple of examples of the principle from the Bible - so that we can see it both negatively and also positively. First of all, when people don’t obey their parents. Over in Romans 1, Paul is spelling out the consequences and symptoms of our ungodliness and unrighteousness. From 1:29: ‘They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.’ (Rom 1:29-31) Disobedience to parents is counted alongside murder, deceit, and hating God.

Or think of Paul’s warning of what the last days will be like: ‘For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy...’ (2 Tim 3:2). So both as a sign of where the evil of the human heart takes us, and how things are continuing to be in these last days, to disobey parents is to sin against God. I’m sure that all of us, in various ways, and perhaps long ago, have sinned in this way.

In contrast, then, let us consider the glory and example of the Lord Jesus. We’re not told much about Jesus’ childhood, but in Luke 2, we read this: ‘And he went down with them to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.’ (Luke 2:51)

Do you remember the start of Mr Bean TV programmes? The light shines down and he lands (out of an alien spacecraft?) The Lord Jesus didn’t just beam down onto the earth at age thirty for his three years or so of teaching ministry - he lived and grew up among a family, no doubt where Mary and Joseph made some mistakes - but Jesus submitted to them. Jesus honoured and obeyed them - no matter how frustrating it might have been. Remember that Jesus fulfilled the law - even this commandment!

As we’re saved, we have a new relationship to the Law, which will show itself in how we relate to those around us. The first four commandments are how we relate to God; the last six are how we relate to those around us - our duty to our neighbour, as the Catechism would say. But notice that our first duty to our neighbour is in the home, to our parents.

Notice, at the same time, that Paul also addresses fathers in the same breath (although mothers, you aren’t excluded!). As you expect your children to obey you and honour you, you should not ‘provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ So that’s the what - honour, obey your parents.

Why should we obey our parents? First of all, Paul says that it is right, and then goes on to quote the commandment. Along with the commandment, do you see it, comes the promise. ‘That it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ There is a blessing that comes from our obedience, which I think, is linked to the strong, stable society that comes about through the honouring of parents.

Just look around you. If parents are seeking their children’s wellbeing and best interests, but the children rebel, then they’re going to be putting themselves in danger. To dishonour parents (the first of our duty to our neighbour), is to create the patterns of dishonouring those around us. Similarly, to dishonour parents, those set in authority over us by God, is to dishonour and disobey God.

But what about when our parents aren’t Christians? What if they aren’t bringing you up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? What if, as it seems to you, they are holding you back from service or stopping you from doing what you think you should be?

I know how you feel! My parents aren’t Christians, and there was a difficult period at home when I was deciding to pursue ordination. I was graduating from university, and didn’t have a job. My parent’s response was to tell me to go and get a real job, not be a minister. What was I to do? You might have noticed that I am a minister, so obviously I pursued it, but respecting my parent’s wishes; taking my time to go through the various selection procedures, so that mum and dad could see that it wasn’t a phase I was going through, that it was what I had to do. I even deferred entry into college for a year so that I could continue to work and save up some money for college.

Don’t rush to disobey, take the time to hear what they’re saying, seek to respect them; obey as far as possible - unless they’re telling you to do something immoral or indecent. There may come a time when you must obey God rather than man, but don’t assume everything is that kind of issue. Your submission can even be a witness to them.

That also raises the question, though, of how long we should go on honouring and obeying our parents. Is it just while we are children, minors, or is it a lifelong command? Consider Matthew 15 (turn there with me) - Jesus is confronting the Pharisees who hold their traditions higher than God’s commands. ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded ‘Honour your father and your mother’... But you say “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God’, he need not honour his father..”’

It’s obviously adult children in view here, where the Pharisees tried to urge them to give to God the money they would have used to care for their parents. It’s as if you turn round to your parent and say, sorry, I’ve given your nursing home fees to the church, so you’ll just have to do without. Jesus says that this is disobeying God’s command, it is dishonouring to your parents. So the command is a lifelong command - as long as you still have your parents, keep on honouring them. Now obviously this will be slightly different to how you honour them when you’re younger and living at home with them, but the onus is still there to honour.

Paul writes the same to Timothy in his first letter. In the first century, there was no old age pension, no housing benefit, or warm homes allowance. Widows were truly alone, without a breadwinner. Care for them fell to the church. But ‘if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household... But if anyone does not provide for his relative, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ (1 Tim 5:4,8) So if your parents are old, and you’re grown up, you still have that duty of care and honour.

Earlier we raised the matter of those whose parents have died. 1 Timothy also reminds us that the church is our family. That the older men and older women we have (obviously dependent on what age you are yourself!) are like fathers and mothers. ‘Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.’ (1 Tim 5:1-2)

We can extend and widen this command to honour your parents in the domestic family to include also the church family. So the command isn’t irrelevant for some, but all can honour elders and family members in this our church family.

To honour and obey our parents is to please our heavenly Father and to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, who perfectly obeyed this command, and whose sacrifice cleanses our sins even in this area. Those times of disobedience are forgiven in Jesus’ cross. Go and start again in pleasing your Father, and honouring those parents you have, in your family and in the Lord.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 17th October 2010.

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