Catechism Series: The Fourth Commandment
Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:2-3
October 15, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
A common topic for discussion is that one of the problems with society is the lack of honor and respect found at every level. Teachers are quitting in droves because the kids won’t listen or behave. Police officers are likewise retiring and resigning because their superiors don’t support them and because of the lack of respect for their position. And many parents are in a power struggle with their children.
A long time ago, the Israelites were given the 4th Commandment and the problems we see come directly from breaking this commandment. The 4th Commandment is the only of the last seven to contain a promise, and the promise is that if you honor those in authority, “it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land”. In other words, honor for authority is the key to a peaceful society.
To understand the need for honor, we must start with honoring God. We honor God because He gives us everything we need: all spiritual and material blessings come from Him alone. It’s why we don’t have any other gods than Him and it’s why we honor Him above all things. Above all else, we honor Him for giving us His Son, who rescued us from our sins and damnation. Because He has given us His Son, He has also given us a blessing we may not recognize – those in authority over us.
Those with authority derive that honor and power from God. He established a hierarchy in society for the good of humanity. If everyone did as they pleased, can you imagine the chaos in the world? Instead, God has given authorities as His representatives in this world, and when we fail to honor them, we’re failing to honor God, and nothing good will ever come of that.
The authorities to whom you were first introduced were your parents, or whoever had the task of you of raising you. They were also the first people you loved. Notice though that God doesn’t tell you to love your parents, He says to honor them. Some children love their parents, but don’t honor them. You may think, what’s the difference? The difference is that honor is more than love: it’s holding the parents in esteem and listening to their teachings, it’s serving and obeying them.
We honor, serve, and obey them because they raised us, fed and clothed us, and worked hard so we could have the necessities in life. As a child, a young adult, and occasionally even as an adult, I haven’t appreciated what my parents did for me. And for that I confess and ask for their forgiveness. We also honor our parents when they did something not all parents do – raising us in the faith. If you were taught the faith by your parents, you received the greatest blessing that you could’ve ever received – learning that Jesus is your Savior.
I hate that I have to say that a sad truth in this sinful world is that there are parents who don’t deserve love or honor. They’ve neglected their responsibilities, abused the children placed into their care, failed to treat their children as God-given blessings. In these cases, as hard as it is, they should still be obeyed as authorities. We should thank God for the good that does come from them, while also praying for their repentance and change. Certainly, if your parents command or try to force you to do something contrary to the Scriptures, you don’t do it. And, it’s also not dishonoring them to try to escape from horrible situations, for they’ve dishonored God by failing to be faithful parents.
The Fourth Commandment, while directed at children and those under authority, teaches that parents still have an obligation. You’re to be fathers and mothers who love your children more than anything else other than God. Your job is to keep them safe and provide for them. In Ephesians 6, Paul says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In other words parents, don’t vex your kids by giving them arbitrary and changing rules, don’t do things to make them miserable, or be a tyrant. Instead, honor God by being faithful, and raise them up in the fear and knowledge of God. There is no greater responsibility or honor than to share the Gospel with your children.
There aren’t any perfect families, and all family members make all sorts of mistakes and sins. But when children honor their parents and when parents faithfully act as God’s representatives, the family is a much more peaceful place. Of course, I’m speaking generally since there aren’t any absolutes. But a family which lives as God commands will have it go well for them, and there will be more peace and love within the family walls.
The Fourth Commandment focuses on families, but it’s not restricted to families. In his explanation to the Fourth Commandment, Luther wrote, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise our parents or other authorities.” The hierarchy which God established gives us many different authorities who we honor and obey.
When you fail to work faithfully or take advantage of your employer, you’re dishonoring them and God. When you fail to appreciate the job you’ve been given, you’re dishonoring them, and what good can come of that? How fun is it to work at a job where everyone is always grumbling or wasting time? Not at all, right?
Sometimes though the authority makes it very hard to honor them, and I confess I don’t do a good job of this at all. Do you know where I’m headed? It’s the government. You may not believe this, but the government is a gift from God. At every level it keeps us safe, enforces the law, punishes crime, and provides services we can’t provide for ourselves. God has placed them over us as a gift to provide for our earthly needs. As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” God has also given the government officials to serve Him by punishing evil. Paul says, “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Now, you might be thinking surely God doesn’t mean every government. There are definitely authorities that seem to be curses rather than blessings. What then? Would it surprise you to hear that when Paul wrote about authorities, he was writing to those living in Rome under the wicked Nero who would soon begin killing Christians? It’s true. God has given the government, and even when the government is unfaithful in its governing, we still serve and obey it. The exception is when it tells us to break God’s commands, then we must obey God rather than men. And while we honor the government, we’re still allowed to try to change it through voting, protests, and other God pleasing actions. And in the event that a government is evil and will not change, then it will answer to God as the final judge.
Another authority we should honor are those we meet in our daily lives. Why do we honor our boss? He or she provides the job we need to support our families. Why do we honor the police? They put their lives on the line to protect and serve. Why do we honor teachers? They teach skills necessary to live as functioning adults. Why do we honor pastors? They’re giving us the Gospel, teaching us all the God would have us know. And you know what happens when these positions aren’t honored: the police are rendered powerless, and crime becomes pervasive. Teachers are frustrated and discouraged, and so are the kids who do want to learn. Pastors want to pull their hair out, what’s left of it, by the time confirmation class is over. When the hierarchy God has put in place isn’t honored there is chaos, sin, unrest, and unhappiness. Bu when authority is honored, at whatever level it is, things go better and there is peace.
This brings us back full circle to where we started – with God. He is the ultimate authority who demands and deserves our honor. We honor Him because Jesus first honored His Father. He did so when He took on human flesh. He did so when He obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He honored His Father above all things and above people. By honoring His Father, He has brought you into God’s kingdom, under the perfect authority due all honor, respect, obedience, service, and love. In in Christ that we find the power to honor those in authority over us, and forgiveness when we fail. It’s in Him and His power that we are able to keep the 4th Commandment and by His grace we are blessed with peace.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen