The Direction the Commandment Leans PDF Print E-mail
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 11:05

We usually recognize that if we want to rebuild our culture, we are going to have to do something about the family. The contemporary family is all messed up, and we know that unless the Lord turns the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, the result will be that the land is struck with a curse (Mal. 4:6). We are clearly right in the middle of this.

The idea that Malachi has that the land will be cursed if something is not done about the relationships between fathers and children is one that is foundational to biblical law. The fifth commandment is explicit on the point—only stated positively. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12). And the apostle Paul picks up on this and expands the promise enormously.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:1-4).

The promise was originally given to the children of Israel, and it applied to the land that the Lord was giving to them. Paul applies the command to Gentile children in Ephesus, and applies the promise linked to the command to the earth. This means that the duty, and the promise associated with the fulfillment of that duty, is one that extends to the end of the world, and everything in the command and promise applies to us here in the United States of America.

Now we all know that if we want a healthy nation we have to have healthy families. But one problem arises with the definition of “healthy” and how to answer those folks who say that healthy means Heather having two mommies. Another problem that is far more common in Christian circles is the problem of inverting what God says to do about it when families are all messed up. We accept the biblical diagnosis of our condition, but refuse to listen to the cure.

In other words, we look at the wreckage of yet another family, and we think to solve it with the therapeutic option. Countless individuals are seeking counsel on how to repair the emotional damage that their parents caused them while growing up. We are trying to fix the problem, but we are trying to do it while neglecting what God said to do.

Please note, in writing this I am not assuming that parents cannot be the cause of much damage. They most certainly can be. But one of the central areas where they have done damage is through their failure to teach their children how to honor and respect their parents. And parents should not do this because they, the parents, are needy and clingy, but rather because they know that this is the means that God will use to bless their children throughout the lives that they will live on the earth. And when parents have failed, is the solution to pay someone fifty dollars an hour to listen to complaints about how your father wasn’t “there for you.” I dare say he wasn’t—he is a sinner too—but the uniform biblical response to messed up families is what?

There are two family commands in the Ten Commandments. One is the requirement that both husband and wife be faithful to one another. The other is given to the children. The family commandment, interestingly, is not given to the parents. There is not one of the ten saying something like, “Thou shalt bring up thy children in an environment of affirmation and acceptance.” Parents should do that, of course, but my point here is the direction the commandment leans. When Paul repeats it, he applies it in the first place to the children. He says that they are to be obedient. He says they are to honor their parents, and that God promises a great blessing when this is done. Paul then adds that fathers should not get in the way of this, that fathers should not stumble their children into disobedience. So it is true that parents should surround their children with love, affection, and discipline.

But the question is this: if our families are in a cycle of disobedience and disintegration, how are we to break the cycle? If we start with the Ten Commandments, we see that the responsibility for breaking the cycle rests with the children. Honor your father and your mother. And if the response is “but they don’t deserve it,” the biblical response is that the commandment never said they did deserve it. It just said to honor them.

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