Because English is a living language, and gradually changes: yesterday’s biblical meanings can become hidden, or even lost, within today’s usage.
Modern application of the word ‘honour’ can considerably alter much of the meaning of the biblical command to ‘Honour your father and mother’.
The prime definition, in ordinary dictionaries, is: ‘High respect; glory’; and ‘to credit high reputation and good name’. But, many people feel they cannot ‘honour’ their parents in that way.
In autobiographies; various writers make it clear that, as children, they were afraid of their parents; and that, as adults, relationship with them was based on dislike, rather than rooted in love.
Being unable to ascribe ‘high respect, glory, and elevated reputation’ to their parents, did not, necessarily, mean that they broke the Fifth Commandment.
This is because today’s primary definition: reflecting changed usage: is not the best one to apply to unchanging Christian teachings, in the matter.
The bible clearly shows that liking, or disliking, is not the point; and that people can still be honoured, by applying the secondary definition, from today’s dictionaries. This reads: ‘Firm adherence to what is right; or to a conventional standard of conduct’.
This definition of ‘honour’, based upon God determining what is ‘right’; and establishing the required ‘standard of conduct’; holds primary position throughout the scriptures; and undergirds all of God’s biblical directives.
The root of Old Testament understanding: and an ongoing, New Testament application of it: is found in the wording of the 5th commandment itself: where the Lord points to the benefits coming from obeying the instruction.
Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you”. Deuteronomy 5: 6.
In modern English, the ‘benefits’ may be defined as: ‘long, healthy, prosperous years; emanating from a settled life-style’.
Before slavery in Egypt; the Hebrews were not a nation; but a collection of nomadic families, under patriarchal leadership; who sometimes squabbled over grazing rights; and raided each other’s camps, flocks and herds.
For them, women were part of the goods and chattels belonging to the men. It was not so much that women were dishonoured; but more that they were disregarded: in terms of rights, and privileges.
However, from the lawgiving at Mount Sinai, and throughout their wanderings; the Jews began to develop visions of nation-hood; and the settled life: with women having far greater respect, position and influence.
Once the Jews were established, in their ‘Promised Land’; they ceased to be nomadic herdsmen, and became farmers, within designated areas.
No longer was it enough, for each dominant male to be leader: priest, lawgiver and policeman to his own, immediate, family or group.
Something vastly greater was afoot; and a changing society, required a far wider form of governance; to control and direct the families; clans and tribes, that were being built into a settled nation.
The required governance came about in stages, over a long period.
Importance began to be attached to a developing concept of ‘family life’, which went far beyond local relatives and dependants, and included all those who claimed descent from Abraham.
As they developed; and moved on socially; various qualities, attributes and values; not previously experienced on a wide scale; were established, and applied; collectively; at every level of Hebrew society; male and female alike.
Such qualities, attributes and values, included a natural respect for other people; and an ongoing regard for their safety and well being; rooted in kindliness towards all ages and conditions of men and women.
They learned to share: and developed a sense of togetherness, that went beyond the practicalities of united, human effort; and made them recognize the corporate and spiritual nature of their calling; as witnesses to God’s love.
Growing awareness: of who they believed themselves to be; and what they believed that they were called to do; had a wonderful, strengthening quality.
They had learned that respect within the small, local family – epitomized by honouring the physical ‘father and mother’, was a starting point, and not an end in itself: because each small, family group, was part of the greater whole.
In principle, at least; they knew that their personal application of respect and honour, formed part of an ongoing and outward movement, which would, eventually, build the whole nation into a ‘family’…
…and be epitomized by honouring God himself, as Spiritual Father.
They knew that; for good or ill; what they, individually, were; affected what their nation would become.
End of Part One.
Part Two.
The ‘Fifth Commandment’ is, perhaps, the most important. It undergirds the other nine; and is the foundation of Old and New Testament teaching.
When fully applied, ‘Firm adherence to what is right: the strict observance of a conventional code of conduct’; prevents false gods; idolatry; blasphemy; misuse of the Sabbath; murder; adultery; stealing; slander and libel; and covetousness; and so much else.
However, within modern ‘Western Culture’, we tend to query the tenets upon which our ‘Society’ is founded; and, right or wrong, to carry on regardless. Some years ago: the ‘buzz-word’ was: ‘Do your own thing’: and, ever since, our nation seems to have done just that.
We appear to be prepared; either to justify alarmingly rapid and radical social change; or else, to allow what goes on, through not preventing it.
Those who do nothing: may feel that what is going on, is wrong; but fail to undertake positive action, against what offends them. Those who justify radical social change: often devise let-out clauses, to explain away those tenets, which prevent the fulfilment of selfish desires. Let-out clauses, usually begin with: ‘It all depends upon what you mean by..’ ‘What do you mean by ‘What is right’; ‘firm adherence’, and ‘strict observance’?
It is very easy to distort, or trivialize, the truth, and thus make it ineffective. It is just as easy to ignore the truth, and prevent it from being effective.
By design, or by default; for good, or for ill; what the individual does; fails to do, or allows to be done; affects what our nation becomes.
What do we make of this; and, perhaps, what do we undertake to effect?
Christians believe that God has decreed what is right; that he has determined necessary conduct; and that what he has commanded, must be obeyed. Is all of this, consistently found within today’s Christian living?
A City of London church; became famous for holding lunchtime meetings, where Christian businessmen debated relevant, religious and ethical matters. On one occasion, I spoke on the subject of: ‘Honesty within Business’: followed by half and hour, or so, of debate.
Having asked those among them who were thieves, to put their hands up; they got angry: and told me that they were Christians, who lived decent, moral lives: at home, and at work. I was challenged to prove my point: or else they would close the meeting.
When I stated my belief that many of them, regularly, stole paid-for company time; they went into a huddle; said: ‘O.K! We’ll give you that’: and then really got down to worthwhile debate.
Later: as a minister at Aldershot: I had some army chaplaincies. Within a regimental headquarters: a senior officer declared himself to be a Christian. He said that he and I should stick together; make a Christian stand; and give a good witness to the faith.
One day, he offered to print up to twenty thousand sheets a year, of church photocopying; on army machines; without charge; but, ‘don’t tell a soul’. When I refused his offer, he got angry; and never spoke to me again.
Firm adherence to what is right: the strict observance of a conventional code of conduct’. Again; what do we make of this, on the one hand; and undertake to effect, on the other?
As said earlier; the ancient Jewish people learned that respect within the small, local family – epitomized by honouring the physical ‘father and mother’, was not an end in itself: because each, was part of the whole.
In principle, at least: they knew that the proper application of respect and honour, in the local family, would reflect in the physical, moral and spiritual life of the whole nation; and help make it become ‘the family of God’; epitomized by honouring the Lord himself, as Spiritual Father.
Individually; they knew that; for good or ill; what they were; affected what their nation would become”.
We, too, have learned that our society is, basically, the sum of its individual parts: and that true ‘honouring’: often entails individual desires giving way to established tenets and laws; for the greater good of the people as a whole.
However, our society seems to have come to the point where reversal has set in: where the needs and requirements of the nation; are expected to give way to the desires of the individual, or group.
What is our Christian position? Do we see what we know, and do; as a mere ‘drop in the ocean’; and give up a little…
…or do we; with religious insight, and moral courage, undertake positive action, against what we believe to be wrong?
Our clearest guide in all of this: and our most challenging commitment: lies in fulfilling the ‘honouring’ requirement of the fifth commandment.
When; to the best of our ability; we undertake such ‘honouring’; we not only discover ourselves to be enriched, and blessed; but also find that, quite naturally, we are touching, and blessing, the lives of others.