Honoring Authority (Commandment #5)
HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAYS 39
What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment?
That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I obey and submit to them, as is proper, when they correct and punish me; and also that I be patient with their failings – for through them God chooses to rule us.
DEVOTIONAL: SEPTEMBER 3-9
Honoring Authority (Commandment #5)
The Catechism’s interpretation of the Fifth Commandment applies to every person in every stage of life. Every person is a product of a family. Still, its language seems primarily directed to those adults who are in the stage of raising their children. This is not surprising. Healthy family life is foundational for a healthy society. It is the place where we best learn the essential character traits and values of obedience, respect, patience, forgiveness, justice and mutual care for others. For Christians, it is the place where we learn to love God above all and to love others in His name.
The Christian approach to family life, however, must be carefully nuanced, especially as we all live with the debilitating effects of our sinful human nature. On the one hand, the Bible says very little about parenting, does not reveal a family whose example is worth emulating, and does not give a blue-print for family success. On the other hand, Christians are too quick to judge the shortcomings of those who fail to meet Biblical expectations. I believe it is most Biblical and wisest to say that families are comprised of individuals who are sinful and in need of grace. In other words, there has not, is not, and will not be a completely healthy family until Jesus returns. So, we all need a good dose of Christ-centered humility. Most judgment about the failures of others is really just a revelation of our own sins.
Nonetheless, the Catechism still provides some broad parameters for healthy family life. The key word is “honor.”
First, Christian parents are to honor their Greatest Parent, the Father in heaven. He gives us our “father(s) and mother(s) and all those in authority over” us because “through them God chooses to rule us.” That means parents receive their task from the Lord, and are to raise their children to know and serve the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4). If all we do is teach our children to bear the family name, fulfill parental desire, or be conservative, we have failed them. Children belong to God. Christian parents should love them enough to lose them to obedient service in His Kingdom (Proverbs 22:6).
Second, Christian parents are to be honorable if they expect their children to honor and obey them. They represent the Lord’s love and care by providing life’s essential necessities for health, physical well-being and tender loving care. They should provide an environment that stirs curiosity, questions, discovery and wonder for life and service in God’s world. They should provide the loving environment that nurtures good decision making that seeks first the kingdom of God. Hopefully, through the Christ-centered nourishing and nurturing they receive, children will begin to provide care to others, be wise stewards of all God’s resources in His world, live in service of His purposes, and, therefore, contribute to the development of a healthy and peaceful society. How we live as family is how we will live in all of life.
Third, Christian parents are to understand that their love for the Lord is revealed in their love for their own parents. Jesus rebuked attempts to use faith as a basis for parental neglect (Mark 7:1-20), and Paul taught that the care of widows is the responsibility of the biological family before they are the focus of the spiritual family, the Church (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Why is this important? It is important because children will treat their parents the same way they see their parents treat their grandparents. Yet God is not a God of neglect and abandonment. Therefore, whether raising our own children or caring for our aging parents, we are to bring God’s presence, promises and purpose into those relationships.
Finally, the Catechism wisely states that we are “to obey and submit,” but only “as is proper.” On the one hand, parents are certainly free to provide age-appropriate correction and punishment for wrong behavior that serves growth into maturity. On the other hand, parents should be developing their children to be independent moral and spiritual decision makers by the legal age of 18. The truth is that too many adult children still “obey” their parents. And too many parents still “say too much” to their adult children. Neither one fits the category, “as is proper.”
More could also be said about the demonic power of abuse, the indignity of gender discrimination, and the distorted “God designed” or “Biblical” roles of male and females. It is enough to say, however, that these behaviors have cultivated untold damage to Christian faith, morality and witness. It is always most honorable to the Lord to neither force His Word to say what it does not explicitly teach nor to behave in a way that impugns His will for human life. The Fifth Commandment advances legitimate authority that advances the flourishing of every child, woman and man.
There are no perfect people or families. There is One, however, who is perfect (Hebrews 4:15), who comes from our perfect Father, and who is unashamed to welcome us into His family (Hebrews 2:11). His perfect obedience and sacrifice replaces our disobedience and guilt (2 Corinthians 5:21). His temptations give us confidence to seek Him in our weakness (Hebrews 2:14-18, 4:14-16). Parents and families are not called to walk in their own strength and wisdom. They are called to walk in the wisdom (Romans 12:1-2) and grace of Christ alone (Ephesians 5:1-2). Only when we embrace the courage to stand and live in the counter-cultural way of Christ will begin to see how healthy families are foundational for a healthy society.
I hope you make these words your family motto: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7).
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn
Sunday, September 3
John Calvin stated: “We are children of a Father, not slaves of a master.” Prayerfully reflect on Psalm 103 and 1 John 3:1-3. Describe your experience of the fatherhood of God. How has His grace delivered you from sin and false masters? How does His truth give direction, assurance and hope to your life?
Monday, September 4
Prayerfully reflect on the meaning of Matthew 19:13-15. What is God’s view of children? What impact should that have on our role as parents, on our ministry in the Church, and on our outreach into a sin-stained world?
Tuesday, September 5
Prayerfully (and carefully) reflect on the meaning of Deuteronomy 6:1-25. What are the commands that we are to impress on the hearts of our children? What obligation does the community of faith have in the faith-formation of children? What sacrifices are you willing to make to pass on the heritage of faith to the next generation?
Wednesday, September 6
Effective parenting requires a loving and safe family environment where fears can be expressed, questions asked, and Biblical truth received. Prayerfully reflect on Ephesians 6:1-4. How do we best avoid the twin mistakes of license and rigidity, of either recklessly ignoring or legalistically misapplying God’s commands.
Thursday, September 7
Prayerfully reflect on 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Describe the privilege, joy and struggle in caring for aging parents.
Friday, September 8
Physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and spiritual abuse are evil behaviors that betray victims the dignity and joy of living as God’s image-bearer. Prayerfully reflect on Colossians 3:1-17. How should families, churches and communities both confront the sin of abuse and provide healing compassion to its victims?
Saturday, September 9
Prayerfully reflect on Proverbs 1:1-7. Describe how these words display the honor of the Lord in your attitudes, decisions and actions.