Summary: God gives us parents and other in authority to bless us. Therefore he wants us to honor them.
“Ginger curry and lots of tea.” That’s what a recent marathon-running hundred-year-old said was the secret to his longevity and spunk. What are some other “secrets” for long life that you’ve heard? Hard work? Clean living? Plenty of exercise? A loving family? Did you know that God shares with us the secret to long life in the Ten Commandments? The Apostle Paul paraphrased the Fourth Commandment like this when he wrote to Christians living in Ephesus: “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2, 3). With the Fourth Commandment God seeks to protect his representatives on earth - not just our parents but our teachers and governing officials too. He does this because he loves us and wants us to enjoy the blessing of a good life – a life spent growing in faith and service. You may have inwardly groaned when you saw that I was going to be preaching on the Fourth Commandment because it seems like another one of those burdensome edicts. But pay attention because God, not some eccentric centenarian, is sharing with you the secret to a good life.
The Fourth Commandment is probably the most misquoted command. God did not say “obey” your father and mother, but “honor” them. What’s the difference? We can obey someone but not honor them while we do it. For example a child can clean up his room as he’s been asked to by his mother but if he’s muttering under his breath about how mean she is for making him do this chore, he’s not honoring her is he? The word “honor” in the original Hebrew text means to “treat as heavy.” The opposite would be to “treat lightly.” God does not want us to treat our parents lightly but take them seriously. So when they give us advice about what kind of people to date, when they tell us what time we should come home, or how we can best complete that homework assignment, we shouldn’t roll our eyes as if they don’t know anything. That would be to treat them lightly, that is, to dishonor them.
God wants us to honor our parents and those in authority because this is his plan for building a civil society. God could have made it so that when we were born we would come into this world as fully mature adults. Isn’t that how it was for Adam and Eve? But since then God’s design was that mature adults would serve as his representatives to raise children to become contributing members of society and God-fearing people. To dishonor our parents is to mess with God’s blueprint for a happy life on earth – like a two-year-old purposely smearing apple sauce all over big sister’s art project. A two-year-old may think that’s funny but big sister doesn’t. Neither do our sarcastic remarks or our dirty looks shot at our parents amuse God.
But what if your parents aren’t all that great? Some are even abusive. Are we to honor people like that? Paul’s admonition regarding the honor that we owe our governing officials answers this question. Paul said to Christians living in Rome: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established... 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good... 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:1a, 2, 4a, 7). Do you remember who reigned as the governing official when Paul spoke these words? It was the emperor Nero. He actively persecuted Christians and used them as human torches to light his garden parties. And yet Paul said that even such a man, because he was in a position of God-given authority, was deserving of his subjects’ honor.
No, we shouldn’t obey those in authority if they tell us to do something sinful but even then we are to show honor. Think of how the three amigos: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did just that when they politely told Nebuchadnezzar that they were not going to obey his command to bow down to an idol (Daniel 3). What an impression that must have made on the king! He still threw them into the fiery furnace but when the three amigos came out unscathed and un-smoked, the king was eager to learn more about the God these young men worshipped. Would Nebuchadnezzar have been so eager had they cursed him as they fell into the flames?