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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:For a right perspective on the Fifth Commandment, focus on Christ!
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-07-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 3:1,2

Hymn 11:1,6,9

Psalm 119:40

Hymn 2

Psalm 47

Scripture readings:  Matthew 22:15-22, Romans 13:1-7

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 39

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Shortly after I received the call to serve the Launceston church, I began doing some research into Australian culture.  After all, I needed to know what makes Australians tick and whether I would be able to work in your culture.  The Canadian and Australian cultures are different and some people are good at making the shift while for others it can be more challenging. 

Well, as I was doing this research, one of the websites I came across mentioned how if someone has made a rule, there will always be Australians ready to break that rule.  To put it in more technical terms, Australian culture tends to be anti-authoritarian, against authority.  They explain that as coming from Australia’s convict history.  I’m not saying that this characterization is right or wrong, but just noting that some people say this.  Whether it’s true or not, I’ll leave up to you.  What I can tell you is that Canadians are often anti-authoritarian too.  I don’t know, maybe it’s more prevalent here, but many Canadians often have a hard time with authority as well.

In fact, it’s a common problem all over the world.  It’s common for human beings in every culture to resist authority and even hate authority.  That’s because a sinful nature is common to all human beings.  All unbelief is anti-authoritarian.  When you live in sin, you hate to have someone over you telling you what to do, whether it’s God, or a politician, or a police officer, a teacher, an employer, or a parent.  The only way you might tolerate it is if there is something to be gained by obeying or something to be lost by disobeying.  For myself, I think of how seeing how those signs about speed cameras make me more conscientious about how fast I’m going.  I don’t want a ticket.  If the cameras weren’t there, and we could be assured that the police were off doing something else, perhaps we wouldn’t really think about our speed.  Now if we sometimes think this, and we claim to be Christians, then how do you think the world looks at these things?  Ever since Adam and Eve, the human race has been infected with a spirit of rebellion against authority.  Whether it’s parents or government, or whatever other form of authority, it’s in us to rise up against it.

That’s why we need the Fifth Commandment.  This commandment is all about restraining our rebellion. It’s about reining in our desire to rise up against all forms of authority.  This commandment teaches us that God wants us to humbly submit to the authorities that he has placed in our lives, because by submitting to them, we are submitting to him.  Human authorities are there because God is there and God gives them to us.  So when you rebel against legitimate human authorities you are rebelling against God and rebelling against him is always a bad idea. 

Our Catechism briefly and clearly explains the meaning of this commandment.  We are to show respect, love, and commitment not only to our parents, but to all whom God has set over us as authorities.  That includes teachers, government, police, office bearers, and employers.  Christians are those who honour legitimate authority, even if they disagree with what’s required of them.  So long as it doesn’t go against God’s Word, we obey.  According to the Catechism, we also have patience with their weaknesses and shortcomings.  Parents and other authorities are human beings too and sometimes they drop the ball.  Sometimes they fall short of what we would expect from those in authority.  Yet we’re still called to honour, respect and obey, because God has put them in that position.  Look, the basic meaning of this commandment is pretty straight-forward. 

Now I could go line by line through the catechism and explain everything in more detail – perhaps I’ll do that the next time we go through it.  But this afternoon I want to take a different approach.  Let’s look more closely at why and how we obey this commandment.  It’s important to do that as part of a distinctively Christian approach to God’s law.  At home I have a book by Dr. Laura Schlesinger on the Ten Commandments.  If you don’t know who Dr. Laura is, she’s a famous radio personality in North America.  She used to have a call-in radio show where she would give life and relationship advice.  She has this book on the Ten Commandments, but she’s not a Christian.  She’s Jewish.  So, naturally, there’s nothing about Christ in her book on the Ten Commandments.  There’s nothing about the gospel.  It’s what you would expect from a Jew.  But we’re in a Christian church.  I’m a Christian minister, called to preach Christ.  When it comes to the Law of God, we shouldn’t sound like Jews or think like Jews.  Here too, we need to hear about our Saviour Jesus Christ and how he gives us the right perspective.  So that’s behind our theme this afternoon:  For a right perspective on the Fifth Commandment, focus on Christ!

In particular, we’ll see that we need to look to him as our:

  1. Substitute
  2. Sanctifier

Whenever we consider God’s law, it’s good to reflect on our lives.  When we hear about the Ten Commandments, we should look forward to how we’re going to strive for more obedience in the future.  But we should first look backwards at how we’ve done in the past.  This is also true when it comes to the Fifth Commandment, “Honour your father and your mother.”  Think about it with me for a moment.  Have you always shown honour, love and faithfulness to your parents?  What about to others in authority over you?  I know that I’ve often fallen short, what about you?  Have you always submitted yourself with due obedience to their good instruction and discipline?  “Due obedience” – that means sooner rather than later.  And what about being patient with the weaknesses and shortcomings of those in authority over you?  That’s hard.  Especially when you’re a kid, you’re pretty sure you know better than those parents or teachers.  It’s hard to be patient when parents and teachers just don’t understand.  You’re so smart and they’re so dull.  How often have you forgotten that God put them in their position of authority over you and when you’re impatient with them, you’re shaking your fist at God?  It’s so easy to do that, isn’t it?  If we look back in the past, we have to be honest and admit that we’ve all fallen short.  Admit it:  all of us have rebellious hearts.

Brothers and sisters, the Bible speaks clearly about the problem with this.  Just take Proverbs 20:20, “If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.”  What God is saying there is that rebellion against authority is sinful foolishness that will fall under his judgment.  When you rise up against your father or mother or any other authority God has placed in your life, it’s foolish and sinful.  Like all sins, it leads to God’s condemnation.  You may think that no one hears when you think some nasty things to yourself about your parents or your teacher or the police or whatever other authority, but God hears.  He says that your rebellion is sinful and wrong and, unless you turn from it, it leads to eternal death.

But God has given a way out.  We have rescue in Jesus Christ.  Through him, we can escape the wrath of God against our rebellion.  The law says that you’re guilty.  The gospel announces a way to deal with your guilt.  That way is through the cross.  You must believe that Jesus Christ hung on the cross in your place, as your substitute.  You must believe that when he was on the cross, he took the wrath of God against your sin, including your sins against the Fifth Commandment.  Proverbs 20:20 says, “his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.”  Do you remember what happened on the cross?  Jesus, the one who never cursed his father or mother, his lamp was put out in utter darkness.  There were three long hours of darkness on the cross.  Why did he go through that when he had never deserved it?  He chose to do that to bear your guilt and punishment.  He did that in your place.  Loved ones, you have to believe this.  Believe that Jesus Christ bore God’s wrath against your rebellious heart.  Since he did that, since he suffered God’s wrath in the dark, your lamp will never be put out.  Instead, you can live forever in the light of God’s love.  This is God’s grace towards you – accept it, believe it, rejoice in it.

But there’s yet more grace to be found in our Saviour’s person and work.  It’s wonderful that we have forgiveness for all our sins through the cross.  But Christ did more than just provide forgiveness for our sins.  He also provides us with perfect righteousness through his life of obedience to God’s law.  You see, as Christians, our slates are not only wiped clean of all our wrongdoing.  Our slates are also then filled with all the good things that Jesus has done in his life, following God’s commandments perfectly.  When our Father looks at us, he sees us as he sees his Son, as perfect law-keepers.

That’s also true when it comes to the Fifth Commandment.  Our Saviour always honoured and obeyed legitimate God-given authorities.  When it came to his parents, Luke tells us directly in Luke 2:51 that Jesus was “submissive to them.”  When it came to other authorities, we could think of what we read from Matthew 22.  There the Jewish religious leaders were testing him to see if he would say something against the Roman rulers.  Would Jesus speak rebelliously against Caesar?  But he didn’t.  Instead, he taught that taxes should be respectfully paid to those in authority.  Our Saviour was not a rebel.  In that instance, and in others recorded in the Bible, he showed honour, love, and faithfulness to God-given authority.  You can be sure that he did it all the time. 

Loved ones, that’s not a piece of Bible trivia – no, that’s a key part of the gospel.  The gospel promises that when your Saviour obeyed the Fifth Commandment, he did it in your place, as your substitute.  Focus on him, look to him in faith.  Say, “Yes, this is my Saviour who obeyed God perfectly for me.  I haven’t kept the Fifth Commandment the way I should, but Jesus did it in my place and now my Father looks at me and sees perfection.”  Along with the first Adam and all his offspring, we are rebels in ourselves.  But if we believe in the Second Adam, if we believe in Jesus, we are considered to be loyal and obedient children. 

So there you have Jesus Christ as your substitute.  He is your substitute on the cross, bringing you full forgiveness.  He is also your substitute in his perfect life, bringing you complete righteousness.  The demands of the Fifth Commandment are completely met in Jesus and that’s the best news one could hope for!

With that news in hand, we get a new and right perspective on the Fifth Commandment.  One could be tempted to take a wrong perspective.  The wrong perspective would be to say, “Well, Jesus has done everything and so I can live however I want.”  The wrong thing to think would be, “Well, I’m saved, so no matter what I can disrespect my parents or other authorities and no problem.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  That way of thinking fails to reckon with why Jesus saved us.  He saved us not only from hell in the hereafter, but also from disobedience and ungodliness right now.  We are saved by Christ from a godless and worldly way of life as we live on this earth too.  Do you need proof?  Listen to what Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  “Created in Christ Jesus” – that’s another way of speaking about how God has saved us in Christ.  We are saved for the purpose of doing good works.  We are graciously saved by God so that we would be increasingly obedient to his law, including the Fifth Commandment.  God has shown his grace to us, not so that we would go off and do our own thing, but so that in thankfulness to him and love for him, we would do his thing – his law.     

Loved ones, the Fifth Commandment doesn’t become irrelevant if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour.  That’s assumed in Lord’s Day 39.  In our Catechism, it’s assumed that God still expects Christians to obey his law.  You might ask, is that a biblical assumption?  Well, consider what we read from Romans 13.  The book of Romans divides up into three parts, just like the Catechism.  There’s guilt, grace, and gratitude.  Romans 12 begins the last part of the book, dealing with the Christian life of thanksgiving, how we offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  Then chapter 13 comes along and supports the teaching of the Fifth Commandment, especially as it relates to the government.  Paul says that Christians, redeemed by Christ, cannot be rebellious people.  Instead, they have to submit to the government, honour and respect those in authority.  When it comes to your taxes, don’t cheat.  Be a person of integrity and honesty.  Pay what you owe and be a good citizen of the land. 

Now you might think, “Easy for Paul to say, things were a lot better back then.  Today we have all this corruption in government and that makes it way harder for us.”  But hold on.  Paul wasn’t writing about a Christian government.  The government in his day was the Roman Empire and they were definitely not Christian or anything close.  The Romans persecuted the Christians for the first centuries after Christ.  Paul is writing in a context where the government was not moral, they were corrupt, and they had it in for Christians.  Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul says, “Regardless of what they do, they are in authority.  Respect them, honour them, obey them.”  That’s what God’s law requires of Christians bought with the blood of Christ.

As we saw in Matthew 22, that’s what Christ our Lord did too.  Now we saw that he did that in our place.  But he also did that to teach us as our Master.  We often call Jesus, “Lord.”  He is our Lord Jesus.  “Lord” means Master, Owner.  We belong to him.  As our Lord, he is also our Teacher, our chief prophet.  We are his disciples.  We are his students, pupils of Christ as the Belgic Confession puts it in article 13.  It’s like we’re in school and he’s teaching us how to be like him.  That’s how discipleship worked back then and that’s how it’s supposed to work today too.  Back then, a religious teacher would gather a school of disciples.  The disciples would live with him, follow him around, watch him, and learn from him.  The goal of the disciples would be to mirror their Master.  Jesus himself said in Matthew 10:25 that the disciple needs to become like his teacher.  If we are his disciples, then we want to become like him.  You want people to look at your life and say, “Well, you can tell that you’ve been spending a lot of time with Jesus.”    

That also holds true with regards to the Fifth Commandment.  We see him in Scripture as one being obedient to his parents and others in authority.  That’s our Teacher.  We’re his disciples and therefore we want to be like our Teacher.  We want to follow his teachings, but also follow in his footsteps and walk like he did.  He respected his parents, we want to respect our parents.  He respected the ruling powers, we want to respect the ruling powers. 

That’s part of how we look to Jesus as our Sanctifier.  “Sanctifier,” what’s that?  It’s related to the word “sanctification.”  Sanctification is the process by which we start to look more and more holy (set apart from sin) like Jesus.  It’s the process by which our life is being changed and transformed into Christlikeness.  Christ himself has an important role to play in that.  He is our Sanctifier, he’s the one who directs and empowers this process with his Spirit and Word.  He is changing our lives with his Holy Spirit and with the Bible.  As we study the Bible, we see Christ our Teacher and his Holy Spirit teaches us to follow him as his disciples.  His Holy Spirit gives us the power to do that.

So Jesus Christ as our Teacher is part of how that works.  There is another part and this is just as important.  That part is illustrated with the picture of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches.  Like a healthy grape vine, Jesus is alive and bearing fruit.  His leaves are vigorous and green and his fruit is abundant.  Fruit, of course, stands for obedience or good works.  His healthy spiritual life produces obedience to God’s commandments, including the Fifth.  Jesus is the vine.  We are the branches, says Scripture.  Through faith, and by the power of the Spirit, we are grafted into Jesus Christ.  We are united to him in a mysterious but very real way.  His sap, his life, is in us.  The type of fruit that he bears, we begin to bear as well.  But more that:  we want to bear that fruit.  We pray to bear that fruit. 

When it comes to the Fifth Commandment, we pray that Christ will help us with his Spirit so that we can do what his law says.  We need to pray because in ourselves we don’t have the wherewithal to do any of this.  So we pray.  We pray that our Saviour will help us with his Spirit so that our hearts have the right attitude towards those in authority over us.  We pray that Jesus will help us so that our minds have the right thoughts about those whom God has set over us.  We pray that our Saviour will help us so that our lives do the right things when it comes to everyone in authority.  Basically, we want to bear the same fruit as him, and so we ask for his Spirit to work that in our lives – because we love him and we know that this pleases him.

So, to review the second point, when it comes to the Fifth Commandment, we need to focus on Christ as our Sanctifier.  That means looking to him as our Teacher, giving us the living example that students need.  That also means prayerfully looking to him as the Vine in whom we’re grafted, giving us the power of his Spirit so that we can bear his fruit to his glory. 

I need to say one last thing about the Fifth Commandment.  It’s important to say this because this commandment has sometimes been abused in the church.  It’s sad, but true.  Parents, teachers, and others have sometimes perverted this commandment so that they can abuse children.  Physical, sexual, verbal, and psychological abuse has all happened because somebody said, “The Fifth Commandment means you have to obey whatever I say.  I’m over you and you must obey no matter what.”  They abused a person and they abused God’s law – all for their own selfish purposes.  The church of Jesus Christ must never stand by abusers and allow them to twist God’s law like that and use it as a weapon.  It is wicked in God’s eyes and we must condemn it in the strongest possible words.  As I’ve already mentioned, the Fifth Commandment does not call for unconditional obedience, obedience no matter what.  If someone, anyone, in authority commands you to do something contrary to God’s Word, not only are you allowed to disobey, you must disobey them.  If you disobey them, you are not sinning.  You are doing the right thing.  If someone is abusing you, you need to find someone you can trust and report it so that it can stop.  The Fifth Commandment gives no one the right to hurt and abuse you.  Again, look to our Saviour.  He was compassionate and loving, he would never pervert God’s Law in order to hurt someone for his own selfish purposes.  His church must be the same, must reflect him in this too. 

The world around us often hates authority and resists it.  As Christians, we’re called to be counter-cultural, we’re called to be different.  We’re called to be disciples of the Saviour who gave himself for us.  We’re called to live in union with the Saviour who was obedient to authority.  Loved ones, doing that will give praise to him, give a powerful testimony to the world, and also serve the benefit and well-being of everyone around us.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for your good and holy law.  It’s good and proper for us to sit under it and be instructed in it.  Your law shows us the way to please you and live for your glory and we want to do that.  Please help us to hate our sins against the Fifth Commandment.  Help us to turn from all our rebellion against authority and instead, submit with humble and willing hearts.  Our Saviour Jesus, we look to you for forgiveness for all our failures.  Thank you for your work on the cross.  We’re grateful that you were plunged into the darkness, that your light was put out so that we can live in the light.  Thank you also for your perfect life lived in our place.  We look to you alone for our righteousness.  We also look to you as our Teacher.  With your Spirit and Word, please lead us to be more like you.  And also help us with your Spirit to live in union with you.  You are the vine and we are the branches, and we want to bear your fruit.  Please help us in that with your Spirit as well.  Father God, we also pray for those among us who have suffered because of the abuse of authority, and even perversion of this good commandment.  Please help them to heal and work through what happened in a way that honours you and your Word.  Please give them peace in their hearts and restoration.  We pray, Father, that all forms of abuse would be seen for what they are here in our church – hated, resisted, exposed, and eradicated.  Please protect our children and others who are vulnerable as well. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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