From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.
[This commandment means] I should love, serve, respect, and care for my parents all their lives, and should obey them in all things that are reasonable and conform to God’s Law. …I also keep the fifth commandment by showing respect for teachers and elders; by obeying, as far as is lawful, those who hold authority in the Church, my employment, and civil government; and by conducting myself in all things with reverent humility before God and my neighbor. (To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism)
But the fifth commandment and similar Bible passages use the vocabulary of fear, honor, and worship, on a human level, to indicate the proper attitude of children to parents. And, moreover, they demand such reverence for parents as a consequence of our reverence for God. Our reverence for parents is not in spite of our reverence for God, but because of it. Deuteronomy 5:16 adds, “as the Lord your God commanded you.” Leviticus 19:32, Ephesians 6:1–3, and Colossians 3:20 also invoke divine sanction for the content of the fifth commandment. Jesus too… strongly defends the fifth commandment, even though he demands for himself a higher honor than for parents. (John Frame)
The terms “father” and “mother” remind those in authority that, like fathers and mothers, they are responsible for and should act in a loving and tender way, appropriately reflecting their particular relationship, toward those under them; and those under them are also encouraged to accept their authority more willingly and cheerfully, as if they were their parents. (Westminster Larger Catechism)
In this lesson we move from primarily focusing on our vertical relationship with God to our horizontal relationships with our neighbors. The Ten Commandments are usually understood in the way Jesus defined the Great Commandment. The first tablet, commandments 1-4, emphasize our love for God, while the second tablet, commandments 5-10, focus on neighbor-love. Of course, it’s not quite as neatly divided as that description makes it out to be. For our love for other people, of necessity, shows up in our love for God, expressed in the first four commandments. Moreover, our love for God is the foundation for how we should treat other people. And we show our love for God when we show our love for our neighbors.
As you have no doubt noticed in the previous lessons, there is much more packed into each commandment than meets the eye. That will continue to be true throughout the rest of this study, and this commandment is no exception. The language of “father and mother” encompasses much more than one’s biological parents. Instead, the Israelites would have understood that to mean those in authority over you. The natural starting place is the home. But the impact of this commandment extends out in concentric circles to other spheres of authority, such as one’s teachers, employers, spiritual leaders, and civil government leaders, just to name a few. Yet, as the third quotation above, from the Westminster Larger Catechism emphasizes, those in authority should also act in loving and tender ways to those under their authority.
The last introductory note to emphasize before we get into this lesson is to point out that honor denotes respect and care, and in appropriate seasons of life, circumstances, and relationships, obedience. For example, a child living under his or her parents’ roof, ought to obey the loving guidance and discipline of his or her parents. Later in life, the adult child may choose to honor his or her parent by listening to their advice, but are under no obligation to necessarily obey what the parent’s advise. I hasten to add that honoring one’s parents should extend throughout the parents’ lifetime. As parents age, it is a loving and tender expression of honor to care for them, as parents once cared for their child.
As this lesson will help us understand, to honor one’s parents, or anyone else in authority over us, is ultimately to honor God who set those in authority over us. Yet, honor and obedience to human authority should only be expected insofar as the human authority conforms to the authority of God and his Word. Our first commitment is to God (commandments 1-4). Learning how to honor and respect those in authority over us in the home at a young age, ideally helps us better live in society, thereby making it a stronger and healthier society in which all may live and flourish.
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