Stuart's Thinking Christianly Heads

“Parenthood is hereditary. You get it from your children.”

Trauts Rebmik


I think one of the most beautiful and profound truths – one that says a lot about ourselves and about the One Who made us – is to be found in the Bible’s Book of Psalms…

“God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68.6)

Love ’em or hate ’em, families give us our identity. From being proud that you look like your father, to being determined to trace your birth mother, to being damaged by parents who neglected or abused you – for good or ill, ‘family’ shapes us and defines us. And although things can go badly wrong in families as much as they can go gloriously right, God puts ‘family’ at the centre of His Ten Commandments. And He does it in such a way that the emphasis is not just on ‘me and my personal wellbeing.’ We are pointed in other directions as well…

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5.16)

At the start of these blogs on the Ten Commandments, I suggested that when God ‘blogged’ them to His own people nearly 3500 years ago, He quite understandably started with their acknowledged relationship with Him and worked down the list to laws about how they related to one another. But I’ve also imagined that if Jesus ‘blogged’ the Ten Commandments to a secular and godless society like ours, He might start ‘down here’ in ‘the fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into’ with protective laws about how to relate to one another, and then work back up the list to laws about relating to Him.

And that’s why we’ve been looking at them in reverse order!

10. Ambition. 9. Slander. 8. Theft. 7. Adultery. 6. Murder. 

With No.5, we’re at a sort of turning point in the Commandments as we look at them this way ’round, because they start turning upwards towards God and how to relate to Him. So, of course, this Commandment gets us looking back to where we’ve come from – our parents.

There are three things that the wording of this Commandment tells us about how we should relate both to one another and to God. And, once again, we start at the very beginning…


The first thing to notice is that this is one of no less than three Commandments that highlight and affirm the marriage relationship. Not coveting your neighbours wife, not committing adultery and honouring your father and mother – these all honour the relationship that God inaugurated right from the very beginning of creation.

“So God created mankind in his own image… male and female he created them… God said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number… It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him… That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 1.27-28; 2.18 and 24)

We are to honour our father and our mother, not because they will always be worthy of honour personally, but because they, and what they are intended to be, represent God’s whole purpose for family and relationships within the human race. Adam and Eve were the first ‘family’. Loneliness was banished because they were uniquely ‘suitable’ for one another; the multiplication of humanity came about because they were two sexes; and by their growing family they gave rise not only to all other family relationships but also to all other families on earth. As the mother and father who gave you life, your parents represent a direct connection with you and the God who created you – and they remind you of His created order.

Understanding the Commandment in this way also makes it clear that we are not only to honour our own parents, but the entire parental generation and the marriages they represent – and indeed the parental generations that went before them. Again, not because they will all be worthy of honour personally, but because what they represent is a glimpse into God as Creator, Parent and originator of Family. Our parents and elders often don’t reflect the character of God well, but because of the very nature God has given them, sometimes they do!


The second thing follows on closely from the first… 

Just as the one man/one woman Marriage relationship has been ‘written into’ our created-ness by God, so the Family has been ‘written into’ human society by God – and both figure extensively throughout the Bible as pictures of how God relates to us. We’ve already seen, when looking at the Commandment about adultery, how Marriage is a constant prophetic picture in Scripture – but in many ways Family looms even larger.

In Genesis Chapters 5 – 11, genealogies of fathers and sons sketch out families that form themselves into nations. And when God destroys the earth in a Flood, He chooses Noah and his family to start all over again (Genesis 6 – 9). When sin goes from bad to worse all over again, culminating in the Tower of Babel incident, God chooses Abraham and his family to set His plan of salvation in motion, and it’s the history and progress of four generations of Abraham’s family that fills the rest of the Book of Genesis – a full 38 chapters! Throughout this whole saga we see God working in and through these families’ relationships – however fraught and disordered they become! He is constantly restoring and honouring family relationships even when they seem hopelessly broken. This is clear from the forced surrogacies of Abraham and Jacob; to the favouritism displayed by Isaac and Rebekah towards their twin sons Jacob and Esau; to Jacob and Esau’s own fear and hatred for one another; and to the jealousy, callousness and cruelty between Joseph and his brothers, and towards their father Jacob.

All this history could have been told as a series of stories about great heroes. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was told as a series of stories about families, fathers, mothers and children.


Because God is a Father towards His people, whom He calls His children. Throughout the Old Testament, God as Father and the Israelites as His family, is a continuous portrayal of how God wants to relate to human beings.

“Say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son…Let my son go, so that he may worship me.” (Exodus 4.22-23)

“You are the children of the Lord your God… Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” (Deuteronomy 14.1 and 32.6) 

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” (Psalm 103.13)

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3.12)

“Hear me you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isaiah 1.2)

“‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land… I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3.19)

“In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people’, they will be called ‘children of the living God’… When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 1.10b and 11.1)

“Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?” (Malachi 2.10)

As well as telling the early history of God’s people as a family saga, warts and all, the first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs are a father and mother’s wisdom being passed on to their son; the Book of Proverbs ends with the wise sayings of King Lemuel’s mother to her son, and it tells us that ‘a wife of noble character’ is the model for a wise life; and the Wisdom literature ends, in the Song of Songs, with a glimpse into the intimate life and love shared by a husband and wife – all this in amongst all the failures of ‘marriage’ and family relationships we find in the Old Testament!

Yes. In amongst all the mess of human behaviour that the Old Testament honestly portrays, Marriage and Family are a constant drumbeat.


And if Family is a constant drumbeat of the Old Testament, it’s the entire rhythm section of the New! Not only is Marriage and Family in themselves honoured in the New Testament, but Family becomes a theology of the Kingdom of God and of the Church.

The Family genealogy of Jesus is the stepping stone into the New Testament from the Old in Matthew 1.1-17, and Luke traces another Family line in Luke 3.23-38. We’re told that Jesus honoured His parents as a child in Luke 2.51-52, but in all three synoptic Gospels we also hear his Family’s early response to His ministry – and what He did about it…

“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ … Then his mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent someone in to call him… ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.'” (Mark 3.21, 31-35. = Matthew 12.46-50 and Luke 8.19-21)

Praise God that in due course His family came to believe in Him, but this incident wasn’t Jesus demoting His family, but promoting His disciples into His Family. In a profound way, this is the moment when Family became Jesus’ theology of Church. And towards the end of His ministry, we see this theology more ‘fully grown’…

Then Peter spoke up, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ ‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.'” (Mark 10.28-31)

There may be many ‘shake ups’ in God’s dealings with humanity and some in our own family may not become members of God’s household, but God’s people will always be described as Family – and they will experience the Fatherhood of God. And of course, Jesus famously taught all His followers to pray..

“Our Father in heaven…” (Matthew 6.9)


By the time Paul and others are writing about Church in the rest of the New Testament, Christians and the Church are unmistakably the Family of God.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God… The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8.14,16-17)

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6.10)

“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2.10-11)

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do… Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 1.14-16 and 2.17)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1.1,11-13)

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3.1)


But the third thing about this fifth Commandment is that as well as simply telling us to honour Family and parents – especially our own – it goes on to tell us why, and what will result if we do so…

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5.16)

Very significantly, Paul points out this third thing that the Commandment teaches by quoting it while talking about children and parents in his letter to the Ephesians…

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6.1-4)

Honouring your father and mother – and honouring Family – is good for the health and wellbeing of society! And this is a promise! Honouring Parents results in Functional Families, and Functional Families are good for our personal flourishing and for the flourishing of society.

As we discovered when looking at the Commandment about adultery, by restricting sex to the one man/one woman relationship and forbidding Marriage between close relatives, the central marriage relationship creates not only children, but also all the other essential relationships of brother, sister, uncle, aunt, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandfather, grandmother and friend. In a sexualised society like our own – where almost any relationship is potentially sexual – the richness, strengths and variety of all other relationships gradually disappear.

Where honour for parents, marriage and family disappears, so does society itself!


Finally, this use of the fifth Commandment by Paul in Ephesians prompts us to ask what being obedient to it might look like.

For children it means obeying your parents. But how interesting that Paul says that it is Fathers who are “to bring (their children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” And not only does Paul put responsibility for good and careful parenting firmly into the hands of fathers, but when he tells Timothy how to be a Christian leader, he effectively tells him how this Commandment applies in the Church…

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God….  If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need… (1 Timothy 5.1-4 and 16)

So not only were Christians to honour their parents by caring for them in their old age, but the Church itself took on the responsibility of caring for older people who had no family of their own to do so. Yes indeed, the Church became their Family and was itself a Family.

So from earliest times in the Church, Jesus’ promise came true…

“Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10.29-30)




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