Help for a Family Feud
Dr. Jim Denison
Do you remember the game show Family Feud? 100 people were surveyed on a subject. Then two families, five members each, tried to guess the most popular answers on these surveys. Richard Dawson’s “Survey says . . .” was the “Is that your final answer?” of the day.
The game show aired from 1976 to 1985, was revived again in 1988 for one season, and aired again briefly five years ago. But the title describes our culture even more fully today than it did 25 years ago.
Children report that they spend less than thirty minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their mother, and less than fifteen minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their father.
A recent Harris poll asked Americans what they most want to do with their time. 30% chose reading; 21% chose watching television. Only 13% chose spending time with their family.
Listen to these frightening facts about youth today. Every day in America:
2,989 young people see their parents get a divorce.1,849 are abused or neglected.7,742 become sexually active.2,795 get pregnant.1,295 give birth.10 are killed in alcohol-related auto accidents.16 commit suicide.
Our families need help. Fortunately, God cares. That’s why he gave us the fifth commandment.
What does God say about families?
Let’s study our text together.
“Honor,” the commandment begins. The word means to respect or venerate.
“Your father and mother,” God continues. In a world which relegated women to inferior status, this inclusion is significant. And note that Leviticus 19:3 restates it this way: “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” Here the mother is even listed first.
“So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” the commandment concludes. The first meaning of this promise is that the nation of Israel would be secure in her society and land if she kept this commandment. But there are other meanings as well, as we will see in a moment.
And note that God’s word makes this a binding commandment for all time.
Leviticus 19:3 says, “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” None of us are excluded, no matter the circumstances of our situation. We’ll say more about this in a moment.
The book of Proverbs adds, “If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness” (20:20); and also this gruesome hyperbole, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures” (31:17). This commandment is important!
The New Testament is clear as well.
Jesus renewed this commandment when he told the Rich Young Ruler, “honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:19), and he severely criticized the religious leaders of his day for not honoring and supporting their parents (Mark 7:9-13).
The epistles are clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:1-2); “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).
We need to keep this commandment for the sake of our souls, our families, and our future. This is indeed how to “live long” on the earth.
Perhaps this brief tale from the Brothers Grimm will make the point. Once upon a time there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, and this son and his wife soon decided that they could not have such a distraction at their table.
So they led the little old man gently but firmly by the arm to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in a bowl. But one day his hands trembled even more than usual, and the bowl fell and broke. His son and daughter-in-law, in anger and distress, then made a little wooden trough and fed him out of that. It was terrible to see him eating as would an animal, but that’s the way things were.
One day the couple’s four-year-old son was playing intently with some bits of wood, so they asked him what he was doing. “I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling at them for approval, “to feed you and Mama out of when I get big.”
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, then they cried a little, then they took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.
We need the fifth commandment, for our lives, our families, and our future.
What about dishonorable parents?
But before we find practical ways to honor our parents, we need briefly to ask a hard question: what if our parents are not honorable? What if they try to keep us from following Christ or otherwise doing what is right? What then?
Sometimes we must choose which commandment to break. When Corrie ten Boom’s family was harboring Jews, one day the Nazis banged on their door and asked if they had Jews in their house. Which commandment will they break—the sixth commandment, not to murder, or the ninth commandment, not to lie?
Jesus made it clear that following him would sometimes cause conflict with our family. His own family misunderstood him early in his ministry. And he specifically told his followers, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).
This happened often to the early Christians, who had to refuse their father’s order to reject Christ, even to the point of death.