Today begins a sermon series on the part of the Catechism known as the Table of Duties. It also seemed good on this Father’s Day to cover the section about children and their duties toward parents.
The Table of Duties quotes Ephesians six: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”
Obviously, we are dealing with the Fourth Commandment, which is preached from time to time from this pulpit. It is good to remind us of some of these things, particularly in our day and age.
God has shared with parents an act of creation. It is not the same as His creation of all things from nothing. Yet it is rightly named procreation when mother and father together conceive a new human life. Through this wonderful gift of God, they make a new being who is part of the mother, part of the father. What an amazing thing! Only God creates in a more wonderful way.
Thus we all were conceived and born into a God-given relationship in which we are literally made from the substance of our two parents. How could we be joined more closely to any other human beings? There is marriage, when we leave father and mother and become one with another. In some ways, that is closer. Yet in parenthood we see more closely God’s relationship as Father to us and to Christ. He even shares the name “father” with men, and we also see His nurturing care in the tender love of a mother.
We as children must therefore have great reverence and wonder at this fantastic gift, namely, that we are given a father and mother. Here we have a wonderful treasure, that the Father in heaven sees to our needs through the agency of parents. We in turn have the opportunity to show honor to them as God’s gift to us.
Sometimes, this gift is lost. An orphan is rightly seen to lack something of exceeding value. Sometimes parents abandon or abuse children, or treat them negligently without a thought to their well-being. How hideously that contrasts with the unfailing love of God for us! The Lord help such children.
Sometimes, God gives a substitute. A mother-in-law served as parent for Ruth. Ruth held closely to her even when it meant leaving her home country to become a stranger in a strange land. This Ruth did out of love to honor her mother-in-law, who otherwise would have had no one to care for her.
In these matters we might try to split hairs in order to avoid doing our God-given duty. If some of us were in the place of Ruth, we might have said, “You’re not my real mother!” or something like that. But that is to misunderstand the thrust of our duty to parents. It is best if not compelled by force or legal obligation. Honor should be freely given out of gratefulness to God’s gift of parents.
Our honor for parents should not only be in the heart, but also in our outward actions. We have fine examples of this in Scripture. King Solomon could have insisted on his exalted position and thus recognized no one else as his equal. But when his mother Bathsheba came to him, he got up from his throne and went to meet her. He bowed down to her in a humble gesture of honor. Then he had a throne set up next to his throne for her to sit in. This is because he recognized what a treasure a mother is.
Moses was arguably the most important figure in the Old Testament, second only to God. Yet when his father-in-law Jethro came to see Moses, Moses bowed down to the ground and invited Jethro into his tent. When Jethro gave advice, Moses did not insist on his superior wisdom or boast that he had talked to God as a man talks to a friend, so why should he listen to the measly advice of Jethro? But no, Moses took seriously Jethro’s advice and followed it. Moses, for all his greatness, humbled himself before his father-in-law.
Is there a time limit on such honor for parents? When we leave our father’s house and are married and head of our own household, are we then to ignore our parents? It is the wrong question. We should freely look to honor father and mother our whole life. Parents should be hesitant to intrude too much into the matters of their children’s lives after they are outside the house. Yet when parents give advice or direction, it is a sign of a humble and godly heart to listen and take them seriously. Even after the death of parents, we honor them by following their noble virtues and instruction, rather than turning away from the good path they set for us.
This includes obedience where we can give obedience. The only exception is when parents command something against God. Even then, we should act carefully with parents, remembering to honor them even if we cannot obey.
How hard it is to love parents who are not perfect examples! But that is the wrong way to look at things. None of us are perfect. Children may think themselves wonderful examples of every virtue and wisdom. Even if they were, as Christ was, they should honor and submit to their parents. Parents make mistakes, and sin, and sometimes act strangely. But we should as strenuously as possible put a positive construction on our parents, choosing to see what is good and ignore what is bad. In this way, we act like Christ who does the same for us. So also Shem and Japheth covered up their father Noah’s shame when he stumbled, and God blessed them mightily. So patience is also necessary when dealing with parents.
We must also see to the care of our parents, especially when they grow old and less able to care for themselves. This is a fine way to honor them, but is often neglected in our day.
Why should we do all these things for parents? If we had no other reason than the commandment of God, that would be enough. But we have more. God promises long life and blessing to those who obey parents. The reverse is often true, that he who dishonors parents follows a path of rebellion that leads to destruction. Scripture has such examples, such as Absolom.
The teacher Sirach said, “Honor your father with your whole heart, and do not forget how much labor you caused for your mother. Remember that you were born from them. Indeed, what can you do for them in return for what they have done for you?” So thankfulness and gratitude should guide us.
And the godly man Tobias said, “Honor your mother all your life long. Remember the danger she withstood when she carried you under her heart.”
In Proverbs it says, “My child, obey the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the commandment of your mother. For it is a beautiful ornament for your head, and a garland around your neck.” This is an ornament of righteousness. People around you may not see the beauty of the obedience you give to parents. Indeed, they may mock and ridicule it. But even if no one else sees or praises the pious honor you have for parents, the Lord does. He will see and honor your obedience in His time.
But of disobedient children, the Lord says in Proverbs, “He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother is a shameful and cursed child.” In Exodus He says, “He who strikes his father or mother shall be put to death,” and “He who curses his father or mother shall be put to death.” So seriously does God want us to take the honor of parents! Yet it sometimes seems that our society is filling up with rebellious, violent, and foul-mouthed children. God grant better things for us and for our nation.
God help children who find themselves on such shameful paths. May He grant them repentance, lest they be repaid with dreadful punishment forever.
But for us who recognize the exceedingly valuable treasure which is parents, we are led to honor them by God’s sanctifying Spirit. Through faith, we recognize and receive the grace of the eternal Father. As He made His Son a humble and obedient Child of human parents, so by His Baptism and forgiveness we are His sons. So we will honor Him forever and ever in His glorious presence.
In the Name of this one true God. Amen.
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