Honoring Your Father
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
~ Exodus 20:21
The fifth commandment (like every commandment other than the fourth) is reiterated in the New Testament, but it is much modified from the Law of Moses. The Old Testament finds the idea of a father misleading his child practically inconceivable; it is the children, not the parents, who are depicted as straying from God’s path. One might delve into concepts such as the necessity of listening to elders in a pre-literate society, but we, being Christians, are more interested in the message of Christ.
And it was Christ, Himself, who frequently admonished and even commanded young people to break the Old Testament version of “honor thy father and thy mother.” In a practical sense, of course, there were undoubtedly a fair number of young Hebrew boys and girls who came to Christ against their parents' wishes. In a “Jesus vs. parent” contest — in a “Jesus vs. Anybody” contest, for that matter — Jesus wins. He was the Son of God, and He was God. No person, neither emperor nor elder nor parent, might be obeyed in preference to God.
Christ was really quite harsh on the subject. He required his disciples to put aside their family obligations if they interfered with service to His ministry. He seemed to regard loyalty to the congregation of believers as more important than loyalty to one’s family. (Matthew 12:48, Luke 8:21)
Paul treats the entire matter more gently, telling the young people of Ephesus to “obey your parents in the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1) One might infer that the exigencies of Jesus’ short ministry required more sacrifice of family obligations, and that practical solutions to serving Christ with a minimum of disruption to an unbelieving family member might be found — but the Bible never says this.
At any rate, most of us, thank heaven, are never faced with such a terrible test. It is a wonderful thing, to have parents who are Christians, for we can then treat Fathers Day as a religious holiday. We are able to combine our Christian love for our earthly father with our innate emotional love for him, and thus give full satisfaction to the commandment.
I can testify to the great benefit of having a loving father. When I asked my own father what he wanted me to be, when I grew up, he said, “I will tell you exactly what my own father told me. ‘The only thing I want you to do, is to become a better man than your father was.’” I can't really say that I have succeeded — I was lucky enough to have a wonderful father — but I have at least held the ambition.
(Besides which, he might not have been completely candid with me. I suspect that “being a better man than my father” actually involved becoming a starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves.)
As much as anything, on Fathers Day, I pray for the miracle of those who did not know their father, or lost him early in life, or worst of all, grew up with an abusive father who either did not love them or was unable to show it. How wonderful it is, that no matter what our earthly circumstance, we can find the perfect Father by our brotherhood with Jesus Christ. We are all adopted children of God the Father, members of the greatest family, and heirs of the most fabulous fortune in the universe. (Eph. 1:5, Gal. 4:5)
Lord, I think you for my father, and most of all, for my adoption into your holy family as the brother or sister of Jesus Christ. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer