Put the Ten Commandments in two columns. The first column or table, consisting of commandments one through four, ends with this positive rule, “Remember the Sabbath day” (Exodus 20:9). The second column or table of the Law begins with a positive principle. “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). In the first table, God governs your relationship with Him. In the second table, God governs your relationships with others.
The word translated honor refers to that which is weighty or heavy. The people you honor carry weight in your life. You respect them and defer to them. You put off your desires in favor of their desires. Specifically, you defer to your parents. As a first-year cadet at West Point, I wanted to throw in the towel. The incessant pressure of perpetual hazing was getting to me. I knew my parents would be profoundly disappointed if I gave up and quit. With this realization, I pressed on. Even as an unbeliever, it was my desire to honor my parents by deferring to their desires rather than my own. When your parents carry weight in your life, you honor them. You respect their wishes.
You honor God in the same way. You indicate He is the One who really carries the weight in your life. You set aside your desires in favor of His. You do His will. You implement the principles of His commandments. This, of course, includes the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”
But father and mother in the Fifth Commandment represent authority structures in general. First Peter 2:13 exhorts, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” These human institutions are organizational structures ordained by God for the benefit of humankind. They include government authority (1 Peter 2:13-17), the business environment (1 Peter 2:18-19), and the institution marriage (1 Peter 3:1-7). One way you honor government figures is to pray for them. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Such deference and honor is not a one-way street. “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). Yes, honor is due to people in authority over you; “honor the king.” But in addition, you must honor “all people.” This means honoring your peers, people who are the same age or status or rank as you. If you are in school, you honor your classmates and athletic teammates. In the work environment, you honor your fellow workers at the office or in the plant. In the family, you honor your siblings and your cousins. In each case, you always treat them with dignity. You give them their space. You help them when needed. You work with them as required.
The same is true if you carry authority in a particular sphere of influence. If you are a teacher or school administrator, you do not play the heavy and throw around your weight. You respect and honor the dignity of each student and each teacher. If you are a manager or supervisor in an organization or business, you treat your employees with respect and dignity and honor. “The fifth commandment requires the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (WSC 64).