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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Fifth Commandment is essential to our life of thankfulness
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs are from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 80:1-3
Psalm 119:30
Psalm 78:1-3
Hymn 1
Hymn 80:4-6

Readings:  2 Samuel 15:1-12, Matthew 15:1-20
Text:  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 Jesus Christ,

Imagine what it would be like if you and a group of 20 friends had the opportunity to start your own society on a deserted island.  You could start from scratch in paradise.  What would be the outcome?  In his classic novel, The Lord of the Flies, William Golding explored that question.  The book is about a group of boys stranded on a beautiful yet deserted island.  Apart from their parents, apart from their teachers, apart from law and government, the characters in the book spiral downwards into shocking levels of depravity.  The Lord of the Flies is a brilliant expose of human nature and it speaks on several levels.  There are different ways to interpret and appreciate it.  But as I read it in high school a number of years ago, I couldn’t help but think that one thing Golding was trying to communicate was that when law and order are removed, people often act in chaotic, unpredictable, and even dangerous ways.

On the flip side, when people appreciate and embrace law and order, society often flourishes and things go well.  There is predictability and safety in law and order.  That’s one of the reasons why Christians recognize the value of God’s law, especially as given in the Ten Commandments.  When we’re thankful for the salvation we have in Christ and embrace God’s law as the guide for expressing our thankfulness, goodness and safety result for others around us.  Living by God’s law does good for others.  Living by God’s law shows love to others around us. 

This is right away obvious with the fifth commandment and its explanation in the Heidelberg Catechism.  The fifth commandment involves us and others.  We’re commanded to honour others.  The Catechism draws this out to mean that we’re to show honour, love, and faithfulness to parents and to others in authority over us.  As we’re going to see this afternoon, the good that this commandment envisions extends not only directly to those in positions of authority, whether parents or others.  When we have the fifth commandment as part of our life of thankfulness, we do good and love all our neighbours as ourselves.  The Fifth Commandment is essential to our life of thankfulness.  That’s our theme and we’ll survey some passages from both the Old Testament and New Testament to see how this works out. 

Before we get into those Old Testament passages, I need to briefly say something about abusive relationships of authority.  Some of you have suffered at the hands of parents or others who were in positions of authority.  Perhaps some of you are suffering right now.  I hope and pray that’s not the case, but one never knows.  What has been done to you or is being done is not right, it was not your fault, and the fifth commandment doesn’t support it.  Having patience with someone’s weaknesses and shortcomings doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be abused.  Abuse, whether physical, mental or sexual – it’s all wicked, all abuse is sin and no one has to put up with it.  If you’re being abused, you need to speak with someone you can trust about it so you can get help in dealing with it, also so that abusers can be confronted with their need for repentance.  If you have been abused in the near or far past, you may need some help to work through it if you haven’t already had that help.  As a church, we are here for those who are broken.  We want to be a place where people can heal together and find rest for their souls in Jesus Christ.  By God’s grace and with his help, we are not going to be a church where abusers are protected and allowed to continue in their sin.  We take the words of Christ in Matthew 18 seriously, not just his words about discipline, but also his words about the little ones, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  I hope we all understand that.

Let’s now get into our look at the Old Testament.  What we see as we survey the Old Testament and relationships between parents and children is a lot of failure.  Time and again, God’s people just can’t seem to get it through their heads that they are to show honour, love and faithfulness to parents and others in authority.  As we look at some of those passages where that happens, we need to remind ourselves of what God says in Romans 15:4.  He says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

So what do the Scriptures teach us?  Genesis 9 is a good place to begin.  It was after the great Flood.  Noah took up farming again and planted a vineyard.  He drank too much wine and fell asleep naked in his tent.  Ham saw this, but did nothing about it apart from telling his brothers.  He could have taken action to preserve his father’s honour, but did not.  Instead, it was left to Shem and Japheth to go into the tent walking backwards to cover their father and take away his shame.  When Noah awoke, he realized that Ham had dishonoured him with his inaction and placed a curse on his son Canaan.   

Now someone might say that this was before the Ten Commandments, so this really has nothing to do with the commandment we’re learning about.  But not so quick.  Later in Genesis, in chapter 26, we read about Abraham as being one who obeyed God’s commandments, statutes and laws.  What this tells us is that the law of God existed before Mt. Sinai.  God wanted children to honour their parents even before he gave the Ten Commandments in the days of Moses.  So Ham could be guilty for what he did to his father.  He had failed to show respect.  He had no love at that moment for his closest neighbour, his father.  And the result of that was a curse upon his son Canaan.  When we fail to honour our parents and others in authority, bad things happen, not only to us, but also to our children.  When our children see that we don’t honour our parents (their grandparents), are we to expect them to honour their grandparents?  To honour us?  When our children see that we don’t respect the officebearers or the police or whoever else in authority, are we to expect them to do so?  The account of Ham and Noah teaches us that dishonour for parents and other authorities affects other relationships as well. 

A similar thing is taught in the first chapters of 1 Samuel.  Eli was an indulgent father with his sons Hophni and Phinehas.  They were priests, but they had no regard for God, no awe and reverence for him.  Moreover, they took advantage of the people.  Eli would admonish them, but they wouldn’t listen – it was too little, too late.  In 1 Samuel 2 a prophet from God confronted Eli concerning his approach to his sons and his failure to teach his sons respect for authority, especially respect for God.  The prophet rebuked Eli and said that Eli honoured his sons more than he honoured God.  He had been an indulgent and doting father, putting his children before God and his law.  And for this reason, judgment would come upon the house of Eli.

And that’s exactly what happened in 1 Samuel 4.  There was a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines and the Israelites were decimated.  Hophni and Phinehas died, but they took four thousand other Israelites with them.  Four thousand!  Two men disobeyed and dishonoured their overindulgent father and four thousand people paid the price with them!  If Eli had taught his sons to respect authority, and if his sons had listened to their father, that would have done good for the people of Israel, that would have shown love for their neighbours.  Instead, their failure led to dysfunction, death, and destruction.  Brothers and sisters, that stands in Scripture as a warning for us.

Then there’s that powerful passage we read from 2 Samuel 15, the story of Absalom and David.  Absalom didn’t honour David as his father, neither did he honour him as king.  In fact, his act of treason was a slap on both sides of David’s face, especially after David had forgiven Absalom for having murdered his brother Amnon.  In this situation, civil war arose in Israel because a son didn’t respect his father and a prince didn’t honour the king.  If he had kept the fifth commandment, Absalom would have done good for Israel and he would shown love for his neighbours.  But as it was, he brought trouble upon the people and trouble and grief for his father.  Who can forget David’s words when he mourned the death of Absalom his son?  His crying out, “O my son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”  In those moving words, you can sense the the deep grief that was caused by Absalom’s failure.  Loved ones, take careful note of the disastrous consequences of disobedience to the fifth commandment.

Finally, we should take note of the exile of God’s people to Babylon and the various sins of the people that caused it.  In Ezekiel 22, the prophet outlines the sins of the people which led to God’s judgment.  Verse 7 mentions those who treated their parents with contempt.  Verse 10 mentions those who dishonoured their fathers’ bed.  The exile had many causes; but sin against the fifth commandment was in there.  When the nation did not respect parents and authority, judgment followed. 

The story of the fifth commandment in the Old Testament is a story of one failure after another.  The Apostle Paul tells us one reason why we have these stories.  In 1 Corinthians 10:6, he writes, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”  And then in verse 11, they “were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”  So, examples and a warning.  But there’s more, because all those stories and the failures we see were a reminder that a Saviour had to come.  They were cries, one after another, for a Redeemer, for the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.  There were Old Testament failures, but they pointed ahead to a New Testament fulfillment. 

As we turn to the New Testament, we see a Saviour who perfectly kept the fifth commandment and in so doing did good for others, showed love for his neighbour.  In Luke 2:51, we read that that the Lord Jesus “went down to Nazareth with them [his parents] and was obedient to them.”  Don’t take those words for granted.  There was never a time when our Lord Jesus failed to show honour, love, and faithfulness to his parents.  There was never a time that he failed to submit himself with due obedience to their good instruction and discipline.  He was always patient with their weaknesses and shortcomings.  And why?  He did it out of love for us.  The result was that he did good for us.  All his perfect obedience is given to us so that we who have failed so often can be perfect and right with God.  Here again, fix your eyes on your wonderful Saviour!  Trust in his obedience on your behalf to be your righteousness before God.   

And Jesus was obedient, not only with his parents, but also with others.  In Matthew 22, Christ told his followers to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, to show him the proper respect that he deserves because of his office.  Christ didn’t come to overthrow Rome or any other political authority.  Our Saviour, though he’s the King of kings and Lord of lords, when he was on earth, he showed the proper respect to those in authority.  And here too, this is his perfect obedience for us, a demonstration of his love for us.  Believe in this Saviour and give thanks that he covers all your sins in this area with his blood and gives his obedience to you. 

You see, Jesus doesn’t get rid of the fifth commandment, but obeys it perfectly.  More than that, he also reinforces it and strengthens it.  He does that in the passage we read from Matthew 15.  It comes in the context of a challenge to the Pharisees and teachers of the law and their love for the traditions of men.  In fact, they were placing the traditions of men, the “traditions of the elders” over the commandments of God.  The Pharisees and scribes had been teaching the people that they didn’t have to honour their parents with financial support.  There was a legal loophole they could use to avoid this obligation.  If a parent saw something a son had that they needed and they asked for it, all the son had to say was, “It is a gift for God.”  By saying that, he was released from his obligation to honour his father and mother.  Christ says the people are hypocrites for this practice.  They turn their backs on what God says in his Word and exalt their own tradition and line their own pockets.  And in so doing, he underlines and emphasizes that the fifth commandment is still in force for God’s people.  It is still the rule for our thankfulness.  More than that, he does good and shows love by protecting parents from the traditions of men that would harm them.   

But his teaching on that commandment doesn’t stop there.  In Matthew 10, our Lord Jesus says our obligations to God are greater than our obligations to family.  He says,  “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…”  But that isn’t because of the traditions of men, but because of the commandments of God.  Our first and highest obligation is always to God.  So, if we draw that out, a parent or anyone else in authority can never command us to do something which goes against what God has revealed in his Word as his will for us.  For example, a parent may never tell us to steal, to commit adultery, to worship God in a way other than he has commanded in his Word and so on.  And if a parent or someone else in authority should tell us to do something contrary to God’s Word, we must not obey them.  Peter understood this teaching of Christ and showed it when he said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men!”  That does good for people and shows love for one’s neighbour because it guards against being enslaved to the tyranny of human beings attempting to replace God and his good rule.  

So our Saviour shows there are limits to the obedience outlined in the fifth commandment.  We’ve also seen his obedience to that commandment and how that is good and loving for us.  But now let’s focus on what Paul says about our obedience to the fifth commandment in Ephesians 6.  He says in verse 1 of Ephesians 6, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  Notice that he says, “in the Lord.”  When he does this, he ties obedience to the fifth commandment to our life in Jesus Christ.  It’s a fruit of our union with Christ through faith.  When we believe in Jesus Christ, we’ll be obedient to our parents and others in authority over us.  That doesn’t mean that we’ll be consistently and perfectly obedient, but we will be moving in that direction. 

And then Paul repeats the fifth commandment and reminds us that this is a commandment with a promise.  When we obey the fifth word, things will go well with us and we will enjoy long life on the earth.  Blessings will come to us.  Now this is a general rule and general rules always have exceptions, but it is generally true that when we show honour, love and faithfulness to those whom God has placed over us, good will result, not only for us, but also for others around us.  Think of the fact that the promise includes a long life on the earth.  What you do with those whom God has placed over you, including your parents, will typically have an impact on the length of your life and its quality. 

Let me illustrate one way in which this works.  Our kids are watching us and how we treat their grandparents.  Normally, they will treat us as they saw us treat our parents.  One author says, “The naked and crude point of the Fifth Commandment is honour your parents lest your children dishonour you.”  And so if we take care of our parents, our children will take care of us, helping us to live longer.  Another author says, “A son who neglects to maintain his elderly parents gives a bad example to his own children.  He will risk suffering, in his turn, when he arrives at his old age.”  Now you might think, what does that have to do with showing love to one’s neighbour?  Well, wouldn’t you want to have a good, long, healthy relationship with your children and grandchildren?  Isn’t such a relationship doing good for them and others?  And then isn’t such a relationship also ultimately pleasing and glorifying to God?  It begins now with living out of your union with Christ and following the way of his law. 

Loved ones, no good results from dishonour, hatred, and faithlessness to father and mother and others in authority over us.  When we’re impatient with their weaknesses and shortcomings and decide to go our own way and do our own thing, we dig our own grave and the graves of others too.  There is death, dysfunction, and destruction in disobedience.  But for us who believe, there is life in God’s law because we have a Saviour who kept that law perfectly.  Look to Jesus Christ again today and then let your faith in him bear fruit through your eagerness to walk in God’s paths.  AMEN.                 


Father in heaven,

We thank you for the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ our Saviour.  We praise you that he kept the fifth commandment perfectly for us, for us who have failed so often and so miserably.  We worship that through Christ and what he did on the cross we can be forgiven for every time we have broken this commandment.  Father, please give us more grace with your Holy Spirit, so that our faith in Christ would bear fruit, also the fruit of obedience to this fifth word of your covenant with us.  Help us to show all honour, love and faithfulness to our parents and others in positions of authority.  Help us to submit ourselves with obedience to their teaching and discipline.  Oh God, help us to be patient with their weaknesses and shortcomings, because we know it is your will to rule us by their hand.  Father, we also pray for those who’ve been hurt by the abuse of authority.  We pray that you would bring help and healing.  We pray that those who have abused their authority would also truly repent and seek forgiveness and look to be reconciled with those they have hurt.  Father, give us your grace so that this church would be a place of healing and grace for all. 


* 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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