Download LifeDate Summer 2021
by Pastor Dan Guagenti, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Shelbyville, Kentucky
A delightful miracle of creation is how the Lord arranged for each human to come into being. The first moment of a life was designed for pleasure and love between that child’s parents. We are made in the image of an eternal God who is love; our generation comes from an act of love. No less so, we are made in the image of a God whose three persons include Father and Son, and so none of us is made without parents.
This makes the Fourth Commandment unique, a bridge between the two tables of the Ten Commandments. The grouping of the Ten Commandments into two tables normally divides our duties toward God and man. The first several commandments direct our relationship to God, while the last commandments seem to focus on our relationships with one another. “Honor your father and your mother” applies both to our relationship with God as our Father and to those He establishes as authorities over us.
This bridge is about humanity being made in the image of God. It is about every one of us being born with parents, just as the Trinity also enjoys the relationship of Father and Son. It is about submission to earthly authority going beyond the person with a crown or badge to God who establishes all authority.
Those who have lived under a fixed chain of authority recognize this. An order from the first lieutenant counts as an order from the captain counts as an order from the admiral and on up the chain. The lower officers have been put into position by the higher officers. Likewise, the Bible teaches, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). From the moment of your conception, God has given you parents to honor and obey.
From the moment I am conceived, a significant part of who I am is connected to how I honor that relationship. I may have two good parents, two absent parents, an adoptive parent, or several other combinations, none of my choosing. As I mature, I do choose how to honor the people who have sustained and nurtured my life. When that responsibility of parenthood falls on my shoulders, I may not have consciously chosen this blessing, but my engagement or evasion of that responsibility defines who I am to the people closest to me. The respect I offer those whom God has given me as family is respect paid to my own Creator and Redeemer.
In the Small Catechism, Luther applies the Fourth Commandment not only to our parents but also to others who have authority over us: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
Respect for God’s chain of authority holds true with the police, legislators, governors, presidents, and judges who have been placed over me. Some I may have chosen willingly, while others I may have voted against or had no say in. Still, we believe God has given them their authority. I may feel a responsibility to oppose their plans or how they perceive and execute justice, but even then, I owe them respect and honor.
When Daniel was taken captive by the Babylonians, they tried to put him on a diet of unclean foods (Daniel 1). He had reason to hate these invaders who were trying to force him to disobey God. Daniel chose to honor these new authorities and worked with them to find a solution everyone could accept (Daniel 1:8-16). Daniel’s labors of respect brought just what the Commandment promises. We honor those with authority over us “that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land” (Deuteronomy 5:16).
The Fourth Commandment is also unique in carrying with it a promise of blessing. That promise is secure precisely because it is the bridge commandment between the first and second tables. God can promise that our honoring of authorities will lead to blessing because He institutes the authorities. He can remove those He has placed, and He can certainly turn to good that which they intended as evil. But His desire is to bless us through the authorities over us, that they may be encompassed in the blessing as well. That was part of the beauty of Daniel’s solution in Babylon. His faith and respect enfolded the authorities within the blessing God was working. Indeed, this is one facet of the act of love that redeems and redefines us all. From the cross, Jesus was keeping the Fourth Commandment, too, not only submitting to Pilate, the centurion, and the Sanhedrin, but also praying, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).