The commandment with a promise

Posted Sep 23, 2019

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This week we are memorizing:

Honor your father and your mother.

Daily Scripture

Exodus 20:12

12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Ephesians 6:1-4

1 As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. 2 The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: 3 so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the land. [Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16] 4 As for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord.

Reflection Questions

The letter to the Ephesians quoted the fifth commandment as “the first one with a promise attached,” directing God’s people to respect and obey parents. It added an important qualifier, which was at least implicit in the Exodus commandment: “obey your parents in the Lord.” It also differed from Greek and Roman “household codes” in a key respect: “The remarkable thing about this passage… is that the children and slaves evidently have, in Paul’s eyes, what we would call ‘rights’ as well as the parents and masters.”*

  • Are there dimensions to “honoring” your father and mother that go beyond the one idea of “obeying” them? How do increasing levels of maturity and independence affect both “honoring” and “obeying”? Do parents ever make demands their child cannot obey “in the Lord”? How important, at various ages, is it to obey your parent(s) when what they ask goes against your wishes, but not against God’s teachings?
  • In practical, everyday terms, what does it look like when parents “don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord”? What factors have you seen make the difference between healthy parent/child connections, and those that cause pain on both sides of the relationship? How can you more fully honor your parents and/or your children?


Lord Jesus, I give you my allegiance above all human allegiances, even family ones. But I also ask you to help me be the most loving, caring family member I can possibly be. Amen.

* N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 71.

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Donna Karlen

Donna Karlen

Donna Karlen serves with the Communications Ministry working on special projects.

Dr. N. Bruce Henoch, 76, Topeka, KS, passed away Friday, January 3, 2003, at his home. His wife, J. June Henoch, 83, passed away Sunday, January 5, 2003, at The Kelly House, Topeka. Survivors include their daughter, Donna Karlen…

That was a hard week. In the more than 16 years since my parents passed away, I have thought about them every day. Memories of my mom come flooding back when I see flowering crab trees in full bloom, taste really good bread, hear a church choir. Cheering passionately for my Jayhawks, signing up for yet another opportunity to learn something, messing up a punch line – my dad is in all those things.

Most days the memories bring a smile to my heart. Other days I just reeeally miss them, and the tears will still come even though 6,099 days have gone by since their funeral.

You know what? I am so very blessed by how much I miss them. Because missing them means they were amazing parents. I know not everyone thinks fondly of their father like I do, such as when I see a shelf of Westerns at the book store, or cherishes their mother’s dishes (even though I never would have picked out that pattern) because the plates and bowls represent the many holiday dinners she lovingly prepared and we enjoyed at the “fancy” dining room table (which also resides in my home and is the place we gather now for holiday meals with my kids).

Sound like a Norman Rockwell painting? Hardly. We had our share of disagreements, misunderstandings (“misunderheards”) and squabbles. Sometimes I challenged their authority and disobeyed them. Which reminds me of my dad’s notepads. He was a public school administrator, and I remember the notepads on his desk printed with “Character is not determined by the single act, but by the repeated act.” Jesus repeatedly showed us how to live the fifth commandment in the ways he honored and obeyed his heavenly father and looked after his mother – even as he suffered hanging on a cross. 

Rev. Billy Graham wrote that the fifth commandment is a beacon which “ultimately points us to our Savior who is the obedient Son in whom God holds out grace to all who believe. May God help us and make us fifth commandment people, make us a fifth commandment church, marked and characterized by honor and respect among ourselves that we may show a world of disrespect and dishonor and cynicism what the Gospel does, renovating and transforming hearts and lives and homes to the glory and praise of our Savior.”  

As Christians we strive to be like Jesus. As humans, we miss the mark in our repeated acts of disobedience and behaviors that do not honor him. God's ultimate promise to us – fulfilled in our Savior Jesus - is never-ending, unceasing grace. Repeated grace. Grace upon grace upon grace…   

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