Mothers’ Encouragement Group
March 22, 2018
Plant Them and Let Them Grow #8
The Second Part of the Law
V. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Today we begin talking about the second part of the Law which expresses our Lord’s heart and teaches us how we are to act towards our fellow human beings. If we ever doubted that “God is love,” here is proof: these commandments are nothing if they do not teach us how to be loving to one another. He begins with those who have been the most important in our lives in forming who we are, what we have become and the skill with which we live our lives. The two people who are your father and your mother gave you your DNA which includes your physical gifts, with all their strengths and weaknesses, your personality, with its strengths and weaknesses, your intellect, with its strengths and weaknesses, as well as the wonderful natural skills that come with each set of DNA. I have taught Peter Milton piano lessons; that was a wonderful challenge! This boy’s body, like our Judah’s, is dense!—strong and very coordinated. His body makes him brilliant on the soccer field and dominant in a wrestling match but difficult to control on a piano bench when trying to fit fingers on the keys! Sandy and Andrew did not give Peter his natural, physical, DNA but they are giving him his spiritual and intellectual DNA. They are providing for him the life and the environment in which his personality may be healthfully developed as well as the opportunity to find out whether his gift for music may be small or great—that he has one, I have no doubt. We owe our parents, humanly speaking, everything we start out with in life, whether good or bad, strong or weak, wise or foolish and more often than not it is both, a combination of strengths and weaknesses. This is why, I am certain, that the Lord commands us, as adults, to honor our father and mother, to thank them, to take care of them in their old age and to do this for them whether they are Christians or not. They gave us life and we must say “thank you.” This is the Lord’s command.
I’ve been thinking about the order in which the Ten Commandments were given. Jesus told us that the “first and greatest commandment is to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” and only after that are we to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” The LORD, the LORD’s worship, the LORD’s name, the LORD’s day: these commandments begin the Law. As we come to the “loving our neighbor” part it would seem logical to me that here too the Lord put them in order of importance—not meaning to suggest that any of the commandments are less important, but perhaps it is more likely that we will get the later ones right if the first ones are taken seriously, understood and obeyed. After obeying God we are to obey our parents; God has established a hierarchy of authority which has far-reaching effects in our homes, in our churches, in our towns, society and nation and if this commandment were obeyed more broadly our world would be a happier place, I’m sure. God has given special authority to parents—we grew up under it and we must provide it for our children and He thinks this authority is so important that He put it next, right after the loyalty and obedience He requires for Himself.
We just said the commandment to honor your father and mother is far-reaching. The WSC (Westminster Shorter Catechism) says that the fifth commandment “requireth the preserving the honour, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” What we owe to our parents is a picture of the attitude we are to have to each and every one in our lives: when we are small, we owe our parents unquestioning respect and obedience because they are our superiors, put in our lives by the Lord for the purpose of teaching and nurturing in the faith. When we grow into adulthood we become our parents’ equals, brothers and sisters in Christ, living alongside each other with kindness, love and respect, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 Even should any of our parents not be believers we still owe them that kind, winsome respect that may just draw them to our Savior as one peer may draw another. When our parents grow old and infirm and unable to care for themselves they have become our inferiors in a certain way and it becomes our duty, as well as our pleasure, to care for them, “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” Ephesians 6:7-9 We obviously do not become our parents’ “masters” when they are old but in a very real way their failing powers have made them our inferiors and the kindness and respect the Lord requires of us for them has not changed.
These principles are true in all the relationships of our lives since everyone out there is either “inferior, equal or superior” to us. Americans don’t like to talk about this much—our nation is so in love with “egalitarianism”—but it is God who made mankind and made each of us very much unequal to one another; He did this for His own purposes, which are only good and holy, so we need not be afraid to think about these things. The Lord has given us wonderful guidance in how to treat everyone who comes into our lives with love, kindness and respect, whether they be children, whether they be peers or whether they be elderly; whether we have authority in their lives, whether each has equal authority in the other’s life or whether another has authority over us.
But today I want to talk specifically about how this commandment needs to influence our understanding and treatment of our children; if we are to “honor our father and mother” by giving them thanks for the role they played in our lives then we in turn must play that role in the lives of our children, teaching them how they also must learn to “honor their father and mother.” “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and your 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.’” Ephesians 6:1-3 As our parents did for us so we do for our children: if the Lord so grants, we give them our DNA, including tendencies toward this or that skill, this or that personality, this or that intellectual ability; and we give them the safe and loving, nurturing environment in which they may healthfully develop. In other words, we give them the tools they need to live skillfully and one of the skills we need to teach them is how to honor their parents. Unfortunately, they will not learn this on their own; they will not learn it by reading the commandment to them! We have to teach them what this means and how it is done. We need not—we must not—shy away from this task thinking that because we are sinful, because we are weak or scared or full of self-doubt from time to time, or because we feel that the job we’re doing isn’t as good as it should be, that therefore we don’t deserve the honor and obedience they need to give us. All this may be true about our parenting but is very much beside the point of this command. You are in the place of God in their little lives—that’s a scary thought!—and God Himself has placed you there; it is His way of teaching children about Himself. They learn who God is through learning who you are; they learn how to obey God by learning to obey you and they learn how to honor Him by honoring you first. So, how do we do that?
In the first place we must demand it of them. The authority of parents in the lives of children—beginning with the littlest ones—ought not to be challenged and when it is, that challenge must be squashed. Children are ignorant and are born with foolishness bound up in their whole being. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Proverbs 22:15 Do we love them? Of course. Do we love their sin and foolishness? I hope not! If we love them truly we will seek to drive that foolishness out of them and a big part of what that foolishness consists of is the silliness of thinking they already know how to live and that they don’t need you to tell them, oh, everything!! You have God-given authority in their lives that you must take up and exercise in the lives of your children. You must not back away from this out of fear, embarrassment, cowardice, laziness, lack of confidence, or worry that you’ll do it badly and will ruin your children. Any parent who has compassion for his children and comes to the parenting task with selflessness will not be overbearing and abusive but if you back out of being an authority in your children’s lives this is itself a form of abuse since then those very children whom we love will become their own authority, making all sorts of wrong-headed and selfish decisions. Not for our darling little Christians, please!!!
Mrs. Schaeffer has written in her book Ten Things Parents Must Teach Their Children some things about the “new” freedom proposed in Sweden to protect children from their parents. Here she quotes an article printed in the International Herald Tribune of August 12, 1980:
One mother recently recounted that she was about to spank her six-year-old boy when he informed her that she would be violating the law. “I asked him how he knew that, and he told me that his teacher had explained to his class about the new legislation,” she said. “What really bothered me was that the teacher also asked the kids who were spanked to raise their hands and talk about it.” More typical reactions to the new statute seem to range from amusement to disinterest. But this has not deterred a government committee from recently proposing a law that would give children the right to divorce their parents.
Mrs. Schaeffer had this to say about the article: “What a new freedom to march for! Children to be given freedom to divorce their parents! Young human beings cut off from any ties, free to follow their own whims and desires. Free? What lies are being believed! This freedom is on the same level as the freedom to divorce the Garden of Eden, to divorce life itself, to be free from walking and talking with God, walking and talking with close understanding of other human beings, and finally free from understanding oneself: ‘Who am I?’ ‘I don’t understand myself at all.’ ‘I don’t want to live with me.’ Displaced people are really those who either know nothing of the law of God which unfolds to us who human beings are as made in His image, or who have divorced themselves from reading, meditating upon, speaking about, or attempting in any tiny measure to follow His law. In a very real sense those English punks I spoke about in an earlier chapter had only dressed themselves to look outwardly like many people look inwardly, people who have revolted against being human and who are trying to be something God did not make them to be.” (Ten Things, Chapter 5, p. 105)
When we do not demand of our children the obedience God’s law requires of them we are not being “humble” but foolish. You would never do this if you saw your child heading for a busy street or reaching for a boiling pot or hitting his baby brother with a stick; of course not. You would shout to get his attention quickly and then insist on his changing his behavior: you would do this for his own safety and the safety of others because you love him. It is the same in the spiritual arena though we cannot see the issues so clearly; they are things we must understand by faith. Do we somehow think that our children will grow up just figuring out on their own what love, truth, kindness, gratitude, selflessness and self-control mean without our guidance and teaching? We know good and well that will never happen because we know who they are, that they were born with sin in their hearts and will invariably make the wrong choice in every circumstance since that is what their natural selves want to do. We also know that they were bought with a price, as we are, the most expensive price that could ever be and because of that they are precious to the One who paid that price. That One will require of us, one day, an answer as to whether or not we took the trouble to do what He placed us in their lives to do.
Let me reiterate that cowardice must not be a motivator in our not doing for our children what the Lord requires of us and neither should embarrassment. Maybe we’re afraid—afraid that our children won’t love us if we are hard on them, afraid that others may think we don’t love them, that we are being cruel or that, as often happens in this day and age, others think we are abusing them. When my children were little they received frequent spankings and I often wondered if neighbors could hear and might turn me in to CPS and there were definitely times when I felt criticism, even here at church, that I was being too hard on my children. But, for the most part, my children were happy and sweet—please don’t hear me say I was perfectly just with them. I know I yelled at them far too much. One of them recalled to me a while ago that on one of the many occasions when I had to corral them all into the van and they were arguing over who got “shot-gun” and I was rebuking them loudly, a neighbor standing there said, “Oh you are such bad children!” But she remembered that after we were on our way and away from the neighbor I said to them, “I want you to know that you are not bad children; you just behave badly from time to time.” That was a good moment and I’m thankful that she remembered it and was able to tell me. There is a real place here of, “I must obey the Lord and do what I know is right no matter what the consequences, no matter what others may think, no matter what my children may think.” It is a place of conviction, that is, being convicted that what we are doing is objectively right and necessary. Figuring out just how that is done in any given moment is going to be up to each of you.
In I Samuel we read all about Saul’s kingship and the Lord’s disappointment of him as king. Saul was a coward. Time after time he was presented with some battle to fight for Israel and time after time he either just didn’t go or he had to count his soldiers first before he felt confident enough to lead them into battle. His own son Jonathan had the courage Saul did not have and went to fight one of his battles by himself with his armor-bearer, killing twenty men and sending the enemy into confusion. This cowardice was a sin just as much as any other, since the Lord had said He would be with him and give him victory; it was a lack of trust in God which is revealed when Saul finally goes to fight the Amalekites but does not completely obey his instructions. He was supposed to “devote everything to destruction,” saving the lives of none of them, but instead he saved the best of the livestock and he did not kill Agag the Amalekite king. The Lord said to Samuel that He regretted having made Saul king and then sent him to face Saul with his sin. This is how their dialogue went: “And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’ And Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?’ Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.’ ” Saul even blamed the people for his own sin, he was so afraid to tell the truth. “Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.’….‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” Here Saul makes excuses again, saying that really he did obey and that it was the people that took the animals so they could sacrifice to the Lord. He tells Samuel that he carefully brought Agag back to show the Lord his obedience. Then Samuel lost his temper and said to Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” I Samuel 15:13-23 Then Samuel took a sword and hacked Agag to pieces, doing what Saul was afraid to do.
A bloody lesson and one we can apply to our own hearts. The work we must do with our children takes courage as well as determination to do what is right, trusting that the Lord is with us. If we do not do it, it is the same as putting our personal fear above obedience to the Lord and we have just read that putting anything above the Lord in our lives is idolatry. You must look into your own hearts and be honest about what you see there; I have looked into mine and admit that I have seen fear there—more fear of one or another of my children than of the Lord; fear that I will lose their regard or fellowship if I speak up for what I know to be the truth. Of course, these issues are different for me now than for you since my children are adults and the time for directing them, and certainly of commanding them, is over. Trust me, in some ways it is a harder thing to bear when your children have the will, the power and the desire to make decisions for their lives that you don’t agree with and/or may be contrary to the Word of God. I am not speaking about differences in taste and personality but of the choosing of sin over righteousness. It is in moments like these when I hear that still small voice in my head that says, “Will you choose me or will you choose them?” In that moment it is clear—it would not matter whose fellowship I might lose, the Lord is my God and I will obey Him still. Of course, between peer and peer, which my children are with me now, the loving thing may or may not mean speaking up with disagreement—usually doesn’t—but will simply mean carrying on with my own convictions in front of them. Much wisdom is required by each and every instance of disagreement. Your children are still very young and you do not need to be afraid of such small, tender little souls; yet I do see parents who are really afraid firmly to discipline their little children, so it is worthwhile to check it out—make sure.
Laziness may also be a motivator in not doing our duty by our children and exercising our authority over them. “I’m so tired.” “I really don’t know what to do.” “It isn’t going to matter just this once.” We have all made excuses such as these and though there may be truth in each of them let’s call them what they are—an unwillingness to get up and put our minds and our bodies to the task the Lord has given us. I admit that I often struggled with this sin when my children were little and fatigue was the ordinary, overarching fog that governed my life.
Let me offer two principles that helped me when I was in the middle of teaching our children to “honor their mother,” that is, to obey me—not that I applied them all that well, but they helped me immensely as I thought about what I wanted from them. The first principle was to make my demands few and principial in nature, that is, tell the truth, be kind, self-controlled, loving. Let them choose their own activity as it fits into your life, then be around and aware of that activity so that when (not if!) they run into trouble you are there to interpret for them what happened, how it happened and why it happened. You are there to correct their behavior and their thinking, bringing all in line with the Word of God.
Now I want to tell you something very important: think through what you want from your children and how far you are willing to go to get it before giving them a command. You ought not to give them any command that you are not willing to “go to the mattress” for, that is, to insist on their obeying. For example: “Honey, I want you to take your feet off the furniture” but then the child does not do what you have said and you do nothing to make him do it. Perhaps you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t really care if his feet are on the furniture, so I’ll just let it go this time; it’s too much trouble or it’ll cause a disruption to make him do it.” The more times you do this, the more your child will think, “Mommy doesn’t really care if I obey; I got away with it this time, I’m sure I will the next…” He has gained power and authority over you instead of the other way round. If you give him the command to take his feet off the furniture you must make him do it—one way or another—right away. If it is just a wiggly, forgetful kind of thing, you might simply physically remove his feet, look in his eyes and say, “Mommy said ‘no feet on the furniture.’” But if there is defiance—I don’t care what you said, I’m going to do what I’m going to do—then you must swiftly crush that rebellion no matter what kind of disruption you may cause in doing so—it is for the child’s good. A bodily removal from the room with a spanking to follow, the severity of which depends on his age and on the strength of his rebellion, is surely required. He must learn that what Mommy says is the law no matter what he thinks about it, no matter where you are or what company you and he are keeping. (Remember, I am using “he” generically—we all know that girls need this just as much as boys.)
Second, teach your children respect in the words they use and how those words are spoken. When parents are together, each supports the other in this. In a typical household the father does not have trouble commanding respect from his children—he is the stronger parent and the one that is usually not constantly there so that his presence is fresh to them. It is the mother—the one with the more sympathetic heart, understanding the children’s desires and woes—that must demand respect for herself when Daddy is not there and when he comes home he needs to be her protector as well as his own. If one parent is challenged, however, the other one needs to come to the defense of the one challenged.
Parents also should model the respect they demand from their children by being respectful and loving to each other in front of them and, then, they need to stand together in any decisions that are made on the children’s behalf. Parents also model respect in the way that they speak to their children. They are human beings made in the image of God in the same way we are; they will one day be our equals; their little spirits are just as precious to the Lord as are ours so we speak to them in a way that lets them know that they are important—to us and to God. This way of speaking to them will infuse into their little hearts significance, self-confidence and the beginnings of the ability to make decisions for themselves and their behavior. Please no shouting at them or impatiently casting them off because they have bothered and inconvenienced us one too many times. A raised voice can be—and ought only to be—a tool used to get their attention and never as a release for your own frustration. Are you saying, “Oh Lord, give me strength” right now? Good! because if you ask Him, He will. Are you thinking, “She must have been an amazing mother!”? You can stop thinking that right now; some of the things I’m telling you—this last one among them—I learned by doing badly. I admit that there were many times when I raised my voice in frustration at my children—like those moments when I was trying to get them into the van in a hurry. Remember, when my neighbor overheard me and so berated my children telling them they were “bad”? She was responding to my irritation with them. And, I didn’t always ask the Lord to calm me and help me and I can also tell you about moments when I did and His help came—like when we were settled in the van and on our way and I had time to repent and to tell the children they were not bad.
Teaching respect, expressed in a sweet, humble tone of voice, of each child to the other as well as to all other adults in their lives—surnames and titles, please, no first names which would make the child feel equal to someone he is not equal with—and you have covered the whole gamut of “preserving the honour, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” (WSC #64)
Let me end with a vivid picture drawn by Mrs. Schaeffer in the book I have been dipping into on your behalf. She is telling us what happens when we ignore the commandments of our Lord and particularly the one to honor our father and our mother.
“Swarms of refugees stumble, drag their feet, or trudge briskly out of an increasing number of homelands, across marshes and fields, through woods or jungles, frightened, confused, broken in body and mind. Crowds of refugees bob in boats, or swim endless stretches of dangerous waters, in a vast number of seas or rivers, leaving an uncountable number of former homes that had been in the family for years. Displaced persons!…Displaced from familiar continuity of family groupings with three generations living on the same spot.
“These pictures stir emotions. Our eyes sting with sudden tears at the thought of human beings who can never know anything of real continuity again—aliens in an alien surrounding, facing a bleak childhood, a bleak middle age, and even bleaker old age.
“In countries where people can stay in safety and have no need to run from their own familiar towns and villages, where the year is marked by the country fair, the winter concert series or the autumn circus, where continuity is tangible, there is a new flood of ‘displaced persons’ torn away from homes and possessions and other members of their families by the strange and twisted teaching that they must, at all costs, fight for their ‘rights.’ Putting personal rights in first place, before any other person, ends up in destroying all the continuity that God made human beings to be able to have. Who am I? cries the displaced person. What will fulfill me? Broken families, splintered into scattered bits, make displaced persons out of people who live in lands which are not yet invaded by an alien enemy….Divorced parents, called single parents, try to give their own displaced children something of a feeling of continuity even as they struggle over the displaced feeling inside themselves.
“Families were meant to be a continuity with generation following generation—not a confused mixture of splinters as broken as the scattered families of refugees….They cling to bits of wreckage seeking some solid ground to start life on the other side of the divorce—as stormy a body of water to cross as any gale-blown gulf or sea or ocean.
“Displaced people. Refugees. People breaking God’s pattern for living. People for whom humanness has been lost along the way.” (ibid., chapter 5, pp. 103-104)
We are seeing, over and over, in the headlines today the effects of our rebellion against authority: shootings in schools, bombings in cities, open name-calling and disrespect for each other in our nation’s leaders. Not for us, dear sisters! not for us. We live for our God and for His Christ, our Lord and Savior. We live not to fight for our rights but to fulfill our calling; we live not for ourselves but for Him, for our husbands and for our children. We live not giving in to cowardice or laziness or any kind of fear. We beg Him for help, for the strength and for the courage we need to obey which, if we but ask for these things He will give—it is what He wants to do and if we do this He has given us a promise: things “will go well with us” and our lives will be long! We need to act, believing that our prayers have been answered, and faithfully teach our children to honor their father and their mother, every day and all the time. We need to hear our Lord say to us as He said to Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” John 20:27
I found this little piece in my old Sunday School hymnbook; the title attracted me because of our topic today, but the more I read its poetry the more it seemed fitting that we sing it and teach it to our children. It is instruction, example and prayer, short and easy for them to learn. Sing it to the tune Stuttgart that we sing “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing” to (#5 in Trinity Hymnal).
To Thy Father and Thy Mother
A.R. Cousin/from Psalmodia Sacra, Gotha
#109 in Let Youth Praise Him
To thy father and thy mother
Honor, love and reverence pay,
This command, before all other,
Must a Christian child obey.
Jesus Christ, my Lord, fulfilled it
In His home at Nazareth,
So His heavenly Father willed it,
While a child He dwelt beneath.
Help me, Lord, in this sweet duty,
Guide me in Thy steps divine,
Show me all the joy and beauty
Of obedience such as Thine. Amen.