The Law as a Door to the Gospel: The Fifth Commandment

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

Honor your parents. The first four of the Ten Commandments address our duty to God. The last six outline our duty to man. The first relationship considered is the parent-child relationship, which in principle also applies to any other authority relationships. This is the first commandment that carries a promise with it. Honor your parents so that you will live long “in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

This commandment should be near and dear to our hearts as parents. Our children will not be blessed unless they learn to honor and submit to God. One of the primary ways they submit to Him is by obeying their parents, God’s delegated authorities in their lives.

What does it look like when a child is honoring his parents? Let’s consider a sampling of practical, where-the-rubber-meets-the-road ways a child can honor his parents (and the other authorities in his life):

  • Obey and show respect, even when his parents make mistakes
  • Listen carefully to what they say to him
  • Answer his parents respectfully and acknowledge that he has heard them
  • Look at parents when conversing with them
  • Speak politely about them
  • Speak politely to them
  • Think God-honoring thoughts about them
  • Show common courtesies such as opening the door for them, standing when they enter the room, seating his mother, etc.
  • Give up own desires and comfort in order to serve and help his parents
  • Listen to and heed their counsel
  • Thank his parents for the different things they do for him
  • See, admire, and imitate their strengths
  • Pray for his parents
  • Willingly obey their godly commands
  • Do what his parents would want, even when he is not with them
  • Respect his parents’ privacy
  • Keep his word to his parents
  • Complete the tasks his parents give him to do
  • Prove his willingness to obey before asking permission to appeal to his parents
  • Spend time with his parents
  • Seek to please his parents with his words and actions
  • Honor their wishes regarding dress, music, hairstyle, etc.
  • Pray for them
  • Respond humbly to correction
  • Taking care of the things his parents have provided for him

A child is disobeying God’s command to honor his parents when he:

  • Refuses to make eye contact
  • Rolls his eyes in response to parents
  • Glares at his parents
  • Mumbles when speaking to parents
  • Doesn’t talk to or withdraws from his parents
  • Interrupts when his parents are speaking to him or others
  • Talks back or argues with his parents’ decisions
  • Throws a tantrum
  • Questions his parents’ motives
  • Mocks or makes fun of his parents
  • Speaks behind his parents’ backs
  • Criticizes or sets himself up as his parents’ judge
  • Challenges his parents’ decision in the presence of others
  • Speaks sarcastically to his parents
  • Purposely does what he knows his parents do not want him to do
  • Chooses to wait until he feels like obeying instead obeying immediately
  • Withholds important information from his parents
  • Resists their leadership
  • Ignores his parents
  • Takes offense when corrected
  • Physically resists discipline
  • Neglects to fulfill his assigned responsibilities
  • Disobeys his parents when they are not present
  • Deceives his parents
  • Outwardly complies with parents’ wishes while inwardly rebelling against them

Obedience doesn’t come naturally; it requires us to acknowledge that we are not in charge of our lives, and that’s a hard pill to swallow, even (or especially) for a two-year-old. He will fail to obey many, many times, and we will have many, many opportunities to help him see how much he needs Jesus. He can’t fully obey God’s law. He needs Jesus to pay the punishment for his disobedience. He needs to “put on” Christ, and then God will see His Son’s righteousness when He looks at him. He needs the Holy Spirit who will renew and empower him to do what he cannot do in his own strength.

We mustn’t forget to tell them this.


Note: Doorposts has produced several products that might help you in teaching the Fifth Commandment to your children:

  • Honor Your Father and Mother is a coloring and teaching book for young children, which explores in picture form, the many ways they can obey this commandment.
  • For This Is Right expands for older children the meaning of the Fifth Commandment, with the help of the Westminster Larger Catechism.
  • A Checklist for Parents is a simple tool with 26 questions to help parents examine themselves in the light of God’s Word.

The first and last books are available digitally as well as in print.


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