Honor your Father and Mother
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)
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” One of the promises that God gave to Abraham’s descendants was that they would live in the land of Canaan. And the promise was that they would live long in that land. But that means it may not be that they live long in that land. In the past, that’s how it worked. They had to obey in order to live long. The promise didn’t mean they would just have a long life; it meant their days in the land of Canaan would be long.
In Ephesians, this commandment was quoted and interpreted as saying that if one honors his father and mother, he would have a long life. It was interpreted in a spiritual sense. But originally, the literal meaning was that if they honor and obey their father and mother, their lives in Canaan would be long. What that means is, since God said He would be their God – Immanuel – they would have to honor their parents in order to become one with God. This was very important. This is the very first relationship anyone has in this world.
Up to this point, only the relationship with God was talked of. But now, in terms of human relations, the first to remember is parents – to honor them. When we consider whether a person is a sinner or not, we observe the faith conscience that he has before God. And how do we judge one’s faith conscience? By the way they treat their parents.
When a person is considering marrying someone, although it is hard to know everything about their spouse-to-be, one will have the confidence and assurance about marrying that person when they see that their partner has a good relationship with his/her parents. If you see that your partner has respect for his or her parents, you can basically trust that person. Yet if he or she doesn’t even respect his or her parents, then regardless of how good they are to you right now, you can’t fully trust them.
So why did they have to honor our parents in order to have long lives in that land? If we read Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26, God says to them that if they listen to and obey His words, God will lengthen their days in the land He gives them. In other words, to obey God’s commandments and to honor one’s parents are the same. From whom do they learn about God’s commandments? From their parents. Back in those days, the word of God was not proclaimed and preached widely; rather, they were educated about the word from their own parents. They were raised with the Law. Upon circumcising their child, the parents pledge to raise the child according to God’s will, within God’s covenant, and from then on, they educate the child with the Law.
Hence it is the parents’ role to teach the Law. But what happens if the children don’t listen to their parents? They can’t be taught with the Law. And when such children grow up, they become those who do whatever they want, who walk around during the service, don’t give tithes, and take God lightly. Their children would grow up to not observe the Sabbath and so on. That is the result of not being educated properly. But whose responsibility is it to teach the children? The parents. Therefore if you honor your parents, you would be prosperous on earth and remain in God’s covenant. But not so, if you don’t honor your parents. The faith of the parents can’t be passed down. Thus for the parents’ faith to be passed down to their children, it is fundamental that they honor their parents. Otherwise, how can the parents teach anything to their children?
When you look at households that do well, the parents and children have a great relationship. So if the father is a physicist, the son also becomes a physicist, for example. This is quite common. Children learn from their parents. So if the father is a pastor, his children also become pastors. The children were taught and disciplined well from their childhood.
However, with people that don’t do so well, they were not disciplined properly growing up. They don’t have any respect for their parents. Therefore the most important thing to teach children is that they fear their parents and obey them. It says so here in the commandment. What is the first commandment regarding human relations? To honor one’s father and mother. As long as one keeps that commandment, they can be successful. But not so if they can’t do that. What is the use of being smart and clever if one doesn’t know how to honor his parents? Remember that person who broke his own mother’s ribs to get compensation from insurance? How clever was he, coming up with such ideas? But what is the use? He was using those brains of his to get money by injuring his own mother.
That is why, in order not to raise such people, what mothers have to teach their children first and foremost is how to honor their parents. This is the first thing to be taught. If children won’t listen to their parents, it’s needless to say anymore. Don’t even talk about teaching them God’s word. Don’t even expect to teach them God’s commands and make disciples. They don’t even have the basics. How can they be raised as disciples and servants of Jesus? It’s not possible. Perhaps, if God gives them special grace and touches them powerfully, such ruffians might change.
But even so, they would have to bear many losses. If they had been taught and educated well from the beginning, they would do much better. But without having such an upbringing and only being a cause of heartache to his mother all those years, one comes to his senses at the age of 40 because of his mother’s prayer and then becomes a pastor. Such a person already faces a lot of limitations. But with another person, he has received the wisdom of his father along with his father’s mindset, which are planted in him as a child.
With my children, because they write poems, and I had this idea that they would also be able to write essays. We somehow got to talk about writing essays, and someone also had suggested to my son to write a children’s story. And my son started to have an interest in writing a children’s story. So I quickly told him that writing an essay would be a lot better than children’s story. I told him that it is not because you are skillful in writing that your work touches people’s hearts; rather it is your truth and your thoughts in your writings that touch their hearts. I just told him, “How can you move people’s hearts by writing something that is made up? You will only be making up stories that are not true but lies.” I said that to him quite bluntly because I don’t want him to be writing such stories as a young child.
And then I told him, “If you turn your poems into complete sentences, they become essays. That is your truth. You need to make a habit of writing the truth. Don’t make a habit of writing lies. You should write essays, not creative children’s stories, if you want to write a prose.” This is what I said to him. How different would the outcome be between receiving such advice from his father and not having the change to receive it? If he starts writing creative children’s stories, however he feels starting in his early years, how different would his pathway be in his latter years? Children’s stories sound nice, but they are ultimately lies, made up stories. Even though people who know the truth write those stories to convey the truth through imaginary events, a child who doesn’t even know what the truth is shouldn’t learn to write lies by writing and creating stories, should he?
In this way, parents pass down their wisdom to their children. So how much do they already gain? If they go down the wrong path, they might have to undergo a lot of trial and error themselves, but being instructed by their parents reduces that significantly. How beneficial is it? We have not only acquired worldly wisdom but also the wisdom to serve God. Isn’t it great? We can teach about God’s will and the way to serve Him properly. Though other churches might talk about power, we can already teach about why we must have power. So we are saving a lot of time.
Let’s say a child doesn’t listen to his dad. He doesn’t like his dad, ignores whatever dad says and the mum also ignores dad. Then the child learns exactly that. Would he listen to anything his dad says? But thankfully, my children love dad. I would have to tell him to get away from me. Otherwise, they love being with me. So they listen to everything I tell them. They know how to respect and love which is why I can instruct them about faith. They take and accept what I teach them.
This wasn’t achieved by doing everything they wanted. I was very strict with them when they were little. Because I was strict with them, later on, they are able to show respect. If you are not strict with them when they are young, you can’t handle them when they grow up. They become your enemies. It is an act of faith to first teach children to honor their parents, just as the commandment says. If you say, “No, that’s not what I think”, then I can’t say anything more.
Remember that this is a commandment. It is God’s commandment. This isn’t one of the many theories on how you must raise your children. This is God’s commandment. Honor your father and mother. Teach them to honor their parents. We have to raise our children to honor parents, and we ourselves have to honor our parents. Of course, we can’t obey everything if our parents are unbelievers. Yet you would know whether you are disobedient to your parents because of your faith or because you disrespect your parents.
I struggled with this a lot before. When I was evangelizing, I was really hard on them, and then I thought, “Was I being too harsh to them?” and wept because I was sorry to them. But that was my sincere heart. I did that because I wanted the best for them. Back then, I would tell them harshly that they would go to hell. But later, when I thought about it, I was sorry to them even though that was my sincere truth. So in this way, I struggled with it a lot. If I had no concern for them, I wouldn’t even have that struggle. But I truly love them. So each person knows whether they despise their parents or truly love them. Let us pray that we have such faith to honor our parents and also to raise our children to do the same.
God our Father, help us to have a humble attitude to learn from and honor the men of faith who went before us and therefore keep the faith. Help us to uphold the order in the church. Also, help us to be parents who stand firm in our faith so that our children are not ashamed to honor us as their parents. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center