“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
The Fourth Commandment:
Honor your father and your mother
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Two weeks ago we completed the First Table of the Law which lay out our duty to God. This week we begin with the Second Table of the Law that shows us our duty to our neighbor.
The first of the commandments on the the Second Table is today’s: Honor your Father and Mother. The old catechism included what is in the Bible verse, “That it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” We learned this as “the first commandment with a promise.” For some reason that was deleted in the newer versions, yet it stands because it is in the Bible and we will approach it as if it remained.
The word which we will use for our outline today is HOME: Honor your father and mother, Obey them; There are MORE authorities in our lives to which this command also applies, and we have the expectation of the promise attached to this commandment.
The Lord has given parents a very special place in His creation. Listen to the words of the Large Catechism on this matter:
[God] has given special distinction above all positions that are beneath it: He does not simply command us to love our parents but to honor them. Regarding our brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general, He commands nothing more than that we love them. In this way He separates and distinguishes father and mother from all other persons upon earth and places them at His side. For it is a far higher thing to honor someone than to love someone, because honor includes not only love, but also modesty, humility, and submission to a majesty hidden in them. Honor requires not only that parents be addressed kindly and with reverence, but also that, both in the heart and with the body, we demonstrate that we value them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest. For someone we honor from the heart we must also truly regard as high and great.
Love and honor are different. Most would think that love is the highest good on earth. But they would be wrong theologically. Honor is a much higher good. And that is what we are called to give to our parents.
Jesus did this with both His earthly parents and His Father in heaven.
I once knew a Lutheran pastor who held and taught the view that once someone was married and out of the house this commandment no longer applied in the New Covenant. However, he was wrong. We honor our parents as long as they are alive, and when they are gone, we honor their memory.
There are some implications in this for us.
Luther reminds us that “our parents are not to be deprived of their honor because of their conduct or their failings.” So even if our parents were bad, not present, had character flaws or even were abusive, none of these things give any one an excuse to dishonor them.
If your parents were not the greatest, if they hurt you by their lack of parenting skills, or in any other way, it is your Christian duty to forgive them, whether they are still living or dead. To not do this dishonors them. Our parents, like us, are or were sinners. And when you have children, do you not wish for them to do the same with you?
Jesus Cross covers it all. And you, as a Christian, are called to forgive everyone without limit, regardless of the depth of sin against you. For Jesus has forgiven you a lot more than this.
Honoring them also means taking care of them when they are infirm, aged or sick. That responsibility belongs to each of us. There are various ways that this can be done, but honoring them means we do so to the end of their earthly lives and beyond. Remember what the Large Catechism teaches: For God has assigned parenthood the highest place. Yes, He has set it up in His own place upon the earth. And Next to God we regard them as the highest good.
We confess before the Lord our failings and receive His forgiveness. If we struggle with this we pray that the Holy Spirit would give us the will to forgive them and begin to hold our parents in the highest honor.
This commandment calls us to obey our parents. Primarily this is for children, for parents are responsible before God for their upbringing.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Here we have a “handshake” if you will. Children are called to obey their parents. And parents are called to not provoke their children to anger.
In this passage is included the primary purpose of parenthood: To bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Actually, God holds the Fathers responsible for this.
By and large it doesn’t happen today. At Baptism the parents and sponsors promise to “bring their children to the Lord’s House, place in their hands the Holy Scriptures, teach them the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.” Yet, when they get to Confirmation they know none of these things. It is not the job of the Church to teach them these things, but the job of the parents. That was their promise at Baptism.
Mark Twain once said,
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
Children are called to obey their parents because they are not as “stupid” as kids think. Children may balk at rules: “Do your homework before you go out to play” … “Yeah, but Tommy’s mom let’s him go out right after school.” “Yeah, but I spoke with Tommy’s mom and he’s failing English. You’re not.”
“Christine gets to stay out until 11pm.” “You need to be home by 8:30.” “Why” “Because I said so.”
Again, the Lord calls us to obey our parents. They are His representatives.
But there are others as well. God gives authority over us to others as well to whom we must serve and obey.
Teachers at school. Bosses at work. Laws of the Land. Police officers. Governmental agencies. To disobey any lawful command placed upon us by any of these, or others, is to break this commandment. reminds us:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Last year, 2016, more police officers were targeted and killed than in any other year. Unprovoked, there were 135 Officers who were assassinated for no other reason than the fact that they were cops. The numbers have gone down this year so far, though it continues. A society that allows this and even encourages this is on the way to extinction. It is anarchy when law enforcement is removed. So when each of these officers lost their life, not only was the 5th Commandment broken, but so was the 4th, for God tells us that they are “His servants for our Good.”
This is the main area where we break this commandment. You speed on the road, you break this commandment. You don’t pay attention in school? You break this commandment. You are lazy at work? You break this commandment. You don’t pay your taxes? You break this commandment.
So you see, it goes well beyond simply honoring and obeying our parents.
As I mentioned before, this is a commandment with a promise, “that you may live long in the land that the Lord is giving to you.”
This can be misunderstood to say, “If I obey my parents, I will die at an old age.” Sin has forever changed this. Nor does it mean that someone who died young did so because they were necessarily disobedient to their parents.
Yet, disobedient people very often die because they make themselves their own masters and subject to none— not their parents or authority or law, and perish because of it. Luther picks up on this and says,
Where do so many rogues come from…? Don’t they come from disobedience to parents, because they will not subit to discipline in kindness? By God’s punishment, they cause us to behold their misfortune and grief. For it seldom happens that such perverse people die a natural or timely death...”
Originally this promise was made to Israel by God, showing that in obedience to Him and the authorities that He gives, their life in the Promised Land was protected. In the same way, God protects us through this commandment. This doesn’t mean that someone who lives to an old age necessarily obeyed this commandment, just as it doesn’t mean that someone who died early in life was disobedient to parents or authorities. He doesn’t say this for us to make judgments on others. But disobedience does bring death.
How ironic, then, that the most obedient person who ever lived— our Lord Jesus Christ— was cut off from the Land.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
His life was cut short. He only lived 33 years, way too young to die.
But He was stricken for the transgression of God’s people.
Stricken, smitten and afflicted, cut off from the Land so that we might enter an eternal promised land in heaven where we don’t live just long, but forever instead. This Jesus, who perfectly obeyed His parents and His Father in Heaven now opens the way to everlasting life for you by taking away your sin of disobedience. He gives us his perfect obedience and blots out our transgressions with His blood, that whoever believes in Him receives this non rescinded promise of the Gospel.
Honor your father and your mother that it may be well with you and that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, through whom all parenthood on earth is given: Give unto us gratitude for the gifts of parents and others in authority and the humility to serve, obey, love and cherish them as they fulfill the duties and responsibilities You have assigned to them in this life; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.