Mid-Lent 2 4th Commandment
During Holy Week, Jesus was under constant attack from his opponents, as they tried to trip him up and get him to say something they could use against him. After Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees took another run at Jesus as they sent a lawyer with a question to test him. The lawyer asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus said that the Law and Prophets could be summarized in two brief statements: Love God with all that you are. Love your neighbor as yourself. This parallels what we find in the arrangement of the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments – the “first table” of the law as it is often called – are all about God. The next seven commandments – the “second table” – are all about our neighbor.
As we move from the Third to the Fourth Commandment, we pass over this division. The Fourth Commandments proves to be the perfect transition between the two. On the one hand, it teaches about how we are relate to other people, and so it definitely falls on the side of the commandments the deal with our neighbor. However, these people are not just anybody. They are in fact God’s representatives, and so the Fourth Commandment also calls to mind the first three commandments.
In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther says that of the commandments in the second table of the law, the first is the greatest. He says, “God has given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it.” He says this because parents function as God’s representative with their children. Luther adds: “For God has exalted this walk of life above all others; indeed, he has set it up in his place on earth.”
The Small Catechism explains this commandment by saying that we are not to “despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” Children need to recognize that it is God who has placed their parents over them. When they obey they parents, they are obeying God. They are not to disrespect their parents or cause them to become angry due to disobedience or the way they speak to them.
Naturally, children need to serve and obey their parents. But beyond this, they need to honor, love and cherish them. They need to recognize the great blessing God has given to them in their parents. This is too easily overlooked and forgotten, and so we have the Fourth Commandment to remind us of this fact. Luther comments in the Large Catechism, “God knows well this perversity of the world, and therefore, by means of the commandments, he reminds and impels all people to think of what their parents have done for them. Then they realize that they have received their bodies and lives from their parents and have been nourished and nurtured by them when otherwise they would have perished a hundred times in their own filth.”
Of course, parents never cease to be parents, even as children turn into adults. And so the Fourth Commandment is something that guides our actions as we deal with our parents who are becoming older. We honor, love and cherish our parents by caring for them as they become less able to care for themselves. St. Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” Luther echoes this thought when he wrote in the Large Catechism, “you are also to honor them by your actions, that is, with your body and possessions, serving them, helping them and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but also with humility and reverence, doing it as if for God.”
But the Fourth Commandment does not only provide direction for children. It also tells parents what they must do. Parents have been placed as God’s representatives, and so they have duties that they are to carry out. Obviously they must provide for the physical well being of their children. Yet Luther teaches that not only are they to do this, but they are “especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God.” In fact he adds, “Therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty - at the risk of losing divine grace – first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God.” If you are parent, every other activity and interest with which you involve your child is meaningless when compared with raising them to be Christians who know and practice the faith.
Children and youth know that they do disobey their parents, and act in ways that prompt anger. As adults, we recognize that we did this as well. What is more, those of us who are parents recognize the ways we have failed to carry out the responsibility God has given us in raising our children. We have not lived as if raising our children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord is our most important job. We have placed other things ahead of this, and invested far more time, money and energy with our children into these things. I will give only one example because it is probably the greatest way this occurs – sports – but there are certainly others.
We have broken the Fourth Commandment, but Jesus Christ did not. He did not as he lived with his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph. When Jesus was twelve, they accidentally left him behind in Jerusalem when they had gone up for the Passover. After finding him in the temple, Luke tells us, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.”
Yet as the One who is true God and true man, Jesus Christ stood in another and far greater relationship. When Mary and Joseph found Jesus he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” God the Father had sent the Son of God into the world in order to carry out his saving will. He has sent the incarnate Son to be the suffering Servant – the One who would bear our sins and receive God’s judgment.
Our Lord Jesus obeyed the Father’s will and was faithful to it. In the Garden of Gethesemane as he was about the be betrayed into the suffering and death of the cross, he prayed: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath – the wrath that we deserved because of our sin. By his death he atoned for our sin, so that now we can stand before God forgiven. And then on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In the resurrection God has given us victory over death, for we will share in our Lord’s resurrection on the Last Day.
This victory that is ours through the Gospel enables us to obey the authorities God has placed as we keep the Fourth Commandment – and also to disobey if they tell us to violate God’s Word and will. The Small Catechism’s explanation says that we are not to “despise or anger our parents and other authorities.” As we live in the world, chief among those other authorities is the civil government.
God’s word is clear that we are to obey the government. The apostle Paul told the Romans: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Paul went on to say that we are to pay taxes: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
Paul tells us that we are to pray for our government and leaders. He write, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” We do this every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church, and you should be doing it in your own prayer life each day.
The government is what Luther calls God’s “left hand rule.” His “right hand rule” occurs through the Gospel as it is proclaimed by the Church. There is no force or coercion here, but only the work of the Spirit through the word about Christ. God’s left hand rule takes place through the law as it is imposed by the government. Because we live in fallen world where sinners will sin wherever they can, the government is means by which God represses and controls sin so that we can live in peace and safety. Even those who don’t believe in God become God’s means by which he does this.
The peace, security and order God provides to us through the government is a great blessing that we should not take for granted. Wherever you see a breakdown of government – or where the government refuses to carry out its duty – you see the anarchy, chaos and destruction that follows. You don’t have to look to some Third World country to observe this. Think about the scenes that played out in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, or what we saw this summer in riots inspired by Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
When the government does what God has given it to do, it is a great blessing from God. But in these times, we also see that the government can be a force that promotes things that violate God’s will. It can turn its coercive power towards the promotion of sin and evil. When it seeks to force us to accept and take part in this sin, then we must disobey the government. We say with the apostle Peter, “We must obey God rather than men.”
We must not be naïve. Powerful forces in our culture are seeking to promote an understanding of sexuality that violates God’s will. Our culture seeks to force acceptance of homosexuality and so-called “transgenderism,” and to eradicate the biblical worldview. There are those who want to use the government as the tool achieve this. The “Equality Act” currently being promoted by our president and his party is a powerful tool that, if passed, will be used to place Christians in a position where they must either deny what God’s Word says about these matters or face punishment and penalties.
When the government tells us to disobey God’s word, we must disobey the government and be willing to suffer for the sake of the truth. Our Lord’s suffering that we are preparing during Lent to remember provides the model for us. The apostle Peter wrote, “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
If God wills, we follow in Jesus’ steps as we accept unjust suffering. We can do this because we know that by his death Christ has won forgiveness for us. We can do this because we know that on Easter Jesus rose from the dead. In Jesus’ resurrection, we have the confidence of the victory that has already been won. We can live in the certainty that through baptism this victory is already ours and that we will receive its consummation when the risen and ascended Lord returns in glory.