This month’s biographical sketches have looked at the lives of men who honored their parents. But what about the son who has no parents? Or a son who has only a mother and no father? What about a daughter who has an abusive father? Or a Christian son whose parents are not believers and have no interest in the Bible? Does the fifth commandment apply in these difficult, painful cases? How is a son able to honor an evil father or a malevolent mother?
Sadly, not every home is ideal. In this fallen world, many cases of difficult childhood have existed, do abound now, and will continue to escalate until Jesus returns in power and glory. The Bible contains examples of broken homes, orphaned children, and sons whose fathers failed miserably. One example was Jephthah the Gileadite, who was the son of Gilead and of a harlot. He honored his father by taking on his name. However, because of his parentage, his own brothers despised him and cast him out. Later in life, when his father’s people asked Jephthah to lead them in battle against their enemies, he responded affirmatively. Jephthah the Gileadite led his tribe to victory. (See Judges 11:1–22.) This man with a difficult childhood rose to the challenge when called upon. He is listed among the people of faith in Hebrews 11:32.
Daniel is another example. As a young man, he was taken from his parents and reared in captivity far away in Babylon. (See Daniel 1:1–6). Daniel continued in the upbringing by his parents by honoring Jehovah God, even in captivity. The young man respectfully refused to eat the king’s meat. In a strange land, he worshipped and served the true, living God instead of the Babylonian false gods, even while far away from the watchful eye of his parents.
In the New Testament, we have the example of a young man who had a very difficult family situation. His Godly mother was married to a Greek. Although his mother was Jewish, the son was not circumcised. He and his mother and grandmother lived in the pagan city of Derbe in Asia Minor (now the country of Turkey).
This young man, Timothy, became the Apostle Paul’s “son in the faith.” Timothy was mentioned by name in twelve books of the New Testament. He is the only individual with two inspired epistles addressed specifically to him. Yet Timothy’s own family life was far from ideal. How did this son with a believing mother and unbelieving father keep the fifth commandment?
First, Timothy honored the Godly heritage that he did possess. While the likelihood that Timothy’s father, a Greek, was not a Christ-follower, his mother and grandmother both worshipped God. The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to give thanks for this heritage: “When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands” (II Timothy 1:5–6).
With affirming words, Paul ignored Timothy’s difficult upbringing and focused entirely upon the positive. Instead of calling upon Timothy to overcome the worldly influence of an unsaved father, Paul called to Timothy’s remembrance the “unfeigned faith”—the genuine faith, the faith without hypocrisy—of his Godly mother and grandmother.
Many sons who grow up in difficult circumstances have been surprised to search the family records and find the legacy of a Godly grandparent or great-grandparent. If you, like Timothy, have grown up in difficult circumstances, search out the positive influences that have been present in your family: possibly Godly grandparents, an encouraging uncle, an aunt who was a prayer warrior, or a neighbor with a backyard Bible club. Give thanks to God for this heritage. Timothy did.
Second, Timothy honored his father indirectly by ministering to the Greeks, his father’s ancestry and culture. Timothy could speak Greek and was familiar with Greek customs, even the idolatry of pagan cities like Derbe and Lystra. His upbringing equipped him to reach men and women with the Gospel in these dark backgrounds. In similar ways, how have you benefited from your parents’ culture and heritage? How has your family background prepared you for God’s calling on your life?
Third, God led Timothy to a man who could serve as his spiritual father. Lacking a spiritual father, Timothy found one in the Apostle Paul. Likewise, Paul called Timothy “my own son in the faith” (I Timothy 1:2). Timothy obeyed the fifth commandment as he honored the apostle’s role as his “father in the faith.” Sons who lack Godly fathers should look for Godly men who are willing to step in and serve in this important role.
When Paul was writing to the church in Philippi, he spoke of Timothy’s unselfish spirit of service in these glowing terms: “But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel” (Philippians 2:22). In keeping with the spirit of the fifth commandment, Timothy honored his spiritual father in the daily service of the Gospel.
Every mature Christian man should be on the lookout for a young “Timothy.” These young men, whether fatherless or lacking a Christian father figure, need an example of Biblical manhood that they can admire and follow.
When Paul was facing martyrdom in Rome, he wrote a final letter to Timothy. In the letter, the aging apostle gave the young pastor a fatherly exhortation to pass on the spiritual heritage he had been given. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:1–3).
Does the fifth commandment apply to men who are raised in broken and difficult homes? Indeed, it does! Timothy looked back and gave thanks for the unfeigned faith of his mother and grandmother. He used the Greek heritage that his father had given him, recognizing that his cultural background enabled him to win his father’s people to the saving knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally, God gave Timothy a spiritual father that he could honor in the fullest sense and faithfully passed along the heritage of the faith to the next generation.