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The Fourth Commandment

Exodus 20:12

Pastor James F. Wright

St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Mar 19, 2000 

"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12)

Throughout this Lenten season we are asking God to renew our faith as we study the Ten Commandments and experience the depth of Godís grace in the obedience of our savior Jesus Christ. The first three commandments have directed our relationship to God. Today we begin our study of the second table of the commandments, which inform our relationship to others God has placed into our lives.

When Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we tend to think that our neighbor is the person in the house next to us. That person is often easy to love. They donít demand anything of us, donít make us do anything for them. They would probably object if we didnít mow our lawn or parked a junk car in the yard, but neighbors generally leave us alone and donít require much attention.

But the word "neighbor" had a closer meaning in the way Jesus used it. In the fourth commandment neighbor means the people living under our roofs, to start with. "Honor your father and mother" gets us to thinking about how we are to love, honor, and cherish those who live in our house. In the three millennia since the commandment was given, the human race may appear to have learned little about keeping this commandment.

I say this because of the current problems we face in the marriage and family department. In America over half of the marriages solemnized will end in the pain of divorce. Children often get into trouble with the law, with sexuality, with drugs and alcohol, and other problems. Parents have their own problems, being torn between work and home, over extension of credit, adultery, and a host of additional maladies that break our homes apart.

These problems donít appear because we are not intelligent enough, because we are underfed, unclothed, or lack any good thing essential for life. They happen because we forget that the family is a good gift from God intended to be a blessing to all involved, father, mother, son, and daughter.

The family is the oldest and strongest institution in the world. That reminds me of a few weeks ago when I went to the paint store and had to open a charge account for the church. The application asked how long the customer had been in business. I quickly filled it out and returned it. The cashier examined it and asked me if I had made a mistake. "No, I said, St. John Lutheran Church has been around for 145 years."

The family has existed longer than any country, institution, or organization. The family was established in paradise when God brought the man and the woman together, and gave them children to raise. In this commandment God tells us to respect what he has made. We are to honor and obey our parents.

When I was a young boy I told my parents I would always love and honor them. My father had raised three boys before me, and knew better, so he said, "Son, you say that now, but when you are fourteen you will think I am the dumbest person in the world." I didnít believe him then, but he was right. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen I was convinced I knew so much more than my parents and, unfortunately, I frequently informed them of that observation.

If only we could relive those years and gain more from our parents. If we could better remember the lessons they taught us and hear the ones we wouldnít let them teach. How in our anxiousness to grow up we shut out the very people God gave us to learn from! How much weíve missed because we thought we didnít need them.

This is why God tells us in Ephesians chapter six, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

God says to the children and youth, "honor your parents." Sure, they donít know everything. Neither do you. I gave you parents to help you grow up. donít expect to grow up by yourself. Honor your parents by obeying them, listening to them, pleasing them, and loving them. Youíre right, they arenít perfect. No body is but God. But I put you in their house so that you would learn their good traits.

Parents, remember that your children arenít your friends, theyíre your children. Donít try to buy their love by not disciplining them, buy giving them every toy and material thing they ask for. They donít need another friend, they need a parent, someone who sets boundaries and limits and enforces them. Someone they can go to for advice with problems. Someone who protects them from the evil out there they donít know about.

Parents, itís harder than ever to do your God-given job today because of all the outside influences you donít have control over, like TV, friends, school, and the Internet. But God says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." That means that the family is not boot camp, where you give the orders and exact penalties like a drill sergeant. Rather, teach your children about authority, what a good thing it is.

I recently read a story about a man who interviewed his daughterís boyfriends before they could take them out on dates. One young man drove up in a nice car. They chatted about the make of car and all the work the boy had put into it. The father asked the boy if he could borrow his car. "I donít know," the boy said, "Iím really attached to it and Iíve spent a lot of time working on it. What if something happened?" The father replied, "Yes, I feel the same way about the daughter you are going out with tonight."

The manís friends asked how the daughter let him interview her dates. His daughter would never let him do that. "She trusts me," the father said. "She likes to feel protected."

Parents are Godís instruments to guide and protect his children until they are old enough to manage themselves. Parents are charged with the physical and emotional welfare of their children, but most importantly, with their spiritual welfare. In bringing children for Christian baptism, parents promise to, among other things, raise the child in the knowledge and worship of God, bring them to the services of Godís house, and teach them the holy scriptures, creed, commandments, and how to pray.

I have a dream for parents of the Christian church. My dream is that one day I would be asked to teach a junior confirmation class where the children had already been taught, through memory and application, by their parents, the simple content of the catechism and major stories of the Bible. Itís not that I donít want to do my job. But it always has a deeper impact if it comes from the parents at an early age. I say this because many times it seems that parents expect me to impart this to their children for them in that magic one hour a week I see them in seventh and eighth grade.

God only gave me one child. Sheís five years old. Lisa and I are responsible for teaching her the faith of our household. Thatís a big enough task for any couple. In fact it would be impossible without the grace of God.

God did not give me or Pastor Elliott your children, or any of the wise and diligent Lutheran teachers here. God gave them to you. You teach them the Christian faith. We will help and guide you, but this is your responsibility. Take it more seriously than anything else you do in life, for the time quickly passes and soon it will be too late.

If you think this is too hard then you are fooling yourself. Who taught your children the most valuable lessons of life? Not to touch a hot stove, not to put their finger in an electrical outlet, to look both ways when crossing the street. You, the parent did! If you taught them these lessons about life in this world, why do you think that you are not qualified to teach them the lessons of eternal life?

Parental authority is established by God and is to be used rightly. God forgive us for the times we did not obey our parents, and for the times we failed as parents ourselves. In Jesus Christ we have that complete and full forgiveness. Being a parent is tough, dangerous to your emotional welfare and the balance in your checkbook, but it is also one of the most rewarding things God places before us in life.

If God has not given you children, do not think it is because you wouldnít be a good parent. We canít guess Godís mind. But you have your part in praying for parents and children, and by helping parents impart spiritual wisdom through our congregation and community, by teaching and mentoring children and youth. Thereís alway help needed in Sunday School.

Godís authority in this commandment also extends to government, to the workplace, and the church, wherever God has placed people over us to provide for our welfare. We are to respect and obey our superiors in every level and situation, up unto the point where they ask us to sin against him. There we must obey God and not men.

Parents and other authorities are the masks behind which God our creator cares for us. We fear, love and trust in God when we respect those who we elect to office, work for, and listen to in the pulpit. At times we may disagree with them, but we must always show them honor and respect, just as we would ask our children to respect us.

For all the times we have doubted the wisdom of this commandment, and lived under our own authority, we ask Godís forgiveness. Jesus himself, who is the supreme ruler of all things, submitted to his parents, Mary and Joseph, and even to Pilate, his governor, so that we might be restored to God our Father. Now we live restored to God, and we ask him to bring peace to our families, to our country, to our workplace, and always to our church.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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