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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Gift and Weight of Authority
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 78:1,3                                                                       

Hy 1

Reading – 1 Peter 2:13-25; 1 Peter 5:1-11

Ps 103:5,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 39

Ps 111:3,5

Hy 11:1,2,6,9

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

Beloved in Christ, “You shall honour your father and your mother.” It’s obvious that this commandment speaks very directly to some of us. For some of us still live at home, under the daily care and supervision of our parents. Honouring your father and mother might not always be easy, but you know this is what God wants you to do.

But what about the rest of us? We’ve left the home. We’ve started families of our own. Perhaps our parents have passed away. What to do with this commandment of God’s holy law? We should look to the heart of this commandment, which is authority. That’s the central thing, authority: Who has it, why do they have it, and what does God call them to do with it? Who has authority, and how must we act toward those who hold it?

Because this commandment is about authority, we already begin to see that this sermon isn’t just for those children and young people still living at home. This sermon is for every one of us, for all of us are under some kind of authority. And then we must immediately consider its source, for this changes the way we read the commandment, and it must change the way we try to honour it. For authority comes from God.

Our challenge is that we’re living in a time when the idea of authority is rejected. Now, humans have always been uncomfortable being under authority. But the spirit of the present age has made it even worse. We’ve been taught to become very suspicious of any ‘imbalance of power,’ where a person or an institution holds sway over others. In an age of fierce individualism, I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. I have my rights, and no one can step on them.

But God’s Word speaks boldly to our time. God’s Word tells us that there is such a thing as authority, and God is the one who holds it! The Lord has absolute power, but this power absolutely does not corrupt him, for He is holy. And then God takes his awesome authority and He entrusts it to certain people. And as a result, they have true authority: authority to command, to rule, to lead. It is God’s will that we honour them, not because of who they are as persons, but because of the position they’ve received from God. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 39,

The Lord wisely sets over us people with authority:

  1. their task
  2. our duty
  3. God’s reason


1) the task of those who’ve received authority: The fifth commandment tells us how to act towards those in authority. You’ll notice it doesn’t say how those who have authority ought to act. Yet we need to keep in mind what we’ve said already: individuals in leadership have this as a gift and responsibility from God. And that fact already speaks volumes about how they must conduct themselves in their position.

For those with authority do not stand in the place of God. Rather, they are his servants. Through them, God is choosing to work. Through them, God is choosing to show his strength and his love and wisdom.

We might compare those who have authority to power tools. A power tool is useless if it doesn’t have electricity, if it’s not plugged in. But when there is a good connection to the source of power, the tool can do what it was meant to do. Likewise, God’s authority is channeled through weak human instruments. Without him, they’d be nothing—or without him, they’d even be dangerous. But with God’s authority, and operating according to his will, they become useful tools in his hands.

Of whom then, do we speak? Who has this great task, this high responsibility? This afternoon we speak of three instruments of God’s authority: the civil government, the office bearers of the church, and parents in the home.

Whenever the Bible speaks of those in civil government, it surprises us. For the Bible very consistently speaks of the government in a positive way. I’m afraid that we’re probably used to being negative about the government, whether it’s the local council, or our premier and his cabinet, or our prime minister and his party. We become cynical and even unchristian towards those holding civil authority. We dwell on their mistakes, not their successes. We laugh at their shortcomings or complain about their decisions.

But the Bible is unfailingly positive about their position and task. Peter says of the civil government that they are “sent by [God] for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Pet 2:14). We should underline that first phrase: ‘sent by God.’ Paul says the same thing, “There is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom 13:1). And Paul calls them ‘God’s ministers.’

At first glance, it can seem that government gets their authority from the people who elected them to office. But it is God who establishes their position. And if their authority is from God, then so is their task. The government’s mission is not to cater to the wishes of the majority, nor to the wishes of a vocal minority. Even if the government is pagan and un-Christian—as it was in the days of Peter and Paul, and as it often acts today—even then, the government has received an important calling from God.

It must, says Peter, punish wrong-doers and protect those who do right. That is, God gives the government the task to contribute towards the building of a stable society. For such a task they need the authority to make decisions, enact laws, and ensure public safety by enforcing those laws. The operation of good government leads to peace, Paul writes to Timothy. It’s in such a country that the church is enabled to thrive and increase.

God also gives authority to the office bearers of the church, and more specifically, to the elders. Once again, this position isn’t derived from any human source. The elders might be elected by the congregation and appointed by consistory, but it is God who grants their position. We see this implied in how Peter speaks of elders in 1 Peter 5. To the elders he says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (v 2). The shepherds in the church have authority. But it is God’s authority, because (says Peter) it is God’s flock.

What then, does God want for his sheep? What is God’s will for his flock? He wants his sheep to have life, to flourish in Christ, to be part of his sheepfold forever. That immense task should be the only concern of the church’s shepherds, for Christ has entrusted them with this care of his precious flock: to lead and guide and protect.

Having authority is no easy job. Ask anyone who has served in civil government, ask any dedicated parent, and ask anyone who serves in church office. If you will take your position seriously, as God wants you to, you’ll know that authority comes with a certain heaviness. It’s often a hard task, with many pressures, uncertainties, dilemmas, and challenges.

And yet we do it, as Peter says of the elders, “not by compulsion but willingly” (v 2). Those who have received the sacred trust of authority can employ it cheerfully, gratefully, willingly. For we recognize the truth that the Lord God has chosen to use us, sinners and weak people, to do his perfect will on earth.

Still speaking about elders, Peter goes on to say that they must not work “for dishonest gain but eagerly” (v 2). That again is true more broadly for all those in authority. Someone who’s in leadership in civil government, or in the church, or elsewhere, can be hungry for the personal benefits that will come to them on account of their position. Maybe a person is always eager for positive press and compliments. We like the idea of the congregation looking to us for wisdom. A leader can start to feel like he’s pretty important. Yet for a Christian, leadership isn’t about increasing yourself—it’s about increasing the kingdom of Christ. Do this work not “for dishonest gain but willingly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you” (v 2).

Staying with church leaders a moment longer, the Bible doesn’t outline all the duties of the office bearers. There’s always a greater emphasis on their required attitude, their spirit. And once again, that is true more broadly. God is seeking those spiritual characteristics which make for good and effective leaders. In the church, and in our families, and elsewhere, leadership isn’t about a person’s physical strength, or intellectual ability, education or wealth. Instead, it’s about a person’s humility before the true King. It’s about a person’s dependence on God. It’s about a person’s dedication to doing the LORD’s will, and not their own.

That brings us to fathers and mothers. To them too, God gives authority to command and to rule. God gives parents the authority and the calling to nurture their children in the things that matter. With a single phrase, the Catechism sums up their task: They must give “good instruction and discipline” (Q&A 104). Because God wants more than ‘decent’ children, kids who are polite and punctual and hard-working. God wants children who have a deep desire to serve him, children who grow up holding onto the belief that Christ is their Lord, Shepherd and Saviour.

This is the kind of life that children should want to pursue for themselves, and they should want it because they trust the instruction and discipline and example of their parents. I read in a book this past week that “the story of raising children is almost entirely a story about imitation.” No matter what parents say, kids will firstly watch and learn from what parents do.

And so angry parents will nurture angry children. Pessimistic and negative parents will nurture pessimistic and negative kids. What if Dad and Mom are complacent about church? For example, they are pretty relaxed about whether or not to show up for worship every Sunday. Then they cannot expect their offspring to be any better—but probably quite a bit worse.

On the other hand, the authority that God gives to parents means they have a fantastic opportunity to be involved in the permanent shaping of a young soul. It’s the enduring molding of a heart. By good instruction and discipline, by a godly attitude and a humble walk with Christ, parents can be used by God for something great. It is his work, but it is our task.  


2) our duty toward those who’ve received authority: When we take a proper view on authority, when we have the conviction that lawful authority comes from God, our response to those in such positions begins to change. Instead of rebelling against them, ungratefully complaining about them, or simply ignoring them, we must “show [them] all honour, love and faithfulness” (Q&A 014). Or as the New Testament puts it often, we’re called to submission. As Peter says, “Submit yourselves…to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet 2:13).

That’s a tall order, and the Catechism reflects that in its lesson. It might simply have called us to obedience to authority, and nothing more. To honour the fifth commandment then, we just to have to keep the laws of the land: drive the speed limit, file a tax return, and wear a mask when it’s required. Or to honour the fifth commandment, we just have to patiently sit through our annual homevisit. Or to honour the fifth commandment, we simply need to make it home by the curfew our parents set, and do the jobs on the job chart. All this would be obedience, external or outward submission.

But Scripture (and the Catechism) call us to much more: “honour, love and faithfulness.” First, we must honour those in authority. According to the Bible, giving honour to someone is about recognizing the weight of their position, the importance. Their task is God-given, and for that reason, by definition, it is important for our lives. We’re called to esteem and respect those with authority, not to the extent that we find them agreeable, but because God put them there.

In 1 Peter 2:17, the Holy Spirit says, “Fear God. Honour the king.” The one command flows from the other; indeed, they’re rooted in the same principle. Out of our reverence for God, we want to honour those whom God has put over us. As the Catechism says, we accept that it is “God’s will to govern us by their hand” (Q&A 104).

Second, we’re called to love those in authority. This might be the word that we least expect in the context of talking about government and office bearers. But love is the fundamental Christian virtue, basic to the kind of attitude we always need toward other people. It is tied up with the patience that we should have for those in authority, the grace with which we treat them.

And Christian love shouldn’t be dependent solely on our mood, or linked mostly to what someone has done for us. Are we happy with the latest government decisions? Then we’ll love our leaders. Did your parents take you out for dinner on Friday? Then you better love them. No, we’re called to love those in authority because we see their place in our life as God-given, that they have authority for our benefit, for our growth, for our well-being.

Like all Christian love, this love is an action word. It needs to be expressed. It comes out in the way we talk about the elders and the civil government. It comes out in the way we interact with our parents. It comes out in our prayers to God for those who rule us, and yes, in our obedience to their commands.

Third, the Catechism says we’re called to show faithfulness to those in authority. Above all, this means being truthful with those who are over us, living as people of integrity. It’s always possible to break the laws of the land in little ways. It’s (almost) always possible to hide things from your parents, to say one thing and do another. You can lead astray the elders too, for they’re not able to see into your heart. We can be ‘seen’ as submitting, while actually doing the opposite. But we must be “faithful:” speaking the truth, respecting laws, walking with integrity.

For a shining example of submission to authority, we look to Jesus. In chapter 2, Peter points to Christ as a pattern to follow. Throughout his life Jesus had to submit to human rulers, whether the Sanhedrin or King Herod or Pontius Pilate. Even though they were sinful and imperfect, even though He was far greater than they, He acknowledged their right to judge and rule and impose taxes. As Peter says about Christ’s suffering under authority, “When He was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten” (1 Pet 2:23).

Also to his Father in heaven, Jesus perfectly submitted. He struggled to do it, He agonized over what it meant, but He still prayed with all his might, “Not my will, but your will be done” (Matt 26:39). In every way, He honoured his Father and obeyed his commands. It’s true, God the Father is without fault and righteous in all He does. Yet Jesus was still a man, one who wrestled with the temptation to do what He wanted. And in the end, Jesus denied himself and He obeyed his loving Father.

Those in government are not perfect. Our leaders’ bad decisions and their poor judgments—even their sinfulness—are well known. As parents too, we are flawed and broken people. And of course, the office-bearers too, are far from being sin-free and error-less.

Even so, part of the fifth commandment is that we be mindful of the weakness of those who rule and direct us. The Catechism says we ought to “have patience with their weaknesses and shortcomings” (Q&A 104). Those with authority have received their position from God. But it doesn’t mean that they are God.

So the elders don’t have perfect wisdom for the hard cases; they’ll be finding their way through and probably making mistakes. The government can’t see into the future when there’s a crisis unfolding, but they’ll be reacting as best they can with the information they have. Parents will exasperate and frustrate, because parents too, are spiritual ‘works in progress,’ still being sanctified and still growing in Christ. Their authority is from God, and they must labour as God commands, but they are still human. So we pray for patience with the weaknesses and shortcomings of those in authority.

Submitting takes patience, and humility as well. That’s probably why Peter follows up his command to submit to leadership with the urging of lowliness, “Be clothed with humility” (1 Pet 5:5). Humility is accepting what God says about you, accepting that regardless of others’ opinions of you, and regardless of your own opinion of you.

So in humility we have to honour the structure that God has given to our society, and to the church, and to the family. It takes humility, because it means we have to listen to the wisdom and sometimes even the admonition of others. It takes humility, because it means we won’t always get our own way. Humility, because we might have to give things up for the sake of obedience. For we accept that in this too, God has his reasons.


3) God’s reason for giving authority: We spoke earlier about how a good shepherd will desire what is good for his sheep. This ought to be true for human shepherds—for parents and elders—and it’s certainly true for our God. He’s the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4), the “Overseer of [our] souls” (2:25). If anyone wants what is good for us, it is God our Father. And God knows that for our lives to flourish, we need structure and stability and good order.

This is true for each of the three kinds of authority we’ve looked at. With regard to civil authority, it’s plain to see what happens when a country doesn’t have a wise and faithful government. We see it in various places: there is anarchy, unrest, and corruption. By contrast, when a government is righteous, its people are blessed.

Same for a home. A household needs the blessing of structure and routine, and children need the gift of instruction and discipline. For children will always be catechized, by one teacher or another. In the absence of devoted parents and godly instruction, our children will be chiefly catechized by YouTube, or by movies, or songs, or the lessons picked up from a godless world. Beloved, who is catechizing your children? And when godly parents take up this task, God blesses richly, raising up believers for himself.  

God knows that nations need good government, homes need faithful order, and the churches need loving shepherds. It’s true that as individual believers, we have the Bible, and we have the Holy Spirit, and we have each other. But there’s still a need for guidance, encouragement, and sometimes rebuke, because we’re all sheep inclined to wander from the paths of God. So we need faithful shepherds.

And the gift is that such guidance is close and personal. The Catechism says, “[It’s] God’s will to govern us by their hand.” In his wisdom, God has put those with authority—especially elders and parents—close to us, even just an arm’s length away. They can be involved in our life, listening, understanding, helping.

By such people, God leads. And through our honouring of this command, God blesses. That’s the promise in the fifth commandment: “Honour your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that may enjoy long life on the earth” (Eph 6:1-2). As He always does, God blesses those who walk in his ways.

The blessing is very real. The nation led by a wise government will often be blessed with security and peace. The church led by dedicated elders will often be blessed with faithfulness and fruitfulness. The Christian home led by loving parents will often be blessed with a spirit of harmony and joy. By his blessing, God teaches us how good and wise are his ways!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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