THE WORD: The fifth Commandment

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt (circa 1668) is a painting in the collection of The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. (Public Domain).

This series explores the Ten Commandments through the words and admonishments of Arthur Pink.

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12

This commandment to honor parents is much broader in its scope than appears at first glance. It is not to be restricted to our literal father and mother, but is also applied to all having authority over us. “We should reverence them whom God has exalted to any authority over us, and should render them honor, obedience, and gratitude,” according to Calvin.

Lest any of our readers — in this socialistic and communistic age, when insubordination and lawlessness is the evil spirit of our day — object to this wider interpretation of the commandment, let us ponder the following considerations. “Honor” belongs primarily and principally to God. By derivation, it pertains also to those whom He has established above others while bestowing titles and dominion upon them. We ought to revere these just as surely as we do our fathers and mothers. In Scripture the word “honor” has an extensive application, as may be seen from 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 2:17, etc. Observe the title “father” is given to kings, masters, and ministers of the Gospel.

“God here lays down a universal rule for our conduct, namely, that to everyone whom we know to be placed in authority over us by His appointment, we should render reverence, obedience, gratitude, and all the other services in our power. Nor does it make any difference whether they are worthy of this honor or not. … He has particularly enjoined reverence to our parents, who have brought us into this life,” said Calvin.

First let us consider the duties of children to their parents. They are to love and reverence them, being fearful of offending due to the respect they bear them. They are to be subject unto them: mark the blessed example which Christ has left. “Children obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). After David was anointed for the throne, he fulfilled his father’s appointment by tending his sheep. Though Joseph was so highly exalted in Egypt, he “bowed himself with his face to the ground” before his father. As far as they are able and their parents have need, they are to provide for them in old age (1 Timothy 5:16).

Secondly, let us observe our duties to rulers and magistrates whom God has set over us. These are God’s deputies and viceregents, being invested with authority from Him: “by Me kings reign” (Proverbs 8:15). God has ordained civil authority for the general good of mankind, for were it not for this, men would be savage beasts preying on each another. Rulers are to be honored in our thoughts, regarding them as the official representatives of God upon earth. We are to obey them. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:13, 14). We are to render “tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7). We are to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1, 2).

Finally, we should mention ministers and their people, for between them also is such a relation of superiors and inferiors as brings them under the direction of this fifth commandment. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the Word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). How solemn is this warning: “But they mocked the messengers of God and despised His words and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36 :16).

To this precept is added a promise as motivation to obey: “That your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.” The fifth commandment is the first commandment with promise. Ephesians 6:2. The promise is regarded typically as the Eternal Life promised by the Gospel, since Canaan was a figure of Heaven.

Arthur W. Pink, born in Nottingham, England, in 1886, pastored churches in Colorado, California, Kentucky, and South Carolina. He moved to Sydney, Australia, and then returned to England in 1934. Pink relocated to Lewis, Scotland, in 1940 and remained there until his death in 1952 at the age of 66.