Family Life, God’s Way
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Family Life, God’s Way

Exodus 20:12  (ID: 1694)

Today’s culture worships youth but disregards authority. Alistair Begg challenges us to consider that when the fifth commandment requires us to honor our parents, it establishes a principle that is at the foundation of society. Honoring our parents reflects the degree to which we honor God. As this principle is worked out in practical ways, it has the potential to transform our society for the glory of God.

Series Containing This Sermon

Pathway to Freedom

Exodus 20:3–17 Series ID: 20501

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to Exodus chapter 20, where our focus this morning is on the twelfth verse as it provides for us the fifth commandment. Any of you who are visiting today might know that we’re in a series called Guidelines for Freedom where we’re studying the Ten Commandments together on these particular Sunday mornings.

The fifth commandment reads in the twelfth verse of Exodus 20 as follows: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” You can find its restatement in Ephesians chapter 6, when Paul writes to the Ephesians, and in addressing concerns of their relationships with one another—wives and husbands and employers and employees—he says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and your mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”[1] So you may want to have that just as a cross-reference, at least in your mind.

The well-being of a person, of a people, of a nation begins within the home. Virtually all civilizations have regarded the recognition of parental authority as being indispensable to a stable society. And this bears testimony to the fact of God’s natural law. Every so often, in the media, as it relates to matters of court—especially the Supreme Court—the question is again raised, “Is there such a thing as natural law?” And the Bible says, “Yes, there is.” For example, in Romans chapter 2, when Paul is addressing the issue of the culpability of men before a holy God, he points out that sometimes the gentiles even do things that they ought to do, and they don’t even have the revealed law of God. And he says in verse 14, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required [of] the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”

In other words, right into the existence of humanity are written certain things as a result of God’s creative handiwork. And one of these, which is expressed in all civilizations, is here in relationship to family living and to the responsibilities of parents for their children and of the children’s need for submission to their mom and dad. Now, what is natural and in natural law is expressed in God’s revealed law, which is encapsulated in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, which we are now considering—and namely, expressly this fifth command.

Now, if your reaction to this, especially in light of where we’re living at the present time, is to sense that our prevailing attitude within our culture concerning parental authority and childhood responsibility is sadly lacking, then you’re fairly accurate, and you’re not without biblical warrant. The situation in the environment in which we are living is something very, very different from that which is envisaged in Scripture and is called for in this fifth commandment. From, apparently, inconsequential things like the dropping of the designation “Mom” and “Dad” in favor of the use of the father or the mother’s first name, so that it’s kind of trendy for children to answer the phone, receive a call for their parents, and instead of hearing them at the other end of the phone shouting, “Mom!” or “Dad!” they shout, “Tom!” or “Barbara!” or whatever it is. It’s sort of trendy. It’s not supposed to matter a great deal. It’s neither very trendy, and it does matter a great deal, as I’m going to show you. That on the one hand, at the superficial level. It then is marked on the other end by the evidences of this kind of childhood divorce mentality, whereby children are now in such a position of ascendancy in our culture that they possess all these rights which God never intended for children ever, ever to have.

And the culture in which you and I live this morning is a culture in which there is a shameless disregard for God and for his purposes. Our society is like an overused school bus lying at the side of the freeway with its wheels fallen off, its axles buckled, and its door swinging on the hinges. It can’t move. It doesn’t know where it’s going. It doesn’t know how to rectify itself. It can’t get back on the road. And if ever anybody would stand up and say, “Why don’t you take a look at the Maker’s instructions?” that is regarded as the most naive stupidity ever conceived of.

“Hey, did you ever think of considering the Bible? You know, ‘God created the heavens and the earth.’[2] He made us. Maybe there’s something in there that would explain why we’re in the mess.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. And the Ten Commandments, with their express conditions for life lived in the right way? Away with them all! We have no time for them. Now let’s get back to the decrepit old bus of our society and see what we can do.”

So we’re a joke. We’re a joke before the Islamic world, because they at least understand principles, and they’re prepared to implement them no matter what. We’re a joke before the Chinese culture, even in its communism, because they look at us, and they say, “If that is what they’ve got, and that is their disregard for family life, and if that is the way they treat the elderly, then we don’t want what they have.” And we are so surrounded by jingoistic notions of how good we are at everything that we can’t even see how bad the situation really is. And it all comes back to the kitchen table. It all comes back to mom and dad and the children.

Now, that’s why this commandment is so fundamentally important. We may have been tempted to think in the first four that they’re somehow at arm’s length, that they’re maybe anachronistic, that they’re not really that significant. “I’m sure they’re important,” says somebody, “but I don’t know how they relate to me.” But there isn’t a boy or a girl here this morning, nor a mom and dad, who’s going to be able to say, “I don’t understand how the fifth commandment has a part to play in my life.”

The apostle Paul, in describing decadent culture and in describing the days which he refers to as “the last days,”[3] which will precede the coming of Christ, as he describes the chaos of those societies, it’s very interesting. For example, again, back in Romans and in chapter 1, where he describes the dreadful decline of a culture when it turns its back on God, when it embraces foolishness, when it worships the creature rather than the Creator,[4] when it falls into the abyss of homosexuality, when “men [commit] indecent acts with other men, and [receive] in themselves the due penalty for their perversion”[5]—whatever that may mean, it means that there is cause and effect—and they don’t “retain [their] knowledge of God,”[6] and they “become filled with every kind of wickedness,” look at this in verse 29: “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” That covers most of the magazines that you find when you’re waiting at the checkout. They’re there. That’s what they’re sold on the basis of, that list there: “evil, greed and depravity … envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” And then just turn to one magazine over, and there they are: “They are gossips”; that’s another magazine. And they are “slanderers”; that’s full of another magazine. They are “God-haters,” they are “insolent,” they are “arrogant,” they are “boastful; they invent ways of doing evil.”

Now, listen: right in the middle of it all, “they disobey their parents.”[7] Surely that’s not so significant! I mean, we understand the malice, and the insolence, and the strife, and the hating God. But how could you have “they disobey their parents” dropped into such a dreadful list? You find the exact same thing in 2 Timothy chapter 3. Timothy, as a young man pastoring in his day, receives instruction from Paul, and Paul points out, “People will love themselves,” verse 2, “they’ll love money. They will be boastful, proud, abusive,” and then here it comes: “disobedient to their parents.”[8]

If we’re tempted to think that the Ten Commandments are lost somewhere in the history books, the fifth commandment, of all commandments, ought to bring us back to reality fast.

Now, how I’d like to handle it this morning is by first of all considering it in terms of some general instruction and then of specific application.

General Instruction

So, let’s consider, then, the fifth commandment’s general instruction. What does the fifth commandment teach?

This is what it teaches: it teaches the general principle of paying respect to whom respect is due and honor to whom honor is due. And it does so by underlining the fundamental and specific responsibility children are given to honor their parents. No child, no family, no church, no city, no country, no people will ever give honor where honor is due and respect where respect is demanded unless, says the Bible, they are taught the fundamentals of respect and honor within their home and for their moms and dads.

There is a direct correlation in our culture between a total disregard for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the embracing of foolishness in matters of family living.

The responsibility of parenting, the parental authority that God gives, is God-given. It is divinely delegated authority. God says, “This is how I want authority to be administered within the home. It’s not going to be anarchy. It won’t be chaos. It’s not a free-for-all. Everybody won’t call everybody by their first name. There will be a father, and I will make him the spiritual head of the home and hold him accountable. There will be a principle of mutuality between husband and wife. There will be submission on the part of the wife. And the father and the mother will unite to give direction and to give instruction to those children, who are gifts from the Lord, who are entrusted to his care, who are to be trained to be brought up in obedience and in the instruction of the Lord.”[9]

Reverence for parents is an integral part of reverence for God. Indeed, you cannot reverence God if you don’t respect your mom and dad. It’s as simple as that. It is a folly to say that my life is devoted to Christ if my life is not devoted to my parents. Okay? When, in Leviticus chapter 19, the Lord speaks, he says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy,” and then the very next sentence reads, “Every one of you shall revere his mother and father.”[10] It’s almost like he anticipates the question: “Now,” he says, “you’re going to be holy because I am holy.” “What do you mean we should be holy?” “Number one: revere your mom and your dad. Whatever else you do, start there.”

It was on account of this that the death penalty was enacted for those who cursed their parents—Leviticus 20:9. That’s how seriously God considered the issue. Because, you see, the authority which is entrusted to parents is a divinely delegated authority. Therefore, when a child curses his mom or curses his dad, he curses God, for the parents are in the place of God. Now, the penalty no longer remains, but the place which God affords to respect for one’s parents has not changed.

And when you think this out, dear ones, you realize that there is a direct correlation in our culture between a total disregard for the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the embracing of foolishness in these matters of family living. Why is there so much silliness spoken about family life? Why is there such an unbelievable disregard for basic, elemental, obviously commonsensical aspects of our lives that were so much a part of the past? From whence cometh this stupidity? Okay? The answer is, it comes at another point, at a higher level, with a disregard for God.

America says it believes in God. What it means by that is multifaceted. It means that God is a cosmic principle. God is a good idea. God is a stellar power. God is whatever you want him to be. And therefore, if God is a servant of our wills, then we’ll be able to develop culture in whichever way we determine. But it doesn’t believe in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who says, “I am holy. You shall be holy. Respect your mother and father.” We don’t believe in that kind of God, and so, having rejected the only God that exists and having removed his handbook for our lives, we’re left with total stupidity. “The fool [has said] in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”[11] And the foolishness that pervades a culture that rejects God is manifested all around us every day. It’s just silly. And if it weren’t so sad, it would be funny at times to see the pathetic way in which we conduct affairs in our nation.

Now, the church fathers, when they wrote concerning the fifth commandment—indeed, concerning all the commandments—they were keen to point out not simply the express statement of the commandment but the intent that was included with it. And so the church fathers, when you read them on the fifth commandment, they point out that the principle of respect and honor within a culture extends, for example, to other kinds of parents that we have.

And they thought of it in terms of, for example, political parents and the notion of Romans 13—that we should respect those who have the authority over us, if you like, for God and for country,[12] that that will be an expression of honor where honor is due; in the same way that we would be respectful of the flag because of what it represents. They understood that.

In the same way, they recognized that there are spiritual parents which God gives us—that within the framework of the church, he gives pastors and elders, and those men are responsible under God for the guidance and development of that congregation. They will answer one day, on the day of judgment, for the way in which they made decisions and the way they conducted their affairs;[13] and therefore, the people of God should submit to their spiritual parents.

In the same way, they spoke in terms of chronological parents—namely, folks who are just older than us. And they said in any society that is going to be true to the Scriptures, there will be respect for teachers, for police, for elders, for pastors, and for the elderly.

Now, the fact is that this flies in the face of where we live our lives. There is a natural human dislike for authority. And people are essentially walking around—if you were to open their shirts, they’ve got an undershirt underneath, and on the front it says, “Who says?” Okay? How many times in a day do you hear that?

“Now, I think that we ought to do such and such.”

“Who says?”

“Well, I say.”

“Well, who are you?”

And so it goes on. There’s a complete, endemic reaction to authority, and their reaction is to the authority of God. People in the street don’t understand that. But the reason that they don’t respect their parents, won’t obey the police, won’t submit to their teachers, won’t do all these things is because they reject the authority of God over their lives. And the Ten Commandments bring us back to this with clarity.

Now, the promise that attaches to it is a lovely promise: that we are to honor our father and our mother “so that you may live long,” and, in express terms here, “in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Now, before we start to spiritualize this in anyway, which we should avoid, this is a straightforward command by Moses that had express application immediately to the people who were the recipients of it to begin with. When you think about the notion of the land as we move from the time of Moses and through into the time of Christ, and we think of all that eternity will be, you can see that this promise goes far and beyond any kind of immediate geographical or historical application. And we ought to be clear as well that the promise is probably not to be seen as a motive—in other words, “Honor your father and mother so that…” “Honor your father and mother.” Why? Because God says. Okay? This is not pragmatism: “Honor your father and mother if you want to live a long time.” The living a long time is a result of honoring your father and mother; it’s not a motivational principle.

In the summertime we had a number of folks who visited us here in the lovely evenings we spent outside in the Open Line open air event, and on one particular occasion, one of the families brought their elderly mother, elderly grandmother. The lady, if I recall, was within about twenty-four months of turning a hundred—a tremendous lady, very alert, lovely, and interesting. We had a long conversation. I was out driving home with my children. One of my children said, “You know, that lady must have really honored her mom and dad”—which proved, at least, that he understood there was a fifth commandment and there was a promise.

Now, what I pointed out to them then was that the application of the promise, the principle, should probably be regarded as in a general way—in, if you like, a proverbial way—not to diminish the promise or to disregard or set aside the instruction, but simply to say this: we all know there have been lots of disobedient children who died young, right? And we all know… I beg your pardon; there have been lots of obedient children who died young. And there have been lots of disobedient children who have hung around for an awful long time. Does that invalidate the principle? No, the principle remains true.

And I think the issue, rather, is that rather than it being a categorical promise to individuals, it is a general promise regarding the social stability which attaches to a community in which children honor their parents. Undisciplined children spell ruin for a nation, for a church, for a society. And the principle is this: if you listen to your mom and dad and they give you godly instruction, then you won’t go with the crows. People shoot crows. If you go with the crows, there’s a chance you’ll be shot. If you listen to your mom and dad, then you’ll keep from doing that and going there, and there’s a chance that your life is gonna last a lot longer than if you have a total disregard for their parental jurisdiction and you say, “I can do what I want, with whomsoever I choose, any time I want.” The principle is not invalidated by the exceptions to the rule.

All of that by way of general instruction.

Specific Application

Let us come, then, to some specific applications of this fifth commandment.

First of all, let us define “honor” here: “Honor your father and mother.” Somebody obviously’s gotta say, “What does that mean?” Well, the Hebrew word for “honor” is the word kabed, k-a-b-e-d. And it simply carries the meaning of “to be heavy.” “To be heavy.” And it points to regarding our parents as eminently worthy of a weight of respect. Okay? Let me turn it around the other way: sometimes we hear people say, “You don’t treat me with an ounce of respect.” Okay? The idea is that there is a weightedness about respect—that an ounce is not enough respect; a pound is better, and two pounds is more, and a hundredweight would be great, and a ton of respect is what is called for here. There should be tons of respect for our parents. It demands tons of it. We look at them, and the weight of honor that we ascribe to them is really heavy. It’s a heavy-duty command.

The Greek word which is correlative to it is timao, t-i-m-a-o, and it conveys the notion of fixing a right evaluation upon their worth. Fixing a right evaluation upon their worth. It’s kinda like The Price Is Right. They put the thing out—the old vase or whatever it is—and you’re supposed to place a right evaluation on its worth. Well, the worth that we place upon our parents is not on the basis of how much we like them, or like what they’re saying to us, or whatever else it is, but the worth that we place upon our parents is because God Almighty has placed our parents in this responsible role, and the worth and honor and respect that is due them is on account of God’s plan and prerogative. And the honor which we give to our parents is to be a reflection of the honor that we give to God. Okay?

So that’s it defined, in terms of the weight of respect that we owe them and in terms of fixing a right evaluation upon their worth. So, a boy in the house is speaking unkindly about his parents, and maybe his brother is sitting in the bedroom, says, “You know what? You are not fixing a right evaluation on Mom and Dad. You are not honoring them.” Okay?

The honor which we give to our parents is to be a reflection of the honor that we give to God.

Now, if that is how honor is defined, how is honored displayed? Let me just run through a number of these in the time that we have.

First of all, let us just note in passing that the honor that is called for is an obligation; it’s not an option. It’s not as if we can choose to opt into this if we like, and if we don’t, then we’ll just have a Christian life without this particular one. We can’t do that. It’s obligatory. (That’s easy for me to say.) It’s obligatory; it’s not optional. All right? So, for those of you who thought you were going to skip the fifth commandment, move quickly to the sixth, you’re in deep trouble. All right?

So, the honor is displayed, number one, in practical respect. Practical respect. We understand disrespect, don’t we? And if you don’t know what respect is, then respect is the opposite of disrespect. And since many of us have got disrespect down, then what we do is we just turn disrespect around, and you end up with respect. We would like to be able to teach respect and then people discover disrespect, but all having discovered disrespect, we will teach respect in counterbalance to the disrespect that we’ve already embraced.

We disrespect our parents when we mock them with our tongues. That is disrespectful. Therefore, to respect them means that I don’t mock them with my tongue. I disrespect my parents when I speak unkindly about them; therefore, I respect them when I speak kindly about them. I disrespect my parents when I address them in public in such a way as to make them appear as though they were a member of my baseball team that I didn’t particularly like rather than that they were my father who begot me or my mother who conceived me. I disrespect my parents when I’m talking on the telephone, asking for a ride home from such and such a place, I treat them as if they were some dreadful cab driver who ought to be glad of my business. Therefore, I respect them when I treat their kindnesses towards me with the honor and revering that is due them. Proverbs chapter 23: “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when [you are] old.”[14] I display practical respect for my parents when I show them courtesy. Courtesy. I display practical respect for my parents when I look into their eyes when they’re speaking to me.

Do you know how difficult it is to get people to look at you these days when you speak to them? If a guy does not look at me when he speaks to me, I’ll tell you one thing: he never looked at his parents when he spoke to them. If your children cannot hold the gaze of somebody in public, it’s because you have not taught them to hold your gaze when you speak to them. And the one time I don’t want to hold my mother’s gaze is when I know she has something on me and I… She’d say, “Will you look at me when I’m speaking to you? I’m not speaking to a board. I’m not speaking to a wall. I’m speaking to you, and your eyes are the gateway to your soul. Look at me.”

Proverbs 6:23. Incidentally, young folks, you want to take Proverbs and get it and just chew it up. Eat it. Memorize it. Read it. Think it out. Proverbs 6:20:

My son, keep your father’s commands
 … do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Bind them upon your heart forever;
 fasten them around your neck.
When you walk, they will guide you;
 when you sleep, they will watch over you;
 when you awake, they will speak to you.

Tremendous picture, you see. You see the responsibility that is given to parents here? This is the flip side of Deuteronomy 6: “These things shall be upon your hearts, and you shall teach them to your children when you walk along the road, and when you lie down, and when you get up.”[15] In other words, it will be so much a part of your lives together that these things will be transferred into your kids. They will be wrapped around their necks. They will be carried with them. They will be driven, as it were, into their chests. And in the darkness of a night, when the music beats and the temptation is loud, what will it be that keeps them? It will be your prayerful commitment to instruct them, even when they seem so disregarding of that which you offer to their care. It will keep you, he says.

For these commands are a lamp,
 this teaching is a light,
and the corrections of discipline
 are the way to life.[16]

“The corrections of discipline are the way to life.” They’re not the way to bondage. They’re not the way to death. Freedom, in the current framework of things, is total bondage, and the expression of Christianity, which appears to be bondage, is actually the gateway to freedom!

All right. Let’s move on.

Honor is displayed, then, in practical respect. It is displayed in genuine love. Genuine love. We’ll come to this as we conclude, God willing, if we have time, in the story of Joseph, but genuine love within a family and for children to parents is not something slushy; it’s not something sentimental. It’s a heartfelt expression of affection. And it needs to be cultivated. And it needs to be cultivated at particular times. And parents need to be wise about the funny times—these adolescent years, where it appears that after you poured everything into these kids, they suddenly grew up and said, “These people are crazy! I don’t know why I’m even living in this house! Look at her! Look at him! Listen to him! I can’t believe this stuff!” And it appears, in that sort of strange wilderness experience in between their adulthood and their crawl from childhood, that there’s maybe nothing much there at all. But hang on! Keep the lines of communication open. Keep looking in their eyes. Don’t let them lock themselves away with regularity in their rooms. They’ll come around again. You’ve gotta cultivate genuine love. If you want to have friends, you’ve gotta be friendly. If you want to have love, you’ve gotta be a lover. Some dads are not good at this. They say, “I provide.” “Hey, I didn’t want toys, Dad. I wanted you.”

Thirdly, we honor our parents when we display express obedience to their commands—that is, that we say no to stubbornness, we say no to rebellion, we say no to despising their instruction and their direction, and we say yes, once again, to the book of Proverbs 1:8: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” It just comes time and time again in the wisdom of Solomon.

Real obedience is a matter of attitude, not simply of actions. Do you obey your parents from the heart, youngsters? Do you obey in the attitude of your heart? It’s possible to do things, to maintain an external frame of existence, to become a kind of Pharisee in training, cleaning the outside of the cup and making sure that everybody knows that you’re doing everything right, but in your heart you’re like a grave, you’re like a tomb,[17] you’re so rebellious, you’re so disrespectful, you are in such violation of what your parents are asking from you that only those who know you from a distance could ever believe that you are expressing honor to your parents by obedience to their commands. It’s an attitude of the heart. That’s what obedience is, first of all. My actions are an expression of my attitude.

Are there limitations to obedience to our parents? Someone always asks that: “Well, you know, I don’t have Christian parents, and they asked me to go and to steal a car from down on such and such an avenue. Am I supposed to obey my parents then?” No. The obedience to our parents is within the framework of the instruction and guiding principles of truth and righteousness. But, for example, if I am facing a decision living at home—maybe I want to get baptized, and my parents are from a completely different environment, they don’t understand my faith in Christ, and they call for my obedience—should I be baptized, or should I obey them? I think you should obey them if you’re living in your home. For you will be able to be baptized at an age of your own accountability. They are your parents.

Obedience that violates the commands of God—for example, in Acts chapter 5, where they were told, “You shall no longer speak concerning Jesus”[18]—well, would we then obey our parents if they told us no longer to speak concerning Christ? No, I don’t think so. But it’s a principle, you see. It’s an attitude of heart.

Correlative with this is that honor is displayed to our parents when we submit to their discipline. When we submit to their discipline. Every parent worth their salt disciplines their children. Hebrews 12:9: “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.” We may not have enjoyed it at the time when the pow was coming and the wow was going. We didn’t like that. We didn’t like the “Oww, oooh, ahhh.” That was no fun. But now we’re twenty-five, and we realize that that afternoon was an important afternoon.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I kicked my sister into a corner table. The table came out—it was octagonal—it came out at point like that. She’d been really offensive to me, but that’s not the point. I chased after her; I couldn’t reach her, and I just kicked her tail end and just knocked her clean into the table—put a point in her head, just like this. I can still remember the hiding that I got that afternoon. I resented it for forty different reasons. After all, she had tried to hit me with something before then, and, of course, I got caught, and I was the oldest, and everything else. But I remember it, and I’m thankful for it.

We honor our parents when we repay the love and care and trouble that they’ve taken in our lives.

The people I’m really concerned about are the ones I see in the supermarket buying off their kids—squawking monsters, riding in chariots, holding the whole place to ransom. “What would you like, honey? Kudos? Do you like Kudos?” “Naahhhh!” “Popsicles?” “Naahhh!” And the mother’s just going totally insane. Take the little rascal out of the chariot, round behind the place, give it the pow-wow, wait for the wowing to stop, bring it back, put it in the chariot. Otherwise, when that chariot becomes their own chariot and they drive it, when you put your head on the pillow at night, they will be going looking for another kind of Kudos to satisfy the passionate hunger of their lives.

This stuff works. It’s not just true. It works. Our society doesn’t want to admit it works. It works. One mom, one dad, children in obedience to their parents. Here’s your answer to so many questions.

Finally, we honor our parents when we repay the love and care and trouble that they’ve taken in our lives. The Pharisees were real bad at this stuff. They should have been taking care of their moms and dads, and they weren’t. And they tried to justify it on the basis of their commitment to the church. You can read this account in Matthew chapter 15, where the Pharisees came and started to annoy the disciples with their questions. And the fact of the matter was that they were just downright hypocritical. And they were saying—you can read this in Matthew 15—they were saying that “if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it.” And Jesus says, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”[19] “You’re a bunch of hypocrites.”[20] In other words, “You can’t weasel out of your commitment to your mom and dad when they get old because you’re giving money to the building program at Parkside Church.” Don’t tell your parents you won’t be able to come and see them in Arizona because you’re tithing to the building plan. Your parents are your parents. That’s what Jesus is saying. Don’t be a bunch of Pharisees.

When Paul writes to Timothy, he says, “There are widows in your church, and they’ve got children, and they’ve got grandchildren? Then let the children and the grandchildren take care of the widows.”[21] If churches and families were serious about this, then it would be radically different. And it’s gonna have to get radically different, loved ones, ’cause this system is not gonna work. I don’t know who’s coming up with the system, but it isn’t going to work. You can’t keep getting older and older and older people with less and less capacity to care for themselves and plug it up by any system, except the system that God ordained. The Chinese understand it; they’re committed to the extended family. The African culture understands it; they’re committed to the extended family. We just reject it—flat out reject it.

And Newsweek magazine, December 1991, did a report on hospitals that have turned into dumping grounds for grannies—said that “38 percent of the hospitals” that responded to a survey by a Senate Aging Committee reported “as many as eight elderly patients” were “dumped on … emergency wards every [single] week”;[22] reported that “barely half of the American public believe it is the children’s responsibility to look after their parents.”[23] But you know what? Why would we be surprised? Do you think this is going to change? Do you think that the children who tomorrow, at the age of seven months, are gonna be taken to a day care center not because their dad died in the war and their mommy has to go to work but because their mommy wants to be a “real person” and doesn’t believe in parenting and in marriage and in motherhood; she wants to be a real person, and so she’s gonna put the seven-month-old in the care of some yahoo who oughta be staying home looking after her kids, probably, and the whole thing goes down the tubes from there. So we’ve got all these tiny little kids living in these boxes. It’s unbelievable. If you think, if we think, that children who have been dumped for the first six years of their lives are gonna somehow come through for their mom and dad in the last six years of their lives, we’re crazy!

So, the Kevorkian solution, as bizarre as it appears at the moment, won’t be so bizarre five years from now, won’t be so bizarre ten years from now, and may even be commonplace by the time our children have us as a responsibility. Stalin was able to murder multi-multimillions. Hitler was able to murder multimillions. We are currently murdering millions in the womb. Why would we ever think that we won’t do it at the top end?

What’s the answer? The fifth commandment, given by God to Moses thousands of years ago and relevant this morning in twentieth century society. It’s wonderful! I’m so excited! I want to go out and stand on the corner and hold up my Bible and say, “Hey, guys, listen to this stuff! This is good! This is true! This is life changing!”

Are you committed to this? Will you live this out? Will you be radical for Jesus’ sake? Are you prepared to make a dent in your office, in your street, in your home, in your family? Are you prepared to put your money where your mouth is with your family and your loved ones? Are you prepared to make a difference? Something’s sadly wrong when other cultures without our Bible are better at dealing with the long-term care of the elderly than we with our Bibles and our apparent commitment to Jesus Christ.

What do we do? We push people up the ladder of success fast so that we can topple them off as quickly as we can. We don’t respect old age. We don’t respect wisdom. We just don’t! We don’t bring these people back to ask their advice or their guidance. We blow them off. We are committed to youth, youthism. We change our hair. We change our face. We have makeovers. And we’re not committed to youth because youth is tremendously efficient or it has a commitment to hard work; we’re committed to youth on the basis of image. On the basis of image! We believe that old age at best is relief from having to get up in the morning, and at worst it’s an existence which offers no reason whatsoever to get up in the morning. So that’s what you’ve got to look forward to. You look forward to saying, “Oh good, I don’t have to get up,” and then you lie there, and you go, “I don’t know why I would ever get up.” So life ekes out.

Those who have given their lives on our behalf demand our utmost commitment and respect at the end of their days.

The fifth commandment says that Christians should be the best visitors of their families where they’re in long-term care; the Christian should be the most willing at the accommodation of their families and most prepared to put their resources to the areas of greatest need; that Christians of all people should uphold the place of maturity and of old age. Old age is taboo. Youth is worshipped; old age is dreaded or despised. We live in a society that isolates and impoverishes those who have given their lives that we might have an existence. This is really wrong!

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m [eighty]-four?”[24] Are we just gonna be two more old friends on Euclid Avenue, sat on a park bench with a coffee from McDonald’s and sharing an apple bran muffin, looking at one another and wondering? Or are we gonna be some of the lucky ones that go to Florida and get to live in Morrison’s Cafeteria? There’s a sad place! There’s a sad one!

And I’ve gotta tell you, loved ones, when the signal goes out and the word is sent and the call is made, the people who go first to respond to this are not your conservative, evangelical, committed, Bible-believing Christians. The people who go are the people with a theology that we would not embrace but with a heart that we cannot match. And the fifth commandment says to me, we better get our hearts and our attitudes and our resources in line with our convictions; that as parents, we better teach the wee ones how to honor us as they grow, but in our growth, we better not forget that those who have given their lives on our behalf demand our utmost commitment and respect at the end of their days.

In Leviticus 19:32, it says that we should stand up in the presence of old age. Some of you remember that, don’t you? I used to wonder as a kid, “Why do I stand up when the teacher comes in the room?” Every day the teacher walked in, the whole class stood. Why? As a mark of respect. Why was I always told when someone came to visit my house, “Don’t sit there, stand up”? As a mark of respect. Why were we told, when ladies came back into the room, to stand again? As a mark of respect. Why were we told to take our hats off when we were eating in a public place or standing in a public building? As a mark of respect.

What do we really know about respect, about honor? That’s the challenge of commandment number five.

Let’s pray together:

Our God and our Father, once again, your book pierces our hearts, challenges our minds, and calls for a response. We know we’re sinners and we need a Savior. We’re not going to make ourselves acceptable to you by keeping the fifth commandment, or even keeping all of them. We can’t do it. We’re flawed. We need a Savior. And I pray that as a result of studying these first five commandments, as a result of being confronted by who we are before a holy God, that there will be people, even here this morning, from where they sit, who say, “I want to settle the matter of my eternal destiny. I need to trust in Christ.” I pray, Lord, they’ll take the time to go to our prayer room, that we might give them literature, might be able to pray with them, respond to them.

And for those of us who name the name of Christ, I pray that you will close the gap between what we know and what we verbalize and how we live. Make us zealous this week for the truth of your Word in a society that is completely crazy when it comes to these issues. Give us bold sensitivity, genuine love, and may we honor our fathers and our mothers. We commend one another into your care.

May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself, the peace of the Lord Jesus guard and keep our hearts and minds, and the joy of the Lord Jesus strengthen us as we seek to serve him. For we pray in his powerful name. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 6:1–3 (NIV 1984).

[2] Genesis 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[3] 2 Timothy 3:1 (NIV 1984).

[4] See Romans 1:25.

[5] Romans 1:27 (NIV 1984).

[6] Romans 1:28 (NIV 1984).

[7] Romans 1:30 (NIV 1984).

[8] 2 Timothy 3:2 (paraphrased).

[9] See Ephesians 6:4.

[10] Leviticus 19:2–3 (paraphrased).

[11] Psalm 14:1; 53:1 (NIV 1984).

[12] See Romans 13:1.

[13] See Hebrews 13:17.

[14] Proverbs 23:22 (NIV 1984).

[15] Deuteronomy 6:6–7 (paraphrased).

[16] Proverbs 6:23 (NIV 1984).

[17] See Matthew 23:26–27.

[18] Acts 5:28 (paraphrased). See also Acts 5:40.

[19] Matthew 15:5–6 (NIV 1984).

[20] Matthew 15:7 (paraphrased).

[21] 1 Timothy 5:4 (paraphrased).

[22] Melinda Beck, “A Dumping Ground for Granny,” Newsweek, December 22, 1991,

[23] Michael S. Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chicago: Moody, 1993), 134.

[24] Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “When I’m Sixty-Four” (1966).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.