Previous article in this series: December 15, 2021, p. 139.

We have been exploring the topic of authority. We have learned that authority is the right to rule. We explained that God has all authority, has conferred authority upon Jesus Christ according to His human nature, and through Christ has bestowed upon certain people the right to rule. Those people on earth to whom God has given authority include parents in the home, and the husband as head of his wife; teachers who stand in the place of parents; officebearers in the church; government officials on the national, state, and local level; employers in the workplace; and the gray head.

We have also answered this question: What sin does God forbid for those who are under the rule of others (negative prohibition)? We took the time to unpack what sin against authority is, how it reaches back to the beginning and continues into the present day, and how serious it is.

In this final article of our brief series, we intend to answer this question: What attitude and behavior does God require for those who are under the rule of others (positive requirement)? There are multiple words we could use to fill out what God positively requires of us in the fifth commandment, but we will use four words under the acronym “S-H-O-P”: Submission, Honor, Obedience, and Patience. You might remember that these four words are used in the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the fifth commandment, although in a slightly different order: “That I show all honor, love, and fidelity to my father and mother and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction with due obedience; and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand” (Lord’s Day 39, emphasis added).

First, the “S”: Submission

Submission is an attitude of consciously placing yourself under those in authority. Submission is to have or hold those in authority above you or over you. You will find an example of submission, for instance, in the well known chapter on the government, Romans 13: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (v. 1). Those in authority occupy a position above you, in the sense that God has given them the right to rule over you. Submission is an attitude that recognizes this place that the magistrate, parents, teachers, or other authority figures have.

Importantly, submission is an attitude. It is something inside you. Your parents are not first of all concerned with what you are saying and how you are acting, but with your heart. Notice that we did not start in this article with how you must outwardly behave in obedience to the fifth commandment—although such behavior is not unimportant. But we begin with your attitude, because your behavior will flow out of that attitude. Later we will address the calling to obey authority, but obedience that does not proceed from the heart is no obedience at all.

Young people, we do well to ask ourselves if we are submissive. In that intense discussion I had with dad and mom the other day, was I seeing them as above me? When my parents brought that stinging rebuke, did I submit to that correction? When I was huddled with my friends at school and we were talking about the teacher, was that talk issuing from a heart that recognized the God-given position of that teacher? What is happening in my heart?

Second, the “H”: Honor

Honor is an attitude of respect, as the word “honor” itself indicates: the biblical word means heavy, weighty. After all, those in authority are appointed by God to the place they have above you. Honor is something inward, a matter of the heart—in that respect, like submission. Honor exists alongside of submission. The fifth commandment uses the word “honor”: “Honour thy father and thy mother…” (Ex. 20:12).

Envision yourself entering a courtroom. As you walk in, there is the judge robed in black, distinguished, with gavel in hand. You know that he will decide your case. The atmosphere is solemn. How is it that you address the judge? “Your honor”—a term of respect, a verbalizing of the fact that he is weighty. And that is how you ought to view those whom God has set over you: as weighty in their God-given position, someone to be respected.

Here, too, we ought to do some heart-searching. In the home, where honoring authority must first be learned, am I viewing my parents as an annoyance, two people to be “waved away” like a pesky insect? Is my attitude toward my father and mother rather dismissive, so that I hardly look them in the eye, respond with some mumbling when they talk to me, and usually just ignore their instructions and admonitions? Broadening out from the foundational sphere of the home, is there a respect for teachers, for officebearers, and for the boss at the part-time high school or college job? Again, what is happening in my heart?

Third, the “O”: Obedience

Obedience is to hear what those ruling over you say, and then actually to do what they say. Submission and honor are on the inside, in the heart, having to do with your attitude. Obedience is on the outside, what flows from your heart, having to do with your behavior. Submission and honor are the roots underground, and obedience is the beautiful flower that springs up from those roots. Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” True obedience is immediate: doing what one is told quickly, without delay, and without having to be told two, three, or four times. Genuine obedience is cheerful: not accomplishing a commanded task with a huff and a puff, but with a willingness and gladness that spring out of a heart of genuine submission and honor. Are you hearing your parents and your teachers? Actually hearing them? That’s where it starts. And then, are you doing what they say, right away and happily?

One exception to this is that you may and must disobey when someone in authority asks you to do something sinful. In that case, you must obey God rather than men, as is the principle of Scripture. It may be that a dad, a mom, a minister, an elder, or a teacher asks you to do something wrong, perhaps something even very evil: you may and must not do what they say. If it is serious enough, you should report it to another adult that you trust. But even when there is such disobedience, there must always be submission—that is, even when you may not do what someone tells you to do, you still may not exalt yourself against them in rebellion.

Fourth, the “P”: Patience

The reality is that those by whose hand God is pleased to govern us are sinners. There is no question, young people, that your parents (and others in authority) have weaknesses and infirmities. Do your parents shout at you? Do they have an unrighteous anger that occasionally flares up? Are they at times inconsistent, so that what they say to one sibling is different than what they say to you? Do their lives sometimes not match the lives they tell you to live? Does mom have that annoying thing about her, and dad that other thing that aggravates you? Surely, you can answer “yes” to all those questions.

My point is not to make light of these sins—parents and others in authority must repent of their sins. But, rather, my point is to remind us that we must be patient with our parents, our teachers, and others. You are a sinner, are you not? Then you can understand that those by whom God is pleased to govern you are also sinners. Do not become irritated with them, speak disrespectfully to them, or give them the eye-roll. Bear patiently with them! Even when they rule in a manner that is marked by weaknesses and sins, this does not relieve you of the submission, honor, and obedience to which you are called. And when that exasperated sigh is about to leave your mouth or your tongue is ready with its fiery words, you might just consider praying for your parents!

S-H-O-P: Submission, Honor, Obedience, and Patience— a high calling, one that we fall short of daily! Run, every day, to that tree where the Savior was suspended. The Savior, whose entire life was wholly in line with the positive requirement of the fifth commandment. The Savior, who suffered inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies for our failures to submit, honor, obey, and be patient. Weighed down with the guilt of our sins against God, we pray, “Forgive us, Father, for all the times we have not done what Thou hast required. Graciously pardon, for Jesus’ sake!”

S-H-O-P: Submission, Honor, Obedience, and Patience— a high calling, for which we need the grace of God daily. Pray for that! We need this grace of God, for Satan hurls his temptations at us: temptations to think and behave exactly opposite of the positive calling in the fifth commandment. We need this grace of God, for we live in a world that shouts another message, the opposite of S-H-O-P: not submission, but rebellion; not honor, but dishonor; not obedience, but disobedience; not patience, but impatience. We need this grace of God, for we have that in-house enemy, our sinful nature, which is anti-authority. It is only by the sovereign, powerful grace of God that we can have a beginning in submitting to, honoring, obeying, and bearing patiently with our parents and all who are over us. By the grace of God that flows from the cross, and in thankfulness for that cross, we seek to obey the positive requirement of the fifth commandment.