Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we come now to submit ourselves to your word. We recognize that we are part of a culture that has significant authority problems. We shirk our responsibilities as authorities, and we are quick to rebel against lawful authorities that you have placed over us. Teach us to submit to you and your Word hear so that we may learn both how to lead and how to follow. Through Jesus our King, Amen!
Where the first four commands are clearly related to our duties toward God, the fifth commandment is a transition commandment. It connects the first four to the last five commands. The requirement to honor father and mother is not limited to individual families but also serves as the foundation of all human authority established by God.
God as Father
The foundation of honoring our human fathers is found in the fact that God is our Father. We considered in the Third Commandment that honoring God’s name as Father means submitting to his fatherly chastisements. But this was the way God always intended for the world to work: Adam was created to be the son of God (Lk. 3). This means that God always intended for Adam to ‘grow up’ to be more and more like Him. The promise of a “seed” is a promise for God to raise up another “son,” another Adam. This promise continues to be reiterated in God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs. We have noted previously that the Exodus itself is based upon the fact that Israel was Yahweh’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:22). Later, God promised to be Father to David’s son (2 Sam. 7, cf. Ps. 89:26). Isaiah recognizes this (Is. 63:16, 64:8), as does Jeremiah (31:9). Malachi specifically likens the honor of a human father to the honor due to God our Father (1:6). Thus, while Jesus brings this point home, it was not really a new idea. Yet, it is he who makes the aim of the OC the reality of the NC. Paul says that it is specifically the gift of the Spirit that makes us sons of God and enables us to honor God as Father (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6).
But it is not enough to merely note that God is our Father and then we have human fathers to honor as well. God has designed the world to work under his rule through lawful authorities. These authorities are fathers and mothers which God requires his people to honor. While it is difficult to distinguish family fathers from these ruler-fathers, 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/king “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 (2 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).
We have noted before that Jesus makes many radical statements concerning father, mother, brother, and sisters. When his family comes to see him while he is teaching, he apparently ignores them and insists that those who submit to His Father in heaven are his family (Mt. 12:50). Elsewhere Jesus says that he came to divide families (Mt. 10:35). And perhaps most disturbing of all, the Lord says that if anyone does not hate his father, mother, children, brothers and sisters, and his own life, he cannot be his disciple (Lk. 14:26). We know that Jesus is not setting aside the Fourth Commandment because Jesus elsewhere explicitly appeals to the Commandment (e.g. Mt. 15:4, 19:19), and the Apostle Paul also plainly affirms the Commandment (Eph. 6:2). Yet, the sharpness of Jesus words cannot be set aside. Jesus insists that His family comes first; his family has priority over all other families. Paul teaches this same idea when he says that the Christian church is the Mother of us all (Gal. 4:26) in contrast to the old Jerusalem in bondage (without the Messiah) which John also calls the Mother of Harlots (Rev. 17:5). The Scriptures insist that the Christian Church is the family of God (Eph. 2:14-15, Gal. 6:10).
Conclusions & Applications
The command to honor father and mother applies first to our heavenly Father and to his Bride, our Mother, the Christian Church. It is not an accident that in an era where the Church has been considered negligible, the biological family has quickly fallen apart. This means that gathering as the people of God is central. This also means that you need to cultivate a delight in being around each other. You are family: act like it.
Honor is not merely nice sentiments. Jesus says that honoring parents has a lot to do with money (Mt. 15:4). Paul explicitly commands Christians to do good to all, especially those of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). In the same context Paul exhorts Christians to bear one another’s burdens, restore brothers in sin, and not to grow weary in doing good. This means helping with meals, caring for children, helping brothers out in hard times, correcting, teaching, and receiving all of it with thankfulness and gratitude.
None of this should be taken to imply that your own families are not part of this broader family. Honor your Father and Mother: bless your wife. Honor your Father and Mother: discipline and love your children. Honor your Father and Mother: respect your husband.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Gracious Father, we honor you now as our Father, and we bless you for giving us new life through your Son and in your bride, our Mother, the Christian Church. Teach us to keep your commandments as we honor you and your people.