The 5th Commandment – and why is it the first Commandment with promise?


In Exodus 20:1-17 God spoke the Ten Commandments, and the 5th Commandment reads as follows: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your (your)  God is giving you.” This is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:16.

The Church of God has long taught that the first four Commandments show us that we must love God first and foremost, followed by the love that we must have for other people which is defined in the last six Commandments. We further read in Ephesians 6:1-3: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’”

By so doing this sets a pattern for life which can only be of great benefit to the growing child.

A parent to a small child is almost like God and that is why it is so important for the parent to set the standards and example very early in life.   However, it can be disastrous if there is any hint of hypocrisy on the part of the parent as children can quickly pick this up.

Parents have to be available to be honoured but there are so many single parent families that an increasing number of children are deprived of a proper family environment.   Of course, it must be added, that some families with only one parent may be in that position because of factors beyond their control, one of which could be death, but many choose a lifestyle that produces children without the stability of a father figure or a really loving and caring mother.   It is doubtful that any who would choose this lifestyle would have deeply held religious convictions anyway and so a bad example is set by wrong actions and probably very little, if any, of teaching their offspring the Godly way of life that can truly benefit children as they grow up.   You may want to look at our Q&A on “What is a Family?” 

There is no question that a child who is trained and disciplined in a Godly way will have a good relationship with his human father and mother.   Those who do not have a father in the home may later have a problem relating with our spiritual Father in heaven.   There have been cases where this has proved to be a spiritual problem for those being called into the Church of God because of a poor upbringing with no father figure to relate to or with an uncaring mother who does not respect and support the role of her husband and father of their children.

In Proverbs 22:6 we read: ”Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”   One commentator made these observations on this verse:

“This statement is not a hard-and-fast promise to parents, however, for the rest of the book makes clear that the power of the youth’s future depends not only on the parents’ guidance but also very much on the choices he or she makes.   The immediately preceding verse implies that the youth must guard his soul from those who are crooked (Proverbs 22:5).   He could choose to follow the wicked unto death (Proverbs 2:12-19), or he could heed the wisdom of his parents and choose the good paths of the righteous unto life (Proverbs 22:1-11, 20).”

When training children, it is important that they know the rules and the boundaries that have been set by their parents, and without these, children will be left to their own devices which could lead to bad consequences later in life.   Discipline is always necessary but the parents must always have the best interests of the child at heart.

Children left to their own devices will not turn naturally to the way of God, and Satan will be there with his broadcasting to ensure that that is so.   Children need guidance and direction for their own good and well-being and a youngster growing up in a positive family environment will, generally, prove to be a good solid member of society.   Even one godly parent can provide such guidance, although the other parent might not endorse and teach a godly life-style, or might even resist it and try to counteract God’s injunctions.  With God’s help it is possible for the godly parent to do a marvelous job, and God will give the godly parent extra strength and wisdom as to how to train up the child in the way he or she should go. Please read in this context our free booklet, The Keys to Happy Marriages and Families.” When a child learns obedience for his own good, he will be polite and courteous and he will have no problem with authority that is necessary in a well-ordered society.

So many people today have a very jaundiced view of authority and law enforcement which can be a real problem in society, and that is the outcome of a lack of training of young people as they grow up.   In an article in the Daily Telegraph dated October 2008 and headed “Children in single-parent families more likely to suffer emotional problems” the report found that “young people whose mother and father split up are also three times as likely to become aggressive or badly behaved, according to the comprehensive survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics.   Living in a ‘reconstituted’ family containing step-children or step-parents increased the risk of developing behavioural problems still further, it found.   The stark findings of the study, commissioned by the Department for Health and the Scottish Government, fly in the face of the government’s repeated failure to extol the benefits on children of growing up in a traditional family home.”

This is a strong indictment against those guilty of breaking up a marriage and causing turmoil to a child, by, for example, leaving their mate for another partner.

In a newspaper report in the UK on 3rd March 2019, it stated that 3,000 incidents of parental abuse had been recorded in London over the past three years with the biggest rise being among daughters accused of assaulting parents.  The Metropolitan Police listed parental abuse as an area of ‘emerging demand’.

This is just a flavour of so much information that is available today that backs up the importance of a stable family.

You may want to review our Q&A entitled “Are We Required to Honor Our Parents Even if They Are Abusive and Ungodly?” Which was published in Update 828 dated 18th May 2018:

Those who have been reared with correct values to be a good member of society, would, generally, not look to become involved in criminal activity or any other anti-social behaviour.

The 5th Commandment is vital not only for the good and well-being of the family unit and society in general but also for future generations, and this helps with law and order in a decent society.  It is a win-win situation.

It is fair to say that childrearing has always been challenging but, perhaps, never more so than in today’s very secular and permissive society.

It is interesting that in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 we read childrearing advice from God from thousands of years ago: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.  And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.   You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.   You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Matthew 15:3-6 is a good example of those trying to avoid honouring parents: “He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?   For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.”   But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God’— then he need not honor his father or mother.” Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.”’”   Jesus was very straightforward to these “religious men” who tried to opt out of their family responsibilities.

Proverbs 30:11 is a statement along the same lines: “There is a generation that curses its father, And does not bless its mother.”

The Bible has many examples of family order where parental teaching is lax with terrible consequences and also where children are disobedient to their parents.

Children should be taught biblical principles and this should come from the parents.  Today, unfortunately, many expect the teaching profession to fully teach their children as so many parents abdicate the responsibility that is rightfully theirs.   It must be remembered that parents are the child’s first and most important teachers that they will ever have.

We must understand that education in schools today has the basis of evolution underpinning so much of what it teaches, and in terms of morality, it simply follows the societal patterns which now approve and applaud practices that the Word of God clearly shows are perversions and abominations.   So why would any God-fearing parent want to allow other people, however well-intentioned they may be, to teach their children about decent and acceptable standards?

Even though school attendance is mandatory in most countries and parents may have little or no influence on what their children are being taught in school, they must do everything they can to counteract those false teachings by educating their children properly at home.

Lazy and uncaring parents who take little or no interest in educating, disciplining, guiding and directing their children, will be happy to let schools do all the teaching of their offspring even if the outcomes are not very satisfactory.   A good moral compass that most people used to have decades ago has, in so many ways, simply disappeared and been replaced by an attitude that many have which simply says there is no right or wrong.

What a person thinks about authority in the home, and in society, starts from an early age when habits and attitudes are formed.  As children develop within the right environment in the family, usually the same standards are passed on to their own family.   In addition, such children will, almost certainly, move on from obeying their parents when they were small to honouring them when they become self-sufficient adults.   They will generally realise how much their parents loved them to give them such a caring and positive upbringing, and their appreciation will be shown in the same approach that they take with their own children as well as respecting and honouring their parents for all that they have done for them, and the more so as the parents approach old age.

One writer opined: “A reason for a thorough study of the Fifth Commandment is that our culture most often hinders and opposes our efforts to honor our parents. In the culture of the ancient Near East, there was a much higher regard for those in positions of authority (in general) and for parents in particular.”

In the book of Luke, chapter 2, we see the perfect example of Jesus as a 12-year-old being subject to His parents.   In verse 42 we read: “And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.”   As we read this account, we read that He stayed behind to listen and ask questions of the teachers in the Temple.   In verse 51 we further read: “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

When we really understand the Fifth Commandment, it becomes clear that it brings into sharp focus how important it is for the family, and society, and reflects the true love that children should have for their parents, those who spent many years of untold and incalculable sacrifice to ensure that they gave their children the best possible start in life.

The Fifth Commandment is the first one with promise because it is the one where the benefit is not just for the individuals at the time but something that can be passed on from generation to generation, and it hugely benefits society at large.

It also reflects the spiritual aspect of God as our Father and the importance of the family now which further reflects the importance of the future Family of God which will last for eternity.

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)

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