The 5th Commandment; Honoring Father, Mother, and All in Authority

March 3, 2024 / No. 4235

Dear Radio Friends,

We have learned that the first table of God’s law requires love for God. We turn now to the second table of the law, regarding love for the neighbor. Here too, we are being taught how to love God; we love God also by loving His other children, our brothers and sisters in Christ. If I love my father and mother, I must and will learn to love my brother and sister.

The first commandment of this second table requires us to honor our parents and all in authority over us. The fifth commandment reads: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” This first commandment of the second table teaches us two things: first, the home is the basic unit of society; the command regarding our view of authority specifically regards father and mother. Second, how we conduct ourselves in our home, and how our parents raise us, affects how we will live in society. Anarchy and rebellion in society, with each seeking his own, often reflect how the children were raised.

So this commandment is foundational to the rest. All love for the neighbor proceeds from understanding this truth.

The child of God, and members of the church of Christ, have higher motives to keep this commandment than merely its benefit for society. God gave us our parents; by honoring them, we love our heavenly Father. God recreated us in Christ; by honoring our parents, we manifest His grace. And, as this is the first commandment with promise, God gave the promise and brings it to pass; by obeying this commandment, we show that we are seeking His blessing.

So in school today we will be taught the fundamental principles that underlie this commandment, then see what is at the heart of it, and be taught to look to Christ for both an example of obedience and the power to obey. We will examine this commandment in light of Christ’s instruction in Mark 7; we will read the pertinent passages presently.

Fundamental Principles

The basic premise on which this commandment rests is that God possesses all authority. When humans have some degree of authority, that authority came from God. The human is called to use his or her authority in a God-like way.

Authority is a spiritual power to govern others, to make reasonable requirements for others, and to pass judgment on those under their authority.

Emphatically, authority is a spiritual power. The authority of the parents is not rooted in their size relative to the child; it is not a physical power. When the son becomes a six-foot-tall young man weighing two hundred pounds, and the mother is a five-foot-four slim woman, the son is still to honor his mother as an authority.

Authority comes from God; we don’t take it ourselves. For God’s is all authority. Not only did He create the worlds by His own divine power, but in creating He determined how each creature should serve Him. His is ultimate and all authority. He never gives up His authority, but He does distribute it, in measure, to earthly people.

First and foremost, He gave authority to Jesus Christ to carry out the Father’s will in saving His church. Christ alone had authority to become man, to suffer and die on the cross to satisfy God’s justice on account of our sins, to rise the third day, to renew us and live in us to glorify Him. Christ also has authority in the church; pastors, elders, deacons, and any others who serve the church must remember that they were given this position by Christ, and must answer to Him.

And He has authority in the world and state. As the savior of the church, Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation and history. He puts men and women in positions of authority as He pleases. When a man and woman have a child, God made them parents. So we read in Ephesians 6 that fathers are to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. When a governor or president, a member of any legislative or judicial body, is put in office, God gave them that office. We read in Romans 13, “there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” There the word power has the idea of spiritual authority. When a person starts a business and hires people to help him carry it out, God gave him that position. We read in Ephesians 6 that masters are to treat their servants in the realization that their Master, Christ, is watching.

While He was on earth, Jesus Christ both lived and taught these principles. He knew that Joseph and Mary, the chief priests and rulers of the Jews, and Pontius Pilate had authority over Him. At times He questioned their use of authority, but never whether they rightly had authority. He knew that it came from God; He said to Pilate (John 19:11), “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” He understood that His own authority to save, and to judge, came from God. And when He ascended into heaven, He expressed that He gave authority to His disciples–an instance of His delegating authority to others.

This principle underlies the fifth commandment: all authority is God’s, comes from God, and is to be used in the service of God.

The fifth commandment does not use the word “authority,” but it does refer to the fact of authority: it refers to father and mother. Nor is the commandment limited to our view of father and mother. Scripture commands us to honor the king (Rom. 13, I Pet. 2); to honor our elders (I Tim. 5); and even to honor widows and the weaker members of the body. When the fifth commandment commands us to honor father and mother, it does so in a figure of speech called metonymy: father and mother, being the most basic authority, represent all authority.

The duty required of us is to honor them, to hold them in high esteem, to value them. Imagine an old scale, one that measured weight by putting a pound weight on one side, and sugar or salt on the other side of the scale. Well, if you put father and mother on one side of the scale, how large a weight would you have to put on the other side to make it balance? To think lightly of them, not to think a very great weight is needed, is dishonoring them. But view them as weighty, as necessary and beneficial, as worth their weight and more in gold and diamonds! And honor Christ as Savior and Lord in the same way.

Similarly, the commandment implies that those in authority have duties. Various Proverbs, Ephesians 6, and Colossians 3 indicate that the duties of parents are to teach, instruct, admonish, rebuke; the duties of government, according to Romans 13, are to rule well and punish evildoers; the duties of masters (employers) are to provide fairly for their servants (employees). All in authority are to do so in the fear of Jehovah God, before whom they will stand.

Already, we see how sinful we are. Regardless of in what sphere we are under authority, we are prone to demand our way, and force our parents, or our employers, to do as we please. And those of us in authority often want to use authority for our own advantage and purposes. But God says to Israel of the Old Testament, and now to His covenant people in the New: I have saved you from sin’s bondage; you are to live differently from the world around you, as a people who have a new life in you: serve Jehovah your God, by honoring your authorities, and by using your authority in His service.

Christ’s Specific Application

Christ, our great teacher of the law, gave a specific application of this commandment in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. The occasion was the question why Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating bread. The washing of hands was one of many rules that the Pharisees had imposed on the Jews. The Pharisees invented the rule, not with a view to good hygiene, but considering it to be a sign of holiness. Many other such rules made they.

Jesus’ answer was that the washing of hands, pots, and the like was a tradition of men; God did not require it. But God did require obedience to the fifth commandment–and this the Pharisees ignored or downplayed! For the duty of the child is to honor his parents, and one application of this duty is that grown children support and care for their aged parents. The Pharisees, however, had another idea. If you had a savings account from which you could care for your parents, but if you designated the entire savings account as a trust fund for religious purposes (the idea of the word “corban” in Mark 7:11), so that you did not use it to support your parents, the Pharisees said that you were exempt from the requirement to honor them in this way. And this, Jesus said, was a refusal to obey God’s law in the fifth commandment.

This application of the law of God teaches us at least three lessons. First, although we have social security, and retirement homes, and other means by which the elderly are cared for, let us remember the need to provide for those of our own family who are aged or sick. Paul drives home this point in I Timothy 5:4-8 as well: one who does not care for his own parents or family is worse than an unbeliever.

Second, how quickly we make excuses for disobedience, and think those excuses are plausible! How able we are to invent tricks by which we think we skirt the requirements of the law! But God sees through those tricks; as Jesus exposed the error of the Pharisees, so God will expose our error.

Third, how serious a matter is the keeping of the entire fifth commandment. The Old Testament law required that one who cursed his parents—that is, despised or treated them lightly—be put to death. Today too, God will judge and punish those who do not love their parents, and who do not carry out their duties toward those in authority over them.

We saw already that we sin against this commandment easily; now we see that our sins will bring on us God’s wrath and curse! Our only hope is in Christ.

Christ’s Saving Example

One reason why our hope is only in Christ is that He is perfectly righteous; He obeyed the law of God perfectly, including this commandment. He honored his parents; Luke 2:51 tells us that as a twelve-year old boy, He was subject to them. That means more than that He did what He was told, lest He get a whipping; it means that in His heart He understood that they were His authority, and He showed Himself to be under their authority in all things. Therefore, He obeyed them. Another instance of His obedience to this commandment we find when, on the cross, He assigned His widow mother to the care of His disciple John, who took Mary to live with him after that. Even standing before ungodly authorities, such as the chief priests and Pontius Pilate, Jesus acknowledged their authority over Him.

Some suggest that Jesus did not honor Mary when, on several occasions, He called her “woman.” However, in those instances He was showing that His relationship to His heavenly Father superseded His calling toward His mother. It did not cancel out his calling to honor Mary; rather, it came before that calling.

Christ’s obedience to His heavenly Father led Him to the death of the cross. Had He not been subject and obedient to God; had He, like a child naturally does, sought himself, He would have refused. Why should He die, when He did nothing wrong? But He knew why this was His Father’s will: God put on Christ the burden of our sin and guilt, and Christ must die on the cross to satisfy the Father’s justice. He did so, willingly, and so bore God’s wrath in full. It cost Him His life. But then He arose again, the victor, and the one who obtained salvation for us.

If the earthly example of Christ’s obedience to His parents is part of the gospel in this regard, the resurrection of Christ is another part. For Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, takes up residence in His people, giving us spiritual life and ruling in our hearts, so that we have the spiritual power to follow this example.

Let us drive home this point. Children, particularly those of you who live at home with your parents, to honor them requires you to obey in all matters, and as they require. To do what they told you to do is not enough; if they told you how to do it, you must also obey in that regard. To forget what they command you is itself failure to submit perfectly to them. When they punish you justly for doing something wrong, you are to bear that punishment, understanding that you deserved it, and realizing that, properly done, punishment is intended to correct. And you are to be faithful to them, to care for them, to assist them.

Adults, we are to do the same. Toward pastors, elders, and deacons in the church, we are to be subject. When the policeman signals us to pull over, we are to do so. In the courtroom, we must acknowledge the authority that the judge has. We must understand that our president, and our governor–not just the position of president and governor, but the specific people who fill that office–are there for a reason. And we must pray for them, honor them, and bear patiently with their weaknesses.

For they have weaknesses. In no way does the keeping of this commandment presume that our parents, church authorities, and civil authorities are in every instance being godly. In fact, some times they are unbelievers! Paul in Ephesians 5, and Peter in I Peter 2, address precisely this point. Even when they are unbelievers, or ungodly, we must honor them. It is possible, then, to honor them as the authority God gave us, while recognizing that they are wrong. Difficult, but possible. The power comes from Christ. He stood before Pilate, who sentenced Him to an unjust death, and honored Pilate’s authority.

But then, a word to those in authority. We are to use our authority in a way that pleases God. As parents, as church officers, as civil officers, as those who run a business, we are to remember that we serve Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. And this must affect the way we treat those under authority. Abuse of those under authority, abuse in any form, is sin. To presume that those under authority must simply do as we are told because we said; to think that they exist for our sake; to suppose that our authority allows us to speak to them and they may not express their thoughts or opinions–all this is a wrong view of authority. Authority is a spiritual power, according to which we can direct aspects of the life of others, but we must do so with a genuine concern for their wellbeing.

Now you see why it takes God’s grace in Christ, and the new life of Christ, to carry out this calling, whether we are under authority, or in authority. Only one who understands that God is sovereign, and that His is all authority, has the motivation to obey; only one who is filled with God’s grace in Christ, and love for Christ, can obey.

To this commandment, as a gracious incentive for us to obey, God adds a promise of long life. For Israel, that idea was that the obedient Israelites would live many years on earth, and the nation would dwell long and at peace in the promised land. Note again: the commandment, which first of all regards conduct in the home, has such a broad application, that in the keeping of it the entire land would be at peace.

For us the fulfillment of the promise is heaven, where we will live forever. There we will enjoy spiritual peace and rest. There we will live in a kingdom; authority will not be removed, but the ability to obey authority perfectly will be given us. And there we will be subject, willingly and joyfully, to Jesus Christ our Lord, in all things!

What a beautiful promise! But we don’t earn it, nor does our obedience obtain it. Jesus Christ had to die on the cross, rise again, and ascend to heaven to prepare it for us, and He had to come to live in our hearts and souls to prepare us for it.