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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God reveals his goodness and love in the Fifth Commandment
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1-3

Hymn 11:1,6

Psalm 119:49-50

Hymn 1

Psalm 97:4,5

Scripture readings: Luke 2:41-52, Ephesians 6:1-4

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,

“Honour your father and your mother.”  Those six words of the fifth commandment appear to be simple and straightforward.  But we all know from real life that they’re anything but.  Because a lot of times parents just don’t seem to understand.  When we’re young, especially when we’re in the teenage years, we often have a hard time honouring parents.  Sometimes we see things in them that make it hard for us to honour them, let alone love and obey.  Of course, it’s not always like that, but sometimes it is.  And when you get a bit older and get married, there’s always the age-old struggle to leave and cleave.  Some people, especially mothers, have a hard time with that and it can create tension between adult children and their parents.  Finally, the day comes when your parents are gone to the Lord.  Many times you’re left with good memories, but in a broken world it doesn’t always happen that way.  Honouring fathers and mothers is many times a life-long struggle.  It starts with the crib and continues past the coffin. 

Despite this tension, the Scriptures frame the Fifth Commandment in a positive way.  There’s something invigorating and life-affirming about this commandment.  It’s designed for our flourishing.  In fact, if we consider it more carefully, we see God’s goodness and love revealed in the Fifth Commandment.  So, this afternoon we’ll have that as our theme:

God reveals his goodness and love in the Fifth Commandment

We’ll learn how he reveals his goodness and love in:

  1. The past
  2. The present
  3. Eternity

We heard it in our reading from Ephesians 6.  We also hear it every Sunday when the Ten Commandments are read in the morning service.  The Fifth Commandment comes with a promise.   The promise in the Old Testament had two parts and they’re both closely connected.  The first part of the promise was a long life.  The second part of the promise was a long life in the Promised Land.  So, the first part had to do with the span of years and the second part where that span of years was going to be spent.  A long life was highly desirable and it was thought to be even more worthwhile when it could be spent in the land God had promised to the patriarchs – the land that had long been associated with your family history. 

So, if God’s people followed the Fifth Commandment, they could expect these two blessings from God’s hand.  In this way, the Fifth Commandment held out something positive and good for God’s people.  It spoke of God’s goodness and love towards them. 

But these blessings weren’t automatic.  It wasn’t like a vending machine where you stick your obedience in the coin slot and out the bottom comes a long life, and a long life in the land to boot.  No, sometimes God in his providence decided that it’d be better for one of his faithful people to have a shorter life.  Think of King Josiah for instance.  He was one of the more faithful kings in Israel’s history.  Yet, the Lord decided to cut his life short at age 39.  Nevertheless, the general principle was still in place:  if the people of God were faithful, also with the Fifth Commandment, they could expect a long life in the Promised Land. 

This general principle was directly related to the covenant relationship God had with his people.  God kept his promise and delivered his people from slavery in Egypt.  They were given freedom and life.  And keeping this freedom and life was connected to their living within the terms of the covenant relationship with God, following the guidelines of his law.  If the people decided to go their own way, they were on the way back to slavery.  There was freedom in living within the framework of the relationship God made with his people.  The Fifth Commandment formed part of this framework – it was meant to speak of God’s goodness and love to these people who’d been redeemed from slavery.

However, the repeated failure of the people of Israel turned the commandment away from its good purpose.  Paul writes about this in Romans 7.  He says in verse 12, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.”   In verse 10, Paul says that the commandment (speaking generally) was intended to bring life.  Instead, it actually brought death.   There was nothing wrong with the commandment – the commandment was good and life-affirming.  The problem was with Paul (actually with every individual believer).  And what was true in the spiritual life of Paul was also true in the spiritual life of the people of God in the Old Testament, also with the Fifth Commandment. 

One of the most catastrophic events of the Old Testament was the exile into Babylon.  There was a whole package of moral and spiritual failures which led up to this event.  Micah 7:6 says that part of this package was a failure to honour parents.  Then Isaiah 3 tells us how God used this failure as part of his judgment on Israel.  He told the people that they’d have children ruling over the adults and the young people would rebelliously rise up against the old.  They sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind of God’s wrath.   When the Fifth Commandment was followed, there were blessings to be had and God’s love to be enjoyed.  But when the Fifth Commandment was ignored, it was bad news for the people of God.  It led to judgment and ultimately exile.  The Fifth Commandment was and is such a foundational part of the created order – it can’t be ignored without causing trouble, judgment and divine wrath.   Hebrews 3 makes it clear that the failures of the people of God in the Old Testament are there as warnings to us.  Learn from history!  See how they messed up and suffered for it and don’t go there.

But more than that, the failures of Israel were a cry for a Saviour.  With each failure, the cry became louder:  we need somebody to save us!  And then our Lord Jesus came into the world.  We read from Luke 2 and we saw some confusion on the part of his parents when he was back in the temple engaged in some deep discussions with the rabbis.  Joseph and Mary didn’t understand his mission, what he was about.  But despite that, he was still obedient to them (verse 51).  By his obedience to the Fifth Word of the covenant, he revealed God’s goodness and love too.  How?  Because his obedience is now our obedience.  When our Lord Jesus kept the Fifth Commandment, he was doing it in our place.  God credits his obedience to us.

With their moral failures, the people of Israel in the Old Testament were crying out for such a Saviour.  Such a Saviour who would also pour out his Spirit.  The Spirit would put God’s law in the minds and on the hearts of God’s people.  This would empower God’s people to fully experience God’s goodness and love in giving this commandment.  They’d do that as they live it out in their lives, as they live in that covenant relationship with their Creator God. 

So, the only way the Fifth Commandment can really be showing God’s goodness and love for us today is in connection with the Saviour.  Let’s work that out further for a moment.  You know, a lot of unbelievers can keep the Fifth Commandment.  At least it looks that way.  In a superficial way, it looks like they’re following God’s law here.  But as our Catechism shows, there’s far more to the Fifth Commandment than just outwardly obeying or honouring our parents and others in authority.  There’s an internal, heart issue here.  For example, there’s the question of why we keep the Fifth Commandment.  Without Christ, we might be obeying the commandment at some superficial level, but because it’s not out of faith in Christ or love for God, it ultimately amounts to nothing.  For a time, sure, God uses this to restrain the evil in our society, but in the long run, for the individual involved, faithless superficial obedience to the Fifth Commandment is not worth anything in any ultimate sense.

But with believers it’s different.  Believers want to follow the Fifth Commandment in a meaningful way because we’ve been brought into a relationship with our God through our Saviour Jesus.  As a consequence, we love him deeply and we long to follow his will.  We’re thankful for the freedom we have in Christ.  We want to show our thanks so we can continue living out of that freedom for the glory of God. 

For that reason, God expects that our relationship with him will be meaningfully reflected in the way we relate to our parents and others in authority over us.  Our covenant relationship with God will be seen in our relationships with those whom God has put over us.  As the Spirit leads us to do these things, our lives will be blessed.  This happens in three ways. 

First of all, there’s God’s good blessing when we give our thanks to God by showing honour, love and faithfulness to our fathers and mothers and others in authority over us.  How?  Well, these things:  honour, love, and faithfulness – they’re markers of healthy relationships.  When you honour someone, you show that you value them, that you esteem them.  When you love someone, you’re willing to make all kinds of self-sacrifices for them.  When you show faithfulness, you demonstrate commitment and loyalty.  Healthy relationships include these things.  We desire healthy and whole relationships with others, don’t we?  Those are the kinds of relationships in which we can all flourish to the glory of God.  These are the kinds of relationships we were created to be in.  We don’t want conflict and angst in our lives.  And the blessed reality is that healthy relationships with our parents and others in authority will result when we show honour, love and faithfulness. 

Second, there is God’s good blessing when we submit ourselves with due obedience to the good instruction and discipline of our parents and other authorities.   Think about it.  What’s at the root of such submission?  It’s humility.  Humility is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5.  Humility is something to be cultivated and valued in our lives.  It moves us forward along the road of sanctification.  When we accept instruction and discipline, we show that we know ourselves to be students in the school of the Holy Spirit.  And partly through this, we also receive assurance that we are the children of God. 

At this point, I want to say something about the limits of submission and obedience.  Many times it’s happened that people have abused the Fifth Commandment for their own selfish pleasures.  That’s wrong.  It’s wicked and sinful.  Let me say it clearly:  we don’t owe unconditional allegiance, submission and obedience to anyone other than God.  It can happen that parents, teachers or others might tell you to do something that they should never tell you to do.  You are under no obligation to listen to them.  You will not be sinning if you say that you will not listen.  No one can use the Fifth Commandment to justify abuse of any kind.  And if somebody is doing that, you need to tell somebody so it can stop.  But so long as the one over us is telling us something that doesn’t go against God’s will, we are to submit ourselves with due obedience.  And when we do that, it will go well with us and the Lord will use that to help us grow in our walk with him. 

Finally, we’ll also experience God’s goodness and love when we show patience with the weaknesses and shortcomings of parents and others.  We all know about weaknesses and shortcomings.  Parents have them and so do teachers, office bearers, and anybody else with a position of authority.  But we’re to be patient – that means that we’re willing to put up with a lot.  At the root of this is humility again, but there’s more.  There’s also a respect for God and his sovereignty in our lives.  God gave us these parents, this teacher, these elders, and so on.  It was no accident.  In his wisdom, God put us together.  When we recognize that, it’s a good thing because it helps us to depend on God’s providence – that somehow, even though we may be frustrated right now, God will make it all work out.  When we humble ourselves before the Lord and put ourselves in his hands, that’s always a good thing.  In his love, our good God blesses it so it bears beneficial fruit in our lives and in our walk with the Lord. 

At the end, for Christians, following the Ten Words of the covenant is about freedom.  We’re filled with the Spirit of Christ and through the daily putting to death of our old nature, we’re being more and more freed from slavery to sin.  We’re being made free, so that our relationships with those over us on earth reflects the relationship we have with the one over us in heaven.  You see, spiritual freedom is not about freedom from relationships – it’s about living in relationships the way we were created to.  True spiritual freedom is about flourishing in relationships the way God intended us to, according to his will.  That’s one of the ways God shows his kindness to his children in this present age. 

Then we also want to consider the future, eternity. 

Ephesians 6 emphasizes that the Fifth Commandment comes with a promise:  “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  The point is that obedience to God’s law here brings positive benefits for God’s people.  The point is that these promises begin now.

And when we are in Christ, living out of thankful obedience, that promise is for us too.  It’s a general positive principle that’s worked out in numerous proverbs in the Old Testament.  Think of Proverbs 6:20-22 for example, “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck.  When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.”  But there’s also a flipside to that, as there are to all the commandments.  The general rule is encapsulated in Proverbs 13:15b, “The way of the unfaithful is hard.”  In his Word, God gives these general principles that show that obedience and disobedience have definite consequences beginning right now. 

Of course, there are also consequences that extend into eternity.  And here there are no exceptions to the general principle.  For us who believe in Christ, for us who live in thankful obedience to our God as the fruit of our salvation, we have the promise of an inheritance waiting for us.  And this idea of an inheritance ties directly into the Fifth Commandment.

The Fifth Commandment is first of all about relationships between parents and children – bringing these relationships to fully reflect the relationship between God and his spiritual children through Christ.  Through our Lord Jesus, we’ve been made adopted sons of God.   I said, “sons of God,” not children of God.  It has to be “sons of God.”  That’s because in Bible times, it was especially the sons who received the inheritance from their father.  Our position with God is as sons, no matter what our gender might be.  We’re “sons,” that means we’re the ones privileged to be in line for an inheritance.  Because of who we are in Christ, we’re going to receive a share in God’s kingdom.  Our inheritance is going to be the new earth, not merely a long life on the earth, but an eternity on the earth that will be given to us.  A new earth in which we’ll rule together with our Saviour.

The Fifth Commandment receives its final and fullest fulfillment in the new age that’ll start when our Lord Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.  After that judgment, all our relationships will be made whole – also the ones that were broken and twisted in this world.  Then, because we are in Christ, all things will truly be made well for us and we will truly live in the land the Lord has in store for us.      

The only way the Fifth Commandment can be properly received as a revelation of God’s goodness and love is if we read it as people who have their identity in Christ.  Are we God’s people through Christ?   Then our being in Christ must bear fruit through living in union with Christ, living in the ways God has set out for us.  Like our head Jesus, we live in obedience to God’s law.  When we let the Spirit guide our lives in that way, we’ll continue to see God’s love and goodness us today and in the life to come.  AMEN. 

* 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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