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.”