Moderator's Comments - Posted 25 July 2016
Tucked away in the catalogue of sins resulting from humankind’s rejection of God, are the words, “they disobey their parents” (Romans 1:30).
Children are part of the church, Paul expected them to be present when his letter was read to the Ephesians. He even expected them to be still paying attention as the letter concludes. His instruction to children is clear, “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). “In the Lord”, could mean as you would obey the Lord or obey your parents as the Lord obeyed his parents (Luke 2:51).
Paul then quotes the 5th commandment (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). This commandment transitions from the first four which concern our reverence for God. It includes the reference to “the Lord, your God” like the first four commandments. Commandments 6 to 10 concern our love for neighbour, the first neighbours we meet in life being our parents.
We are to honour our parents, the idea is giving them the weight or respect due to their position, after all they are like God to us, they are God’s channel of life to us. To honour them is open ended and non-specific. Paul sharpens this by instructing obedience by children. The command, however, is not limited to children. All of us are to respect our parents, in every way, in every stage of life. Respect, esteem and affection are to mark out dealings with them.
Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees who were “using traditions” to evade their God given responsibility of helping their parents.
Matthew 15:5 -7 shows Jewish leaders claiming they could not help parents financially because their finances were all tied up and promised to the Temple as part of their devotion to God. The proper honouring of parents and the aged is a mark of a healthy and God-honouring community. “He who robs his father and drives out his mother is a son who brings shame and disgrace” (Proverbs 19:26).
We were all raised by amateurs, we can all remember how some things could have been better handled, yet in this relationship we are to learn respect and obedience.
God is concerned for our treatment of the frail and the needy, the poor, the widow and the orphan. The frailest are mostly those at the very beginning and very end of life and we honour them and our redeeming God by our compassion and love which cares and provides. “There is no doubt that our nation’s elderly care facilities are among the loneliest places on the planet, stocked with persons whom time and families have too often forgotten” (John Holbert’s sermon on the 5th commandment).
Time, creative thought, a question for advice, gratitude expressed, a favourite meal, a visit to a special place, are all God honouring ways of honouring fathers and mothers and passing on a pattern of care to the next generation.
Parents also have responsibilities. Paul urges fathers not to exasperate their children by high demands or inconsistent standards (Ephesians 6:4). Psalm 78 fills out the responsibility to teach, “the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord…. so the next generation would know them… and put their trust in God and keep his commandments” (v4 -7).
Some churches have early Sunday traditional services for the oldies and later services for young families. Such a clear division is sad because each of these groups would benefit greatly from access to one another.
God is the God of the generations. He delights in families, He loves to see parents honoured, wives loved, husbands respected, children included and nurtured.
As family life is eroded around us, the unconscious witness of the Christian community, where reconciliation, love, respect and nurture are evident, has great apologetic value in this crumbling old creation.