Keeping a Father's Commandment.
By Pastor Richard E. Bacon
Copyright 2001 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

The text for this sermon has been transcribed and edited from: Domestic Duties 23: Keeping a Father's Commandment, preached on December 24, 1995.

It is necessary in our study of well ordered families for us to speak not only to husbands and wives, not only to fathers and mothers, but also to children. In Proverbs 6:20-21, Solomon spoke to one he repeatedly called, “My son.” He said, “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.” The word here means to tie the commandments about the neck as an amulet or as an ornament. I wonder if sometimes our children do not regard the commandments of the Lord as they receive them from their parents, not as a beautiful ornament, but rather as a yoke which is difficult to bear. Children do often think of their parents’ requirements as a great burden. Therefore we must speak also to children, because, children, the Bible does speak specifically to you.

I realize that it is sometimes difficult for children to sit quietly and listen to God’s word. But Jesus told a story about birds that came around wherever there were seeds being sown, and plucked the seeds out of the ground and ate them. Jesus said that very thing also happens when the word of God is being preached in our presence: Satan’s birds simply come and pluck it out of our hearts if they can. I do not want that to happen to any of you children here. I love you too much to want to see that happen. Therefore, I want you to listen. I want you to pay close attention. Do not allow the Devil’s birds to pluck the seed — the word of God — out of your hearts.

In Proverbs 6:20-22, there is a significant request that Solomon made of the one he called, “My Son.” There he said, “Keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.” In order for the law of God to be able to keep us, to guard us, to talk to us, and to lead us, we have to have it with us. We have to know God’s commandments to be able to keep them.

There are various warnings in the passage that leads up to these three verses. Let us examine the warnings because I believe that there is a tendency for us as God’s covenant people to surrender to complacency. We often regard God’s covenant as placing no particular burden upon us. But in fact, by being born into covenant families, we have a great burden, rather a great responsibility, placed upon us. By virtue of our covenantal relationship to the church and by virtue of our baptism we have not only certain high privileges that accrue to us as members of the covenantal community, but we also have responsibilities that accrue to us as well.

In verses 1 through 5, Solomon was eager that his son not keep bad company. “My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth.” In Proverbs 13:20, Solomon warned, “The companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Children, it is important for us to choose our friends well. I know that there is a tendency for us to think that because we have a covenant background, because we go to a Christian school, because we come from a Christian home, or because we attend a Reformed church, therefore we will be a good influence on all our evil friends. That is not always true. You will not necessarily be a good influence on your evil friends; but your evil friends will be an influence upon you. The Bible warns covenant children repeatedly to choose their friends carefully. Children, remember this. If we choose the wrong friends, if we choose friends among those who are on their way to destruction, and if we walk with them, we are walking toward destruction as well.

What advice did Solomon give here in verse 5? He urged his readers to “deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.” Run away! Do not keep company with evil friends. Deliver yourself from the companionship of wicked people.

In verses 6 through 11, Solomon warned his son about being a sluggard. He said, “Go to the ant; ... Consider her ways, and be wise.” The ant does not need someone always standing over her, telling her what to do every moment of every day. She looks for work; she is able to find work; she does good work. She provides meat for the future. Solomon asked in verses 9 and 10, “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.” What will come upon you if you avoid work? Will you find an easy life? No. You will find poverty! There is no surer way of becoming poor than by doing nothing at all.

In verses 12 through 15, Solomon warned his son about lies and deceptions. Solomon described a person who had become so skilled at lying that his entire life was a lie. Solomon began in verse 12 by calling him a “naughty person.” That is the man of Belial. In 2 Corinthians 6:15 Paul asked, “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” That is the same word that we have translated here “naughty.” He is a man of Belial, a man who has no thought of Christ in his heart. He is a wicked man and he walks with a crooked mouth. This is the standard Hebrew word here for “walk.” As he goes around, as he walks around, he tells lies. He deceives people. It is his purpose as he speaks to plant deception in the hearts of others. Not only does he lie with his mouth, however, he also lies with his eyes, with his feet and with his fingers. As he winks the eye, as he shuffles the feet, as he points with the finger, every gesture of his life is a lie. He, who had begun to spin a web of deceit, becomes trapped in the web himself. Soon everything that he does is controlled by his lies. He becomes like that man in the iron cage at the Interpreter’s house of whom Bunyan spoke in Pilgrim’s Progress. He was a man trapped by his own lies, unable to escape an iron cage of his own making. Was the man’s interpretation of himself correct? I do not know. The Interpreter told Christian, “Ask him.” And the man said, “What I once was, I am now no more.”

Children, give heed to the warnings of God. Do not be like Eli’s sons. Do not be like Samuel’s sons. They were children who grew up with every covenant privilege and yet fell away at last. Children, do not let that happen to you! Do not forsake your father’s commandments!

There is an interconnectedness — a progression — in such a shameful life. A person who begins simply with bad companions, moves on to becoming a sluggard. Then he has no care about duties and responsibilities. Finally his entire life becomes a lie. Solomon moved forward yet one more step, and showed that such a child’s entire life becomes corrupted by the lie he has been forced to live. Proverbs 6:16-19, “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” This is the context, the background, against which Solomon warned his son, “Keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother.”

Verse 27 warns of youthful lusts which follow an unholy life. Solomon asked, “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” Neither can a man lust after a woman, and still be innocent.

You see, children, there are certain commands to covenant children. There are promises of blessings in the way of obedience. There are also warnings of destruction in the way of disobedience. Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, I ask myself, “Have I made the teaching plain? Have I made it clear? Have I set it out where you, the children, can understand?” Children, if you live within the church until your dying day, and if you live to be 70 years old, and if you hear two sermons each Lord’s Day for those seventy years, you will have heard 7,000 sermons in your life. As you grow up in a Reformed church, as you hear the word of God preached Lord’s Day upon Lord’s Day, the seed is planted. Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, the seed is scattered upon your heart. Will you let the birds steal it? Will you let them take your birthright from you? What does it take for the birds to steal the truth from your heart? According to Bunyan’s man in the iron cage all it took was carelessness. He had become captive of his lies. The man in the iron cage said that those things that were intended to him as blessings now bit him day by day. Children, listen! Heed the warning! Keep on the true course! Do not forsake the commandments of your father!

God has given specific commandments to covenant children. God also makes specific promises to those who follow God and keep those commandments. We should regard both.

I. Commandments to Covenant Children.

In every covenantal relationship there is a specific aspect that characterizes the relationship in some way. The characterization of a parent’s relationship to a child is that of nurture and admonishment; he is to raise up a child. The relationship that a child should have to his parent is characterized primarily by obedience. In some portions of Scripture that obedience is referred to as honor. That is the first commandment that you must recognize from God. It is the fifth commandment in order, but it is the first one that children must recognize in their relationship to their parents. The fifth commandment is the foundation for the entire relationship between a child and his parents. A child is commanded to honor and obey his parents.

Exodus 20:12, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” In this verse, God promises the children of the covenant that if they honor their parents their lives shall be long in the land. In Ephesians 6:2, Paul reminded us that the fifth commandment is the first commandment with promise. In Hebrews 12:9, we are told to “reverence” our parents. Actually it is not so much a command in this passage as the apostle tells us that it is only natural that a child will reverence his parents. God has placed reverence toward his own parents in the heart of a child just as he placed love for his own children in the heart of a parent.

The first commandment with which covenantal children must concern themselves is to honour, to love and to obey their parents.

You have responsibilities as well. In the first verses of Ephesians we see that the book is addressed to the faithful in Christ Jesus and then in chapter 6, Paul specifically talks to the children of the church. The children of the covenant have a responsibility to be faithful in Christ Jesus. Children, we must not, we cannot, shirk that responsibility.

Leviticus 19:3, “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.” There is a responsibility not only to honour, love and obey, but to fear, i.e. to reverence, our mother and our father and to keep the Sabbath. In verse 32, we are told, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” These passages teach that there is a necessity for children to show reverence and respect for their elders. There was a time when that was just considered a part of the way children were raised. In the past, children were raised with a respect for their elders. I fear with all the other ungodliness and lawbreaking and antinomianism that we have in our society, even that respect for elders has fallen by the wayside. That too has become a relic of the past. Children of the past stood up in a classroom as a sign of respect when the teacher entered. The children today shoot the teacher. There were possibly more instances of children bringing guns into schools in this country last year than there were of them rising up “before the hoary head.” We live in a society in which children are not expected to stand up in the presence of their elders. They are not expected to show respect. One of the results of this lack of respect is the need to have metal detectors in the public schools to keep the weapons out.

These things are not happening without cause. These things are coming upon this country because we have refused to keep God’s commandments. We have neglected and contemned the word of the Lord. Because we have done these things, the public schools are full of violence.

In Psalm 119:9, King David asked “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” He answered his own question, “By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Children, it is necessary, it is needful, that we know the word of God, even as young children. It is necessary for you to study Scriptures. It is necessary for you to begin to pray. How soon should a child learn to pray? As soon as the child can conceive prayer.

Psalm 148:12-13, “Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children: Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.” How old should you be before you begin singing God’s praise? How old should you be before you beginning memorizing God’s Psalms? You should be learning God’s Word in the crib, even from the womb. There is no age too early to have the praise of God upon our lips. Children, as well as old men; children, as well as the maiden, are required to praise the name of the Lord. All are called to praise the Lord for his goodness. To do that we must know something about who God is.

We could spend much more time studying the first seven chapters of the book of Proverbs. The young child whom Solomon called “my son,” is called upon to keep God’s commandments. There is no verse in the Bible that teaches anything about an age of accountability. We become accountable at the moment of conception. Therefore early on — at a young age — Solomon required of his son in Proverbs 3:1, “Forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments.” It is not enough to obey God, we must obey him promptly and we must obey him cheerfully. We have to obey him from the heart. We cannot be like the rebellious child who was required to sit down. He sat down but said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside.” That is not the kind of obedience that God requires of us. The kind of obedience that God requires of us is cheerful, prompt and universal obedience. As soon as we learn what God’s requirements are, we should set out to obey them.

Lamentations 3:27-29, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.” Jeremiah explained that it is good for us to learn how to deal with afflictions early in life. God requires of us, early on, to learn how to deal with affliction.

John Bunyan wrote of Christian at the house of the Interpreter. In that house, two twins were sitting side by side, one named Patience and the one named Passion. Passion had never learned to bridle himself. He had never learned self control. When any temptation came along, he would be angered. Whenever the first reward came along, he grabbed at it, regardless of its source. But Patience sat waiting until the last. The Interpreter explained that he who receives early will have it taken away to give to the next, and then it will be taken away from that one to give to the next, and so on. But he who receives last receives permanently. That is what “lasts” means. Jesus taught that many who are last, shall be first in the kingdom. A child early in life must learn patience. It is one of the hardest lessons to learn. We go through our entire life trying to learn that lesson. How much better it would be for us to learn it in our youth! As Jeremiah here reminds us in Lamentations that it is good for a man to bear a yoke in his youth, because he puts his “mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.”

In Deuteronomy 30:2, our children are required to obey God. In Proverbs 24:21, they are told to fear God. In Ecclesiastes 12:1, Solomon said, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” At the very beginning of the book of Proverbs, as Solomon began to speak to that one he called “my son,” he reminded him that it requires diligence to serve the Lord. In Proverbs 1:8-14, Solomon warned, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit. ... Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse.” Hear Solomon’s advice: “Just say no!” In verse 15 his advice is, “My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path.” Do not take that first step! Attend diligently upon your parents’ teaching.

God made Adam as an adult. He could make all of us out of the dust. He has the power to do that. Yet God has chosen for his glory and our good rather than being made as an adult from the dust, as was Adam, each one of us would be raised by earthly parents. God has intended that for our good. If we harken to our parents, it is for our good. But, children, if we do not harken to our parents, when they remind us repeatedly… If we do not harken to our pastor, when he reminds us repeatedly… I fear that like Bunyan’s man in the iron cage, these things shall all come up later and bite us. They shall rise up in the judgment to testify against us. “He sinned against the light!”

II. Promises to children who follow God

God made promises to those who follow him. We saw that Paul characterized the fifth commandment as the first commandment with promise. That promise is to live long and prosper. That is the promise! If you want to live long and prosper, children, obey your parents. In Exodus 20:12, at the very giving of the fifth commandment, there was a promise that those who keep that commandment shall live long upon the earth. If we forget not the law of our father, if we forsake not the law of our mother, listen to what God promises to us. Proverbs 3:4, “So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.” Would you like to find favour? Would you like to find understanding? Would you like to find grace? Then diligently attend upon God’s word. Listen to your parents and to those who stand in the place of your parents.

Two verses later, in verse 6 the Bible tells us, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Children, how many of you would like a small child telling you what to do all the time? Is that a good idea? No, but that is what you often do. You let a child exactly your age tell you what to do when you direct your own path. Is that wise? No, it is much wiser to have someone who has walked with the Lord for a number of years telling you what to do. Which makes more sense? It simply makes more sense to have a person with experience, with knowledge, with wisdom, and with understanding helping us to direct our paths. That is exactly why God gave you parents. They have been through it. They have been where you are right now. They know most of the temptations that you are facing. God gave godly parents as a gift to you. You should make good use of that gift.

Proverbs 3:6, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” That does not mean you are going to have visions in the middle of the night telling you what to do. It means that if keep the law of your father and forsake not the law of your mother, and if in all your ways you acknowledge God, then he will direct your path by those very means. This is not magic! This is the ordinary way of God’s grace.

Proverbs 3: 9 - 10, “Honour the LORD with thy substance ... so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.” Live long and prosper! Do what your parents say! Follow their advice! Listen to their admonitions! Submit to their corrections!

Proverbs 8:17, “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early” [that is early in life, not just early in the day] “shall find me.” God promises that if you seek him early in life, you will find him. What a precious promise! What would the man in the iron cage have given in exchange for that promise? Sadly, that was the biggest part of his problem — he did not value God’s promises.

Proverbs 8: 32-36, “Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” God is setting before you life or death. If you would choose death, all you have to do is hate God’s ways. If you would choose life, then you must choose God’s ways.

You might say, “But I do not hate God. I do not hate his ways. I do not hate the things of the Lord. Here I am at church with my parents and they did not even have to wake me up this morning. I was already awake!” If the Lord has so moved in your heart that is good. But I want to teach you something about what it means to hate something.

Turn with me to Genesis 29. This is part of the story of Jacob. Jacob was tricked by Laban. He had worked seven years for Rachel, but then on his wedding night, it turned out to be Leah that he had married. He still wanted to marry Rachel. Genesis 29:30-31, “And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah.” What was his relationship to Leah? He simply loved Rachel more. But look how God characterized Jacob’s relationship with Leah. “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated…” Children, all you have to do is think less of God’s ways than you ought to, all you need to do is think lowly of God’s commandments, all you have to do is resist correction, and by God’s standards, that is hatred of his ways.

Wisdom cries out, “All they that hate me, love death.” Do we have to grind our teeth against wisdom to hate it? No! All we have to do is think more lowly of it than we ought. All we have to do is ignore the fact that the birds are plucking the seed out of our hearts to end up like the man in the iron cage. He cries that he is no longer what he once was.

There is a promise of life versus death for those who love God; for those who keep his commandments.

In Proverbs 23:15-16, there is a promise also. God says through Solomon, “My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine. Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.” Children, do you want to make your parents glad? God promises that if you keep his commandments, it will cause your parents to rejoice. It will make your parents proud of you. It will make them happy.

Look at verses 24-25, “The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.”

Is that the relationship we want to have with our father and mother? Of course it is! And therefore, we keep our father’s commandments and we forsake not the law of our mother, because we want our parents to rejoice and we want them to be proud of us.

In Isaiah 40:11, we are promised that those who are the lambs of God will be gathered by the shepherd. Isaiah 54:13, “All thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” We are promised that those children who keep God’s commandments shall be taught by the Lord.

Children, if we want the blessing of Christ; if we want wisdom; if we want our parents to rejoice; if we want life; if we want long life; if we want prosperity; if we want our lives to count; then remember the admonition from Proverbs. What is the requirement? What is the commandment? The commandment is “keep the law of thy father and forsake not the law of thy mother.”