Text: Fourth Commandment
“Honor your father and your mother,” the Lord said on Mount Sinai,“that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” With these words the Lord moves us into what we call the Second Table of the Commandments. If you imagine Moses coming down from the mountain with the two tablets in his hands, normally we’d picture the first three Commandments on one tablet and the remaining seven on the second tablet. The first three commandments deal primarily with the vertical relationship between our God and us. So far we’ve learned that we should fear, love in trust in God above all things. We should use His name only for the purposes He’s given it – to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. We’ve also learned that we should be faithful in hearing God’s Word and receiving His Sacrament.
The Fourth Commandment directs us outward horizontally to our neighbors, starting with those closest to us: our parents. In this Commandment, God teaches us to love and cherish those He sends to care for us. Let’s go ahead and read the Commandment together: “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
The place to start with this Commandment is its very first word, “honor.” In some ways, it’s maybe not the word that we would expect there. What we might expect to find in this Commandment is the word “love.” Elsewhere in Scripture we are taught to love our brothers and sisters, to love “the brotherhood” our family in faith, and, of course, to love our neighbors as ourselves. But, here we are commanded to honor our father and mother. Honor implies a step beyond loving. It includes love, to be sure, but also cherishing, obeying, supporting, loyalty, and so on. In fact, honor is about the word you’d use for God. Yet, the Holy Spirit uses it for our parents and later in Scripture for employers and governing authorities. (We’ll come back to that later.)
The Lord teaches us to honor our parents because He gives us our parents to stand in His stead. This is their vocation, to care for us as the hand of God in our lives. When our parents provide for us: when they feed us, house us, clothe us, change our diapers, encourages us, pray for us – this is God caring for us through them. Therefore, God would have us honor Him by honoring those He sends. This commandment teaches that we should fear and love God by honoring, loving, and cherishing our parents; by being obedient to them. This is not for the sake of our parents and not because they deserve. Sometimes our parents don’t deserve our honor. But, God teaches us to honor our parents, because it is He serving us through them.
This Commandment also includes other types of “fathers” and “mothers” that we encounter in this life. Scripture speaks about other vocations as being sorts of fathers. These include teachers, employers, and the governing authorities. The first institution that God created is the family; first, with the marriage of Adam and Eve, then with the birth of Cain and Abel. Family is the primary instituted order in creation, and other authorities derive from it. The primary responsibility for the education of children falls to the parents, but in carrying out that duty they often rely on teachers in school. The Fourth Commandment teaches us to honor our teachers as we would our parents.
When we leave home as adults, our employers become a sort of “father,” to us. They provide for our earthly needs through the wages given. We should be obedient to them as well, for God provides for us through them. God also grants us many good things through earthly governments. He offers us protection and stability in life and work. Our Lord teaches us to render unto Caesar what is his. St. Peter also teaches this, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him.” Beyond teachers, employers, and governments, there are also spiritual fathers placed over us – our pastors. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that as their pastor, he acted as their spiritual father. He said, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” It is the pastor’s job to watch over and care for our souls. Therefore, we should honor God by giving them due honor as well.
Thus far, we’ve spoken only about actions directed from us to those whom God has placed over us. These people, whether teachers, employers, rulers, or, especially, parents, are instruments of God in His care over us. Therefore, we honor God by honoring them. We should also speak about this Commandment directs parents toward their children. Though the specific words aren’t included in the Commandment, the duties of parents are spoken about in many other places in Scripture. A parent’s responsibility, first and foremost, is to see that their children are brought up in the fear of the Lord. Above all things, parents should strive and labor to see that their children enter through the narrow gate. After that, of course, all bodily necessities should be provided for. Also, children should be educated. The education of children in general subjects is pleasing to God, for by this they learn how to be of service to their neighbor. The Commandment teaches children to honor their parents, but it also means we should be parents worthy of said honor.
This also includes that, if we are teachers, we should be good teachers. If we employ others, we should be good employers. If we are placed in positions of civil authority, we should seek to provide for those beneath our care according to God’s Word. St. Paul points out that this commandment is the first with a promise, that our days may be long in the land the Lord has provided. That His blessings may continue to rain down on us, the Lord teaches us in the Fourth Commandment to love and cherish those who care for us, since He serves us through them.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, from whom all fatherhood on earth is given: give unto us gratitude for the gifts of parents and others in authority and the humility to serve, obey, love, and cherish them as they fulfill the duties and responsibilities You have assigned to them in this life; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.