A promising First Commandment: Honor Your Parents
Let’s continue with the Apostle Paul’s discussion of Christian parental honor in the book of Ephesians. Again, we’ll be centered on the Rev. Martin Lloyd Jones’ sermon on Ephesians.
Of course, the Apostle Paul doesn’t stop at emphasizing the natural law. His words soon move toward a second thesis. After saying, “This is right,” he adds, “This is the first commandment with a promise.”
“Honor thy father and mother, for this is the first commandment with a promise,” Paul emphasizes that honoring parents is not only intrinsically right, it’s one of God’s Ten Commandments. “Honor your father and mother” is the fifth of the Ten Commandments.
Honoring parents in the Ten Commandments
Here’s where things get interesting. In some ways, there was nothing new in the Ten Commandments.
So why did God give us the Ten Commandments in the first place? It’s because the Israelites, and all of humanity, had foolishly gone sideways, forgetting the fundamental principles of God’s life.
In other words, God intended to say, “I’m going to reintroduce you to these forgotten principles, one by one, and I’m going to put them all in writing so you’ll remember them.”
Disobeying parents, stealing, and committing adultery have always been considered criminal offenses since ancient times.
So the Ten Commandments weren’t the first law to prohibit such behavior. However, the reason God gave the Ten Commandments was to remind people that “these are the laws you must always keep.”
Furthermore, the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments, about honoring parents, was “the first commandment with a promise.” As such, God wants us to pay attention to it.
So what does “the first commandment with a promise” mean? This is not an easy question to answer.
A precise answer is impossible. First of all, it certainly doesn’t mean “the first commandment with a promise,” because none of the other commandments have a promise attached to them.
If the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments each had a promise attached to them, then we could think of the fifth commandment as the first commandment with a promise.
But the other commandments have no such promise, so there must be another meaning to Paul’s words.
What Does “the First Commandment” Really Mean?
So what does “the first commandment” really mean? Perhaps he meant that the commandments about relationships with people begin with the fifth commandment.
As we know, the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments deal with issues like idolatry, the name of God, and the Sabbath, while the remaining six deal with relationships with people.
It may also mean that the first commandment is not the first in the order, but the first in the sequence – the most important and paramount commandment, so much so that God adds a promise to it.
Of course, no commandment in the Ten Commandments is particularly more important than the rest. They are all equally important.
However, there may be one that is relatively more important. Therefore, I prefer to understand the phrase “first commandment” to mean “a norm that, if ignored, would undermine the very foundation of society.
Whether we like it or not, the breakdown of the family leads to the breakdown of society as a whole. This is the greatest threat to society today.
When Family Relationships and Life Are Broken
When the concept of home, family relationships, and family life are broken, we lose the goal of commitment. This is a very serious situation. This seems to be why God added the promise to the fifth commandment.
But the meaning of the text goes further, revealing a deeper truth. The relationship between a parent and a child is unique in its own right, but it also hints at a higher level of relationship.
This is because God is our Father. God himself uses the term “Father.” Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven”.
Therefore, our physical father reminds us of our heavenly father. The relationship between children and parents reminds us of God’s relationship with all of humanity.
We are all God’s children, and God is our Father. “We are his resurrection” (Acts 17:28).
The relationship between parents and children is an archetype, a testimony, and a model that reflects Christians’ relationship with God.
Paul alluded to this fact in Ephesians 3:14 and 15. He said, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, who has given every family in heaven and on earth a name”.
Some argue that this should be translated as “God is the Father of all fathers”.
But no matter how you translate it, the implication is that the relationship between parents and children reflects our relationship with God. In this sense, the parent-child relationship is unique.
God’s Will in Family Relationships
The relationship between husband and wife, as we saw earlier, reflects the relationship between Christ and the church, and the relationship between parents and children alludes to the fact that God is the Father and we are His children.
The family relationship, the relationship between parents and children, has this sacred significance. This is why God included honoring parents in the Ten Commandments. He even added a promise to the commandment to “honor your father and mother”.
So what was that promise? It was, “It shall be well with you and you shall live long on the earth.” This promise was originally given to the Israelites.
When this promise was originally given to the Israelites, God said, “If you want to live a long life in the Promised Land, where I am leading you, keep all the commandments, but especially this one. If you want to live happily in the Promised Land under my blessing, keep all the commandments, but especially this one.” This was the original promise.
However, the Apostle Paul generalized this promise as he had to deal with both Jews and Gentiles who converted to Christianity. “If you want to go well on earth and have a long life and enjoy contentment, honor your parents,” Paul said.
Conclusion: The Reason Why Honor Your Parents
Does this mean that if you fulfill your obligations to your parents, you will live a long life? No, not necessarily.
However, if you want to live a happy and fulfilling life under God’s blessing, you must keep this commandment.
God may bless you with a long life to make you an example for all people.
Of course, those who honor their parents will enjoy a happy life under God’s good hand and blessings no matter when they pass away.
However, honoring parents should not be formal. If we keep the commandments, especially this one, with the right heart, God will be pleased with us and bestow upon us grace and blessings. We thank God for such a promise.