Dear BPCWAians, Today marks the 2nd day of the Lunar New Year. For the Chinese, families come together during this festival to gather and eat together on the eve of the festival, celebrating what is commonly called the reunion dinner. Even with today’s globalisation, this tradition is still very much observed. Children working in far flung places away from their parents would try to return home during this time. Families gather around the dinner table, and even grown children dutifully bid their elders to “eat rice” before beginning to tuck into the sumptuous spread on the table. Asians have traditionally been known for their filial piety. The Chinese attribute it to Confucian ethics. But for the Christian, how should we view various traditions in our culture? Why do we do what we do? Do remember that, in the 5th commandment, God says “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Exodus 20:12). So, this is not just an Asian culture, but for all Christians!
In today’s “me generation”, is this commandment still valid, or is it only for the children of Israel? Are we guided by Confucian and cultural ethics or by Biblical principles when it comes to honouring parents? God willing, we will examine this question.
Biblical Law. The Ten Commandments are part of God’s eternal moral law. Hence, Christians are bound to obey it even today. We cannot pick and chose commandments, whatever the situation is in our time. In fact, the first 5 commandments is a summary of the Christian’s duty towards God (Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37-38, Mark 12:30-31). Specifically, this commandment is again emphasised by the Apostle Paul in Eph 6:2- 3, a popular Sunday School memory verse. But how would honouring parents be considered a duty towards God? In a question on the 5th commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism explains – “By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.” So, the honour of one’s parents is simply because God has ordained them to be our parents. Of God’s appointment, Romans 13:1 reminds us to “… be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” and further adds in verse 7 “Render therefore to all their dues: … fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” Thus, honouring them is giving honour to God, Who has chosen our parents for us. Hence, we are guided by God’s Commandment, not Confucian culture.
God has chosen to use the natural family relationship to help us understand the relationship between His children and Him. God the Father refers to us as children. A proper picture of the earthly parent-child relationship helps us to better understand the spiritual father-child relationship. Sadly, this picture has broken down in today’s society, with the erosion of societal family values and the rise of individualism. Failure on both sides to fulfil their respective responsibilities and roles have contributed to this. So, first, we want to look at the responsibilities of the children towards parents.
Duties of children. We must first take note that this commandment establishes an authority-submission model between the parent and child. God is a God of order, and while there are mutual duties one towards the other, the duty of children are to “obey [your] parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20) This is the first and primary duty of what it means to honour parents, and it is no wonder that this is an oft-neglected commandment in a world that teaches the young the ideal of “pursue your dreams no matter what people say” and “break free from all rules”. We hear this in their songs, and it is promoted in their movies. Disobedient children cannot obey a Heavenly Father whom they do not see. By the children’s very disobedience in matters that are right, they are disobeying God by breaking His command to obey them. Though young, we must avoid chuckling at children who flaunt parental authority, excusing it as “cute” or “it is a different culture now”. In God’s eyes, there is nothing adorable about a child, however young, that is defiant and self-willed against godly parental counsel. These are just demonstrations of the sinful nature in man, regardless of age. And God intends to use the parent-child model to teach us about obeying Him “in all things.” Society today has overturned the whole order that God has ordained. Instead of children obeying parents, society has parents scuttling to answer the beck and call of the children. Where the parents’ rules used to reign in homes, homes today are often fashioned after the likes and dislikes of the children. Instead of children fearing mother and father (Lev 19:3), parents fear children. What we sow, we will reap in the years to come.
Are you such a child in your home? Are you defiant of authority at work? This honour that God requires of children towards parents extends beyond mere servile obedience. It includes carefulness in our speech towards our parents (Lev 20:9) that is reflected in how we speak about them (Prov 30:17). It includes an attitude of humility towards parents (1 Pet 5:5), and provision for them when they are aged (1 Tim 5:4,8). Children, this is practical, Biblical filial piety. In God’s eyes, this is far more valuable than bringing your parents out for a nice meal and buying gifts on father’s/mother’s day to “make up” for your lack of honour for them throughout the year. The practice of this comes with a promise “That it may be well with thee.” (Ephesians 6:3). Chinese New year must remind the Christians of the Biblical injunction of the honour due to our parents, seniors, and authorities.
Yours in our Lord’s service,