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Lord’s Day 39

Question 104. What doth God require in the fifth commandment?

Answer. 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.

The law of the Ten Commandments is commonly divided into two groups: the first table (commandments 1–4) having to do with our love for God, and the second table (commandments 5–10) having to do with our love for the neighbor.

Understanding the connection between these two tables (or parts) of the law is important. We must not think that it is enough to love God and that it really does not matter how we treat others. Nor should we think that all that matters to God is that we are nice to and treat people well, and that what we say and think about Him is not all that important. Rather, the Ten Commandments fit together as a complete unit, such that if we truly love God, this will show itself in love for the neighbor, and also, if we are to truly love the neighbor, we must first love God and have a spiritual concern for the neighbor (I John 3:14–17).

Principles of authority

The fifth commandment treats the subject of authority.

One of the main expressions of man’s depravity and sin in this fallen world is his resistance to and rebellion against authority. Already in the garden of Eden this was the sin of Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God’s command for them. The age in which we live is marked by rebellion. II Timothy 3 tells us this will be one of the outstanding marks of the last days, “In the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be…disobedient to parents.” This aversion to authority can be observed in every sphere of society, and that makes this commandment a very important one for every Christian.

Behind the fifth commandment are several principles:

1. God Himself, as Sovereign Creator, has all authority in heaven and in earth. The right to rule all things, and everyone, belongs to God alone. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Ps. 103:19).

2. God has invested all His authority in His Son, the ascended Lord Jesus Christ. “All power (read this as authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18; cf. also Eph. 1:22).

3. God’s rule for mankind is found in His Word, the Bible. The Scriptures are God’s revelation in this fallen world and are the supreme authority for faith (what we should believe) and for life (how we should live). “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Is. 40:8).

4. God administers His authority through others, that is, He delegates authority in our earthly relationships. There is a chain of command from God on down into all earthly relationships and each of us is under authority in some sphere of life.

Spheres of authority

Thinking about our relationships, we should ask, “How do I stand in relation to the other person? Am I in authority, under authority, or an equal?” Whatever the answer, God has placed us in that relationship.

Perhaps the best way for us to make application of this commandment to ourselves is to think of the different spheres of life.

First, and most obvious, there is the sphere of the home, where parents (both of them) are appointed to a position of authority over their children: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Further, in the home God has also appointed the man as head of his wife, another position of authority and responsibility. Parents, in their marriage, as well as their attitude toward authority in other spheres, should work to create an environment in which children learn to respect authority, and in this way are prepared for other relationships in life.

Second, and this must be mentioned for the sake of children, there is the sphere of the school, which is really an extension of the home. Because teachers stand in the place of the parents, children owe to them the same honor and obedience that they would give to their parents; should they not honor this authority, they should expect consequences from their parents.

A third sphere is the church, ecclesiastical authority. When Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls,” it is speaking about the spiritual oversight of church leaders, pastors, elders, and deacons. Officebearers in the church stand as representatives of Jesus Christ in His threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. Honor them! Obey them! Respect them and their decisions!

The fourth sphere of authority is the civil government, extending from the office of a king or president all the way down to a police officer or building inspector. Romans 13 tells us that the powers that be are ordained of God, that they are ministers of God, and that we owe them, not only taxes, but also honor.

Perhaps the most common sphere of authority for the majority of us is the workplace. The New Testament, in its explanation of the fifth commandment, often speaks of employers and employees (masters and servants). In the workplace we are under the authority of Jesus Christ as we work for somebody else. When we agree to work for someone, we pledge to them our honor and obedience, even when they are “froward” and use their authority abusively (I Pet. 2:18). We ought to approach each day of work prayerfully, with an attitude of honor and with a desire to do what will please the boss and serve him best.

There is one more, often forgotten, sphere of life in which we owe honor and respect. Leviticus 19:32 says, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord.” There was a day when and there are cultures where you would never speak ill of one who is older than yourself. We do well to remember this and to instill this in our children. What we teach them with regard to respect not only for parents in the home but even for other adults will have an impact on their ability to function in relationships and under authority later in life. Our children must understand that adults are not their equals.

What is required

The fifth commandment demands, not first a behavior, but an attitude—honor. One could, of course, obey without honor, but what God demands is a heart of love for the parent, elder in the church, boss, president, police officer, school teacher, and so on.

This love, which shows itself in honor, is contrary to our nature (we are “prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor”), and so must be developed and nurtured, not only in our children, but in each of us as we progress in the Christian life. Love always puts the other’s person, desires, and needs before our own (Phil. 2:1–5). This love includes a commitment and faithfulness that extends to the grave (I Tim. 5:8). This love bears with the sinful “weaknesses and infirmities” of the one in authority. Think of Shem’s honor for his drunk father, Noah; of David’s honor for Saul as “the Lord’s anointed”; or of Jesus’ submission to Joseph and Mary.

Though we may not obey a command that would involve sin on our part, still we must honor the authority and even accept consequences for our obedience to God rather than to man (Acts 5:29). The exception, which allows for disobedience, is not an endorsement for disrespect, dishonor, and hatred.

First commandment with a promise

If you want a miserable life, if you want a sad marriage, if you want a painful church life, if you want a fractured relationship with your parents, if you want to be in trouble with the law, rebellion is the way to go.

This is the implication of the promise attached to this command. Think of the misery of humans, from the rebellion of Adam and Eve, to the rebellion of Israel, to the rebellion today against God’s institutions and Word. Rebellion leads to a miserable existence!

At the same time, in the way of obedience, we can expect great blessing and even joy in our relationships in the different spheres of life, especially when those relationships are with fellow believers. And if our honor and obedience does not produce joy in these relationships, then we can be sure that in the way of obedience we will have peace and joy in our relationship with God.

That, essentially, is the promise of the fifth commandment. It is not a promise of earthly peace and prosperity, but points to life with God. The blessing in the Old Testament was a blessing of a long life in the promised land of Canaan. Canaan, of course, is a picture in the Scriptures of heaven. The blessing we can expect is not so much quantitative but qualitative—a blessing of happiness in our home, a blessing of peace in the church, and the blessing of heaven in which we will stand and live in the presence of God in joy to eternity.

It is doubtful that you or I often feel convicted by this commandment, but we should. How are you really doing with regard to authority in your life? As a child, do you joyfully submit to your parents? As a wife, do you happily put your will under the will of your husband? Are you patient in the workplace with the “bad decisions” of your boss? Are we patient with the politicians that God has put in authority over us? Are you respectful of the decisions that church leaders and assemblies make or that the police officer makes when he pulls you over?

Or do we grumble to serve the Lord?

As we think through this commandment, let us remember the principles—that God possesses all authority and that He is pleased to rule us through the hand of others.

The hand that rules you, in every sphere of life, is the hand of God.

May we have submissive spirits to obey, not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as unto the Lord.


Questions for discussion

1. What is the relationship between the two tables of the law? Can you find Scripture passages to help explain this?

2. Can you find at least three Bible passages that demonstrate that all authority belongs to God?

3. What is the authority of the Word of God?

4. Why is God pleased to use sinful people as the agents of His authority today?

5. Make a list of the six spheres of authority given in this article and then identify someone, in each sphere, to whom you owe honor and obedience.

6. Which of these six spheres do you least think of as one in which you owe honor?

7. How do we teach honor and respect to our children? What are some behaviors that might produce the opposite in them?

8. The following commandments (6–9) address behaviors. Why does this fifth commandment speak to an attitude (honor) rather than a behavior?

9. Why is this commandment expressed in the positive (“honor”) rather than the negative (“Thou shalt not”)?

10. Give some examples from Scripture of godly men and women who bore patiently with the sinful weaknesses and infirmities of their superiors. How are these instructive for you?

11. What promise is attached to this commandment? What did this mean for Israel? How is it an incentive to us?

12. What is your attitude toward the civil government? How is this reflected in your speech and behavior?