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1 Timothy 5:1-8 (New International Version)
Advice About Widows, Elders and Slaves
1Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. 3Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4But 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. 5The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. 8If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
9 SOMETHING “DIFFERENT”
Item five in The Ultimate Top 10 List asks for a particular degree of care when we deal with it. First of all, it is the only one of the commandments that has a promise attached to it. That doesn’t make it more important than the others but it does make it different. God connects the business of honouring father and mother to long life in the promised land.
The second thing about this commandment is that it appears to be the transition between two phases of this Top 10 List. The first four commandments clearly have to do with our relationship with God. The last five clearly have to do with person to person relationships. Number 5 is in the middle. It’s about family matters and yet the promise, given in anticipation of certain behaviour, impacts on our relationship with God.
The third thing is that there is potentially more emotion attached to a discussion of this commandment than of any of the others. The one exception is you shall not commit adultery. But while that discussion in two weeks might have particular pain and emotion attached to it for a few of us or half of us or even most of us, all of us either had parents or we are parents, and given human imperfection there are little mistakes and major disasters attached to every remembrance of how we were raised and how we raised our own.
Yet here it is as part of The Ultimate Top 10, honour your father and mother. No matter what emotion is attached to this business, we need to come to this commandment with the same assumption I bring to all the rest—this is another opportunity to live in harmony with the will and purposes of God. What is it then that God is telling us in this part of The Ultimate Top 10?
9 FAMILY MATTERS
There is no way to escape the central importance of family to every human on the face of the earth. Last Sunday Rachel and Christopher brought their son Luke and presented him for dedication to the Lord. It is of crucial importance to that child that Rachel and Christopher are his parents. It matters biologically and emotionally; it matters psychologically and spiritually.
I am of the opinion that every child enters this world with certain tendencies. This observation is more anecdotal than scientific, but any parents who, like us, raised more than one child, will point to the incredible differences that develop in children who grew up within the same circumstances. Our Rachel and Andrew are barely 18 months apart in age. Rachel was tiny. Andrew was not. Once he learned to walk they were always together. Yet, what different people they became!
Having said that, there is so much that is taught to children. Over the centuries the rabbis of Judaism have interpreted the fifth commandment as not a battering ram for parents—“you must honour me because God says so”—but as God stressing the vital importance of the teaching role that every parent has. In other words, while I might call on my children to give me honour or respect, God calls on me to make sure I have given my children a compelling reason to show honour to me.
For example, according to the Talmud, a father is obliged to teach a child the Torah, to teach a craft or job skill and some say also, emphasizing the practical, to swim. “The parent’s success in parenting is determined by how effective a role model and a pedagogue he or she is, and by how well the parent helps the child to become socially, morally, intellectually, and financially independent of the parent (The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians and Others, 95).
This emphasis on the role of the parent as teacher in the life of the child points us in two other directions. As I have said on at least one other occasion, there is never a question about whether or not a child is getting an education, the question is whether the education is good or bad.
We know then, that any child is going to be exposed to lessons that will need to be rejected. Let me offer myself as exhibit “A”. There is something about driving that brings out both impatience and hostility from somewhere deep within my psyche. I believe I have taught some good lessons to our children; none of them were connected with driving.
There are some of you here who might want to tell me your mother or father are not worthy of being honoured. I believe what you are truly saying is there were a few things or perhaps many things they taught which you had no choice but to reject. Of course that’s true. Humans make mistakes. But what valuable lessons were taught? What gifts of grace and support were given? Honour your mother and father for those.
I suppose it is possible there are extreme examples where you couldn’t point to a single positive lesson that was shared. I submit the commandment is still relevant to you because it holds up the ideal to which all of us would aspire—parents who give their children something worth honouring. This is so central to building life with relationships that I believe God had to tell us how important it was for him. Indeed it is part of The Ultimate Top 10.
There is another direction in which we are pointed by the importance of the parent as teacher. I hope you won’t mind if I share some thoughts about my mother and father. The first home I remember was in Scarborough, just north of the intersection of Danforth Road and Warden Avenue. The church my mother attended was First Avenue Baptist, near Broadview and Gerrard. It was from my mother that I learned the importance of the Christian community. Until my mother got her driver’s license we made that trip to church on a long ride involving both a bus and a street car.
One of the reasons it was my mother who taught that lesson was my father found it necessary to work what he called “odd jobs” as a handy man. At one point I discovered that my dad was an expert at hanging doors, a skill I came to understand is not possessed by everyone. I have rarely met anyone who worked harder than my father. Growing up in Newfoundland during the
Depression, he never finished elementary school but made sure all four of his children had the opportunity for post-secondary education.
I owe a debt of honour and gratitude to my parents for what they contributed to making me who I am. Realizing that I am not self-made points me beyond my earthly parents to the heavenly Father who created me in his image. “The Talmud describes each person as an amalgam of body and soul, where God provides the soul and the human parents provide the raw materials for the body. Hence, each child has three parents, three partners in his or her creation: God, mother, and father—each due honour and reverence (Ibid., 96).
9 PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
The story is told of a 19th century rabbi of Zhitomer in the Ukraine. “The rabbi of Zhitomer was once walking along with his son when they came upon a drunken man and his drunken son, both stumbling in the gutter. ‘I envy that man,’ the rabbi said to his son. ‘He has accomplished his goal of conveying his values and his lifestyle to his son. I can only hope that the drunkard is not more successful with his son than I am with you’” (Ibid., 98, 99).
Friends, lessons will be passed on. Values and lifestyle will be communicated. What should we be doing about that? Let me offer a word of challenge and a word of commendation.
The image for the word of challenge is Luke, Rachel and Christopher’s son and our grandson. We need allies. Now if it was only me asking, you would understand completely. But Luke has two wonderful parents, at least a dozen or so aunts and uncles, he is the first grandchild for Christopher’s parents, and he has the devoted love of my wife Christine. We need allies. We need the church to stand with us so that Luke will be taught what it means to love God and neighbour, what it means to follow Christ as Saviour and Lord, what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. This is why, as much as I wish David Tigchelaar every blessing from God as he responds to the call of God upon his life, I am sorry that David will not be leading our
children’s ministry past this summer. And if there has been anything on my part that hasn’t been tended to in the past month, it’s because I have been trying to get the word out to as many people and places as possible it is priority #1 to find the new person God wants to help us all be allies in raising Luke and all the children of this church.
The image for the word of commendation is the offering Blythwood collects the third Sunday of each month in support of Guardians of Hope. To honour mothers and fathers is a part of what we do to honour and support the elderly. It is also part of what we do when we look to places in the world where someone must step in if godly values and a kingdom lifestyle is to be communicated.
Friends, it is important that we do this. The Guardians of Hope are those who have taken it upon themselves to care for children in Africa orphaned by the spread of AIDS and HIV. The Guardians of Hope are people like Bonnie Hartley who first proposed to the Board a monthly offering for this ministry. The Guardians of Hope include all of us who give a little or a lot week by week or month by month.
It all fits together doesn’t it? We raise the children of this church and we give them a reason to respect and honour us. And the next generation is then shaped to do the same, and the next, and the next…