Water from the Well: October 25, 1995

The Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.

In the first three commandments, God shows us what our priorities should be: He should be first in our lives and hearts. When we "fear, love and trust in God above all things," God blesses us spiritually. God also blesses us on this earth. He doesn't talk to us directly, but he speaks to us through the Bible. In the first three commandments, God declares his authority over humanity.

In the last seven commandments, God shows us how to act toward our fellow human beings. God declares that we live under his authority--that we treat each other as he commands. He doesn't govern and rule us directly in this life, but instead he puts others in authority over us--parents, teachers, and leaders.

The fourth commandment shows us how God wants us to treat those he has placed over us. God told the Israelites, his chosen people, "Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth" (Exodus 20:12).

The fourth commandment does not agree with the thoughts and desires our sinful nature gives us. No person lives on this earth who hasn't disobeyed his parents at some time or other. Parents keep us from doing what we want to do. They tell us what we don't want to hear. We have to honor and obey them?

As if this weren't bad enough, God doesn't only want us to obey our parents, but all those whom he has placed over us. Martin Luther, explaining the fourth commandment in his Small Catechism, points out that "We should fear and love God that we do not dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority, but honor, serve and obey them, and give them love and respect." God doesn't simply expect outward obedience to our mother and father. He expects us to love and respect them and all other people God has given authority over us.

On our own, it's impossible. On our own we can't even obey God, much less obey those God has placed in authority over us. Our sinful nature demands freedom and rebels against anyone who tries to tell us what to do, even against God our creator. Our sinful, rebellious nature earns us God's punishment forever.

On our own we could never obey God or his representatives. On our own we are doomed to eternal punishment. Thankfully, we aren't on our own. Out of his limitless love and mercy, God sent his own Son Jesus to save us from the eternal punishment we deserve. Jesus became perfectly obedient in our place--he obeyed God, he obeyed his parents and all God's representatives, and he even went so far as to become "obedient to death--even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8). Jesus gave up everything to save us from God's anger and punishment. Because he became obedient in our place, we have God's forgiveness and look forward to enjoying his love and blessing in heaven forever.

As Christians we recognize that when God acts, it is for our own good. That includes placing others in authority over us. "The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1) Because God has already done so much for us through Christ, we thank him by honoring, respecting and obeying our parents and leaders, who act on his behalf on this earth. God gives us reason to obey his authority and his authorities--he gives us Christ, who died for our sins and who earned our forgiveness. The respect and honor we show our parents and leaders comes from our love and thankfulness toward God. Don't forget to pray for your parents and leaders. Ask God to bless them as they undertake the difficult job God has given them. Show your love and thanks toward God in your actions toward his representatives.