The first command with a promise attached to it in the Ten Commandments is commandment number 5.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)
The Apostle Paul gives us further explanation when he sites this verse in one of his letters to the churches of the First Century.
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise),
3 SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. (Ephesians 6)
This section of the Ten Commandments deals with our relationships with others. The way that we treat others depends on our relationship with God and what our parents taught us while we grew up. Honor is connected with obedience. Honor is manifested in respect. The first authority figures that we have in our lives as we grow up are our parents. The way that we respect them shows our respect for God. The way that we respect our parents reveals how we will respect people in society. If we do not learn to respect our parents, we will not respect others. Ultimately, not respecting our parents is a sign that we do not respect God.
There is a direct connection between respecting God and respecting our elders. God makes this very clear in the book of Leviticus.
‘You shall rise up before the gray-headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32)
Gray hair is a sign of wisdom. It means that the person has much life experience and can offer advice to younger generations based on that experience. As young people, we lack wisdom so we need advice from our elders. This is why we are to respect them, and we demonstrate respect by listening to the advice that they have to offer. As younger generations, we must learn from our elders. We seem to be losing this idea in our modern world where naive, inexperienced young people want to take the reins of leadership from the older generations without learning from them. Here is how young, inexperienced people are described.
6 For at the window of my house I looked out through my lattice,
7 And I saw among the naive, And discerned among the youths A young man lacking sense, (Proverbs 7)
I. Advice to the young
God has a solution for this inexperience. He wants us to learn from the experiences of the older generations so that we will not make the same mistakes over and over again.
1 My son, keep my words And treasure my commandments within you.
2 Keep my commandments and live, And my teaching as the apple of your eye.
3 Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” And call understanding your intimate friend; (Proverbs 7)
When the younger generations do not learn from the experience of the older generations, here is what happens:
12 And you say, “How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof!
13 “I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, Nor inclined my ear to my instructors!
14 “I was almost in utter ruin In the midst of the assembly and congregation.” (Proverbs 5)
It has been said that a smart man learns from his mistakes. That is true. But, it has also been said that a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. One has the scars to remind him of his mistakes while, the other benefits from not making those same mistakes or carrying those scars. Being smart is great but, in this case, God wants us to be wise.
In my own experience, I have noticed a trend. Since younger generations are not being taught to respect their elders, they do not spend time with them, learning from their life experiences. It shows in our naivete. I was once leading a team of young people on a mission trip to a foreign country and I was astonished to see that good kids from good Christian homes were not being taught simple signs of respect for their elders. It may not seem like a big deal but it really is. When I was a child, I was taught that when an older person came near to where I was, I was to look them in the eye and acknowledge them, greet them in a respectful way. If I ignored an older person, I was reminded not to be disrespectful. While on the mission trip with the above mentioned teens, every morning at breakfast, none of them spoke to me, none of them greeted me. I had to be the first to initiate the conversation. The natives of the country always greeted me with a sign of respect. They did not do it to stoke my ego. They did it for their own good because they had been taught to respect spiritual authority figures. I finally asked one of our teens about it and he told me that he had not been taught that when he was younger. Maybe he had been taught and he just forgot about it. I told him to pay attention the next morning to see how things developed. He also noticed the difference in our teen team members and the local team members. I was able to share the reason behind it and he was grateful. I shared that some idea with another of the teen team members and he was highly upset at me and tried to accuse me of having a problem with my ego. I explained to him that he did not need to greet me in order to stoke my ego, he needed to show respect to me as a spiritual authority figure because that was how he would show respect to God. He never got it. He also admitted that he had never been taught anything like that. I realized that we cannot expect our kids to grow up knowing this. They need to be taught. The sad part is, although they need to be taught, they are not being taught. This is not something that I am supposed to teach them. This is something that they are to learn in the home. It is what we used to call “home training”. As a result, now you have kids who do not look adults in the eye when the adults speak. You have kids who do not pay attention when adults speak. You have kids who develop an attitude when they are forced to sit and listen to an adult speak. I see it every Sunday during church hours. Fewer and fewer kids are being taught to pay attention when a teacher is teaching or when a pastor is preaching. Instead, they occupy themselves with hand held video games to pass the time.
The apostle Paul deals with a similar situation in his letter to one of his disciples, Timothy. Children had not been taught to respect their parents and that manifested itself when they were older. Once the parents were up in years, the children and grandchildren saw their elders as a burden instead of an opportunity to serve.
but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. (I Timothy 5:4)
Mom and Dad had spent their youth raising these children. They had sacrificed much for these kids. Now, the kids are in a position to help Mom and Dad and instead, they were trying to put this burden on the church. It may take years before the lack of respect manifests itself but, it will manifest itself. How pertinent is this for our modern times!!! Siblings are fighting over who has to take care of Mom or Dad. The Apostle Paul goes on to write in verse 8:
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (I Timothy 5)
That should sting a bit. Jesus dealt with the same subject in Matthew 15:1-6.
The Word of God teaches to honor your father and mother, to serve them as you have the ability because they served you by raising you, giving you food, shelter, and clothing, education etc. How do you repay them once you are old enough to care for yourself? Do you forget about them? Do you avoid them? Do you excuse yourself from helping your parents, claiming to be poor yourself, or claiming to be too busy for them? This is what the Pharisees were doing. Their parents were coming to them in need of help. The Pharisees were people of power and position but because of their greed, they never had “enough” money and they were very stingy with what they had. So, when their parents came to ask for help they would say, “oh, I would love to help you but the money that I have now, I have dedicated it to God so if I give it to you then I would be stealing from God.” Then, once their parents were gone, they would selfishly spend the money on themselves. But, in order to calm their conscious, they would follow their traditions of men and claim to be okay with God even though they were breaking God’s commands by not honoring (helping/serving) their parents. Are you in any way like this? Are you guilty of not helping others, not because you cannot do it, but because you do not want to do it, then calming your conscious by saying that you “may” need the money later anyway etc.?
We must teach our children to respect God by respecting us. We must teach our children how to respect others by teaching them to respect us while they live under our roof. Are you being intentional about teaching your kids respect? Make it a priority today because tomorrow will be here in the blink of an eye.
II. Advice to the experienced
Now that you have lived many years and have life experience, it could be tempting to sit back with your arms folded and seek to reap the benefits of your work. In other words, to have the attitude of one who says, “I have served enough. It is time for me to be served by the younger generations“. Let me assure you, this is the wrong attitude. The disciples faced a similar situation. In Mark 10:35-45, all of the disciples were discussing who would be the leader of the rest of the group. They were fighting for that spot and looking at it with covetous eyes. Two brothers took courage and actually went and asked Jesus for the spot. The other disciples were furious with those two, not because of what they asked, but, because they beat them to the punch. Jesus sees the teaching moment in all of this and explains that things in God’s economy work very differently than in the world’s economy. Among the pagans, people strive with each other to climb the latter of success so that they can sit at the top and lord over their followers. In other words, they want to be number one in order to be served by everyone else. Jesus explains that in God’s economy, the order is reversed. Make yourself a servant of all and when God raises you up to a position, use that position to continue to serve others. Jesus used Himself as the ultimate example. He was and is the Creator of the world yet, when He came to the world, He did not come to be served by His creation. Instead, He humbled Himself and came to serve His creation. His people are to follow in His footsteps. So, use your life experience to continue to serve those around you, especially the younger, naive generations who need to learn from your wisdom. In the words of James Allen,
No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.
To my elders, thank you for walking with the Lord so faithfully all of these years. I pray that the Lord will give you many, many more years of faithful service to Him so that you can invest in the future generations!!!