The Gift Of The Fourth Commandment

Text: Exodus 20:1-17 Romans 13:1-7

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have learned about the first three commandments over the past two weeks.  In these first three commandments, we have learned about the Lord’s will for us in regard to: Himself, His name, and His Word for us. 

These first three commandments, which deal with our relationship to the Lord, lead us to the final remaining seven commandments.  More specifically, these seven remaining commandments do not primarily deal with our relationship to the Lord but how we ought to relate to our neighbor, while we fear, love, and trust the Lord. 

Among these final seven commandments is the first and the greatest, the fourth commandment:

“You are to honor your father and mother.”

As you have just heard, in the fourth commandment God gives us a very unique word.  He says, “Honor” your father and your mother. 

Now honor is more than love.  God wants us to love all people, but when it comes especially to parents and other people in authority, He wants us to ‘honor’ them because they are a gift of authority to us.

Honor is the opposite of rebellion.  Thus, to honor someone means to give them great respect, address them with humility, and give the highest place second only to God Himself. 

But why are we to honor?  We honor because God gives parents and authorities a certain hidden majesty.  Parents and other authorities are God’s representatives on earth, given by God for our protection and good.  These authoritative persons are gifts to and for us, for our well-being.  That is to say, God has instituted judges, police officers, soldiers, presidents, congressmen, and teachers to punish wrong, keep order, and uphold justice.  This is good. God has also instituted and given each of us parents, parents who took care of us while we were lying helplessly in our cribs, dirtying our diapers, and needing to be cleaned and fed.  Through parents God takes care of children, He took care of you and me.  This is good as well.

Police, governors, teachers, soldiers, moms, and dads, they are all for our own good.  Dads ‘father’ families; Mayors ‘father’ cities; Governors ‘father’ states; Presidents ‘father’ countries; but God fathers all of creation.  This is the divine gift described in the fourth commandment.

This means God wants you to view your parents as your most precious treasures on earth.  Even if parents seem odd or old fashioned.  Indeed, God commands you to honor your parents, but also for you to honor your teachers, police, politicians and all other authorities He has placed over you for your protection and good. 

With all that stated, I believe it is safe to say that we all can use a lesson in the fourth commandment, because even as adults we anger our parents and especially other authorities.  We are rebels at heart and do not like authority above us.  In fact, if I told you that all politicians were to be honored no matter how justified you may be in your dislike of them, what would your response be?  It’s kind of difficult to honor someone you dislike isn’t it?  Yet, this is what the fourth commandment calls us to do.  Indeed, there are no conditional statements or exceptions clauses in the fourth commandment that state we don’t have to honor democrats or that we don’t have to honor parents who are not hip and with the times.  No, the fourth commandment says to honor parents, to honor those in authority; period!  Even our Epistle reading from this evening, we hear the Apostle Paul calling the Christians in the city of Rome to honor their governing authorities, authorities who were persecuting them as Christians.  This is difficult for to process, is it not? 

This brings up a very interesting point though.  What is one to do when the governing authorities act contrary to God’s will?  Shall a citizen keep silent, embrace the fourth commandment, and honor the erring governing authority by sinning with them?  May this never be!  Rather than honor sin, as American citizens—who are also baptized saints—you are to work diligently and faithfully to correct the problems of the state through running for office, demonstrating, debating, and voting.  In other words, when the governing authorities enforce laws upon us as citizens that purposely cause us to violate conscious and violate the Word of God, with all tactfulness we obey God rather than man and thus oppose the state.[1]  We must find ways to be respectful to the offices that individuals were called to; however, we must refrain from the evil that may be commanded by an erring governing authority.  The bottom line is our loyalty to God is always first; we must obey God rather than men.

That makes sense in regard to governing authorities; however, what should one do when parents violate the Word of God and impose sin upon or cause their children to sin?  Are children and youth to honor their parents by sinning with their parent? If a child is asked to do something sinful, must they respect their parent and fulfill the evil deed?

Keep in mind that parenthood is also an office given by God and God wants you parents to carry out the duties of that office faithfully, so that you can bless and gift your children.  That means providing for your children, putting your children’s physical needs, not their wants, before your own desires.  It means training your children in God’s Word, teaching them the faith and making sure the church holds a prominent place in their lives.

But as previously mentioned, too often, and especially in the church, parents don’t want to take responsibility for their own children.  They prefer to pass off their religious instruction to someone else. 

Regrettably, parents sin and fail consistently in thought, word, and deed; children also consistently fail in thought, word and deed.  Parents fail to live up to their calling as parents towards their children and children fail to honor their parents as they should.  Otherwise stated, parents were not called to the high office of parenthood to neglect or spoil or be cruel to their children.  They were not called to parenthood to lead children down the dark path of sin.  God did not bless a man with fatherhood so that he could abusively dominate and neglect his children.  A woman was not called into motherhood to abort her child.  Child abuse, mental cruelty, spiritual neglect, cold-heartedness, domestic fighting, provoking children—these things have nothing to do with God’s intentions and the role of parenthood, for they are sins against the calling and vocation of parenthood and sins against children and youth.
As a result of sin in families, children can rebel against their parents and parents will blame their children or someone else.  And around and around the dysfunction goes.  Pointing fingers, complaining, rebellion, and on and on and on and on… No confession of sin and no absolution and no healing.

This brings us to a very important crossroads.  It is clear that God has instituted governing authorities for the purpose of punishing wrongdoers, so that we might have order in our society and nation.  It is also clear that parenthood is a role that people are placed into, where parents are to be vehicles in which God brings forth life, and how the Lord intends the life of children to be sustained.  Otherwise stated, it is clear that the family is a kind of mini-church unto itself.  The father is kind of like a mini-pastor to his family; leading, teaching and sharing the Word with his family.  Fathers and mothers create, nurture and shape their children, both physically and spiritually.  This is how God works through parents. Furthermore, it is clear that we are to honor these parental and governing authorities, because in honoring them, we honor the Lord.  Finally, it is clear that we are to obey God, rather than man when parents and governing authorities violate the Word of God and attempt to lead us into sin.  Yes, we are to respectfully avoid the sin commanded by authorities and parents, while respecting the office and working for change.  This is all very clear and frankly somewhat common–sensical. 

What hasn’t been covered yet and what may not be clear to us is what are we to do when parents, governing authorities, children, and citizens fail?  What shall we do with our failures?  Shall parents suck it up and just try harder when they fail?  Shall children pull themselves up by their small boot-straps and just be more diligent to honor mom and dad?  As citizens shall we attempt to be more disciplined to watch our tongue?  Or, maybe we should just pretend that things are o.k., hide the abuse and sin—sweep it under the rug and act like all is well!

My friends, while determination, discipline, endurance, and so forth are all noble endeavors that may help externally uphold the fourth commandment in our lives as children, parents, and citizens, it has to be stated that the fourth commandment needs to lead us to Mt. Calvary where confession of sins and forgiveness happens.  For apart from Mt. Calvary, we are left with no absolution to our rebellion against the fourth commandment; we are left with no way forward or out.  No Calvary means no hope; damned.

Indeed, we must be driven to Calvary’s Cross, for the fourth commandment not only shows us the way things ought to be from our gift giving Lord, but it also reveals to us that we do not respect authority as we ought, nor do we properly fulfill our authoritative roles towards those who we are charged to oversee.  Yes, the fourth commandment not only shows us the gifts of authority, but it also reveals our sin against those people in authority.  It reveals your rebellious heart.  It reveals a heart full of anarchy.  It reveals a much deeper problem of a heart that rejects the gift of authority. 

Lord, have mercy on our rebellion towards authority.  Christ, have mercy on us and the wounds that we have received from abusive authority to us.  Lord, have mercy.

Take comfort my friends.  Be of good cheer though.  God has gifted you a gracious promise in response to your rebellion.  Receive Jesus and His authoritative Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation—for your rebellion against authority. 

“I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Be washed and healed from the authoritative abuse that you have received in the forgiveness of His cross delivered to you in your baptism,

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Be refreshed by His salutary gift of His Holy Meal,

“The body and blood given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your rebellion.”

Be strengthened in faith towards the authoritative Lord by His Word and Sacraments—for you.  Be strengthened in love for those in authority by His Word and Sacraments—given for you.  Be nurtured in the knowledge of the Lord and His will by the Holy Spirit working through the Word—for you.  Be strengthened, gifted, forgiven, and loved in Christ’s church, as you are returned to your baptismal identity.

The Lord, create in you a clean heart to see the gift of the fourth commandment.  The Lord, renew a right spirit within you to walk in the fourth commandment honoring those in authority.  The Lord, restore to you the joy of your salvation and the comfort of seeing the gifts of authority from the Lord. 

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1]  See Acts 5:29.

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