Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, you are our Father, and you have given us life by our Mother, the Christian Church. We ask that you would teach us to honor our fathers and mothers. Give us grace that we might see where we have failed in this, and even greater grace to make it right. Through Christ our elder brother, Amen!
Last week we established the biblical norm that other people are God’s gift to us. And the particular people that God has given us and given us to is significant. Space and time contribute to prioritizing the neighbors that we love. Another name for this prioritizing is loyalty. This is a fairly radical sentiment in the modern, transient world.
Other People as Tradition
Other people is really another way of saying culture or tradition. When we refer to the other people that God has surrounded us with, we are referring to our people, our tradition, our culture, our fathers and mothers (Ex. 20:12), our friends (Pr. 27:9), and the friends of our fathers (Pr. 27:10). And of course our tradition and culture is made up of neighbors going back centuries, but our immediate reception and taste of that culture and tradition is incarnated in the lives of our immediate neighbors. While biblically, we are required to always use wisdom in discerning good and evil in the past, present , and future, the fifth commandment generally leans us in a direction of expecting God to have blessed us already. Grace comes up to meet us in salvation (Rom. 5:8); while we were still planning treason, God conspired to bless us. And when that grace overtakes us, it immediately causes us to look back at everything that led up to that point, all the grace that has followed us through life. The fifth commandment means expecting God to have already blessed us, and seeing that blessing in the people that have come before us. As Christians, we lean into the world with a faithful optimism concerning the past.
Who is My Father?
In Scripture, fathers and mothers are not just biological fathers and mothers. They include all lawful authorities in our lives: These authorities are fathers and mothers which God requires his people to honor. While family fathers and ruler-fathers are often the same people in the early history of Israel, the whole logic of the Covenant is that Abraham is our father by virtue of covenant loyalty (i.e. faith) (Rom. 4:16-18). Abraham and all of the “fathers” of Israel were not merely fathers by blood (though that was often the case). They were fathers of Israel by faith, meaning that they were God-appointed rulers and teachers of Israel and were to be honored as such. This begins to emerge more explicitly in the era of the kings: Elijah is the father of Elisha (2 Kgs. 2:12). Servants call their master/commander “father” (2 Kgs. 5:13). Isaiah calls kings “foster fathers” and queens “nursing mothers” (Is. 49:23). Elisha is considered the father of the king of Israel (2 Kgs. 13:14). The prophets being called father suggests that the office of prophet/teacher in Israel was considered a “fatherly” office. Thus, much later, Paul describes his relationship with Timothy similarly to Elijah and Elisha (cf. Phil. 2:22, 1 Tim. 1:2, 2 Tim. 1:2). Paul says that he and Timothy came and ministered to the Thessalonians as nursing mothers and exhorting fathers (1 Thess. 2:7-11ff). Paul says that the Corinthians have many instructors but few fathers in the faith (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul extends this in other directions as well when he encourages Timothy (and other young ministers) to exhort older men as fathers in the faith (1 Tim. 5:1). Fathers and mothers include biological parents but also teachers, pastors, elders, political rulers, and older neighbors of all sorts.
Conclusions & Applications
So who are the fathers and mothers of your people? Your fathers and mothers include people like Peter and Noel Leithart, Douglas and Nancy Wilson, Jim and Bessie Wilson, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and J. Gresham Machen, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, George Washington and Patrick Henry, Thomas Cranmer, Martin Bucer, Alfred the Great, John Calvin, Gregory the Great, Charlemagne, Augustine, Constantine, Athanasius, the Apostle Paul, Phoebe, Mary, Elijah, Moses, Miriam, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, and Adam and Eve (and of course many, many more).
So first off, this is your family, your people, your tradition, your culture. Second, as this story unfolds in time and arrives at you, it comes packaged in the persons of your immediate parents, siblings, pastors, elders, deacons, senators, governors, neighbors, and church family. This matrix of people forms the incarnation of that tradition, that story, that legacy. It represents the gospel in some ways better and in some ways worse than other traditions, but it is the family that God has bestowed upon you. And this is glorious, but there are always the temptations to apathy, despair, or revolution. Avoid them all. Love your neighbors, honor your parents, trust and obey God.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you are remaking this world, and we thank you that you have been about this mission for the last two thousand years. We thank you that in your infinite wisdom you have told our stories, which began with our ancestors long ago. Teach us to rejoice in our past even where it was rough, even where it hurts, trusting your goodness and faithfulness and teach us to see how you have been blessing us already, even before we were aware of it. And therefore give us loyalty to that story, loyalty to your goodness. Through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray singing…