The Fifth Commandment says: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
Why is the Fifth Commandment called the “first commandment with promise”?
In giving the 10 Commandments, God specifically highlights how keeping the Fifth Commandment benefits both you and all of society.
The first four commandments define how God wants us to show love for Him. This Fifth Commandment that tells us to honor our mother and father begins a series of six commandments that show us how to love other people—starting from our earliest years in the family.
Honoring our Heavenly Father
In a way, the Fifth Commandment connects the two sections, since God reveals Himself as our loving Father. No father deserves honor as much as our Heavenly Father! Yet the Bible shows that humanity, and even those chosen to be God’s people, have often failed in showing that honor and respect to our Creator God.
God pointed out this much-too-common problem in Malachi 1:6: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?”
This Fifth Commandment helps us see how learning respect and honor in the family setting helps prepare us to show honor to our ultimate Father.
Biblical meaning of honor
In Exodus 20:12 the Hebrew verb translated “honor” is kabad. According to Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, this is based on a root meaning “to be heavy,” which in a good sense “came to connote honor and glory.” In the New Testament “the words translated ‘honor’ are timao and its derivatives ...
“Listening, respecting, and obeying are all implicit in the concept of honor. So is the dimension of support for needy parents that occasioned Jesus’ rebuke of legalists who resorted to Corban to withhold such support.”
Corban is a word used in Mark 7:11 as the excuse for not supporting parents. It was a word of Hebrew origin that meant a gift to be offered to God. People were dedicating money to later be given to God in order to avoid supporting their parents financially.
The first commandment with promise
The Gospels record Jesus Christ repeating the Fifth Commandment several times, including Matthew 15:4 and 19:19.
The apostle Paul also reiterated the Fifth Commandment, emphasizing that it’s the “first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:2-3).
“Obey your parents”
Paul adds to this in Colossians 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” All of God’s commandments are given for our benefit, but this one is especially highlighted by God for the blessings that it brings for the individual, the family and society in general.
The IVP New Testament Commentary Series notes: “The Greek word Paul uses for ‘children’ is tekna, which refers to young children living at home. While it is certainly not unusual to find instructions for dependent children in ancient household codes, Paul’s version is quite extraordinary because he treats even dependent children as Christ’s disciples. This is clearly the intent of the incentive clause for this pleases the Lord, which I think applies equally to fathers. The relationship between parent and child is centered on their common devotion to the Lord.”
Paul expands on this subject of family relationships with commands to both children and parents: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
What does obeying “in the Lord” mean? Matthew Henry’s Commentary gives three possibilities or aspects: “Some take this as a limitation, and understand it thus: ‘as far as is consistent with your duty to God.’ We must not disobey our heavenly Father in obedience to earthly parents; for our obligation to God is prior and superior to all others. I take it rather as a reason: ‘Children, obey your parents; for the Lord has commanded it: obey them therefore for the Lord’s sake, and with an eye to him.’ Or it may be a particular specification of the general duty: ‘Obey your parents, especially in those things which relate to the Lord.’”
A smooth functioning society and happy relationships are based on respect and obedience to authority. It is much easier if we learn this early in life—without requiring the harsh taskmasters of boot camp, prison or being fired.
Learning to “honor all people”
God wants us to learn to “honor all people” (1 Peter 2:17). We must submit to authority, “For there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1). This does not mean God condones repressive, heavy-handed leadership. He holds parents, teachers and other leaders to a stricter judgment (James 3:1).
Honor shouldn’t end when we leave home
Family is a lifetime commitment, reflecting the permanence of the family relationship we are called to in becoming children of God. As the apostle John wrote, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).
Family is a lifetime commitment, reflecting the permanence of the family relationship we are called to in becoming children of God.God intends for us to continue to show respect and honor for our parents long after we leave home and perhaps even more as they age and may require support and care. Read more about honoring parents as adults in our article “How to Honor Your Parents as an Adult” and the blog post “Honor Our Mothers.”
Jesus Christ showed the hypocrisy of some who tried to get out of honoring and supporting their elderly parents:
“Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:3-6).
God wants our honor to extend throughout our parents’ lives.
The vital parental role
The apostle Paul also commanded parents: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). To the Colossians Paul added, “Lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). Parents must not shirk their teaching role, but must do it in a way that is encouraging and doesn’t provoke their children.
The “training and admonition of the Lord” is explained more fully in the book of Deuteronomy.
God told parents: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).
The parental role is a vital one, and it is challenging. It is worthy of respect.
For further study about applying the Fifth Commandment and strengthening our families today, see the helpful articles in the “Family: Keys to Building a Strong Family” and the “Practical Tips for Positive Parenting” sections.
For more about the rest of the 10 Commandments, read the article “What Are the 10 Commandments?”