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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 calls us to submit to all God-given authority
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 77
Psalm 78:1-3
Hymn 11:1,6,9
Hymn 1
Psalm 125

Scripture readings:  Romans 13, John 19:25-27
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,

I’d like to begin this afternoon with a man who dishonoured his grandmother.  He dishonoured his grandmother, and yet he did not disobey the Fifth Commandment.  He had his grandmother removed from a position of honour.  You can be sure that she was not pleased about this, but it was the right thing to do and it was pleasing in the eyes of God.  Yes, it pleased God for a man to dishonour his grandmother.  The grandmother was Maacah.  The grandson was King Asa.  You can read about them in 1 Kings 15.  Maacah held a special position as queen mother of Judah.  However, she was a wicked woman.  She set up a special pole for the worship of the fertility goddess Asherah.  That worship was highly sexualized.  Maacah was a devoted follower of Asherah.  Her grandson Asa was not.  He was “fully committed to the LORD all his life.”  Because of that commitment, he dishonoured his grandmother.  He had her deposed as queen mother, stripped of her special position in Judah because of her idolatry and her efforts to lead others in idolatry.  As I mentioned, Asa did not break the Fifth Commandment in dishonouring his grandmother.  What he did was pleasing to God.   

That illustrates something important right off the bat about the Fifth Commandment.  When God tells us to submit to those in authority over us, this does come with an exception.  It’s an important exception.  God wants us to submit to our parents and other authorities and honour them, so long as we are not placed in conflict with God’s will.  Think of Peter and John in Acts 4.  They were commanded by the Sanhedrin to stop speaking about Jesus.  They said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  Peter and John had to disobey the Sanhedrin because they had orders from God.  When there is a conflict between what human authorities say and what God says, God’s Word always wins out. 

Today in practical terms that means that no authority, whether parents, teachers, office bearers, government officials – no one! – has the right to order you to disobey God.  There are limits to human authority and those limits are set by God in his Word.  Unfortunately, there are too many cases in the past where this has not been recognized, even in our churches.  We think especially of all the sad cases of abuse, instances where parents and others took advantage of their authority.  No one has the right to use their authority in that wrong way and we do not disobey the Fifth Commandment when we resist or refuse to obey in these instances.  And for those of us who are entrusted with authority, we must always be careful to use our authority in a way that lines up with God’s Word. 

Now with that firmly fixed in our minds, we can proceed to look at the Fifth Commandment in more detail.  In this commandment, we are reminded that God has placed authorities in this world.  There are people who are over other people.  There are people under other people.  The people who are under other people have a calling from this commandment to submit to the authorities God has placed in their lives.  We’re going to see this afternoon how the Fifth Commandment calls us to submit to all God-given authority.  We’ll consider how this works out:

1.      In the family

2.      In the work place

3.      In civil society

The commandment says, “Honour your father and mother…”  Obviously that speaks first of all to relationships inside the family, especially between parents and children.  The Catechism recognizes that as well.  We are to show “honour, love, and faithfulness” to our fathers and mothers.  We are to follow their good instruction and discipline without hesitation.  We’re called to be patient with their weaknesses and shortcomings.  We recognize that they are human beings like we are and so we cut them a lot of slack.  After all, God has given us these parents.  It is because of God’s will and his providence that these are your parents, set in authority over you.

We see this kind of obedience in the life of our Saviour.  At the beginning of his life, when he was a youngster, Luke tells us that Jesus was obedient to his parents.  He always listened to the good instruction and discipline of Joseph and Mary.  He was patient with them, even when they didn’t understand who he was or what he had come to do.  This obedience continued throughout his life.  We see it also at the end of his life, when he was on the cross.  Jesus’ mother Mary stood there along with some other ladies and the disciple John.  Christ entrusted John with the care of his mother.  In doing this, Jesus was showing honour, love, and faithfulness to his mother. 

This is an example for us who have been redeemed by Christ.  As those united to Christ by faith, we are called to live out of our union with Christ.  Our lives on this earth should reflect his life.  He was obedient to the Fifth Commandment, he showed respect and honour to his earthly parents, and all of us should do likewise. 

But Jesus provides more than an example.  When he obeyed the Fifth Commandment perfectly, he didn’t do that just to give us an example.  He did that in our place.  God requires that we obey this commandment and all the others perfectly.  We have an obligation to perfect obedience, to perfect honour and obedience for our parents.  Jesus has met that obligation for us.  His righteousness is given to us when we believe in him.  So because of Christ, right now God looks at us and sees people who have followed everything the Fifth Commandment requires.  He sees you as someone who has always honoured, loved, and been faithful to your father and mother.  Because of Christ, God sees you as someone who has submitted to the authority of your parents and to their good teaching and discipline.  Because of our Saviour, God sees you as the completely patient child.  The gospel of grace promises us this, brothers and sisters.

The gospel also promises us forgiveness for every moment of failure.  All of us have failed at some point or another in regard to this commandment and our relationships with our parents.  When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he graciously paid for all those breaches of God’s law.  His sacrifice is sufficient to cover all your infractions of the fifth commandment.   Isn’t it comforting to know that? 

Because that’s true, we have good reasons to want to keep this Fifth Commandment.  Because Christ is our Saviour, we want to show our love and gratitude to God by honouring and obeying our parents.  And being patient with them when they don’t live up to our expectations. 

The Fifth Commandment looks simple and easy on paper, but we all know that in practice it is anything but.  Let me say a few words here to the kids, to the young brothers and sisters.  God gave you your mom and your dad.  He did that for you because he loves you.  Your mom and your dad are not perfect, and you probably already know that.  They can sometimes say and do things that are wrong.  But they are still your mom and your dad.  You still have to respect them, you still have to honour them.  When they tell you to do stuff, you have to obey them.  You must not talk back to them or argue with them, but listen and the sooner the better.  But why?  Because Jesus is your Saviour too.   You believe in Jesus Christ too, right?  He paid for your sins too.  He has loved you so much.  God has loved you and he has called you his own child.  He did that in your baptism.  Now you will answer back to God and show your love for him by honouring your mom and dad, by loving them, and obeying them.  This is what Christian children do.  That’s what Paul tells you to do in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  Paul goes on to remind us that obeying our parents is good for us.  Following the Fifth Commandment will be a blessing for us because God’s law is always for our good.

What if you find it hard to obey your parents?  That can sometimes happen.  You want to honour and obey them, but it’s tough.  What do you do?  First, you need to pray for them.  You need to pray that God will help you to honour and obey them.  You need to pray that God will help you to be patient with their failures.  When you pray in that way, it will become easier.  God will help you.  He’s done that before, and he’ll do that again.

Loved ones, the Fifth Commandment doesn’t stop being relevant when we get older either.  Though you may move out or move away, or though may leave and cleave to a spouse, your parents will always be your parents and you will always be their child.  Even in middle age or beyond, your father and mother are still to be honoured.  Again, think of Christ there in John 19.  He had been out of his mother’s house for many years, and yet he still honoured her and cared for her.  We cannot dishonour our parents by neglecting them as we and they grow older.  In fact, they become more vulnerable and require more than ever children who will love them and take care of them.  Think of Proverbs 23:22, “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.”  In other words, continue to honour and respect your parents as they get older.  Look out for them and take their needs to heart.  This is what godly Christians do as they show their thankfulness and love to the God of their salvation.        

The Fifth Commandment also applies to the work place.  It applies to our relationship with our employers.  Now this is a bit different than your relationship with your parents.  You don’t choose to be under the authority of your parents.  You didn’t pick who your parents would be.  God did that for you and you come into this world and you have to come to terms with it.  The world of employment is different.  You apply for a job.  The prospective employer perhaps calls you for an interview and, if you’re successful, offers you a job.  If you agree, then you agree to be the employee with that other person as your employer.  You have agreed to enter into this relationship where you are under someone else.  In exchange for the work that you do under this employer, you receive a wage.  So the dynamics of this relationship are different.  But yet there is still a relationship where you have someone in authority over you. 

And Scripture does speak to this relationship.  There are several passages in the New Testament that speak of the relationship between slaves and their masters.  Now you might hear that and right away think that there’s no connection to our day.  As I just mentioned, we don’t work for employers under compulsion and we do receive compensation.  You might be thinking that things were quite a bit different in the days of Paul.  If you’re a slave, you are under compulsion and you get no wage.  But if you’re thinking that, then you need to adjust your thinking.  Because the reality was that many slaves or servants did that work willingly.  And the reality was also that many masters did provide a wage for their slaves in New Testament times.  They were not necessarily compelled to, but they did so anyway to provide added motivation for the slaves to work hard. 

Now with that in mind, we can think of how Paul speaks of relationships involving authority in a passage like Ephesians 6.  Basically, he’s working out applications of the Fifth Commandment.  He speaks about children and parents first of all.  Then he gets to the workplace in verse 5.  Slaves are to obey their masters with respect and fear – to treat their employer as they would Christ himself.  For us today, that means that believers show respect for their boss.  When unbelieving employees are putting down the boss or making fun of him, the Christian will have no part in it.  Instead, we do the opposite.  Then verse 6 has Paul instructing Christian workers to obey, not just when the boss is watching, but at all times like slaves of Christ, obeying the will of God from the heart.  When we do our job in the workplace, we’re not working for people, we are working for Christ.  Paul says we’re not serving men, but the Lord, even in the workplace.  So, to make this concrete, perhaps the boss isn’t there at 8:00 in the morning to see you come into work.  Maybe he doesn’t come in till 9:00.  But you’re expected to be there at 8:00.  Does that mean that you can come in at 8:15 or 8:30?  After all, your boss won’t notice.  Of course you can’t do that as a Christian!  You’re not serving men, you’re serving the Lord in your work.  Because of that, you will be a person with integrity.  Your boss can count on you to be there at 8:00 or maybe even earlier.  Your boss can expect that you’re working for the time that he pays you for.    

Loved ones, do you see how Scripture here lays out a counter-cultural workplace ethic?  Our culture often fosters a workplace ethic that involves animosity and conflict between labour and management.  Many workplace environments presuppose such animosity, they expect it and sometimes they even encourage it.  Labour unions would have no reason to exist apart from such conflict.  The whole concept of a labour union is built on the idea that there has to be and always will be struggle between the employer and the employee, between management and labour.  This is an ungodly and unbiblical notion.  Christians bought with the blood of Christ take a different approach.  We want harmony and peace in the workplace, and we don’t seek that through the use of force and intimidation.  We want to honour and respect our employers and we seek every avenue possible to foster healthy relationships with our bosses.  We want to show honour, love, and faithfulness to those in authority, also in the workplace.  So also in our place of employment, we will be patient with the weaknesses and shortcomings of our employer. 

Doing all this is pleasing to God, and it also gives a good testimony to the world around us.  It will tell the world that we are different, that we are being transformed by Christ, and this transformation is not just something taking place on Sunday – it’s something that impacts every day of the week.  Our prayer and hope is that this will arouse the curiosity of unbelievers around us.  We want them to ask, “What is it that makes you so weird, so different?  Why do you actually seem to respect the boss?”  You see, with this godly walk of life in the workplace too, we can also gain an opportunity to speak of the gospel and win our neighbours for Christ.

That brings us to the last way in which we can apply the Fifth Commandment today and that has to do with civil society.  We’re thinking of our relationship to the civil authorities, to the government and to the police and so on.  Here too, the redemption we have in Christ is going to affect how we live and how we act.  As redeemed believers, thankful for salvation in Jesus Christ, we are going to be upstanding, law-abiding citizens in our communities.  We must be; this is what we’re called to be. 

The classic biblical passage here is Romans 13.  Paul speaks there of the governing authorities and our calling to submit to them.  Why?  Because they have been established by God.  God put them in place, just like he put parents in place in our families.  If you rebel against the government, you are rebelling against God.  The government is a servant of God.  In older Bible translations, it said that the government is a minister of God.  The government does the work of God in the civil realm, upholding law and order.  Therefore, as Christians we’re called to submit to those in authority over us in the civil realm. 

That gets worked out in three ways in Romans 13.  The first is simply by being law-abiding people in general.  We obey the laws of the land.  We’re not rebellious people, but quiet, peace-loving and law-keeping citizens. 

The second way it gets worked out in Romans 13 is in regard to taxes.  Christians pay their taxes, regardless of what they think about them.  Paul says, “if you owe taxes, pay your taxes.”  Tax fraud and tax evasion can have no place in the life of a Christian redeemed by Christ.  Such things are not only theft (sin against the eighth commandment), but also dishonouring of authority (sin against the fifth commandment).   

The third way it gets worked out has to do with honour.  We are to honour the authorities.  We do that, first, by praying for them.  Yes, we regularly pray for the government, for the police and for judges and so on in our public worship services.  But do we also pray for them privately and in our families?  Moreover, we honour the authorities with how we address them.  If we write a letter to our Prime Minister or MP or MPP, then we show respect, even if we disagree with a position they’ve taken.  If we get pulled over by a police officer, we show respect for the officer – he or she is also a servant of God.  You might not like the ticket, you may even think it’s unfair, but you’re still called to respect the person in uniform.  They are representing God as they attempt to uphold law and order.  You also have to be patient with the weaknesses and shortcomings of law enforcement.  They’re not perfect, but they do have a position of authority over you.  They have a calling to protect us and our families and our community and just by virtue of that, don’t they deserve your respect? 

Loved ones, we want our governments and police officers to think that our communities would be worse off if Christians like us were not part of it.  Also with how we relate to our authorities, we want our lifestyle and our manner of conduct to speak well of what Christ is doing in us.  We want to be counter-cultural in our approach to all authority, including in the civil realm, because this is where God is leading us through his Word.

As we conclude, brothers and sisters, imagine what the world would be like if all restraint were removed and no one respected authority.  Imagine a world where everyone just does what is right in their own eyes.  It would be a dangerous and scary place.  Thankfully, God restrains the evil around us for our sakes.  He holds back the wicked and ungodly so that we can live on this earth and flourish, so that we can also be instruments to spread the gospel of redemption.  But the fact that he does that also speaks of his design and intention for us in Christ.  In Christ, God wants to restrain the evil in our hearts and lives.  He wants to have us submit to all the different authorities that he has placed in our lives.  And he does this because it is good for the world, it is good for us, because he loves us, and because this will lead to his glory.  AMEN.


Our good and wise God,

Thank you for the Fifth Commandment and its sound teaching for our lives.  We thank you for the obedience of our Saviour to this commandment.  We thank you that in Christ we have forgiveness for all our breaches of this commandment.  Father, because we love you and want to follow you, please continue to teach us your ways.  Help us to honour and respect the authorities you’ve placed in all the different areas of our lives, from the home to the workplace to the civil realm and everywhere.  Help us to respect, love, and obey, even when it’s difficult to do so.  Please give us patience with the weaknesses and shortcomings of those you have set over us.  Father, we do pray for the authorities in our lives.  We pray for our parents.  Please give them wisdom so that they give good instruction and discipline.  We pray for our employers.  We ask that you would help them to run their businesses well and also treat us well as their employees.  We pray for our government officials at all the different levels of government.  Please give them hearts to serve you, hearts that want to submit to your will, and we pray that under their rule we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  We pray for the men and women of our local police.  Please bless their efforts to preserve law and order in our community.  Please protect them as they watch over our neighbourhoods.  Please give them wisdom for their task and cause them to continue to be a blessing to our city.  Please restrain evil through them and also among them.   

* 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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