The Fifth Commandment

The Fifth Commandment

May 8th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM

Ephesians 6:1-4

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ephesians 6:1-4

5-8-88    10:50 a.m.




This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor delivering the message entitled The Fifth Commandment.  In the Book of Ephesians, the last chapter, chapter 6, the first four verses, Ephesians chapter 6 [Ephesians 6:1-4]:


Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 

Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;

That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.  

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to the wrath of God: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

[Ephesians 6:1-4]


The first commandment with promise, and the apostle could have written, “The only commandment with promise, Honor thy father and thy mother.”  

Speaking in one of the largest cities in Florida, the pastor said, “I want you to go with me to a world-famous restaurant, built on the edge of the city.”  And when we walked into that elaborate establishment, I saw in the foyer and above the cash register the portrait of a wonderful mother.  And the pastor said, “I want you to look at that picture.”  

Then when we were seated at the table, he said:, “In these years gone by, on a farm in south Georgia, there was a father and a mother and a little son.  The father died in those days.  And the mother brought her little boy to the city.  She was a cook in a small restaurant.  And as time went on she became the proprietor of the restaurant.  And because of her fine home cooking, people began to flock into the place to eat.  Then she built this beautiful expansive restaurant on the edge of the city.  But just as they were completing it, she died.  Before she died, she called her son to her side, and said, ‘Son, I want you to make me a promise.  When the restaurant is complete, I want you to pledge to me, son, you’ll never serve alcoholic beverages in this place.  No beer.  No wine.  No alcoholic drinks.’ And the son said, ‘Mother, I pledge you I’ll never serve alcoholic beverages in our beautiful new restaurant.’  When it was opened and the people flocked into that spacious place, there came the beer barons and the wine merchants and the purveyors of liquor, saying to him, ‘You can’t succeed unless you serve beer and wine and liquor in this eating place.’  And he took them to that picture and pointed unto it, and said, ‘I pledged my mother when she died, I would never serve alcoholic beverages in this restaurant.  And sirs, I’ll go back to that farm in Georgia and plow the fields raising corn before I break that pledge I made to my mother.’” 

“Honor thy father and thy mother; which is the first commandment with promise” [Ephesians 6:2; Exodus 20:12], and the whole passage is a presentation here in Holy Scripture of God’s concern for the home and for the family, for the children and their parents.  God says in this passage, in my words, that the home is the foundation of the church, and of the state, and of the nation, and of the whole kingdom of God. 

In the early 1800s the whole world was wrapped up in the Napoleonic Wars.  From 1804 to 1815 they followed the conquest of the emperor of France.  He conquered Spain.  He conquered Austria.  He conquered Germany.  He flung his legions against the vast empire of Russia.  And men waited with bated breath for the latest news concerning the conquest of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

In those days, in the very midst of those days, in 1809, there was born in Liverpool, England, Gladstone, the great premier of the British Empire.  In that same year of 1809 was born Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of the English speaking nation, in the rectory at Somersby in England.  In that same year of 1809 there was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, our great poet.  And in that same year of 1809 there was born in a tiny log cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln.  And in the world of music, in that same year of 1809, there was born in Warsaw, Poland, Frederic Chopin.  And in that same year of 1809 there was born in the great city of Hamburg, Germany, Felix Mendelssohn. 

While men were talking about battles, God was talking about babies.  This is God’s appraisal of what is mighty in the story of His human family.  And it speaks of the upbringing of our children, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].  Ah, what a privilege the father and the mother have when that child is placed in your arms.  That is a time when you must do for them what they cannot do for themselves.  Immature, they would perish without us.  They are like burnished tablets upon which are inscribed the character and words of life.  They’re like pages that are empty on which are written the story of their future.  They’re like the clay in the potter’s hand, shaped into whatever configuration you choose. 

I was present at a commencement when a great university president said, “Environment, teaching and training may not be everything; heredity plays a vital part in our lives.  Environment may not be everything, but whether a child is a cannibal, or a communist, or a goose-stepping Nazi, or a Catholic, or a Baptist depends upon the upbringing and the training of the child.” 

It is in this that the tragedy is so often seen of parental failure.  In the first four chapters of 1 Samuel is recorded one of the saddest scenes you could ever think for in life [1 Samuel 1-4].  Eli, old Eli is the high priest of Israel.  And God sends a messenger to him saying, “Because you have not restrained your sons from evil, therefore your house shall be blotted out [1 Samuel 2:29-33].  And the sign thereof will be, your two sons will die in the same day” [1 Samuel 2:34].  And in keeping with that prophecy of the man of God, in the same day old Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain [1 Samuel 4:11].  What a tragedy, parental failure! 

I was pastor in a little village, a little tiny village that had one drugstore.  It was in the days of Prohibition.  And the owner of that drugstore made money, easy money, bootlegging liquor.  How interesting, how fascinating, how rewarding, on the side, money peddling liquor.  But what happened in the days of my own pastorate there, he lived to see the hour when his own son, and only son, became a hopeless and helpless alcoholic.  All of the money in the world wouldn’t compensate for the tragedy of the life of that only son.  Parental failure; how oft times is it seen in our world?  

The FBI says practically all of the criminals are below twenty-one years of age.  And of those twenty-one years of age and below, most of them are boys less than eighteen, brought up in homes and in families that don’t know God.  How pertinent and vital the admonition from Holy Scripture: we are to bring up our children in the love and in the nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. 

One of the strangest things that I ever meet in my pastoral life is this: when a father and a mother—and they will repeat it to me world without end—when parents will say to me, “I will not influence my children for God and for Christ.  They will grow up, and then in time they can choose for themselves whether they are Christians or not.”  I can’t believe such a reaction to the responsibility of the children in the home.  It would be the same as if a man said, “See this garden full of weeds?  I would not prejudice it, influence it, in favor of flowers.”  You may not try to influence that child, but the world will.  Those city streets offer no diplomas, they confer no degrees, but they educate with terrible and tragic precision. 

The sweetest privilege that a father or a mother has is guiding this child in the footsteps of our Lord that leads to God and to heaven:


You ask me why I go to church. 

I give my mind a careful search. 

Because I need to breathe the air 

Where there’s an atmosphere of prayer.


I need the hymns the churches sing, 

They set my faith and hope a-wing. 

They keep old truths in memory green, 

Reveal the truth of things unseen.


Because my boy is watching me 

To note whatever he can see, 

That tells him what his father thinks. 

And with his eager soul he drinks


The things I do in daily walk, 

The things I say in daily talk. 

If I with him the church will share, 

My boy will make his friendships there. 



Bring that boy to church; raise that girl in the house of the Lord, and see if God in His grace and goodness does not give to you a promise, sweet and dear.  Not only in this life, but there is a responsibility we share in that child that reaches out into the forever beyond.  The soul, the life of that child is immortal; it never dies.  Not only in this world, but in the world to come, there will you find the life of that precious child forever. 

There was a man who had a godly wife.  He looked upon religion with contempt.  Into the home was born a precious little girl, and that godly mother took the little girl to Sunday school and to church.  But when the child became a young teenager, then the father, with fiendish delight, kept the child away from mother’s God and mother’s church.  He took that teenage daughter to the bar, to the dance, to the worldly amusement, gave her money to go down to the beach.  And when the mother, on a Sunday morning would say, “Sweet child, it’s time for Sunday school,” the girl would say, “Mother, I was out so late last night, I need to sleep.”  And the father weaned the child away from mother’s God and mother’s church. 

Then as so many times happens, driving back to the city at a furious pace the car fell into a tragic accident.  And the girl was taken to the hospital and word sent to the father, “She’ll soon die.  Come.  Come.”  And the father stood by the side of that broken child and held her hand, looked down into her face.  And the child said, “Daddy, I have but a few moments to live.  You have always told me that mother’s God and mother’s religion and mother’s church were contemptible.  And you’ve taken me out into the world.  Now, Daddy, you tell me, shall I take mother’s way or your way?”  And the father fell on his knees, holding the girl’s hand cried, “Oh, God!  Sweet child, take mother’s way!  Take mother’s way!”  But her hand was limp. 

And in a service at church, where he’d given his own life to the Lord, telling the people what had happened, he raised his arms to heaven and said, “I would give my life, my life, if I could just know that in that moment of time my sweet child took mother’s way.” 

It’s fine, isn’t it?  And it’s fun, isn’t it, out in the world forgetting God, forgetting Christ?  And when that day comes and the death angel knocks at the door, and the great judgment day has come, what then?  What then?


When the choir has sung its last anthem, 

And the preacher has prayed his last prayer; 

When the people have heard their last sermon, 

And the sound has died out on the air;


When the Bible lies closed on the pulpit, 

And the pews are all emptied of men; 

When each one of us stands facing his record, 

And the Great Book is open, what then? 

[“What Then?”; J. Whitfield Green] 


“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20].  O God, the responsibility we have in our children! 


Dear Dr. Criswell,

In January I was in Baylor Hospital with my little six-year-old grandson who was fighting a losing battle with leukemia.  We were listening to your Sunday morning message on television, and you referred several times in the message to a new and a better world, which made a great impression on our little boy.  There were also several petitions in prayer that caused him to ask many questions.  He asked how anyone would get to this better world and I explained it as best I could.  Later he asked me how he might talk to God for himself. 

The next day he said God talked to him and asked him not to be afraid, and that He would be coming for him soon.  He smiled as he told me how warm and soft God’s arm felt around his shoulders as God spoke to him.  He wanted me to tell his mother, “Mommy, please don’t cry when I go away,” and asked that we give his clothes to his little friends, his art supplies to the church.  “And please don’t give away my little shoes.” 

He assured me everything was all right and talked about God coming for him calmly and unafraid.  He was laid to rest Easter Sunday after two years and two months of pain and suffering.  Thank you so much for that message.  And I am thankful for a loving God who is able to help a little boy understand and accept His plan of life.  May God continue to bless you in your work. 


Signed by that devoted grandmother. 


That was worth it all.  They’re worth it all.  Whatever the strength and the life that we can pour into those children, that’s what God would have us do. 

I have a confession to make: all through the years and the years and the years of my life I have placed my ministry first.  There’s been no exception to that.  Any day, any night, I have placed my work as a preacher and a pastor first.  A thousand times am I asked in these preacher conferences, “If you had your life to do over again, is there anything you’d change?”  And I’m beginning to reply, “There is.  If I had my life to live over again, I would place my family first and my ministry second.” 

This is God’s charge, this is God’s calling: first, under His gracious and loving hands, to have a Christian home, to rear our children in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].  And the other things in life will take their place under the hand and choice, under the supervision and surveillance of the great Almighty God. 

And may I make appeal to you who listen on television?  Do you have children in your home?  There could be no greater assignment or calling in life than to accept the responsibility of rearing those children in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].  Whether you are the president of a bank or the head of a great corporation; whether you are a humble worker in one of the office buildings of this great city; whatever your calling in life, there is none comparable to the responsibility  of rearing those children in the love of Jesus.

This is a glorious day, this is Mother’s Day.  This is a glorious day to reconsecrate, and rededicate, and renew your home and your life to that high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Where you are, right where you are, say to God, “Lord, beginning this day, I give Thee my own heart, my house and home, and my children.  We’re Yours Lord.  You direct, You say the word and we’ll follow after.”  It will be the greatest decision you ever made in your life.

And to the throng that fill this sanctuary this sacred hour, a family you, coming to us in the church [Hebrews 10:24-25] and coming to our Lord; a couple you, a one somebody you, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’ve made my decision for God, and here I stand.”  In the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is a commitment for me.  I’m giving my own heart and life to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], and whatever God places in my arms I also dedicate them to Jesus.”  Do it.  Angels will attend you in the way, and the Holy Spirit will bless you in the commitment.  Come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.



Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Honor father, mother

A.  Only commandment
with promise

B.  Son promises to
mother not to serve alcohol in her restaurant

II.         God’s interest in the home

A.  It
is the foundation of the church, state, nation and whole
kingdom of God

B.  Early
1800’s whole world focused on Napoleonic Wars

Yet in the midst of that, Gladstone, Tennyson, Holmes, Lincoln, Chopin and
Mendelssohn were born

While men were talking about battles, God was talking about babies

III.        The upbringing of the child

A.  Something to be done
for children they cannot do for themselves

1. “Environment
may not be everything…but whether a child is a cannibal or a communist…depends on
the upbringing and training of the child.”

B.  The child can be ruined
by parental failure(1 Samuel 3:13)

      1.  The example of

      2.  FBI reports
practically all criminals below 21 years of age

C.  Parental guidance in
the Lord(Ephesians 6:4)

      1.  Attitude – will
not influence for God, but let them grow up and choose

      2.  If you do not
influence them, the world will

      3.  Your child
deserves your godly example

Poem, “Why I Go to Church”

IV.       Responsibility for the child reaches
beyond this life and world

A.  An immortal being,
an eternal soul

      1. “O precious
child, take mother’s way!”

      2.  Poem, “What

      3.  Letter from
grandmother about her grandson’s salvation and death