Sermon: The Fourth Commandment, Feb. 25, 2007, First in Lent
The following sermon is adapted from a Sermon by Doctor Martin Luther, with some humble additions.
Here in this Commandment, God does not merely use the words "love," "obey," or "do good to." More than that, He uses the noble word "honor." He has put father and mother next to Himself and uses the word with which one honors Him.
Neither world nor pope nor Muslim have truly understood this Commandment. Their pupils do not understand, nor were ever taught, what you are being taught now.
Honor is paid to parents, not merely with the body, with bows and fancy titles. Rather, honor is paid to them by respecting them, by honoring them in word and deed and heart. For God is well aware that the world does not respect parents, especially when they perform their office, when they discipline their children and keep them from evil.
God knows that there lurks in children a poisonous resentment against parents. So He commands not only that they should obey them but also honor them. That is, children should think highly of them, not because they are strong or beautiful or well clothed, but because of the First Commandment.
When God speaks these words about your parents, He knows what He is talking about. Therefore, for the sake of the Word of God, which He Himself speaks, you should honor them. Even if your parents treat you unjustly, so long as they do not lead you to live contrary to God, you must fear God and trust Him who said, "Honor your father and mother."
The Jews and their Pharisees taught disobedience to parents as a command of God, as in Matthew 15, because obedience to their pietistic rules was more important. But when you hold your parents in honor, this honor will teach you not to let them suffer any want. But you will rather give them the best you have in the house, which God has given to you in order that you may honor them. It is for the sake of fearing Him that God wills that you let your parents be your treasure.
The meaning of the Commandment is this: Fear God and trust God in this Commandment. This is done when, for the sake of the fear of God, you do not despise, defame, or contradict your parents, but rather when you show them honor, are helpful and obedient to them, and regard them so highly in your heart that there is nothing better in your heart than your parents. God says, "If you fear Me, then you will honor your parents."
Therefore God has also added the promise: "that your days may be long." If you honor parents and serve them, then you have this promise that God will give you a long life. That is, He will give you a fine wife, or a fine husband; He will supply you with food, house, and home; you will be a fine citizen; here in time you shall have what you need.
This is why so few marriages turn out well, because they have not deserved to turn out well in the sight of God. They have not shown due honor to their parents, but rather have scorned their commandments and not feared them. This is not mere talk, but a Commandment of God, who demands it of you.
Therefore, a mother should say to her daughter: "My dear daughter, do not do this out of respect to me, but instead out of respect to Him who commands you to honor your father and mother. If you despise me, you will come to no good end. But if not, you will have a gracious God who will give you long life."
Furthermore, everything which is called "father" belongs under this Commandment. If you are a servant or employee, then honor your master like a father. In this way, the Commandment applies to you. It would not be a bad thing at all if servants called their masters and employers father and mother.
The whole world these days considers the Commandment a joke and think it does not apply to them. But if you are a worker, you owe to your boss the honor which a son or a daughter owes to a father, which means that you will not only serve him but show him honor. God knows when a servant is unfaithful to his master. Look out, you workers, and heed the First Commandment: Fear God and trust in Him!
So an employer should speak to his employees this way: Don't look to me; I'll get along all right, but God has commanded you to fear Him. If you show disrespect to God, it will not mean much to you if you despise me also. But if you are devout, pay honor to our Lord God, and serve faithfully, God will see to it that you have a good life on earth."
But the terrible conditions in the world today are surely to be attributed to the disobedience of servants. So many forget that there is One above who sees and says, "Honor your masters! I command this to you."
This applies also to the government. We should be ashamed that we do not call our government representatives fathers, or at least do not consider them as such. Our president is our father, whether he is a scoundrel or not. Likewise the governor. For God gives us sustenance and guards our homes through the government as through a father. Therefore we should so honor them, obey them, and love them that we should consider them a great treasure, and guard ourselves against rebelliousness. This is the Fourth Commandment.
We too often say, "What do I care about the governor, the congress, or the president? They're all crooked politicians." But look who has commanded you to honor parents and what He says to you! It is easy to have contempt for persons, but look to the Source of the Commandment: Fear and trust God! God has commanded that you should honor the government; even if you despise them for other reasons, you dare not do so any longer because of the Word of God.
If you do not despise them, then you have the promise that He will be your God and will give you a good life. Then we can have decent people on earth and we shall have peace. But if we do not do what God commands, we shall surely see everything full of war and unrest.
So far I have said that there are three kinds of fathers: fathers by birth, fathers at work, and fathers of the land. The fourth kind are the bishops, that is, pastors. The pope, for all his faults, has rightly called bishops and preachers fathers. For those who are true Christians, it is right that they should honor their shepherds, because they watch over their souls and administer the Sacraments to them. I shall not preach much about this, for I too am one of these.
But let me say that the Catholics, even though their official doctrine is corrupt, nevertheless have one good thing that we do not. They show respect to their priests by calling them "Father." It took me several years to get used to it when someone would call me "Father" when I would be around town with my collar on. I came to realize that not only is it not wrong, it is a way of obeying the Fourth Commandment.
I will never make this a command for you to call me "Father." I will not even ask you to call me "Father." Call me whatever you want. As long as you realize that spiritually, I am one of the authorities God has set in place, to whom honor, obedience, respect and love are due - not because of me, of course, but out of respect for God, who commands it.
In short, all that God has done to care for us through the various fathers should make us melt with love for Him. We should lift up our hands in gratitude that we have masters, a president, and preachers, through whom we have the privilege to honor God. It is not the men we show respect to, it is only to God.
You parents, on the other hand, must remember to show yourselves to be parents toward your children! For the Fourth Commandment calls you fathers and mothers, not tyrants, rascals, and scoundrels. Therefore, if you are a father or a mother, this commandment means you. If you hold some government office, or if you are anyone who ought to bear the name of father, see to it that you carry out your paternal office. You fathers, instruct your sons, that they may fear God; you employers, your employees; you officials, your townsmen. You too have been commanded. Your employees do not exist merely to do menial labor for you.
If you are not diligently concerned that your children and servants learn piety, then it serves you right if your children are disobedient and your servants unfaithful. For God does not give you your children merely to play with, nor does He give you servants for you to use them like donkeys for work. As you learn from me, your spiritual father, so children and servants should learn from you parents and masters. Remember and help to raise up good people, that you, father, may raise up a devout son, you, mother, a devout daughter, who in turn will raise up their children in piety. Thus workers will also be well trained. If you do not do this, you will have to give an account, for you are against the peace and against the people, and disobedient to your God.
Conditions are such in Christendom that unfortunately hardly any vocation knows what it is any more. It is no small thing when a young woman is well reared and becomes a good mother, who is then able to bring up her children in piety. Therefore you parents should learn that you are not excluded from this Fourth Commandment.
I have talked about the rewards God gives in this life for obedience to the commandment. But I did not speak about the rewards of eternal life, salvation, and forgiveness. These are not earned by obedience to this Commandment, or any other.
Theoretically, we would be able to earn salvation by complete obedience. If we could somehow keep each and every Commandment perfectly, then God would surely admit us to His heavenly kingdom. But we are sinners, unable to obey that well. We have not kept the Commandment well enough, nor could we ever keep them well enough, to earn such everlasting rewards.
Our obedience is too often grudging and slow. The same poisonous resentment toward parents and other authorities lurks deep down in all of us. According to our rebellious nature, we do not want to honor those whom God has placed in authority. Our flesh does not want to love God by loving them.
It is easier to judge by our senses. In other words, show honor to those who have earned that honor, not those whom God has placed in authority.
Because we cannot fully obey the First Commandment, then we also cannot fully obey the Fourth, or any other.
But Jesus our Savior obeyed it perfectly. He came to earth, the Son of God in human flesh. He was superior to all people in every way. Yet He submitted to the authority of others who were inferior to Him.
Particularly, He honored and obeyed Joseph and Mary. He did not judge by a standard of who was better or smarter or wiser or holier. He was all those things, yet He submitted to them, out of reverence to God, His heavenly Father.
This spectacular obedience counts for you. You have fulfilled the Fourth Commandment perfectly because Jesus fulfilled it in your place. His righteous submission to all authorities covers up your own rebellious nature.
Furthermore, He showed His obedience even in this: That when the government wickedly condemned Him to death, He did not assert His own rights or overthrow them or summon His hosts of angels to rescue Him. No, He submitted to their judgment, and went to the Cross, and suffered all.
For Christ, above all, obeyed His heavenly Father. Out of fear and trust for His God, Christ was willing to bleed and suffer death. Even when His obedience led Him to the greatest anguish of all, the agony of the wrath of His Father, He did not back down. He submitted to that discipline, even though it was not deserved.
Now you never need to face God's discipline in its full wrath. He will spare the rod from you, so that He can spoil you with eternal riches and blessings beyond measure. The little troubles of this life are now only the loving discipline of a dear Father.
So let us freely confess to God that we have failed to respect the authorities He has put in place. But let us all the more confess that He has forgiven us in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
In His Name above all names, Amen.
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