The Fourth Commandment

 

St. Paul gives us a sermonette on the Fourth Commandment when he writes to the Ephesians, “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.” He gives this teaching after speaking about the blessed estate of marriage. Marriage is the institution created by God where He brings husband and wife together to love and support each other, for their mutual companionship, and for the procreation of children. In all things husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and wives should love and respect their husbands out of reverence for Christ.

St. Paul is laying out for the Ephesians a fundamental institution in creation – the family. He begins at the top with God. Then he moves from God to God’s representatives in the family, the parents. From the parents, St. Paul then moves to children. Psalm 127 says children are a gift from the Lord. Parents are given the responsibility by God to raise faithful Christian children, and children in return are to love and honor their parents, for mothers and fathers serve in divine offices. This is what the Fourth Commandment teaches. God has set up a structure – the family – and He blesses it with many good things. He teaches us in the Commandment that we are to love and honor Him (the First Commandment) by loving and honoring our parents.

Let us hear our text today from the Catechism, “Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? 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.” We get an opportunity today to talk about something called the doctrine of vocation. Notice – vocation, not vacation. Your vocation may be like a vacation, but more often we take vacation from our vocation. The doctrine of vocation teaches that we are all given different positions in life by God. This is also called your “calling.” We each have different abilities and talents, and having been called into the family of God through Holy Baptism; we use these talents and abilities to love and serve Him in the different stations He has placed us in life.

We all have many vocations, or another word would be “offices”, in life. You may be a mother, sister, daughter, grandma, coach, nurse, and den mother all at the same time. All of these are different ways you may express your Christian freedom and individuality, while seeking to love and serve Jesus. See, in the Middle Ages, it was taught that the only God-pleasing walk of life was to become a monk, nun, or priest. However, the true teaching is that the body of Christ is made up of many members with many different functions, and we are all called to function together to love and serve God and our neighbor. Our topic today leads us to talk about two fundamentally important vocations, or offices: parent and child.

Children come first, because that is the voice given to us in the Commandment, Honor your father and your mother. First comes the question we all ask as teenagers; Why? Why should we honor our parents? We should do so because this Commandment is connected at the hip to the First Commandment. As we love and honor God, so should we honor His representatives, our parents. God has placed upon parents the divine responsibility of raising Christian children: feeding them, clothing them, housing them, training them in righteousness, and teaching them to be conscientious members of society. Being a parent is not an easy office to bear. Think about it, if God had not provided parents for us, and others who served in their place, we all would have died many times over before we even learned to walk. And so this Commandment is in a fixed orbit around the First: children, if you love and honor God, pray that you also honor His representatives in the family, your parents.

Now parents, do not think this Commandment has nothing to say to you. If your children are commanded by God to love, honor, and cherish you, you should also be fulfilling your vocation as parents. What does that mean? First, and above all other things, see to it that your children are taught the true faith of Jesus Christ. He alone is both your and their savior, who purchased eternal salvation for them and you by His atoning sacrifice on the cross. This teaching happens not just on Sunday morning, but in your daily lives. It happens in prayers around the table and at bedtime, in family devotions, and as your children observe your conduct while you teach them how to be human beings. While you are doing these things, parents, know that Christ will aid your work by the Holy Spirit. As you teach your children, He will work through the Word and through the waters of their Baptism to create and sustain a living and active faith within them. This is the most sacred and precious work you do as parents.

Now, one of things that we discover through studying the Commandments is that we are don’t keep them. We’ve all been disobedient children, if not in action, then for sure in word and thought. And if not toward our earthly parents, then without doubt toward our heavenly Father. Parents, the temptation is always there to neglect your duties to teach your children the faith, and continue to do so as they grow older. Also, sometimes we as adults forget that we are also children of our parents. The Fourth Commandment has no statute of limitations. You never stop being children of your parents and parents of your children. But, we also find in Scripture that there is no Commandment given that Christ did not fulfill for us and for our salvation.

Let’s look at a few examples. In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph bring the boy Jesus to the temple for the Passover. When the feast was over they left, but Jesus stayed behind. When His parents finally found Him, His reply was that He must be in His Father’s house. Jesus was seeking to love and honor His heavenly Father, but the text says that He did leave with His earthly parents and was submissive to them, in keeping with the Fourth Commandment. After this it says He increased in wisdom and age and in favor with God and man. Tradition teaches us that Jesus likely followed the path of Joseph by becoming a carpenter.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He attended a wedding with His disciples and family. When they ran out of wine, His mother asked Him to do something about it, and He did. He honored His mother’s wishes in keeping with the Fourth Commandment. Later, as Jesus hanged from the cross, it was His turn to care for His mother. Seeing His mother standing before Him and knowing that He could no longer look out for her, He said, “Woman, behold your son!” Then, He said to John, “Behold your mother!” From that moment John took Mary into his own home, loving and honoring her as he would his mother.

What does this all mean? St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ…and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” That means, we who have been baptized, have all received a new relationship with God. He is our true Father, our heavenly Father. In Baptism, He has washed away our sins and clothed us with the righteousness of His Son. And having put on Christ, we have also received the Holy Spirit in our hearts. This new relationship we’ve received and the new heart created in us through Baptism leads us to love and honor God, (which is the First Commandment), and to honor those whom He sends to care for us, our parents. (This is the Fourth Commandment).

Let’s look back at the meaning of the Commandment for a second. It says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities.” What does that mean? Well, it’s probably the topic for another sermon. But what we should say today is, that though the Commandment is directed first to the relationship between children and parents, it also speaks to other relationships. There are other offices which God has instituted for His purposes on earth. The government acts in God’s stead and by His command when it punishes and restrains evil and promotes and rewards good. Also, there is the pastoral office. The pastor acts in God’s stead and by His command when He preaches and teaches the Word, forgives the sins of those who repent, and administers Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of sins. To these offices we also owe due respect and honor, in keeping with this Commandment.

St. Paul writes to the Ephesians that children are to obey their parents in the Lord, for that is right. God promises to children who honor their parents in reverence for God a long and blessed life, ultimately fulfilled in the eternal life of heaven. To parents, St. Paul encourages you to honor this commandment by raising your children in the Christian faith, knowing that in doing so, you are doing a most blessed work. In both vocations, child and parent, Christ has promised to bless you and keep you, and to forgive your sins by His grace. We also have this assurance, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

 

The Righteousness of God: Sola Fide

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This year we mark the 498th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. To celebrate, we’ve been looking at three pillars of the Reformation, the truths that the Holy Spirit worked to preserve among us: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone. God’s Word comes to us in the Scripture alone, it is the only place where we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We hear through it that we justified through faith alone, which we receive through God’s grace alone. Last week we spent some time looking at the Scripture Alone part; this week we will look at the idea of Faith Alone. It is only through faith that we are counted righteous in God’s eyes. We are justified by faith alone, without any merit or work on our part.

There was a period of time while I was back in seminary where I thought that record collecting was a cool thing. I would take weekly trips down to Neat Neat Neat Records to peruse the bins until I found something I had to have. Then I would take it back to my dorm room and fire it up. Almost always, everything would work just fine. But, was I ever filled with fury when a record skipped. That thing that I most hated about records, I also love about Lutheranism. Lutheranism is like a broken record. No matter what we’re talking about, no matter where we are, we always return to the fact that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. We preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the Bible is all about, and so it’s what we’re all about. This week as we look at the Faith Alone pillar of the Reformation we confess with St. Paul that the righteousness of God comes to us through faith in Jesus, and by this faith we are justified, that is, forgiven our sins.

I.

As Lutherans, that is our bread and butter. We eat, sleep, and breath justification by faith alone. We all have those verses in our text from Romans and from Ephesians 2 in our brains, and rightly so, but this was not always the case in God’s Church. I’m going to read you a little bit of a lengthy quote from Martin Luther, but I want you to pay close attention because it is very telling of the Church at the time:

I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to understand philosophically…God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly…I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. [1]

What Luther was confessing here is that during his time, the Church had lost faith in the words of Holy Scripture – that man is saved by faith alone. Instead, it taught that our works contribute to our salvation. It held that, since God is righteous, we must also be righteous. How do we become righteous? Not by faith, but by following God’s Commandments. As if the keeping the commandments wasn’t hard enough, God then punishes with eternal damnation those who fail to keep them. So much for a righteous God, thought Luther. God is not love, God is not mercy. According to Luther at the time, God was an unjust tyrant.

The Church was mired in a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the Mosaic Law (The Ten Commandments). They taught that the chief work of the Law was to justify sinners. Here what St. Paul says in our text, “we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”[2] The role of God’s Law in the Commandments is not to justify, but to condemn. The Law stops mouths. It cuts through our lies, our false pretenses, our attempts to justify ourselves; it shows us for what we really are: sinners. It shows that, according to God’s standard of righteousness, we aren’t.

St. Paul continues, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[3] The role of the Law, the right understanding and application of it, is to show us our sin. True, it is God’s will for our lives, and after repentance and as a result of faith, we do try to keep it. But that’s the key – without faith, the Law only kills. Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In another context: those who attempt to justify themselves through the Law will die by it. As Paul said, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. No human being will be justified in God’s eyes through its works. And at that thought, Luther crumbled. “If there ever was a person who could be saved through monkery,” he said, “I was that monk.” But, alas…

II.

With Luther we come to these words in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”[4] What a brilliant statement! Such profound gospel! The righteousness of God is not something that He alone has and then demands of us. The righteousness of God is something He has, and He gives it to you. The righteousness of God comes apart from the works of the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. This means that the entire Old Testament testifies about the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. Remember on the road to Emmaus, how after the resurrection Jesus went through the books of Moses and the Prophets to show how it was about Him? Or, remember how Abraham was credited as righteous, even over 400 years before the Ten Commandments were given? The text says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[5]

This is the chief article of the Reformation, the chief article of our faith. Luther, and those with him, really did face the possibility of death for their confession of faith, but they knew – as we do – that it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus because, as the text says, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[6] There is no distinction among us. We have all sinned. We are all sinners, and, because we are born this way, we lack the glory of God. Man no longer exists as God created him to be. Therefore, the Son of God took on human flesh. He became the new Man, the new Adam, to obey God’s will and fulfill the Law in our place. Apart from Him there is no salvation, be we who believe are, “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[7]

Therefore, in this the 498th anniversary of the Reformation, let us hold fast our confession. From Luther’s own words:

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification…

All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood…

Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls…

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends.[8]

We confess that we are all by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We deserve nothing but God’s eternal wrath and punishment. But, He sent His Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in our place for the forgiveness of sins. We are justified by God’s grace through faith alone. We receive faith through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, and faith becomes the channel through which we grasp the forgiveness of sins. We neither earn eternal life, nor do we deserve it. We made righteous before God only through the blood of the Lamb, who sets us free through alone.


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 336–337.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:19.

[3] Rom. 3:20.

[4] Rom. 3:21-22.

[5] Gen. 15:6.

[6] Rom. 3:22-23.

[7] Rom. 3:24-25.

[8] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 263.

Faith And Works?

Text: James 2:1-10, 14-18

We Lutherans are sometimes a fragile bunch, but I love it. Since we’ve finished up our walk through Ephesians in the Epistle readings of the last two months, we now turn to the Book of James – The dreaded James. Some people think it doesn’t even belong in the Bible. After all, isn’t it where we get the verse, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”?[1] Yeah, that’s in the chapter we’re looking at today. Doesn’t that just make your Lutheran skin crawl? Martin Luther himself couldn’t decide how he felt about the book. He didn’t go so far as many people think he did; He did not say it doesn’t belong in the Bible, just that it did its job poorly. That was in 1522 and Luther would go back and forth on the topic. As I said, Lutherans are sometimes a fragile bunch.

I’d like for us to look at this text today because I think that we Lutherans have a distinct malady, maybe an illness, in that we’re sometimes afraid to talk about good works. The Lutheran reformation happened partly because of a misunderstood relationship between faith and works. The Roman Church was teaching that works are a contributing factor to salvation. That teaching continues in the Catholic Church, and ironically, in Protestant churches that teach that one can choose to become a Christian. The correct teaching of Scripture is that works contribute nothing at all to our salvation. Jesus Christ suffered and died for the forgiveness of our sins and gives that forgiveness to us freely through faith, without any work or merit on our part. If you ever hear anything other than that, I want you to plug your ears, because it wouldn’t be the truth.

The illness that we have as Lutherans is that, because we know so well that works are not part of salvation, we end up throwing out the topic entirely. This becomes a problem because, as James so well points out, good works flow from an active faith. You cannot see in a person’s heart that they are a Christian, but you can tell it from their lives. You can also see the opposite. Therefore James exhorts his fellow Christians to be rich in good works. As we are made to hold to the faith of Jesus Christ through His Word and Sacrament, we are also led to bring forth good works as the fruit of our living faith.

I.

But, like I said, Luther went back and forth on whether James should be in the Bible or not, but we don’t hang on every word that proceeds from the mouth of a German ex-monk. We do hang on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God; As does James. The focal of James and the thrust of the Epistle is not that our good works save us. Rather, it is the salvation that we have received freely by the grace of God. James writes, “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”[2] James says that it is not because of our works that God chose us, but purely out of His good and gracious will. If you remember the Catechism you know that God does all good things out of pure, fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness within us.

James also readily teaches in our text today, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?”[3] The whole relationship between God and us is based on His mercy. In love He chose us out of the world, we who are poor in its eyes, to be rich in faith and heirs of heaven. That actually sounds a lot like St. Paul. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”[4] In 2 Corinthians Paul wrote that Christ, though He was rich, became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich in Him.

James and Paul kind of sound alike when read together. It continues. Everyone knows, “For by grace you have been saved by faith…” but the very next verse continues, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[5] Paul does it again Colossians where he prays that they, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”[6] So we see in James and Paul, who both correctly teach the doctrine of Christ, exhorting Christians to good works. The focus for both Paul and James is the salvation that we receive freely through faith. Our works have no bearing on the justification that we receive in Christ; they flow from faith in response to Christ’s love.

So now that we’ve determined that it is not against Scripture to speak about works, so long as we keep them separate from salvation, let us move to the teaching the Holy Spirit has for us through James. This Epistle is perhaps the earliest book in the New Testament. At this point Christianity was still operating within the realm of Judaism. Acts tells us that there were a great many priests that converted and were seeking to minister to the others. One of the downsides of Judaism at this time was complacency. People were content to identify as Jews and God’s chosen people, but not really anything beyond that. They were greedy, swindlers, idolaters and adulterers. It even seeped into their worship life. Therefore St. James exhorts his hearers to be rich in good works.

II.

Now we’re talking about the part that makes our Lutheran skin itch. Good works. The text says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”[7] James concludes, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”[8] We Lutherans have been so accustomed to talk only about how we are saved by grace through faith (which is totally true) that we sometimes don’t know where to go next. Well, we can talk about works without confusing ourselves. James here is talking about sanctification, the redeemed life that we have in Christ and led by the Holy Spirit.

Scripture says that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Stanza 9 of “Salvation unto Us Has Come,” speaks concerning this, “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone and rests in Him unceasing; and by its fruit true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.”[9] What does that mean? We are justified by God’s grace through faith alone. In Baptism we are given a new heart and a new spirit which then brings forth good fruits. Good works neither create faith, nor are they added to faith as the Catholic Church teaches, but they flow from a living and active faith and cheerful obedience to God’s Word.

Where does that put us? Well, for starters we should stand convicted. We are not as active in love as we could, should, and are called to be. What is a good work? A good work proceeds from a cheerful and willing obedience to God’s will as revealed in Scripture. Feed the hungry, cloth the sick, house the homeless, visit the sick and distressed, stand up for the unborn and the institution of marriage, showing in all things the mercy, the compassion, the love, and forgiveness of Christ. By these things the world will know that we are Christians, the body of Christ on earth. He is the one who created all things, who loves all things, and for us and all people, died on the cross.

Lutherans do have a sort of aversion to this talk. Even the word, “works,” kind of hurts coming out of the mouth, so we resist talking about it, thinking that everything will be okay. But it won’t, and it isn’t. Without the teaching that good works flow from an active and living faith, the sinful nature within us will do its best to have a field day. We behave poorly in church, and before the world Christians become no different than anyone else. For that, we must always stand convicted before the Word of God.

Our lives as Christians will never be totally perfect. We will be partial; we will be complacent to be well-wishers and not good-doers. However, hear this word from James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”[10] Though we grow complacent and cold, the love of Christ never grows dim or tired. He forgives all of your sins and has given you His Holy Spirit. Through the preaching of His Word and the Sacraments He strengthens you and leads you to bring forth good works through the gift of a living and active faith.


[1] James 2:24.

[2] James 1:18.

[3] James 2:5.

[4] 1 Cor. 1:27.

[5] Eph. 2:10.

[6] Col. 1:10.

[7] James 2:14-15.

[8] James 2:17.

[9] Lutheran Service Book

[10] James 1:17-18.