Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents or superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and esteem them.
In the Large Catechism Luther observes that “The thoughts of this commandment are plain and simple words, and everyone thinks that he already knows them well. So he passes over them lightly, fastens his attention on other things, and fails to perceive and believe how angry he makes God when he neglects this commandment, and how precious and acceptable a work he does when he observes it.” (LC 1:140) Luther points out that “honor” includes not only love but also respect, humility, and modesty that is directed at the estate or vocation of parenthood. We are to obey our parents as we are to obey God because He has placed our parents over us. God serves us through our parents and they are worthy of the same type of honor (except worship) which we are to show towards God in all our thoughts, words, and actions. And even though parents fail at times, they are not to be deprived of their honor because of such failings.
What is meant by parents? God uses the fourth commandment to establish rule and authority on the earth. All earthly power stems from the estate of our parents. It includes parents by blood, parents by adoption or guardianship, it includes parents of civil realm…city, state, and federal government, and it also includes our spiritual fathers who watch over our spiritual care and feed us with God’s Word.
What have we received from our parents? Most significant of all is life. We have been given food, shelter, and clothing, we have been and are being educated. A God-fearing education is the responsibility of parents…not the Sunday School or public education. As children we are to expect to be reared in a God-pleasing and God-praising manner. An education that lacks a solid foundation upon God does more harm than good because it undermines who God is. Children have a right to expect their parents to act as the arm of God by training them and disciplining them through His word. It is God who has given children to us parents to care for and to bring up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. That responsibility falls on our shoulders as parents.
As apt as we are to fail at following the fourth commandment it is the only commandment with promise clearly stated; “That it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” (Eph 6:2-3) It is through the arm of obedience to our parents, superiors, employers, civil authorities and our spiritual authorities that we are provided for. God uses each one of these estates as a means through which he provides life and abundant blessing…instead of cursing. If we would only listen and be persuaded that works of obedience are pleasing to God, we would be so overwhelmed with our blessings that we shall have all our heart’s desire. But we cannot comply. Everyone does what they please and the world is full of shame, misery, and murder. We simply think we know better than our superiors and we set an example for our children not to obey.Yet, that did not stop Christ from obeying all those in authority over him. As a child he went with Mary and Joseph and was subject to them…and even then he was about His Father’s business. All the way to the cross he was about His Father’s business…not for His own benefit or the benefit of His Father, but for our benefit He willingly obeyed even to the point of death. Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that we would not have to suffer eternally for our inability to live up to the demands of the fourth commandment. May we, through the love he poured out on us, strive to honor all those in authority over us. Amen.