The first four love letters (commandments) that God gives us in Exodus 20:3-11 deal with our love for Him. The final six love letters deal with our love for our fellow man. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus reiterates this love construct by saying, “The first great commandment is thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, with all they soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is likened unto it. Thou shalt love Thy neighbor as thyself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”
Beginning with Love Letter #5, we now see the shift from our vertical relationship with God to our horizontal relationship with others. The admonition in this letter is to love our parents, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord, thy God, giveth thee.” In addition to this transition, this specific love letter is the first commandment with a promise.
The promise is clear: “If you honor your parents, you will enjoy long life on the earth.” Yet, when this is read, there is a tendency to believe that if one honors his or her parents, then he or she will live a long life. Being respectful to one’s parents doesn’t automatically qualify anyone for longevity in life, however. The correct understanding of this promise was applied to the children of Israel. If they obeyed their parents, they would live a long time in the land that God was giving them. Remember, the people of Israel had been brought out of Egypt and brought out of slavery, but they had not yet entered the Promised Land. The Promised Land was the land God was giving to them. The Message Bible puts it simply, “Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.”
If you give respect, you’ll get respect.
Honors For Elders
Nevertheless, from a topical perspective, the love letter says, “Honor your parents. Honor your grandparents. Honor your great grandparents. Honor your forefathers. Honor your seniors. Honor those who have gone before you.”
To honor is “to respect greatly; regard highly; treat with deference and courtesy.” The Hebrew root word used here for honor is kabead, which means, “to make heavy.” In other words, don’t take your parents lightly. Give them the respect and reverence they deserve. This is critical.
Unfortunately, for some, this love letter challenges those who have found it difficult to honor parents who, because of inadequate support, poor parenting, and bad examples, don’t warrant their child’s respect. Yet, in spite of what parents have done, this is not a command honoring “perfect” parents. God specifically says, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” God doesn’t say, “Honor your father and mother if they deserve it, if they’ve been good to you, or if they’ve never made mistakes. God says, “Honor your father and mother.” So while it may be arduous to honor one’s parents given their less than positive behaviors, one should still honor the position of fatherhood and motherhood.
The Bible is also clear that what “one sows, one shall reap.” So if you have children, the way you honor your father or mother, will likely be the way your children honor you. The honor you give is the honor you will receive. If you give love, you’ll get love. If you give respect, you’ll get respect. If you give honor, you’ll get honor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “Give and it shall be given unto you.” “Honor thy father and thy mother.” That’s Love Letter #5.
CARLTON P. BYRD, D.MIN., is Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama and the speaker and director for Breath of Life Television Ministries.
*All scriptural texts are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
1 Matthew 22:36-40
2 Exodus 20:12
3 Exodus 20:12, Message Bible