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God's Love Letters: The Family Commandment

By: Brad Zinn, Edited by Rebecca DeWhitt

Today we are skipping the fourth commandment in our series on the 10 commandments, and jumping right into the fifth commandment: Honor Your Father and Mother.


If this topic especially resonates with you check out our workshop series on parenting. Our next workshop is March 2nd.


Why Family Matters

Today’s passage comes from Exodus 20, verse 12:

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.


Right off the bat, you may notice that this commandment is the only one that comes with a promise. Do this so that you may live long.


The word “you” that the author uses here is plural. They aren’t writing to one person. They’re writing to the community:


If you, as a community, do this it will go better for the whole group.


To understand why I want to look at a definition of family that comes from a man named Tim Keller. He defined family as a learning community built on a covenant of lifetime loyalty.


I want to argue that that is a really good thing. It’s in families that God intends for us to learn our sense of self-respect and how to think outside of ourselves. Family, of all different kinds, is good for everyone if it’s working how it should.


When families work well they create healthy, thriving, independent adults. And those kinds of adults make a better society for everyone. This is why the role of parenting is so important and deserves to be honored.


But what happens when that isn’t your experience of family?


When Families Break

Some of you reading this commandment will get it right away. You may have generally positive relationships with your parents, and you may come from cultural backgrounds where honoring your parents feels like second nature.


But others reading this will have a different response. ‘Why should I honor my father who abandoned my family when I was young? Why should I treat my mother with respect when she was verbally abusive to me my entire life?’


What does this commandment have to say to people whose experience of their parents is not so positive?


I have a couple of thoughts about that, and the first is to find a connection to God as a parent.


In Romans 8:14 Paul writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”


God wants us to know his love as more than a theological concept. He wants us to know it in a real way. Accepting God’s love, letting it become primarily in our lives, is important for taking the next step in honoring our parents.


Continuing to Grow

The truth is that no parent has perfectly loved their children. Not one.


We all have holes in some areas of our lives left over from the way we were parented. Part of growing up is acknowledging these shortcomings and letting them go.


We may have a season first where we deeply grieve and grapple with the wounds our parents gave us. For some of you, those wounds are very deep and you may need to grapple for a long time.


But at some point, for your own good, I hope you forgive your parents. Forgiveness does not mean pretending it is okay. Forgiveness means acknowledging the wrong and letting it go.


There’s a connection between this journey and creating right relationship with God.


When we are children, our parents are like God’s to us. They feed us, clothe us, shelter us, and teach us. When things are as they should be, our parents meet all of our basic needs.


Part of growing up is realizing that our parents are not God, and releasing them from that expectation. If we don’t forgive our parents, we can’t fully turn to God because we’re still looking to them to meet those needs in our lives.


Our parents can’t fill those holes in us. They were never going to be able to fill all of them.


Turn to God to meet those needs instead. He can, and our whole community will be better for it.


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