"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'"
It is easy to read this verse and quickly apply it to children, particularly your own if you have them. “Of course they need to honor me! Have you seen the disrespect children show to their parents these days?” Every parent wants the youth minister to create a six-week sermon series from this Pauline sermonette.
But what about you adults? Though you might be “of age” and quite independent physically and financially from your parents, you are still spiritually (and physically) dependent on your Heavenly Father as much today as the day of your spiritual birth. Now, it is true, we are indeed admonished by Paul not to be childish in our speaking, thinking, and doing, but central to many of Paul’s letters is the reminder that childhood is fundamental to the Gospel and our identity as Christians. We never graduate from being a son or daughter of God. Almost paradoxically, in the Christian life we put away childish ways and thinking only as we grow more like a child in our relationship with our Father. Though we graduate from thinking and acting like children, we never graduate from being children of the Father.
Thus, when Paul addresses this sermonette to children, indirectly he is also speaking to us and asking: “Are we obeying and honoring our heavenly Father?”
The earthly relationship reflects the status of the eternal.
Our God has paternal instincts. In the landscape of scripture, we see God describing Israel, and then the Church—us, not just as His people, but also as His children. He is our Father, and we, His children. Therefore, our disobedience, is not exclusively a breach of contract with the one true God, but also a breach of relationship with our Father. And this is why the fifth commandment is what it is—to break the first four is an affront to the one, true God, but He is also our Father. The fifth commandment is directly related to the first. How we honor our earthly parents reflects how we esteem our heavenly One. If we cannot obey and honor our parents who are seen, how will we possibly obey and honor our Father who is unseen? So test your allegiance and honor to the earthly as a thermometer for the heavenly. But what if you have dishonorable, deficient, flawed parents this side of heaven? The command to honor remains. However, amidst their pitfalls and shortcomings, be reminded of the Father who is for you what they never could be, who flawlessly loves and never fails. Your earthly parents may fall short, but the heavenly stands flawless.
Honor begins with remembrance.
The first command Paul offers the church in Ephesus is “Remember!” (2:11). It is the only direct imperative in the first three chapters of the letter. Why only this one command? Paul knows God wants our love and our life, but our love first. To get our love we must be reminded of His. The blood flows out from the heart and affects the entire man. So the heart is the primary target, and the chink in its armor is love. Paul shoots an arrow to that exact location when he states, “In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” who has given us “access in one Spirit to the Father” (1:4ff; 2:11ff). Remembering Him is the pathway to be motivated to honor Him, because by remembering we remind our hearts of the immeasurable, preexistent, incomprehensible love of the Father for His children. He made us His children by making Jesus, His firstborn Son a stranger to His Father. Through His estrangement we are no longer strangers, but sons.
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory.
Honor culminates in resemblance.
Paul continues to admonish us to “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” and, “be imitators of God as dear children.” As a child, I delighted in being just like my dad. Did I already resemble him by birth? Yes. But I desired to be more than a static image of him; I wanted to actually image him in word and deed. When he mowed, I grabbed my Little Tikes mower to do the same. When he played baseball, I wanted to hit and throw like him. He also spent early mornings on his knees in prayer in our living room, and I wanted to do the same. I was so proud to be his resemblance that I wanted to resemble him. So also this is how we honor our heavenly Father. We are not simply imitations. We are imitators.
Pause today and ask, “Am I honoring my Father?” Begin with your feet on earth but do not stop until you set your heart in heaven. Honor Him by remembering and resembling. Graduate from being childish, but never graduate from being His child.