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As The Home Goes, So Goes The Nation

Exodus 20:12,

Not long ago, I received a letter from Dr. Leonard Sweet, the President of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He was reflecting on some of the alarming changes that are happening in our world today. To document his concern, Dr. Sweet shared statistics from the Department of Education comparing the top discipline problems in public schools in the 1940’s with the top discipline problems in the decade of the 80’s. Indeed, how times have changed! In the 1940’s the top discipline problems were: talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, breaking in line, wearing improper clothing, and not putting trash in the wastebaskets. In the 1980’s, the top discipline problems were: drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, assault, absenteeism, vandalism and carrying concealed weapons.

Each one of those items tells its own horror story. Take #2—pregnancy. In the year 1991, there were 150,000 live births where the mothers of those new babies were between the ages of nine and fourteen. That does not include abortions and miscarriages. Think of it—150,000 babies born in one year to children aged nine through fourteen!

Do I have your attention?

In the face of such disturbing statistics, we do well to ask: Where are we heading? How do we prepare ourselves and our children to face these difficult and frightening problems? Why are things changing so dramatically? The folk singer was right: “The times they are a’changing…”

Do you remember the story about the little boy who really got on his mother’s nerves one afternoon? He got her so upset that in her frustration, she picked up a broom and began chasing him, but she wasn’t able to catch him. Finally, he darted up the stairs and into his room and scrambled under the bed where he thought he would be safe. A few minutes later, his father came home from work. The mother told him what the little boy had done and suggested that the father handle the situation. And so with a grim expression on his face, the father went up to his son’s bedroom, walked over to the edge of the bed and knelt down. He lifted up the bedskirt and peered into the darkness beneath the bed. Whereupon the little boy cried out: “Oh no, Dad, don’t tell me she’s after you too!”

Well, the fact is, there’s a lot more “after” our families these days than a frustrated parent carrying a broom. Our families are under fire by the rapid and destructive changes which are taking place around us. It’s important for us to recognize that. It’s important for us to confront and wrestle with the issues that are dividing us in our homes and in this land. But I think it is even more essential for us to recognize that there are some things in this life which never change, no matter what anyone else may say. There are some things in this life that we can always count on. There are some things in this life that are pure and eternal, constant and solid and unshakable. There are some fixed points which remain fixed even in our ever-changing world. There are some ultimately dependable spiritual laws woven into the fabric of life which fit every age, every generation, and every situation. We see them in The Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus and the letters of the Apostle Paul. Therefore, in the midst of this rapidly changing world of ours, I would like for us to focus our attention on this Fifth Commandment. It is a statement which is just as true today as when it was first delivered. “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” In other words, as the home goes, so goes the nation. I’ll show you what I mean…

Here we see the priority of family life.

The Ten Commandments are divided into two groups. The first group consists of the first four commandments and they all focus upon the relationship we have with God. The other six commandments are often called “the horizontal commandments” because they have to do with our relationships to each other. Now the first one of these horizontal commandments, the one which takes priority is “Honor thy father and thy mother…” You see, our Christian belief gives priority to the importance of the family. That is the key teaching of both the Old and the New Testaments.

Look at Jesus as an example. You will remember how when He was 12 years of age He went with His parents to Jerusalem and became separated from them. When at last they found Him in the temple, He said: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business”, indicating that He was already beginning to understand something of His special calling in life. Yet recognizing that, we read just a few verses later, that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph and returned with them to Nazareth. The importance of the family.

Twenty years later, on the battlefield of the cross, Jesus was having the life sucked out of Him by that terrible form of death. But still, short of breath and almost out of life, He managed to gasp the words: “Woman behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother.” Again, you see, concern for the family was His priority.

Or look at the writings of Paul. There are many places where he discusses the importance of the family. But I select the one in Ephesians 6 because in it he quotes the Fifth Commandment. He says: “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and your mother. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Once again, the family is underscored as the center of our believing. We do not look upon the family simply as an order of society. Rather we look upon it as an order of creation. It is ordained of God. It is the work of His hands. That was true in Biblical times. It is just as true today.

We’ve made so many gains and advances in the last few decades that some people have come to believe that we are a lot smarter today than our ancestors were. With that I take very serious issue. The invention of language was much more significant than the invention of the telephone over which we speak it. The development of the wheel is much more significant in the history of humankind than the development of the rocket. The writings of Shakespeare exceed any literature that has been produced in the twentieth century. The principles of Euclidean geometry were used to build the Panama Canal but those principles themselves are infinitely greater and more foundational than is that canal. Our ancestors were no fools. The sun was up long before we came on the scene, and it will be up long after we are gone. Therefore, I submit to you that the Biblical teachings concerning family life are superior to the kinds of teachings we are hearing in the world around us today.

I got a letter from one of our members sharing with me some of the pains and struggles and heartaches she and her family have experienced before they encountered the solid teachings of Scripture. Then she wrote these words: “With the changing world and lifestyles around us, we need to hear about Christ and the teachings that will help us and our children and our friends. Our belief now is that we must help our children by our example to learn and to hold to their hearts the teachings of the Bible so that when they are challenged, they will remember the lessons.” Amen!

My beloved, I would suggest that by the position of this commandment in the list of the ten and by its importance in the teachings of the New Testament, that we are to understand the family as the greatest and noblest gift God has given to humankind. Therefore, to destroy, diminish, devalue, degrade, or de-emphasize the priority of family life is to run against the immutable, unchanging will of God Almighty.

Sometimes children say it best of all. I came across an article entitled: “An Explanation of God By An Eight-Year-Old.” Eight-year-old Danny Dutton was asked by his third grade teacher to explain God. This is what he wrote: :”One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes these to put in place of the one who dies so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grown-ups, just babies. I think it’s because they are smaller and easier to make. That way He doesn’t have to take up His valuable time teaching them to walk and talk. He can just leave that up to the mothers and fathers. I think it worked out pretty good.”

So do I. But unless we fight and struggle and demand that family life remain a priority in our individual lives and in our national life, then it won’t work out much longer.

And, here we also see the promise of family life.

Paul says that the Fifth Commandment is the only commandment which contains a promise. It says that if we obey this commandment then our days will be long upon the land which God has given us. Now that does not refer to our age. It does not mean that if we obey this commandment, we will live to a ripe old age. It is talking about national survival. When families are strong, when parents are honored and held in affection, when parents live in such a way as to be worthy of that honor, when the truth they pass down to their children is respected and obeyed and taken up and passed on to the next generation—when that happens in a nation, then that nation will grow in its strength. Whenever we receive that which is worthwhile from the past and we use it in the present and the future, then our land is going to be stronger. On the other hand, when we reject the great truths of our past and ridicule them as old-fashioned and irrelevant to the times in which we live, then we cut away the roots not only of our families, but also of our nation. My friends, do you not understand that the only way America will ever be destroyed is if its family life is destroyed first? And if its family life is destroyed, nothing will be able to save this nation. As the home goes, so goes the nation.

This last year we lost a great American, Alex Haley. His book, Roots, was a best-seller, and the television adaptation of the book was the most viewed television series in history. Just before he died, Haley was asked what he thought was important for the growth and development of the American family. He said: “We ought to interview the older members of our family. Get their history before it is gone. We need to have more family reunions. We need to cultivate the treasures which belong to every family. For all of this will strengthen us not only as families but also as a people.” Then he said—and listen carefully: “Those who have a contempt for the past will have despair in the future.”

I think here of Marian Anderson. She was one of the great women of our time. She was the first black to overcome the deeply entrenched prejudice of the Metropolitan Opera and to sing from its stage. Toscanini described her as having the greatest voice of this century. She performed many times at the White House, at Buckingham Palace, and at other command performances for royalty all over the globe. She was given the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor which can be conferred upon a civilian by our country. Once she was asked in an interview to share what was the greatest day in her life. With all of the accomplishments and the honors which were hers, she never mentioned them. She replied immediately: “The greatest day of my life was the day I went home and told my mother that she didn’t have to take in washing anymore.” Marian Anderson knew that her family life had not been perfect—it had been very hard indeed. But she knew the sacrifices which had been made. She knew the cost of it and she knew the value of it. And she was saying: “Now I can take over.” She was honoring her family. The more people like Marian Anderson there are in a society, the stronger that society, the stronger that nation will be. That’s the promise of God.

Well, let me try to wrap it all in this…

You may remember when it happened. The story appeared in our local paper. Pat Morley reminded me of it. It was the story of an ill-fated Alaskan fishing trip. Some fishermen—three men and the young son of one of the men—took a small seaplane to a secluded Alaskan bay, and they had a great day pulling in the salmon. When they had finished, they cranked the engine of the plane and took-off. Too late they discovered that one of the plane’s pontoons had punctured and was filled with water. Within moments after take-off, the plane careened into the sea and capsized. One of the men, Dr. Phil Littleford, determined that everyone was alive, including his twelve-year-old son, Mark. He suggested that they all pray, which they did. The four then abandoned the sinking plane and began to swim toward shore, fighting against both the frigid waters and a strong rip-tide. Two of the men, strong swimmers, reached the shore exhausted. Then looking back out onto the water, they saw Phil Littleford, cradling his son in his arms as they were swept out to sea. The father could have made it to shore alone, but his son, much smaller, not as strong, could not. The father decided to die with his son rather than to leave him.

Most parents I know would be willing to die for their children. Fortunately, of course, most of us will never be called upon to do that. But all of us are required to do something which in some way may be even more challenging—we are called to live for them. That’s why today in the name of Jesus Christ, I call us to put family at the center of our lives again and rededicate ourselves to our children. I call us to rebuild strong neighborhoods and stop sinking further in the quagmire which acknowledges no right or wrong, no true or false. I call us to reaffirm that our greatest wealth is not to be found in the economy or in technology but in the love which binds us together and in the heritage given us by strong men and women who have the courage to believe in the right and to stand for it. I call us to rediscover the God who is the author of our liberty and recommit ourselves in faith to live for Him every single day. When that happens, then we shall be honoring our families. And we shall be honoring ourselves. And we shall be honoring our country. You see, as the home goes, so goes the nation.

That’s a truth we dare not forget.

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