The Lord Jesus came to earth in obedience to the Father’s will, honoring His Father by revealing Him to mankind. Jesus testified of Himself: “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).
When Jesus spoke about the fifth commandment in His teaching, He addressed the importance of honor that comes from the heart, not merely from the lips. Consider, for instance, that the sixth commandment is obeyed, not only by abstaining from murder, but also by guarding our hearts against anger (see Matthew 5:21–22), and the seventh commandment is obeyed, not merely by abstaining from the act of adultery, but by guarding our hearts against lust (see Matthew 5:27–28). In a similar way, the fifth commandment is obeyed by honoring our parents in heart and in action, rather than merely honoring them by our words.
Jesus addressed this matter directly in Mark Chapter 7. After rebuking the Pharisees for “laying aside the commandments of God” in order to “hold the tradition of men” (verse 8), Jesus used the fifth commandment as an example.
“And he [Jesus] said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother” (verses 9–12).
In these verses, Jesus was referring to a selfish custom that prevailed in His day. A son would set aside a portion of his money and dedicate it to the Temple in Jerusalem, calling the set-aside funds Corban, a Hebrew term that meant “an offering” or “a gift.” This money was still used by the son and could accrue interest. But by dedicating the funds supposedly to God, the son was saying that he could not use the money to support his aging parents. Corban was allowed by the Talmud and by the Pharisaical tradition as a way to “keep” the fifth commandment without personal sacrifice.
Jesus strongly condemned this hypocrisy. In the next verse He said, “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (verse 13). Following this comment, Jesus went further, teaching that defilement came not from the outside, as in what we touch and eat and drink, but rather from the inside, from “out of the heart.” He wanted His disciples to honor their parents out of a heart of respect rather than only by words.
Beyond His teaching, our Lord Jesus exemplified this type of honor in His own personal life. If ever a child was born who had the right to claim superiority to His parents, it was Jesus. He was the perfect Son of God, and yet He was placed into the home of a carpenter and his wife. In this human family, we find that Perfection submitted to imperfection, and the Son of God became the Son of Man.
1. Jesus honored His earthly parents. (Luke 2:51)
Very little is known about the childhood of Jesus, but the one inspired account that we have in Luke’s Gospel is very revealing. In that account, the young boy Jesus accompanied His earthly parents Joseph and Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem. When they could not find Jesus among their travel companions on their return trip, they returned to Jerusalem to find Him in the Temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus had a reverence for elders in general and for Mary and Joseph in particular. On the surface, it seems that Jesus answered Mary roughly when she asked Him why He had caused them to worry. But there was no dishonor in Jesus’ response. He was stating to His mother the purpose of His coming to earth: “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).
Although Mary and Joseph did not fully understand these words, they experienced the sincere, obedient, and respectful submission of the Lord Jesus as He honored and submitted Himself to them. “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” (Luke 2:51). The Greek verb translated as “was subject” is an elegantly expressive statement of submission. Literally, it says that Jesus “placed Himself under [their] authority.” The verb is a military term sometimes used in Greek literature of a soldier who placed himself under the command of his officers. Jesus, the Lord of Glory and the Eternal Son of God, placed Himself under the authority of His human parents and made Himself “subject unto them.”
How touching that one of the final acts the Lord Jesus completed before His death was to entrust the care of His mother to the Apostle John (see John 19:25–27). In the manger in Bethlehem, Mary had cared for Jesus. On the cross at Calvary, Jesus cared for Mary. As He died, our Lord Jesus honored His mother and gave to the world an example of loving, filial devotion.
2. Jesus honored His Heavenly Father. (John 8:29)
Not only did Jesus honor His human parents, but He was constantly seeking to honor and serve His Heavenly Father. He testified to His disciples, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). At the baptism of Jesus, God the Father gave a verbal affirmation of His pleasure in His Son: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
When Jesus came to the cross, He submitted to the divine purpose and outworking of His Heavenly Father’s will. He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had explained His purpose on earth to His disciples: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Now, upon the cross, He was completing His Father’s work.
The final words of Jesus testified that the fifth commandment was ultimately fulfilled when He said “It is finished” (John 19:30). “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46).
Each of us should keep the sense and reality of rendering honor to whom honor is due constantly in our hearts (see Romans 13:7). If we have this willing-to-obey attitude toward God’s stated will in every situation, and we recognize our submission to parental authority “as unto the Lord,” it will not be difficult for us to keep God’s command to honor our fathers and mothers in heart, word, and deed.