Honor? Your Father and Your Mother
When I was a kid my parents had me in church groups that got me memorizing Scripture. They seemed especially happy when we would come to passages like the fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. I remember memorizing this and others like Eph 6:1-2; Col 3:2, etc.. Those passages stuck, and over the years I have found myself reflecting on them to greater and lesser degrees.
As I have had time to think about this commandment, the expansive nature of it is striking. As you start to examine it, this is not just about my parents and honoring them, but this commandment calls us to honor all those in authority over us (1 Tim 5:1-2). This commandment tells us to treat, with honor, all those who God has ordained to be our superiors. Thomas Watson says that beside our natural parents there are four categories of 'parents': political fathers (i.e. civil magistrates), ancient fathers (i.e. those of 'venerable' age), spiritual fathers (i.e. elders), and domestic fathers (i.e. bosses). Calvin puts it succinctly:
We should look up to those whom God has placed over us, and should treat them with honor, obedience, and gratefulness. It follows from this that we are forbidden to detract from their dignity either by contempt, by stubbornness, or by ungratefulness. For the word 'honor' has a wide meaning in Scripture.
As with all the law, it is easy for us to look just at the narrow interpretation of the commandment. If I am honoring my parents, I am obeying this commandment. However, what we see time and again with the commandments is that they are so much larger than what we initially think. With the fifth commandment, we are called to give the "honor and obedience" as well as treat with "gratefulness" all those the Lord has placed over us.
That is a hard calling, is it not? In a day and an age of social media, writing a quick sarcastic or scathing comment about our boss or a politician is not only easy but the norm. It is easy to look at the elders of our church and think they have no clue how to run things. The fifth commandment tells us that this is both inappropriate and sinful. We are to remember that God has placed them in authority over us, and thus they are due our respect. Calvin again says this:
[K]nowing that someone has been placed over us by the Lord's ordination, we should render to him reverence, obedience, and gratefulness, and should preform such other duties for him as we can. It makes no difference whether our superiors are worthy or unworthy of this honor, for whatever they are they have attained their position through God's providence — a proof that the Lawgiver himself would have us hold them in honor.
Now, there is a place to call out the sins of our superiors. However, even in that we are to do it with respect. Peter reminds us of this even in a time where the emperor was persecuting Christians when he says, "Honor the emperor" (2 Pet 2:17). Paul says that we are to be praying for our civil magistrates in 1 Tim 2:1. Paul is writing when the future seemed grim for him and the believers to whom he was writing. Neither Peter nor Paul are disrespectful or rude when interacting with those in power even when those in power are acting evilly with them. Their response is honor and respect.
The fifth commandment calls us to this attitude, we are to honor everyone that the Lord has placed over us. However, it is not just a command for us to honor those in places of authority, but it is a requirement for us to walk in a manner worthy of the honor that we have with those placed under our authority. Whether elder siblings, bosses, fathers, politicians, or pastors, in whatever calling we have there are people that are following us and submitting to our authority. The fifth commandment tells that we are to make it easy for that person to give us the honor and obedience due our position.
As a kid, I thought this commandment was easy. The older I get, the more I see my sin. I see that I need to repent of wickedness of my heart. I need to honor those that God has put in positions of authority. How can I say I honor God (whom I don't see), but not honor the leaders God has placed over me (whom I do see). I am reminded that this commandment has two sides to it. It is not just for my son, but it is for me. I am to walk in a manner worthy of his respect. I am to care for all of those under my charge. I am to honor those over me. This commandment calls me to repent, but it also spurs me on to righteous living with my neighbor and toward my God.
This is the first commandment with a promise (Eph 6:2). The promise is that we will be blessed if we live out this commandment. Long life is promised to all who obey this commandment. However, it is not guaranteed. One can obey and be snatched from life early. You see, the blessing may not look like a physical blessing, for Peter and Paul honored their superiors and were martyred. Ultimately, what is being promised lies in the spiritual, not the physical, reality.
The whole point lies here: we should reflect that we are promised long life in so far as it is a blessing of God; and that it is a blessing only in so far as it is an evidence of God's favor, which he testifies to his servants far more richly and substantially through death, and proves it in the reality. - John Calvin
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