Sunday, January 8, 2012

What Does it Mean to Honor Our Parents? (Part 2)

One of my readers asked me why I referred to the commandments as words (e.g., the injunction to honor our parents as being the fifth word). Well, I wanted people to think about it, and it's my understanding the Hebrews used this vernacular. Mainly though, I wanted us to see what Jesus meant when He reprimanded the Pharisees for forsaking the word of God for their traditions. God revealed something about Himself when He verbalized what we commonly refer to as the ten commandments. By following the Hebrews on this by calling them the ten words, makes it more difficult to take for granted what God has done. The ten words are not merely a set of rules, but a concise verbal picture of the necessary state of the kingdom of God. The ten words clearly describe what the relationships between the human members of His kingdom and Himself and each other must be because the unchanging God is holy and is Love.

If we don't fully understand the basis and purpose of the ten words, we will end up taking up a post-modern approach to answering the dicey question of what it means to honor our parents; we will resort to privatizing our interpretations rather than seeking to please God first and last (see last week's posting). The fifth word under investigation here, as with the other nine words, must flow from a heart that seeks to love God first and therefore love others, rather than one covering its backside by attempting to follow all the rules.

We must love God first because it is through this exchange of love between us and our Creator that we learn to understand the heart of God expressed by the ten words and be empowered by God so to love others effectively and completely. It is for this reason--and it is no accident--that God gave us the first four of His ten words:

1) You shall have no other gods before Me.
2) You shall not make an idol.
3) You shall not worship an idol.
4) You shall keep the Sabbath holy.

We cannot analyze this in depth here. But summarizing we have: we must acknowledge God alone because there can be only one god. A multiplicity of gods would only mean there is no ultimate authority, which is tantamount to no authority at all. And to love God is to obey Him because of His authority that He expresses through a love for us; our obedience must be to God, alone; therefore when we make idols for ourselves, either consciously or not, we end up dividing our heart--one cannot serve two masters; by worshiping an idol, we really seek to control the god we have created for our selves--we no longer love God on His terms; finally, God has given us the Sabbath as a time to set aside all of the things in life that distract us to focus on Him, listen to Him, seek Him, and learn from Him because He is the necessary source of understanding and power by which we will succeed in living the ten words and be the kingdom where He dwells with us.

The remaining six words describe how this preeminent love for God will express itself to others; in other words, how the love that begins with God defines and empowers the love that drives and defines the relationships within His kingdom:

5) Honor your father and your mother, so you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
6) You shall not murder
7) You shall not commit adultery
8) You shall not steal
9) You shall not give false testimony
10) You shall not covet your neighbor

When Jesus summed up the Law and the prophets—that is, what defines the purpose and governance of the kingdom of God—He said first to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength--every part of us placed in submission to God--which, of course, are the first four words. This preeminent love for God is essential because it must define, dictate, and drive the second purpose Jesus tells us for the Law and the Prophets: to love our neighbor as our self--to obey the remaining six words. And the second purpose is like the first because the same love unites them all.

The reader should ponder these six words. What he/she will discover is every possible cause for failure to love each other--that is, every cause for failed relationships--can be explained by failure to obey the last six words. If we fail to honor our parents, no doubt we have failed to love them or others as God has loved us.

Let's put some meat on that last point by asking the question: Is it possible to attempt to love our neighbor at the expense of a preeminent love for God? Or to narrow it for our discussion: Is it possible to honor our parents at the expense of our first love for God?

The question is interesting because one of the main reasons children are to honor their parents is because the parents are to be the primary source of educating them of whom God is, His faithfulness, and, therefore, the need to believe, trust, and obey Him—that is, to walk in faith. Indeed, God likely placed honoring our parents as the first of the last six words because of their role in focusing the new generations on God. So do our parents carry ultimate authority? Can they ever demand too much of their children?

Well, Jesus, by his admonition recorded in 10:34-39 of Matthew’s gospel, does seem to suggest the possibility of putting our parents before God:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it,and whoever loses his life because of me will find it."[NET]

Luke in 14:26-33 of his gospel records it this way:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say,‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions."[NET]

Much can be seen in Jesus' words, but clearly it is possible for us to put our parents before God. As with all earthly attachments—even those right and proper—we must willingly give them up for God. Our possessions, aspirations, relationships, and yes even our parents can become idols to us. And we justify turning our parents and family traditions into idols by isolating the fifth word from the other nine.

For example, I know a person who will not be baptized or take communion because he was taught this by his father, and so does not want to dishonor his father. That person has placed his father ahead of God, which is actually dishonoring to both; the person has placed his familial relationships before the kingdom relationships; the person hasn't properly assessed the cost of following Christ, and has left himself outside the kingdom. The reason is it hasn't ended there for the person, other relationships have also suffered. You see, misappropriating love in one area of the kingdom, if left unchecked, will always distort all the other areas, eventually.

We are now ready to tackle the meaning of honoring our parents in more specific and practical ways--the place I suspect you have patiently awaited. But I have spent two blogs bringing us to this point in order to instill in us we can only love others (e.g., honor our parents)on the basis of a preeminent love for God. Therefore, practical must never mean pragmatic.