The Fifth Commandment and the Goodness of God

Grandfather and Granddaughter

The fifth commandment instructs children to honor their parents. Ultimately, the fifth commandment points to God’s loving concern in establishing the family. The family structure provides for the care and nurture of children and of the infirmed and elderly. [1]

In thinking through the implications of the fifth commandment, we’re reminded that God is a loving Father. Deuteronomy 32:6 says, “Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you.” In fact, Jesus taught the disciples to pray by addressing God as Father (Matt 6:9). As Father, He loves us, guides us, disciplines us, protects us, and the list could go on.

Second, the fifth commandment reminds us that our hearts are stubborn. Throughout Scripture, children are encouraged to honor and obey their parents. For example, Proverbs 1:8 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” In Paul’s letter to the churches at Ephesus and Colosse, he reiterates the importance of children obeying parents (Eph 6:1, Col 3:20). In fact, the charge to honor parents doesn’t end at adulthood. We are called to respect our parents even as adults (Prov 23:22). Moreover, we have responsibility to care for aging parents (Jn 19.25-27, 1 Tim 5.8).

Third, this commandment reminds us of the blessing of a Christ-honoring family. God has graciously established the family to provide for the nurture and instruction of children. In Deuteronomy 6:4-8, God calls His people to love Him wholeheartedly and to pass on their faith to the next generation. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul emphasizes the father’s role in proper discipline and instruction of children. Thus, the family provides the context for the nurture of children and is the means by which the gospel is passed on to children and grandchildren. As children see their parents’ and grandparents’  love for God and commitment to Him, their hearts and lives are shaped.

Fourth, this commandment reminds us that in Christ, we’ve been adopted into God’s very own family. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me” (2 Cor 6:18). Even if a person has no children, God places those who trust in Him in a spiritual family with brothers and sisters in Christ who provide support and help. This is the good news of the gospel that our stubborn hearts can be transformed in Christ and that we can be members of God’s own family.

In our days, the family is clearly under assault. With the rise of the hook-up culture, cohabitation, and rampant divorce, children are left bearing the weight of the consequences of adult decisions. But God has given us a better way. He intends for one man to marry one woman, to stay married, and to nurture children in the faith. As these children grow into adulthood, they continue to honor and eventually to care for their aging parents.

As believers, we must strive to keep families together; we must refuse to “throw in the towel” when the going gets tough. Of course, when family difficulties arise, the fifth commandment reminds us that in Christ we have a loving Father who provides forgiveness, strength, help, and hope. Indeed, the fifth commandment prompts us to recognize the goodness and kindness of God in establishing a family structure that promotes human well-being.

 [1]The structure for this post is based on recommendations from Ray Ortlund, “Preaching the Ten Commandments,” The Gospel Coalition, April 16, 2015.