TEN WORDS – THE FIFTH WORD.
DIVINELY ORDAINED AUTHORITY IS WORTHY OF HONOR.
In the name + of Jesus.
Today our sermon series turns to the second table of the Law which is boiled down to this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) When God brought you into the world, your closest neighbor was your parents. They were the authority God established over you, and they had the most influence on you. God designed it this way for your good; for no one will care for a child more than his own parents. Therefore, the 4th Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
Martin Luther's explanation of this commandment says: “We should fear and love God that we do not dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority....” (Explanation of the 4th Commandment, Luther's Small Catechism) While God has established a number of authorities over us, the authority that dealt with you during the crucial and formative years of your life was your father and mother. They established the rules of the house. They provided for your welfare. They protected you from harm and danger. They disciplined you to know right from wrong and to behave accordingly. They punished you if you were disobedient or unruly.
Your parents also shaped your faith by bringing you to church, teaching you God's word, and showing you how to pray. Faith does not come naturally. It is not passed on like curly hair or brown eyes. It must be taught and modeled so that children will be grounded in the Christian faith. If this is neglected, parents should not be surprised when their children leave the Church—and, tragically, forfeit eternity. Since God established parents for the high and holy calling of passing the faith down to their children, this divinely established authority is worthy of honor.
God has established authorities for your good, and each has its own role. Government cares for your physical well-being. They curb wickedness with punishment and maintain order for a peaceful society. The Church cares for souls. It preaches God's word to call you to repent and proclaims God's mercy and salvation for your comfort and peace. Parents cover both realms, so they serve the highest good of their children. These divinely established authorities are worthy of honor.
Unfortunately, we have a natural resistance to authority. The reason is simple—we want to do our own thing and have our own way. To submit to authority means that we must say “No” to our selfish goals. If we pursue our selfish goals anyway, we face the wrath and punishment of the authority. Speeders get tickets. Felons get prison sentences. Obstinate sinners are denied holy communion. In our sinful stubbornness, we conclude that the authority is the one with the problem.
If there is one thing we sinners are good at, it is insisting upon getting our way. We usually package that by saying we want our rights or what is fair. If a parent starts spooning out the ice cream to two or more children, they won't be thinking that they are getting a special treat. They will be assessing the scoops to make sure they aren't getting less than their siblings. If one feels slighted, he will whine at the parent about getting an equal share. The others will assess if the extra scraping results in more ice cream for the first child who complained. Then they will demand more to make it all even. If you are a parent of more than one child, you have endured this fight. If you had a sibling, you engaged in this fight. Either way, neither the generosity nor the authority of the parent mattered. The sinful heart always demands more. We believe that whatever is to our advantage is our right and is fair. We never outgrow that. This is why we always criticize divinely established authorities. If we face their wrath, it is often because we gave them reason to become angry.
The 4th Commandment states: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) It is important to recognize this: The 4th Commandment does not talk about what authorities are obligated to do for you. It is strictly about the honor and obedience you owe them—even if you think they are incompetent or uncaring or wicked. (We could talk about what they owe you, but that is a different sermon.)
Divinely established authority is worthy of honor because of the God who established them. No authority on earth is perfect; nevertheless, all authority stands in the stead of the God who established them. This is especially true of fathers and mothers. Men and women become fathers and mothers by God's design and blessing. Then they carry out the role that God gives to them to provide for, protect, and discipline their children. The parents' love and duty is not based on how much the children please them. That love and duty are to be performed by parents for the good of their children no matter what.
Parents are but a reflection of God the Father. God the Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He supplies us with all that we need to live. He protects us from harm and danger. If you think of all the ways the devil could afflict us with disease or disaster, God protects us from most of it. All this he does because he is our good and merciful Father in heaven and not because we have earned or deserved it. Still, we groan under God's authority because he forbids us from pursuing our selfish aims. When we see others who are blessed differently, we grumble that God has not given us our fair share. And yet, God remains good and generous.
In fact, God is most gracious to us by not giving us what is fair. For our grumbling against God the Father's blessings, for despising God's established authorities, for insisting upon our own way, God would be just and fair in damning us all. In fact, sin is the great equalizer; for everyone has earned God's wrath and punishment. And because of sin, everyone is going to die.
But our Father has not treated us fairly. He has been most gracious to us in sending his Son. Jesus is the only person who was fully obedient to the Father. He did not grumble about any hardships he had to face. He did not reject the authority of emperors, kings, governors, or occupying armies. He did not rebel when he was sent to suffer damnation for sins he did not commit. Jesus willingly endured all of these things because he loves his Father. And trusting that his Father is good, gracious, and right, Jesus went forth to suffer and die for our groaning, grumbling, and rebellion. Jesus gave up his rights—the honor and glory that are his because he is God—in order to do what was beneficial for us. He endured shame on the cross to redeem us from the dishonor we have given to divinely established authorities. You are forgiven of your sins—not because you deserve it, but because God is good and gracious to you.
God the Father continues to love us, care for us, and protect us. He also disciplines us so that we do not return to our sins. It does not always seem that he is a loving Father when he inflicts upon us what seems painful and for no good purpose. We only know that we have lost something that we liked. But he is doing the work of a father—curbing us from loving and trusting in things that cannot save us. For the moment it is painful. But God does not cater to what provides a moment's pleasure. Your friends will encourage you to do or take what makes you happy right now. Parents look past the present moment. They are thinking of your next 50 years and advise you accordingly. Your Father in heaven loves you even more; he is focused on your eternal good. The Father always disciplines you with that as his goal.
Divinely established authority is worthy of honor. That is what the commandment says. In addition to the command, God has extended a promise “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) The fact is that obedience to the authorities God has established usually results in a long life. By obeying the authorities God has established, you avoid wicked behavior, foolish choices, and temporal punishment. Wicked behavior usually leads to a harder life and an earlier grave. But the Lord promises grace and every blessing to those who obey his commandments, giving us all the more reason to follow them.
“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.” (Explanation of the 4th Commandment, Luther's Small Catechism) To do this is to honor the God who established these authorities for your good. Parents delight in their children and seek their good. By honoring, serving, and obeying their parents, children actually benefit themselves. This is God's design, who does all things for your good—both for the moment, and for eternity.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.