Honor as a Defining Principle of Life
Earlier this year, I was privileged to minister alongside my father, as well as Dr. R.C. Sproul, Sr. and Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr., as part of the Generations Conference hosted by the Highlands Study Center in Abingdon, Virginia.
The theme for the conference was “Generations: Giving Honor to Whom Honor is Due,” and the goal which the Highlands Study Center set forth for the event was to “encourage and provoke parents to both instill and inspire honor in their children, that all of us would better honor our Father in heaven by honoring those in authority over us.”
While there, I delivered a message entitled, “The First Command with a Promise.” The heart of the message was the explanation of the biblical doctrine of honor and its application for all of life. The message explained why the Fifth Commandment is not merely an individualistic promise, but a promise with generational and covenantal implications. Scriptures were exposited which detail both the blessings of honor as well as the sanctions, judgments, and curses which God promises to dishonorable sons and daughters. Jesus promised that it would “be well” with honorable sons and daughters, and that there would be nothing but sorrows and heartaches for dishonorable sons and daughters. Here are some of the passages I discussed:
Fools Despise Their Parents: “A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother” (Proverbs 15:20).
Smiting Fathers or Mothers Was a Capital Offense: “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.... And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:15,17).
Cursing Parents Leads to Judgment: “There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes? And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.... The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it” (Proverbs 30:11-17).
Scripture offers related commands, promises, and sanctions to those who despise church authorities and employers. It is a safe maxim that if you disapprove of your employer or disagree with his decisions, you have two choices: You may stay with him and give him “all honor,” or you may leave his employment.
What you may not do is take his check but undermine him through grumbling and gossip. Nor may you seek to create change in your local church through unsubmissive conduct. In the first case, you may be guilty of blaspheming the name of God and His doctrine. In the second case, your conduct will not be profitable for you. Consider:
Honoring Employers: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed” (1 Timothy 6:1).
Obey Your Leaders; Submit, Be a Joy; Don’t Be a Grief: “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).
Honor as a Maxim for All of Life
The Lord Jesus Christ prioritizes the law of honor by reminding us that this is the first command given by God that comes with a promise (Ephesians 6:1-3). To honor the Lord, we must honor our mothers and fathers. But the Lord extends the principle of honor found in the Ten Commandments to other God-created relationships. In the name of the Lord, we are commanded to honor the king (I Peter 2:17), employers (I Timothy 6:1), shepherds (I Timothy 5:17), the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), and widows (I Timothy 5:3). In fact, our mouths are to be filled with honor and praise all the day (Psalm 71:8).
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:7)
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32)
Ungrateful Sons, Internet Assassins, and the Spirit of Adonijah
In examining Hebrews 12:5-13, I shared my own view that fatherless cultures produce men who do not understand honor, and therefore relate dishonorably to fathers, employers, pastors, and — most importantly — to God the Father. In fact, cultures dominated by prodigal fathers produce men and women who actually view dishonorable conduct as a virtue.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we see within American culture (including Evangelical Christianity) a breed of sons who demand the right to self-emancipate, who disdain the blessings of their fathers, and who seek to skirt the Fifth Commandment by dismissing biblical requirements to honor as an idolatrous over-emphasis on fathers.
Over the years, I have known ungrateful sons who have physically struck their Christian fathers; I have sat with professing Christian young men intent on justifying their lack of moral self-control on alleged theological differences with their authority figures. It is all too common these days to meet men who will look you in the eye and, in one breath, speak about their profound concern for doctrinal truth, and in the other, shamefully mock and expose the weaknesses of their godly fathers to the world in order to justify their personal rebellion — in the spirit of Ham. There are far too many accounts of professing Christian men who have been richly blessed by employers, pastors, and authority figures who now seek to advance themselves by staging coups against their leaders in the treasonous spirit of Adonijah.
The twenty-first century world of the Internet, instant global communication, and theological pandemonium provides dishonorable men with numerous opportunities to skirt biblical requirements for conflict resolution, to cover their tracks — or simply, to vent. In the past, dishonorable men would serve their family a dish of “roast pastor” at the Sunday brunch table (thus training their children to be embittered, ungrateful whiners), but modern complainers are techno-savvy. Now dissatisfied congregants can dishonorably vent disagreements with their leaders to the world over the Web. Some actually become Internet assassins — men and women intent on destroying the character of the men with whom they disagree, and justifying their electronic “holy jihad” on the grounds that “the world must be warned.”
It is not difficult to find others who will listen to gossip. And dishonorable men are skilled at finding others with axes to grind with whom alliances can be built. They know how to build armies by finding other dishonorable men who will give theological sanction and justification to their dishonor. They understand that one need not look hard to find a local church or an Internet site that (in the name of Jesus) will justify pretty much anything.
The net effect of the ease and accessibility of high-tech, pseudo-anonymous means for dishonor, is that such men become bolder and bolder in their dishonorable activities. They prey upon the undiscerning and repeat their own stories enough times that they believe them as Gospel. Like Adonijah, their self-righteous dogmatism is such that they convince themselves, and all who fall under their spell, that their cause is the only cause.
From Such Turn Away
It is not accidental that the Bible links disobedient sons to other dishonorable men, including those who are whisperers, proud, inventers of evil things, backbiters, implacable, and covenant breakers (Romans 1:28-31). Second Timothy speaks of traitors and disobedient sons and daughters who have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. Specifically:
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:2-4)
The biblical remedy for Christians who meet such dishonorable men is simple: From such turn away (2 Timothy 3:5).
But a common denominator of this league of dishonorable sons is that, despite their bluff and bluster, despite their self-congratulation and self-approval, these men and women are plagued by troubles. It “is [not] well” with them. Their future will be thorns and thistles, grief and grumblings, and will remain such until they humble themselves before God and seek the Lord’s mercy from His righteous sanctions against the ungrateful and the dishonorable.
Honor thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. (Deuteronomy 5:16)
In contrast, honorable sons and daughters will prosper. They will enjoy the blessing of days in the land which the Lord has given to them (Deuteronomy 5:16). They will have glad fathers (Proverbs 15:20). Unlike dishonorable sons, who will have their lamps put out in obscure darkness (Proverbs 20:20), the path of sons who hear the instructions of their fathers will be illuminated (Proverbs 6:20-23). The law of their mothers will be an ornament of grace on their heads (Proverbs 1:7-9). They will be a joy to those in authority over them (Hebrews 13:17). It will be well with them (Ephesians 6:1-3).
There is a surprising work of God — a wonderful revival taking place within segments of the Christian community. It is a revival of generational love where the hearts of parents are being turned toward their children and children toward their parents. Parents are recognizing that true love requires more than good intentions, it requires sheep-feeding (John 21:16; Deuteronomy 6:1-16). This revival is accompanied by a renewed appreciation for the relevance of the entire Word of God, and a passion to return to the old paths wherein there is hope. A hallmark of this revival is the restoration of the Fifth Commandment to the home. Fathers are turning off the television set and picking up the Bible and reading it to their families. Sons are seeking the wisdom and blessing of their mothers and fathers. Wives are turning their hearts toward the gift of motherhood. Daughters are aspiring toward virtue, homemaking, and future motherhood.
The revival is in the same spirit as the great work of God between fathers and sons which took place at the time of the coming of John the Baptist. In the last verse of the Old Testament, and the first verse heralding the coming of John, we read of a heart-turning between parents and their children to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)
Originally published May 23, 2006.