“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12). Moses restates the command in Deuteronomy 5:16. “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Paul quotes, interprets, and applies Moses, emphasizing the promise. “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH” (Ephesians 6:2-3).
Paul broadens the focus of the promise from the land of Canaan to the whole earth. Why? The answer is simple. Canaan was a token. It was emblematic of God’s greater promise. “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants [was] that he would be heir of the world” (Romans 4:13). But this promise does not simply refer to geography. God had in mind people like you and me. “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU’” (Galatians 3:8). And so, the promise of Exodus 20:12 relates to all the true children of Abraham, the children of faith (Galatians 3:7).
As to the promise proper, Calvin reminds us, “There are two kinds of promises of God, and we must note that well. Some of God’s promises belong to the salvation of our souls, such as his receiving us to mercy, his pardoning our sins, his showing us his will, his giving us the power to withstand Satan … But there are other promises with which to pass through this world to give us ease in our miseries.” (Calvin’s Sermons on Ephesians, 627-628). In other words, this particular promise assures us of God’s present personal care.
Because of this promise, there is a good reason for us to pray as Scripture directs. That is, because of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we take the commandment seriously and act on it as Paul exhorts. “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). Similarly, we follow Jeremiah who wrote to those taken captive and transported to Babylon. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
This does not mean that God delivers you from all your earthly cares and anxieties and troubles. The exiles in Babylon lived in less than desirable circumstances. Timothy was in Ephesus to combat “strange doctrines” (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul faced further imprisonment and martyrdom.
So why pray as Scripture directs? You show proper honor for those holding governmental, educational, political, scientific, medical, religious, and family authority just as God exhorts in the Fifth Commandment. You also honor God in doing so. You show your love for him (1 John 5:3). You trust his promise and look to him “SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH” (Ephesians 6:2-3). All of this opens your eyes to recognize God’s blessings (Acts 16:14, Romans 10:17).