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What the Bible says about Respect for Elderly Parents
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 20:12

Obedience to this command does not stop at a certain age. Genesis 48:12 reveals the deep respect Joseph had for Jacob when he brought his two sons before him for a blessing: "So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth." With adulthood, the time may come when it is no longer necessary or right for a person to obey his parents strictly. But God's requirement to honor them never ceases. This duty pays dividends by giving us access to the wisdom of years.

Honor has wider application than obey. It expresses itself in courtesy, thoughtfulness, mercy, and kindly deeds. We would hardly consider one to be honoring his parents who, when they fall sick, weak, and perhaps blind in old age, does not exert himself to the utmost for them and their support in their need.

Just as surely as God requires parents to nourish, defend, support, and instruct the children in their lowest state of infancy, so children in their strength should support their parents in their weakness. Turn about is fair play because the Scripture says, "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12). Each of us would want someone to care for us in our time of need.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)

Exodus 20:12

The fifth commandment begins the second section of the ten. It is placed, as the first commandment is toward God, first among those commands that govern our relationships with other men. The effect that keeping or failing to keep the fifth commandment has on those relationships is huge. Not only is it chief in importance in this regard, but it also acts as a bridge between the Commandments' two sections. This is vital because, when the fifth commandment is properly kept, it leads to reverence for and obedience to God Himself, the ultimate Parent.

We need to define three important words. The commandment as written in Exodus 20:12 states, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you." The Hebrew word underlying "honor" suggests heaviness, weightiness, severity, and richness, all in a long-lasting, continuing sense. It implies an important or significant, lifelong responsibility, thus it is used in the sense of honoring, glorifying, imposing, or being weighty. As an adjective, it magnifies the implications of a noun. In English, honor means "to give high regard, respect, and esteem to; give special recognition to; to bring or give respect or credit to; an outward token, sign or act that manifests high regard for."

Two English synonyms help to focus the implications of this commandment. Respect means "to have deferential regard for; to treat with propriety and consideration; to regard as inviolable." Reverence indicates "to show deferential respect." It is respect turned a notch higher because it is combined with adoration or awe, in a good sense, or great shame, in a bad one.

It is helpful further to understand that, though this commandment is primarily aimed at the function of parenting, it is certainly not limited to it. The keeping of this law also includes within its spirit the honor and respect that should be given to civil and teaching figures.

Why does God want a person to honor his parents and other authority figures? First, the family is the basic building block of society. The stability of the family is essential to the stability of the community. The more respectful each family member is of other family members, especially of parents, the greater the degree of respect that will carry beyond the immediate family and into strengthening the community.

The family is also the basic building block of government. The lessons and principles learned from honoring, respecting, and submitting to one's parents result in a society stable enough to promote the development of the whole person.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment

Leviticus 19:32

Honor must not stop with the nuclear family. All older people should be honored as well. God includes no reservations or qualifiers in this verse.

When was the last time we saw children and younger adults automatically stand when a senior citizen entered the room? God says this should happen. It still does in parts of the world, especially in Asia, but not so in our own country. Some people rise for women. Why do we not do this for the elderly?

Even more important than this honorific action is the attitude of respect for the older generation. Imagine what our society would be like if everyone followed this principle of honor!

Staff
A Matter of Honor


 




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