The Parental Medal of Honor: A Sermon on Exodus 21.12

04 May

On July 12, 1862, the United States Congress issued a joint resolution authorizing the issuing of a medal of honor. The statute reads,

The President may award, and present in the name of Congress, a medal of honor of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who while a member of the Army, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.

To date, 3465 people have received this great honor bestowed upon them by the President for intrepidity (which means “characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance”) at the risk of their life in service for their country. Each branch of the military designs its own medal of honor, but the Army version has the word “valor” on the medal, a word which means “strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness; personal bravery.”

Though it may seem odd to link Mother’s Day, the Fifth Commandment, and the Medal of Honor together in one sermon, there is a connection, at least in my mind, the connection of “honor.” The Fifth Commandment states,

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20.12 ESV)

The Hebrew word for “honor” is “to make heavy or weighty” and the English word “honor” means “to regard or treat someone with admiration and respect.” But what does it really mean to “honor” our parents? At that point, I think the Medal of Honor gives us some insight.

The Medal of Honor is a special award given to a very few soldiers. For instance, in World War II, a war in which over 416,000 soldiers died on the field of battle and countless others were wounded, only 464 soldiers received the Medal of Honor. You don’t get a Medal of Honor just for joining the military or even for carrying out your duty. You have to do something honorable to get it. The Medal of Honor reminds us that there are two sides to the honor medal. On one side is the soldier who commits an act of resolute fearlessness in the face of danger, and on the other side is a grateful nation.

If we apply that same “medal of honor” kind of thinking to the command to “honor our parents,” then we can see that on one side are the parents who commit resolute fearlessness to the mission of parenting in the face of hardship and danger, and on the other side are the children who treat them with admiration and respect.

The respect for parents is almost a universal human trait of all cultures, like it is imprinted on the fabric of our humanity, but that does not mean that we have paid close attention to what it means to be parents of honor or to the task of honoring our parents. While we can honor a soldier by hanging a medal around his neck, honoring our parents is a way of life, not a moment of ceremony. In fact, honoring our parents might take as much resolute fearlessness and personal bravery as the struggle to live an honorable life as a parent. Parenting, and caring for aging parents, can often feel like “hand to hand combat,” and the battlefield can leave its scars. So, it is right for the community of faith to examine this idea of “honor your father and mother.”

A Significant Matter

And to begin with, we should realize just how significant this commandment is to our Creator. Not only is the command significant enough to make the “Top Ten” list, consider the following New Testament observations. First, the failure to obey our parents is one of the signs of the depravity of the end times:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy… (2 Timothy 3.1-2)

Moreover, honoring our parents is so basic to the fabric of the Kingdom of God that the failure to do so calls into question one’s salvation.

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 3.8)

So, this is not just a matter of Hallmark cards of buying Roses. This is an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Christ, so we should pay careful attention to what it means.

 Honor Your Parents

Let us begin by asking the question, “What does it mean to honor our parents?” How do we carry out that command? What does it look like in real life? If “honor” is a lifestyle and not just a medal presentation ceremony, then what does that lifestyle look like? Let me make a few observations.

First, to honor our parents means to respect the position of parents. In God’s design of creation, He created the concept and need for authority (see Romans 13.1-2), especially in the rearing of children. Human children, unlike other members of the animal kingdom, need to be socialized and need to be taught relate to other humans. To honor our parents means to respect the God given position that parents have in the created order to teach children to obey the King of Kings and to lead them on the path of life. We should remember that the Fifth Commandment was not spoken to children only. In other words, the command to honor our parents is for all children, regardless of age. And that means that we carry with us the respect for this position of parent throughout our life, even as we age into adulthood and especially as our parents age in their senior years.

Second, to honor our parents means to submit to their authority. While the Fifth Commandment tells us to honor our parents, one New Testament application of this commandment is for children to obey their parents.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise). (Ephesians 6.1-2)

All children, regardless of age, are to honor their parents, but children are commanded to submit to the authority of their parents. And while we could debate the specifics of when a child reaches adulthood and is released from the authority of their parents and become responsible for their own moral lives, we must accept the basic tenet that God has placed parents in His creation to govern the moral development of children and that children are to submit to their parent’s authority.

Third, to honor our parents means to yield to our parent’s discipline. While this might seem like a restatement of the second point, it is quite different. It is one thing to obey the rules of a parent, it is another thing to accept their teaching and wisdom and to embrace it with their heart. Consider the following,

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. (Proverbs 1.8-9)

Our parent’s teaching is a precious jewel given to us by God to lead us to the path of life. The wise child will do more than just obey. The wise child will submit to the wisdom of the parent, yield their stubborn heart to their teachings so that they might have life indeed.

Fourth, to honor our parents means to live honorable lives in response to our parent’s teachings. In other words, we honor our parents by living honorable lives. Hear the words of the apostle John,

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 1.14)

Of course, the apostle was writing of his spiritual children, but the point remains. We honor our parents by walking in truth.

Fifth, to honor our parents means to do so with verbal praise. Honor that is not expressed is not full honor. There is a reason that Americans spend about $68 million on Mother’s Day Cards this year, because as the writer of Proverbs says, to honor our parents means to “rise and call them blessed” (see Proverbs 31.28)

Finally, to honor our parents means to care for them as they age. In God’s creative design, children were to obey their parents, parents were to teach their children the ways of God, and then children were to care for their parents when they get too old to care for themselves. Consider again,

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 3.8)

We begin as young children submitting to the authority of our parents, but we end our lives as older children submitting our lives to the care of those who submitted their lives to our care.

 Parents, Be Honorable

But just like the Medal of Honor combines the bestowing of honor with the act of valor, so too does the act of honoring our parents require that parents be worthy of honor. And the Bible teaches parents what it means to live lives worthy of honor.

First, to be an honorable parent means to teach our children the ways of the Lord. One of the most basic tasks for all parents is detailed in the Law:

4“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6.4-7)

Parents worthy of honor devote themselves to the task of teaching their children the ways of the Lord. Children do not innately know the truths about their Creator or about their Savior. They do not know of His great love for them or that one day they will stand at the judgment seat of Christ. They do not come out of the womb knowing about the incredible promise of the indwelling Spirit of God for those who are reborn. Just like they do not know how to add or how to read unless someone teaches them, so too they do not about their Creator and Sustainer unless they are taught, and this job has been primarily given to the parents.

Second, to be an honorable parent means to follow the commands of God with our heart. We should not miss that before we can teach these commands to our children, they are to be upon our hearts. Children are incredible hypocrisy meters, and they can spot a fake at a hundred paces. Parents who try to tell their kids one thing and yet try to live another way are not worthy of honor. If you want children of integrity, then live a life of integrity as a parent. If you want kind kids, then be a kind person. If you want your children to learn generosity, then be a generous person. Is you want your children to be patient and compassionate and forgiving and humble, then they must see those same qualities demonstrated daily in the lives of their parents.

Third, to be an honorable parent means to take up the difficult task of disciplining our children. Admittedly, this might just be a clarification of the first point, but the work of disciplining is so much more than just verbal instruction. Discipline involves teaching our children the ways of God and living those ways before them, but goes beyond this into the difficult waters of correction and punishment.

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother….Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. (Proverbs 29.15 and 17)

It is natural in our sin nature for foolishness and folly to be bound up in the heart of a child, but the hard work of discipline can purity the foolish heart.

 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Proverbs 22.15)

Times does not permit an in-depth discussion of corporal punishment and its proper use and its differentiation from abuse, but we must see that the hard work of a life-long relationship of disciplining a child is the core job responsibility of a parent, and failing to do that leads to a dishonorable discharge.

Fourth, to be an honorable parent means that we do not exasperate our children. It is very possible for parents with good intentions of teaching their children the ways of the Lord to actually embitter their children against the God they are trying to lead them to.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6.4)

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3.20)

The NIV uses the word “exasperate,” a word that means “to incite the anger of, to cause irritation or annoyance.” While children control how they react to a parent’s efforts to teach them in the ways of the Lord, honorable parents make every effort to examine how they are going about bringing up their child in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Parents who provoke their children, even if they have good motives, are not worthy of honor.

Ways That We Fail To Honor Our Parents

We have talked about what it means to honor our parents and what it means to be parents worthy of honor, but let us look at this whole thing from another perspective for the Bible teaches us some pretty specific ways that we can dishonor our parents. And while some of these seem self evident, we need to hear the truth of God’s word.

First, we dishonor our parents by disobeying them.

Second, we dishonor our parents by cursing them. In the old covenant, the act of cursing one’s parents was so horrible that it brought serious consequences.

Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21.17)

Lest we immediately dismiss this command and declare ourselves innocent because we do not use any obscene language to our parent’s faces, the Hebrew word translated “curse” really means “to slight, to treat with little account.” Which means we can curse our parents with both our mouth and our heart. To speak belittling word of our parents, whether those words have been declared obscene or not by our culture, is only an expression of a heart that has made little of our parents.

Third, we dishonor our parents by striking them. This would seem to be self evident, needing not to even be said, but the Lord thought it important enough to include in the Law so we should hear it.

Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21.15)

The word “strike” means just what it says, “to beat with blows.” Hopefully, we know that to physically abuse our parents is a dishonorable act, but more than that, any intention of the heart that desires to bring harm against our parents is dishonorable. The writer of the Proverbs says it very clearly, “He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother is a son who brings shame and reproach” (Proverbs 19.26) .

Finally, we dishonor our parents when we withhold care for them in times of need and as they age. We have already read 1 Timothy 3.8, so let me point you to a different text. Some Jews during the time of Christ were taking advantage of a legal loophole to avoid caring for their parents. They would designate some of their money or other resources as “Corban” or “devoted to God” so that it could not be used their parents for their care. Jesus said,

“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)—12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7.9-13)

These hypocrites were using tactical loopholes to avoid the command to care for their parents, and Jesus was not fooled. They were making the Word of God void in their lives and dishonoring their parents. Caring for aging parents is not for the faint of heart. It is a life of valor, resolute fearlessness in the laying down of your life, a devotion to a mission characterized by personal bravery and commitment. But make no mistake, it is the calling of God’s people to honor their parents until death do us part.

Why Should We Honor Our Parents

In conclusion, we should take a moment to examine the proper motivation for honoring our parents and striving to be parents worthy of honor.

First, to honor our parents and to be parents worthy of honor is the right thing to do. This is the morally right course of life, the only way of living that brings satisfaction to the soul. As Paul wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6.1).

Second, to honor our parents and to be parents worthy of honor is pleasing to the Lord. As Paul wrote, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3.20). For those who are committed followers of Christ, pleasing our Lord and Savior means everything.

Third, to honor our parents and to be parents worthy of honor brings joy to our parents and joy to us as parents.

A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. (Proverbs 10.1)

If you want to know joy and give joy, then honor and be honorable.

Finally, to honor our parents and to be parents worthy of honor places our lives under the umbrella of God’s protection. I do not mean to say that if we live in accordance to God’s laws that we will never experience suffering or difficulties. In fact, the word of God is very clear that imbedded in the way of a Christian is to share the sufferings of Christ (see Romans 8.17). But there is a very real truth to the fact that to live in submission to the ways of God means to be under the umbrella of His protection. We are kept from self inflicted wounds and from piercing ourselves with many pains.

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. (Proverbs 6.20-23)

Living in the shadow of His wings means enjoying the providential care of the Sustainer of All Things, and whatever difficulty falls my way is under the watchful and sovereign eye of the King of Kings. To step out of that shadow is to risk the dangers of my own sinfulness. Let us close this morning with one of the great promises of God:

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 6.3)

Do you want it to go well with you? Then honor your parents and be honorable as parents.

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Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Uncategorized


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