The Fifth Commandment
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”- Deuteronomy 5:16
Everywhere around us, Western pop culture tells us that youth is grand and that our elders have little to offer. Fathers are often portrayed on television and in movies as clueless at best and downright stupid or ignorant at worst. Old age is seen as something we must fear, a fate we must postpone at all costs.
How different is this from what God’s Word tells us about our elders. From Genesis through Revelation, we are taught in various ways to respect our parents, that it is good for godly people to reach a ripe old age, and that our elders and duly instituted authorities are to be obeyed (Gen. 25:8; Lev. 19:32; Prov. 20:29; Zech. 8:1–8; 1 Peter 5:1–5). This is because God Himself has established all authorities, even the rulers of nations (Acts 17:22–27a). Ultimately, our Creator’s moral law establishes this principle. The fifth commandment, revealed in today’s passage, is the foundation upon which respect for elders and authorities is built, as question and answer 105 of the Heidelberg Catechism indicate.
God calls us explicitly to honor our parents because the family is the foundation of human society. Before sin entered the world, parents were to raise children to glorify and serve the Lord (Gen. 1:26–28). The need to honor authorities is not a consequence of the fall; rather, the command to obey those over us reflects the way in which God has ordered His universe. At the top is the Creator, and under Him are authorities who are to obey Him, primarily mothers and fathers. Under parents are children who must obey their fathers and mothers as they obey the Lord. If sin had never entered creation, this structure would have remained. Thus, if children do not honor their parents, all other earthly authorities will collapse. We see empirical proof of this every day in homes where children are not required to obey their parents, neighborhoods where fathers are absent, and many other places.
Certainly, only God’s authority is absolute. Nevertheless, that does not deny the proper role of earthly authorities such as parents, supervisors at work, government leaders, church elders, and others whom God puts in place for our good. We do not honor Christ when we do not obey directives from those over us that are reconcilable with biblical commands and teachings (Eph. 6:5–8).
John Calvin writes, “We should look up to those whom God has placed over us, and should treat them with honor, obedience, and gratefulness.” He goes on to say that this entails “that we are forbidden to detract from their dignity either by contempt, by stubbornness, or by ungratefulness” (Institutes 2.8.35). There are many subtle ways we can break the fifth commandment. Let us not be guilty of this great sin but instead honor our authorities as unto the Lord.
Passages for Further Study