Dear Radio Friends,
In our treatment of the Ten Commandments of the law of God, we come today to the fifth commandment. We find that in the book of Exodus, chapter 20, verse 12: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
The law of the Ten Commandments is commonly divided into two groups: the first four, which have to do with our love for God, and the second six—from commandments five through 10—which have to do with our love for the neighbor. Sometimes these are labeled the first and second tables of the law of God.
It is important for us to understand the relationship between the first and the second tables of the law. Sometimes we might think that obedience to the law of God is this, that so long as we love God, it does not matter how we treat others. Or, we might tend to think, so long as we love people, it does not matter what we say or think about God. However, the Ten Commandments fit together as a whole, and the Scriptures teach us that if we truly love God, that will manifest itself in our love for the neighbor. They also teach us that, if we are going to truly love our neighbor, we can do that only as those who first love God. John speaks of this relationship very clearly in his first epistle (I John 3:14ff.). He says,
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
The point is this, that our love for God will show itself in a love for others. And that love is not just being nice to others, but it has the spiritual well-being of the other in view. Jesus says that we should love our enemies and pray for them.
As we come to the fifth commandment, we are dealing with the subject of authority. “Honor your father and your mother.” One of the main expressions of sin in the fallen world in which we live is rebellion to authority. This was true of the very first sin of Adam and Eve. They rebelled against the authority of God’s command concerning the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We also live today in a day and age that is marked by a rebellion against authority. II Timothy 3:2 tells us that the last days will be marked in part by this, that people will be disobedient to their parents. We see this aversion to authority in every sphere of our society. It is important for us to hear about it, not only so that we recognize this in the world around us, but especially so that we may be humbled ourselves and hear the Word of God and apply it to ourselves.
Behind the fifth commandment are several principles.
First. That God Himself has all authority in heaven and in earth, that God is sovereign, and that the right to rule belongs to Him. In Psalm 103:19 it is put this way: “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” That authority God has invested in His Son, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ who said in Matthew 28, as He ascended up into heaven, “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth.” Ephesians 2 tells us that all things have been put under His feet, that is, under His rule.
Another principle is this, that God administers His authority through the Scriptures, that is, through His Word. The Scriptures are God’s revelation in this world and they are the supreme authority for faith (what we should believe) and for life (how we should live). So, Isaiah 40:8 says this: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”
God administers His authority through others. That is, He delegates authority in our relationships here on the earth. We can say there is a chain of command from God down into our relationships here on the earth. This means that all of us are under authority in some relationship. One who is a police officer and has authority on the street, and who is perhaps also a member of the church, is under the authority of the elders and the leaders in the congregation. It is important for us as we come to this commandment and try to understand its application to ourselves, that we recognize the different spheres of life in which there is authority—the different relationships in which God has set up this structure of authority and submission.
I want to mention six different spheres. The first is the home. This is the one that is mentioned in the commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. Why is this relationship the one that God chooses to speak of specifically in the commandment? The reason is that this is the most basic unit of human relationships and of society—the home. Not only the relationship between parents and children but also the relationship between husband and wife. In the very beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, He created Adam to be the head of his wife. What we see as we look at the home and family is that the home should be a place where Christian parents create an environment in which the children learn to respect authority. Not only the authority of the father, but also the authority of their mother: Honor thy father and thy mother. Now we see this principle, that the reason we are to submit to authority does not have to do with the worthiness or the strength or the apparent qualifications or the age of the one who has authority. Rather, it has to do with appointment—God’s appointment. God appoints in the home a man and his wife to have authority over their children. Ephesians 6 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” This is the first sphere—the home.
The second sphere is really an extension of the home and that is the school. In the school, children come under the authority of others besides their parents. But, in the school environment, we have an extension of the home. It should be this way, that children, in the school environment, obey their teachers or they receive consequences from their parents. Education and school teachers stand in the place of parents. It is the duty of the home to educate children. It is not the duty of the state to educate our children. This is the way that totalitarian societies do it. They say that it is their responsibility to educate your children and that they control the education of the populace. But we should see, as believers, that it is parents who have this responsibility, and teachers and the school stand in the place of parents. Children need to learn to submit to authority in other spheres than just the home, and the school is the place where they learn to do this.
A third sphere is the church. There is ecclesiastical authority. This is mentioned in the New Testament Scriptures in regard to the rulers that Christ appoints in the New Testament church, so that we read in Hebrews 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” This verse is obviously speaking about those that have authority in the church—they watch for your souls. It really should not be difficult for us to trace or recognize the authority of God and of Jesus Christ in the offices in the church. Those who lead in the church represent the kingly rule of Jesus Christ, His prophetic rule by His Word, and His priestly rule in the mercy that He shows to His people.
The fourth sphere of authority is the civil government—from the civil government in the highest offices in a society, as for example the White House and the Presidency or the Congress and the senators and representatives, all the way to the places where the law interacts with our own life, the bureaucracy or the police officer on the streets. Romans 13 tells us that the powers that be are ordained of God, that is, they have their authority from Him. They may be elected officials, but their authority and their right to rule comes not from the people, but from God Himself. So, Romans 13 says of them that they are the ministers of God, the servants of God in their position of civil authorities.
Another sphere, and perhaps one that is most common to the majority of us, is the sphere of the workplace. It is clear from the Scriptures that we are called to submit to authority also in the workplace. Think, for example, of Ephesians 6, which speaks not only of authority in the home but also of authority in the workplace. It says in verses 5 and 6: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” In the workplace, we are under the authority of Jesus Christ as we work for somebody else. When we agree to work for someone, we pledge this, that we will be obedient to him. To strike against the employer or to revolt against his authority is to strike and revolt against the authority that God has placed over us. In I Peter 2, Peter says, What praise is there in submitting yourselves to those employers who are good to you? He says we must also do it to the froward, to those who might abuse us as employees. This is our calling, and so we should approach work prayerfully on a day-to-day basis in order to submit to the authority in the workplace.
There is one more sphere of authority, one that is often forgotten in our day and that is that we are called in the Scriptures to have a respect for those who are older than ourselves. In Leviticus 19:32 we read this: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.” There was a day and there are cultures where you would never speak ill of one who is older than yourself. We do well to remember this and to instill this into our children. What we teach them with regard to respect not only for parents in the home but even other adults will have an impact on their ability to function in relationships and under authority later in life. Our children must understand that adults are not their equals.
When we look at the fifth commandment, we see that the requirement is not only a duty, it is not only a behavior, but also an attitude. The commandment says not: “Obey your father and mother,” but “honor your father and mother.” This teaches us that what is required in keeping the commandment has to do with the heart and requires thought and wisdom and maturity. Obedience to this commandment is not mindless doing of what one is told to do. One can obey without honoring the one who is in authority. Proverbs 30:17 speaks of the eye of the child that mocks his mother. So the child obeys, but he is angry and he despises his mother. Or perhaps we are willing to obey the speed limit but we despise the speed limit sign and the authority of the law.
It is important to understand that this attitude of honor is something that we have to grow into, and it is something that we teach our children to grow into. When they are very young (because rebellion is in their heart), they have to be taught to obey. Ephesians 6: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” But, as they grow, we have to teach those children that this obedience must come from a deeper respect in their heart, not only for the parents but for God who places authority over them.
So, the word “honor” is really an umbrella term for all the proper attitudes that we ought to have to those in authority. Perhaps another word that we could substitute is the word “love,” that we love those who are in authority. It is by our honoring them and obeying them that we show our love. When we love someone, we put their interests before our own. We renounce our will in order to follow their will. We put their well-being before our own. So, in the workplace, under an employer, we put the boss and the company before ourselves. In the home we put our parents and what their will is before our own. This is what it is to honor and to love. It is to serve selflessly, to put others before one’s self.
This love also includes a commitment and a faithfulness to those in authority. I Timothy 5 speaks of those who are not faithful to their parents or do not care for those of their own household, and it says that one who fails in this regard is worse than an infidel. It is important to point out here that, regardless of our age, so long as our parents are living, we owe them an honor and a care and a respect.
This is true, even though our parents may have faults and those in authority may have sinful failings. We have to bear patiently with the weaknesses and the sinful infirmities of others. When a child becomes a teenager, he starts to think for himself. Yet, even though that is the case, and even though the child may, as he thinks for himself, begin to think that he knows better than his parents and that his dad is out of touch with reality, still he is called to bear with the weaknesses and the infirmities of the one in authority. This does not mean that the one who has authority and the father in the home has a right to rule with an iron fist, like a tyrant, or to selfishly lord things over his wife and his children. No, the one who is a Christian leader also has a duty to love those who are under his authority. He recognizes his sinful weaknesses. He admits his faults. He says to his wife, “Help me in this task of leading and ruling in my home.” He confesses his sins to his children. He prays with them about sin—his own sin. He asks them for forgiveness. You see, the home is like this. The home is a place of covenant. It is a place of relationship. The children are covenant children. And despite the weaknesses of those in authority (parents), we must honor them. Think, for example, in the Scripture of Noah’s sons when Noah was drunken and lay naked. Shem and Japheth would not look at their father’s nakedness and would not join their brother Ham in mocking their father, but, respectfully, held a blanket behind them and walked backwards and covered their father. Or, think again of the example of David when Saul sought his life and it was within his power to take the life of Saul. He would not stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed. So we must honor even those who have weaknesses and are sinful in their positions of authority.
There is one exception in this commandment. It is this. Even though we are called to honor and obey those in authority, we must ultimately obey God. That is, when the one who has authority calls us to do something that is in direct disobedience to the commandments of God, then we must not obey. In the book of Acts, chapter 5, the apostles were commanded by the Jewish leaders of their day not to preach and speak in the name of Jesus anymore. And they said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” This is the exception. At the same time, they did not disrespect those rulers. They even submitted to the consequences of their not being willing to follow the instruction of their rulers. Those consequences for them were persecution. So, even if it means for us that we must be imprisoned and persecuted because we will not obey those in authority, even then we must submit and do this respecting their position under God.
At the end of the fifth commandment, there is a wonderful promise. This promise implies that if you want misery in your life, you should rebel. If you want misery in the workplace, rebel against your boss. If you want misery in your marriage, rebel against your husband. If you want misery in the church, rebel against the elders in the church. If you want a horrible relationship with your parents, be rebellious. If you want misery in your position in society, then rebel against the government and the police. If you want misery in your life, rebel against the institutions of marriage and family that God has ordained in Scripture.
Think about this. Is not rebellion the source of so much suffering and misery in our society? That was true for Adam and Eve. That was true for Israel in the wilderness—a rebellious people. Yet, we live in a day and an age where this kind of rebellion is promoted. And we need to be warned. In I Peter 3:20 it says that God destroyed the first world with a flood because of its disobedience. We do not have a freedom to rebel against authority as God has placed that in our lives.
At the same time, as we keep this commandment, we can expect great blessing in our life. The blessing in the Old Testament was a blessing of a long life in the promised land of Canaan. Canaan, of course, is a picture in the Scriptures of heaven. The blessing we can expect is not so much quantitative but qualitative—a blessing of happiness in our home, a blessing of peace in the church, and the blessing of heaven in which we will stand and live in the presence of God in joy to eternity. Jesus Himself came and was subject to the will of His Father. He came to do the will of His Father. He learned obedience through His suffering. It was through His suffering that He entered into glory and into the joyful presence of His Father.
It is doubtful that you or I often feel convicted by this commandment, but we should. How are you really doing with regard to authority in your life? As a child, do you joyfully submit to your parents? As a wife, do you happily put your will under the will of your husband? Are you patient in the workplace with your boss’ bad decisions? Are we patient with the politicians that God has put in authority over us? Are you respectful of the decisions that church leaders make or that the police officer makes when he pulls you over? Or do we grumble to serve the Lord? As we think about this, let us remember where we started—that God possesses all authority and that He is pleased to rule us through the hand of others. So, the hand that rules us is the hand of God.
May we have submissive spirits to obey, not with eye-service as men-pleasers but as unto the Lord.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the authority of Jesus Christ, who rules over all things in heaven and in earth. We thank Thee for the authority of His Word and we thank Thee for the rule of His Spirit that softens our hearts. We pray, soften our hearts by this word, too, that we may be willing to follow Thy way and even to submit ourselves to those whom Thou dost place in authority over us. In this way, Lord, give us peace in our relationships. Help us to be those who are willing to show the genuineness of our love for Thee by loving others, whether they be worthy of it or not. We pray this, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,