Exodus 20:12 - Honor is a Calling
August 3, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 20:12–20:12
[Exodus 20:12 - "Honor is a Calling"]
All people are equal before the LORD but not all have the same role. No Christian is free to impose his or her will on another. But our Savior calls some to exercise authority over others; he sets some for his people to follow. Like shepherds of the church toward God's sheep and like parents toward their children, God calls some to positions of authority-under-his-authority. And like children toward their parents, like God's sheep toward his under-shepherds, God calls us to be under-authority-to-those-under-his-authority.
And that rails against our nature.
[Pray - Blessed are you, Lord of all creation. You spoke in the beginning, and all things came to be. You spoke, and your Word came to live with us, full of grace and truth. Bless this place where we would now hear your voice. Bless this place where we would hear your story. As we listen, may our ears be tuned to your voice. As the Word is spoken, may you speak to us by your Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.]
[Read Exodus 20:1-12 for context]
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12)
Right here at the start - I want to say up front that - I understand how many of us have difficult relationships with our parents. Some of us carry in our bodies deep wounds from those who were supposed to protect us, who were supposed show us what it means to walk with a faithful Savior. And we're going to talk about what that means for us in regard to this command. But I want to acknowledge from the start that for many of us, things aren't even close to the way they're supposed to be in our families - our biological ones and often our spiritual ones, too. But take heart that there is more grace in Jesus than we know. And there is hope that tomorrow won't be the same as today because our Father is at work through his Spirit, conforming us to the image of the Son.
There's hope right from the start because even though we are confronted with the fullness of the Fifth Commandment and even as the command reveals the depth of our rebellious nature, we hear in the Gospel of Jesus the greater grace of our Savior. By his death and resurrection he has reconciled us to God. He is the faithful Son whose obedience and honoring of God the Father is counted as ours when we confess our rebellion and trust in him. In him we are brought to God as our Father, to hear of his constant love and care for us so that even when our earthly fathers fail us, we can rest in the knowledge that he never does. But in that rest we can be gracious - even honoring - toward them. Because God has put them in the place they are. And in that place they need the same grace the Father has shown us in Christ.
So, let's talk about what it means to "honor your father and your mother." Because maybe, just maybe, it doesn't mean what we're afraid it means.
In this Fifth Commandment there is a shift. The first four commandments are summarized by Jesus (in Matthew 22:34-40) as "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." But he then he summarized the fifth through tenth in this way, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The Fifth Commandment is the starting point for how we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And what neighbor is as close to us as our own family? But as you see on the front of the bulletin (Westminster Larger Catechism, questions 123-133), the church throughout time has understood - The Lord is calling us not only to honor our biological/adoptive father and mother. He extends that call to relationships of authority in every sphere of life - to spiritual fathers and mothers in His Church as well as those outside the church who have been set in places of authority.
Now, don't let the catechism's language of "superiors, inferiors and equals" trip you up. It isn't suggesting that some people are better than others, or more loved by God than others, or more valuable than someone else. Rather, we see in his word that God calls people to different roles - positions of responsibility that impact how we interact with one another in the world, in the church, and in our families (Romans 13:7; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17). So, this is obviously a massive subject. Like each commandment, we could spend weeks on this one alone.
But for today we're going to break this down into three parts (surprise, surprise). When it comes to God's call to honor our father and our mother, let's hear about 1) The way things are supposed to be. 2) The way things are. And 3) the way Jesus is changing everything.
So, first, let's talk about the way things are supposed to be, so that we can see the goodness and beauty of the command. When those in authority and those under authority are faithful to God's calling there is health and freedom. But where it seems like the command starts by calling those under authority to honor those in places of authority, we really need to start by hearing God call to those in authority to be faithful to those under their care. We think this begins with the children, but it really begins with the parents.
That's how God designed it from the beginning, when he created our first parents and told them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth..." (Genesis 1:28). He gave our first parents the job of filling up the earth with little bearers of God’s image, little humans who would grow into men and women who knew their Maker and walked with him themselves in the cool of the day.
But even after the Fall, after humanity tried to shake off God’s authority, when God began his work to redeem this world back to himself, he began working in families, calling the parents first to faith in him. He showed Abraham that the promises were for him and his children (Genesis 17). And he told Israel, the children of Abraham, to teach their children about who he is and what he is doing to rescue the world (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). He is the Creator and the Redeemer, the God who makes promises and keeps promises, the God who rescues his people at great cost to himself and calls us to trust him. And he wants our children to know it - and to trust him themselves.
So, faithful parenthood has always been about more than mere provision of food and shelter. And faithful parenting has always been about more than providing love and acceptance and security, as good and beautiful as they are. Faithful parenting is about hearing and believing in this God then communicating his word and his work to the next generation after us. As one writer puts it, faithful parents are those who "(preserve) God's word in their own hearts and (hand) it on to their children." You can see how the same call is on all those God sets in places of authority (be they in the Church or out of it). How good would it be for all in authority to embrace The Lord and to serve those in their care in light of his mercy and grace!
What does it look like for we who are called as parents or elders (or leaders in any realm) to live like this? Well, as fathers and mothers (note the Lord's intentional inclusion of mothers in the command), it means our jobs have less to do with raising children to please us and more to do with raising children who want to please The Lord by walking with him in repentance and faith in Christ. Because the Story has gone forward since Israel's day. Jesus has come and died and risen again. Forgiveness and new life have come by his blood; the true Exodus has begun. Should we be more concerned with how our kids make us look or with how our kids walk with him? Should we be putting on them the demands of perfection or showing them what it looks like to have a gracious Savior? Or in Christ's Church, should an elder teach the flock of God to wear the mask of perfectionism or trust in mere moralism? Or is an elder rather called to proclaim the Gospel that says Jesus died and now lives for people who don't have it together? As anyone in a role of authority, our primary calling is to teach and show those under our care how to walk with our God and Savior, to trust that he loves us and means to transform us into his image as we walk with him. But how will anyone under our care understand what it means to walk with him unless they see us, hear us, watch us every day repenting and resting in him ourselves?
So, if faithful "parenthood" looks like communicating the Good News of a faithful God and walking with him ourselves first, then what does a faithful response from "children" would look like? How's that supposed to be? Well, I think we can put it simply. Children truly honor their "father and mother" (of any sphere of life) by receiving the Good News of a faithful God, trusting Christ for themselves and seeking to walk with him.
What would be more honoring to an Israelite of the exodus than their child hears what God had done for them and wants to walk with him, too? What greater joy could come to a spiritual father or mother than to hear that their spiritual children were walking in by faith in Jesus. Like the Apostle Paul toward Timothy, his spiritual child; like the Apostle John toward the flock of God in 3 John - those whose children embrace Christ for themselves can say, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4) To follow Christ, to know yourself to be a sinner and to walk with him as your faithful Savior – that is the way to we children truly honor our parents.
That's the short version of how things are supposed to be - parents modeling and communicating the truth of the Gospel; children embracing what they hear and believing it for themselves and walking in repentance and faith in Christ. That's how things are supposed to be.
But that's not the way things are – not naturally. Why? Why aren’t things the way they’re supposed to be?
What we see in the Story of Redemption is that God and his people are not naïve, thinking that the ideal is the norm. On the contrary, the Fifth Commandment confronts us with the reality that things aren't the way they're supposed to be because our hearts don't work they way God made them in the beginning. In the beginning, God established his loving authority over us and gave authority to parents to fill the earth with worshippers of God. But ever since the Fall, we have rebelled against any and all authority, first Gods, then everyone else's. Ever since the Fall, we have been lovers of self (as Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1-3). For parents, that means we fail our children because we love ourselves more than God or them. For children, it means we don't honor our parents because we love ourselves more than God or them. That dynamic, that love of self and rejection of authority permeates, breaks into every sphere of life and so we do not even begin to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
It's why we see fathers and mothers - even good ones - inevitably hurting their kids in some way, dealing with them based on love for "my reputation, my purposes, my comfort." We give them not the word of The Lord, but our words saying, "Do it because I said so." We give them not the freedom to fail but the command not to make us look bad. And that command is given as clearly in a look as in a smack.
Love of self is why we see governments concerned with consolidation of power rather than care for their people. It's why we see church leaders fleecing the flock of God, getting fat on the blood-bought lambs of the Savior.
But love of self is also why we see those of us under authority – under God’s, under the Church’s, under Mom’s authority – it’s why we see ourselves failing to honor those whom God has put over us. Because our natural selves will go one of two ways. The first is the way of open rebellion against authority, which is the easiest way to see our love of self. But the second way is seeking the approval of authority at all cost. That, too, is the love of self on display because it makes the job of the one in authority revolve entirely around me.
The way of rebellion is obvious: bitterness, willful disobedience, parent-hating and deep disdain for the things the parents love. These things aren’t just a consequence of failed parenting (though we parents should always examine ourselves to see if we have frustrated our children – and when we do we need to run back to our Savior). But this kind of rebellion happens in “good homes” where the parents have faithfully - a word that does not mean “perfectly” – faithfully modeled repentance and faith in Christ. We have to remember – we rebel because we have a heart-problem. And our children’s’ hearts are rebellious as our own.
But what about the kid who always does what they’re told? The one who’s always in church, never in trouble, always pleasing those in authority? There is a danger in people-pleasing, whether that is for parents or pastors or politicians. Remember the older brother in Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son. It was the older brother who remained outside of the party in the end. He’d tried to control his father through his obedience but found himself controlled by anger when he didn’t get what he wanted. If we’re running after the approval of a father or mother as the basis for our worth and identity, then we’ve missed altogether the purpose of parenthood – to point us to the God who rescued us in Christ, giving us a better, more secure identity in him as his beloved children.
Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be for parents or for children. We in authority naturally want what we want, which is ultimately honor for ourselves and not for God. And we under authority naturally want what we want, which is ultimately honor for ourselves and not for God (or anyone else).
And what is the result? Does anyone thrive in that kind of system? Does health or freedom or joy grow? Those in authority are frustrated messes who fail to fulfill God’s calling to point to him and what he’s done. And so, those under authority are tempted to cut them off completely, or to be content with superficial relationships, or to try to please them anyway even if our best is never good enough.
But when we hear the Gospel of Jesus, we hear that he’s changing everything. And that includes our relationships with one another in our families, in the Church and in the world. He stands as the Savior who loves God with all his heart, soul and mind. He’s the Savior who loves his neighbor – you – as himself. And through his death and resurrection he’s made the way for you and me to be counted as faithful, obedient children along with him. By faith in Jesus, the Son of God, he frees us from both rebellion and people pleasing, to begin honoring God and one another in love.
Because we have a God who works in and through and in spite of our relationships to bring us to himself. And in him, things begin to change.
That’s why Paul can move from the Gospel in first half of Ephesians and take us back into our familial relationships in chapters 5-6. Because we’ve been brought into the family of God through faith in Christ, we’re freed to step back into our own families and relationships of authority without fear. Because honoring our father and our mother doesn’t mean what we’re afraid it means. We don’t have to follow them with unquestioning obedience when their words contradict the Word of the Lord. We don’t have to embrace their opinions as our own. We don’t have to follow the patterns of brokenness they (and we’ve) inherited from the generations before us.
What we get to do instead – is to be free in Christ from anger and bitterness, even toward those who’ve hurt us. What we get to do instead – is to show grace and honor even to those who don’t deserve it, because that’s what Christ has done for us.
Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)
God the Son gave himself up as a sacrifice for our sins so that we would come to a place of honor in the Kingdom of God – so that we could become the beloved children of God. And when we set our hope in him, we then hear our Father calling us to live out our new identity in Christ. Who we are has changed. We are his children and God is our Father! And if who we are has changed, then how we act can change.
So, in chapter 6 Paul considers what that means with regard to the Fifth Commandment – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4)
In the Gospel, the commandment still stands; “Honor your father and mother….” But something has changed – and isn’t mom or dad. Those in authority remain broken sinners and failures in their calling. (Here, Paul warns fathers in particular, even Christian fathers, to remember what God calls them to do. Our calling is to raise our little ones up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord – not us.) No, for us children, what has changed is that now it isn't just you and mom you're dealing with - it's you and mom and God your Father in Christ.
So, we children – in our families and in the church – we children have the opportunity in Christ to honor those in authority over us (even those who misuse it and miss the point). We honor them by fulfilling their purpose for them as we take hold of Christ by faith. We who are under authority best honor those above us not when we do what they say, but when we do what The Lord says (even though we pray that those two things are the same). But even when leaders have missed the mark, missing the purpose of God’s call - those under care can bear them up in honor with patience by following our Father in faith anyway. And we can honor them by bearing with their weakness and praying for them, that they would find the same acceptance and freedom and peace and health that has found us in Christ.
So, yes, honoring our fathers and our mothers means listening to them when we’re little. And we can talk about what it might mean for when they’re old. But in the call to honor our father and our mother, to honor those whom God has put over us, we have to remember their purpose. They don’t exist to define us. They don’t exist for our approval. They don’t exist as our judges or as the source of our identity.
They exist to point us to the one who does define us, who gives us a new identity in Christ. And whether they do it well or do it poorly, God is powerful enough to use them to lead us to himself. And as we come to him by faith in Jesus, the Son of God, he tells us we already pleasing to our Heavenly Father. We have his loving approval. We are his beloved children, rebels reconciled by the blood of the Beloved Son. And as his children, God says to you what he said of Christ himself (in Luke 3:22) – “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
That’s the Gospel of Jesus that changes everything. That’s the Good News that tells us the blessing promised to the obedient children has come even to us. Because if we are counted as faithful in Christ, if we are counted in him as those who love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (starting with our fathers and our mothers) then yours is the promise that it will “go well with you…that you may live long in the land.”
That promise took Israel’s eyes off of what was in front of them, looking beyond mom and dad to the horizon, toward Canaan. That was the land where they were to live with their God as his people. But this promise to you is a better hope, a fuller hope. Because it lifts your eyes beyond today to your Promised Land, which is coming soon when Christ returns bringing heaven and earth together. So, what can end poorly for you, child of God? Though we suffer many things today, it will not always be so. And when your Father returns, you will live forever with him in full acceptance and great joy in Christ.
[Transition to the Lord's Supper]
That’s the hope and the promise this meal holds out for you to embrace once again. And you take hold of the promise as you cling to Christ, who gave his body and his blood to cleanse us of our sin and to pay the price of our adoption. We come to this table to eat with our God, our Savior, our King – our Father – who loves us and gave his Son so that we might become his children. And that is what we are – the children of his choice – and your Father will never let go of his own.
So, come and eat, you ransomed children of God. The body and the blood of the Savior has already been given. He finished the work. He opened the door, his own flesh, so that we might come in to the household of God – slaves no longer but sons and full heirs with Christ. Eat and drink confessing your unworthiness with me, but eat and drink resting in your faithful Savior’s love for you, his brothers and sisters.
[Pray – Father of Mercies, in your word we hear how you sent your Son to win us rebels back as your children. And for Christ our Brother who died and rose again, we praise you. For your Holy Spirit who testifies to our doubting hearts that you have made us your children, we praise you. And we would praise you all our days, Triune God, both now and forever in the new heavens and new earth you are preparing for your children to fill with your worship. Help us now, we pray, to turn more and more outside of ourselves in love toward you and love toward our neighbors, especially those in our own families and church and community, to grace them with the grace you have given to us in Christ. And be pleased, Father, to use our best (though faltering) efforts to honor others as a means of blessing them, that through our faith in Christ they, too, might see the beauty of the Beloved Son.]
[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.