Briefly stated, this means that we should fear and love God that we may not despise our parents and masters nor provoke them to anger, but give them honor, serve and obey them, and hold them in love and esteem.
God has given parenthood a special status above that of other relationships.
God commands us to love our brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general.
However, we are not only commanded to love our parents but also to honor
them. By requiring us to honor our parents, God places them at His side
as His representatives. Because honor not only involves love, but also
modesty, humility, and deference to authority, it is far higher than love.
Honor not only requires us to address our parents kindly and with reverence,
but also to act in such a way as to show that we esteem them very highly.
Therefore, we must teach the young to regard their parents as God's representatives. Children should understand that no matter how lowly, poor, frail, and odd their parents may be; they are nevertheless the father and mother given them by God. Parents are not to be deprived of their honor because of their shortcomings or lack of social graces. Our eyes should not be upon them but upon the will of God. In other respects we are all alike in the eyes of God, but God has given parents authority over their children.
This commandment requires us to esteem our parents above all things as the most precious treasure on earth. Furthermore, we are not to speak to them roughly, haughtily, and defiantly; but yield to them and be silent even if they go too far. Thirdly, we are to help them and provide for them when they are old, sick, infirm, or poor. All of this we are to do gladly, with humility and reverence, as doing it unto Christ. If our heart is in accord with the will of God in this matter, we will not allow our parents to be hungry or in need, but will care for them and share what we have with them.
If this commandment had been taken seriously, monasticism and other systems for earning salvation by works would never have been invented. Instead of shutting themselves into a monastery and neglecting their parents, children would have realized that it is far more holy to obey God's commandment than to follow a man made system of piety. It is impossible to find a better teacher than God! We will never be able to improve on God, and what He commands is far superior to anything devised by man. The fact that God commands it proves that it is pleasing to Him. Yet we see this commandment neglected and replaced with the worthless works of men.
If God's commandment had been followed we would have a society of godly children caring for their parents in a spirit of Christian love. Such a society would be a joy to behold. However, God's commandment was neglected and trampled under foot. Instead of caring for their parents, children ran after the devices of men without ever having enough respect for God to consult His Word.
Therefore, let us learn from the mistakes of the past. If our children really want to please God let them begin by honoring their parents or those they may be subject to in their stead. In contrast to works devised by men, those who do what this commandment requires can be certain that they are doing the will of God. Let all the monks come together, bringing all of their distressing and difficult works, and they will not be able to show one that is greater and nobler than obedience to father and mother. As long as parents are doing the will of God and not opposing His commandments, there is no obedience higher than obedience to the will and word of parents. However, a father who urges his child to disobey one of God's commandments has ceased to be that child's father, and has become an agent of Satan who would seduce the child away from its true heavenly Father.
Learn to esteem this commandment and to realize how precious it really is. All Carthusians, monks, and nuns would pay a tremendous price if, in all their religious doings, they could bring into God's presence a single work done in obedience to His commandment. Thank God that He has chosen you to do such a precious work. Those who despise this commandment and regard it as of little importance have been deceived. Learn to see this commandment as a great and precious work, not because of any worthiness on your part, but because it is the Word of God. On the day of judgement, those who have neglected this commandment in favor of monastic piety shall hide from the face of God and blush with shame in the presence of a young child who has lived according to this commandment when they have not. And it will serve them right for treading God's commandment under foot while tormenting themselves with works of their own devising.
Therefore, rejoice when doing what God has commanded, for Satan loves to deceive us with the glamour of our own works, and the world cares nothing for the Word of God. Due to their spiritual blindness, the world does not believe that this commandment could ever be superior to the sacrifices of the Carthusians, who sometimes kill themselves by fasting and praying upon their knees without ceasing, yet doing what God has commanded is better than all of their false holiness.
Take what I say seriously and take it to heart, lest we again be lead away from the pure Word of God to the deceitful works of Satan. If you do life will be much better, for parents will have more joy, love, friendship, and concord in their houses. Compliant children are a source of joy, while those who are obstinate anger both God and their parents. Children who try to please can captivate their parents' hearts, while those who will not do what they ought until a rod is laid on their back deprive themselves of much happiness and the joy of a clean conscience, while laying up for themselves only misfortune. Many parents are too ignorant to give their children godly training and a good example. One fool trains another, and as they have lived so live their children after them. As a result, everyone complains that both young and old are dishonest, that they have no reverence or sense of honor, that they will do whatever wrong they can get away with, and that they will not do right unless they are driven to it by blows. In the long run, they loose God's blessing and sink into filth and misery.
Because this commandment is so important, we ought to be thankful if we have parents whom we can honor. After divine worship, showing honor to our parents is the highest work we can do. It is a work that is pleasing to God and the angels, yet vexes the devils. The giving of alms and every other good work toward our neighbor is not equal to it. God has given parents this high position as His representatives so that they might instruct their children in godliness and bring them to faith in Christ. In response to such godly instruction, children ought to acknowledge the debt of gratitude that they owe to their parents and be all the more willing to show them honor. The fact that such honor is the will and pleasure of God should be all the incentive they need.
It is our duty to be grateful for every benefit that we have received through our parents. However, the devil rules in this world, so children forget their parents as we all forget God. No one considers how much we owe to God's blessing. We give little thought to all the good that God provides, or to the fact that He nourishes, protects, and defends us. When trouble arises, it is far too easy for us to grow angry and grumble with impatience while all the good we have received is blotted out of our memory. We show the same ingratitude to our parents, and (except the Holy Ghost grant him this grace) there is no child that understands and considers what his parents have endured while nourishing and caring for him.
God is fully aware of this perverseness of human nature. Therefore, He commands us to consider all that our parents have done for us. It is from them that we have received body and life. They have fed us and reared us when otherwise we might have perished one hundred times over in our own filth. Therefore, he was wise indeed who came up with the saying, "To God, to parents, and to teachers we can never render sufficient gratitude and compensation." He who understands this will need no compulsion to honor his parents or to care for them as those through whom God has done him all good.
Over and above all this, there is another reason that should incite
us all the more to do what this commandment requires. God has attached
to this commandment a promise saying, "That you may live long upon the
land which the Lord, your God, gives you." Here you can see how earnest
God is in respect to this commandment. He not only makes it clear that
it is His will for us to honor our parents, but also promises His blessing
that we may have a pleasant life furnished with every good thing. That
blessing is offered to all who believe. Therefore, the Apostle Paul emphasizes
this commandment, saying, "This is the first commandment with promise:
That it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth." (Ephesians
6:2-3) For although the other commandments have promises contained in them,
none is explicitly stated.
Happy days, fortune, and prosperity are the fruit and reward of observing this commandment. On the other hand, those who disregard it shall not enjoy life and shall perish sooner. For having long life in the sense of the Scriptures is not only becoming old, but also having everything which belongs to long life -- such as health, wife, and children, livelihood, peace, good government, etc. -- without which this life can neither be enjoyed in cheerfulness nor long endure. Therefore, if you will not obey your father and mother and submit to their discipline, you will submit to the police or to death. Those who, in faith, render love and service receive love and service from God. Those who scorn His commandment may wind up dead or on death row. Why do you think that our prisons are overcrowded and there is so much violence in our society, except because of disobedience to parents. Those who will not submit to right when it is taught by their parents bring upon themselves misery, misfortune, and grief. Such people rarely die a natural or timely death. In contrast, those who walk in righteousness trusting in God's promise can usually expect to lead quiet and peaceable lives and see their children's children.
Experience bears this out, for whenever we find old and honorable families that have many children, their existence is due to the fact that some were well bought up and regardful of their parents. On the other hand, it is written of the wicked, Ps. 109:13, "Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out." Therefore, recognize the hand of God and realize how seriously He takes this commandment, for His reward is great and His disfavor brings only misery and wrath.
All this I say that the truth may be impressed upon the young, for few realize how important this commandment is. Everyone assumes that he knows what the commandment means, and so passes over it lightly, with little thought. They are so busy trying to discover things that are not explicitly stated that they ignore what is explicitly stated in God's Word. They are blind to the fact that God is offended by their indifference to His Word.
* This commandment comprehends all that God requires in regard to our obedience of those in authority. For all God given authority stems from, and has its origin in, the authority of parents. If a father starts a business and then appoints certain of his employees to act as supervisors, he delegates some of his authority to those supervisors. Likewise, if he hires someone to teach his child, he delegates some of his parental authority to the teacher. In the same way, if he hires someone to guard his place of business, he must delegate some of his authority to the guard. The same holds true when men set up a government. If one man is employed to guard the community, the others delegate to him the right to protect and defend their person and property. Thus, all who hold authority receive that authority from parents. Since that is the case, it should be obvious that individuals cannot delegate to rulers authority that they do not possess. If God has not given parents the right to engage in criminal behavior, they cannot give rulers the right engage in criminal behavior. If they do not have the right to take your property, they cannot give a ruler the right to take your property. Therefore, just as this commandment does not give parents the right to do wickedness, it does not give to rulers the right to do wickedness. Rulers are given authority so that they might be a terror to evildoers and an encouragement to the righteous to the end that we might be free to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1 Peter 2:14, 1 Timothy 2:2). It is never the will of God for rulers to abuse their authority!
Since all authority comes from the authority of parents, we owe those who are over us the same kindness and respect that we ought to show our parents. Employees should do all that is expected of them, not reluctantly because they are compelled to but cheerfully as unto Christ. They should conduct themselves honestly, be grateful to their employer for the wage he provides, and speak well of him at all times. That is the will of God and only by doing it can they have joyful consciences and works pleasing to God. For too long such works were ignored while those deceived by Satan shut themselves up in convents, or went on pilgrimages, or bought indulgences, always seeking a clean conscience, but receiving only an evil conscience.
If people could only see the truth they would leap up and praise and thank God. For her tidy work a servant girl not only receives support and wages, but also a treasure greater than those who seek righteousness by works could ever attain. Isn't it invigorating to know that if you perform your daily domestic tasks it is better than all of the sanctity and self-denial of monks? In addition you have a promise that it shall be well with you. As far as works are concerned, you could not lead a more blessed or holier life for, in the sight of God, faith in Christ is what really renders a person holy and serves God. Only those who have their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb are doing the will of God. All other works are for the service of man. Once we come to faith, we serve others by letting Christ live through us. Only then is what we do pleasing to God and rewarded by Him. Therefore, do your work cheerfully, knowing that God will reward you a hundredfold and that you have His blessing and protection. Outside of His will, you will find no peace, misfortune shall be your lot, and you will have nothing but wrath in the end.
Let the jailer or the executioner deal with those who care nothing for God's command or promise. God is not playing games. Those who do His will are His dear children, while those who despise His will have only shame, misery, and grief for their reward.
The same could also be said of civil government, for just as parents give us protection and security, rulers provide us with protection and security. For that reason, we owe them our gratitude and respect, and it is our duty to give them honor. Since they render us a service and have expenses that must be met, we should reimburse them for their service. However, rulers who use their power to terrorize and oppress the righteous have abdicated their role as our protector and are unworthy of honor. God will dispose of them.
The humble believer who is ready and willing to serve, cheerfully doing what is right and honorable, is doing the will of God and can expect God's blessing along with the peace and joy that goes with it. However, if he will not serve in a spirit of love but despises and resists authority, he will not have God's favor or blessing. Without God's blessing it will not be well with him. What he hopes to gain by wrongdoing, he will lose elsewhere ten times over. Without God's blessing upon his house, he will experience no good from his children. He may suffer wrong, violence, and injustice at the hands of others, Worse yet, he may wind up in prison, or a victim of war, illness, or drug abuse. At any rate, we can be sure that he will reap what he sows.
Whenever such works come from faith rather than from a self- righteous desire to make ourselves holy, they are pleasing to God. If we would allow ourselves to be persuaded that such works are pleasing to God and have so rich a reward, we would be established in abundant possessions and have what our heart desires. But because the word and command of God are so lightly esteemed, as though it was the word of a babbler, the world is full of unfaithfulness, disgrace, calamity, and murder. Are you ready to oppose God? Do you think that He is unable to give you what you deserve? You would certainly live much better with divine favor, peace, and happiness than with His displeasure and misfortune. Yet everyone wants to do as he pleases without any regard for the Word of God. Therefore, God punishes one dishonorable person by another.
Yet whenever we suffer misfortune, we murmur and complain, but will not see that we fully deserve what we receive. As a result, we complain of unfaithfulness, violence, and injustice, but do not repent. No one wants to look at his own sins. Our sinful heart is so totally possessed by madness that we would get angry with God and rail against Him before we would confess that we deserve only God's wrath and displeasure. As a result, we get nothing but misfortune without mercy. Because of our sin, we do not deserve to have a job, a house, or even a dime. I urge you to take what I say to heart so the blindness might be lifted, and you might understand the Word and will of God and earnestly accept it. All of the blessings we have are given for the benefit of those who have been justified by faith. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, but only those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb have God's blessing and favor. Therefore, confess your sins. Do not claim any righteousness of your own. And humbly look to God for mercy, resting your heart on His promise of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. It is only then that you will learn to have joy, happiness, and salvation, both now and forevermore.
So far we have considered two kinds of fathers, those who have the authority of a father by blood, and those to whom the authority of a father, to punish wicked and disobedient children has been delegated. In other words, those who care for the family and those who care for the country. Besides these there are spiritual fathers. I am not talking about those in the Papacy, who wish to be called Fathers without performing any function of the paternal office, but those who bring us to faith in Christ and nurture us with the gospel. (Romans 1:17) The Apostle Paul speaks of this fatherhood when he says, "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel." (1 Corinthians 4:15) The authority of this fatherhood is not the authority of a Lord, who we are bound to obey, but the authority of the Word of God. When one of these fathers speak the Word of God, we are bound to respect him and obey him as if God Himself had spoken. We should also be respectful when he voices his opinions, even though those opinions have no more authority that the opinions of anyone else (Matthew 23:8). However, if he contradicts the Word of God, his word must be rejected as the word of Satan. Yet the way of the world is to do the opposite. This world is quick to reject and condemn those who speak the word of God, while giving head to silly opinions and running madly after falsehood and deception. (Luke 6:26, 1 Corinthians 4:13)
Therefore, the people need to be taught to esteem those who minister to their soul as worthy of double honor. We should treat them kindly and see that they are provided for. As you care for them, God will care for you, bless you, and see that your needs are provided for. But those who are stingy, begrudging the preacher anything beyond the bare necessities, while having plenty to waste on entertainment and pleasure for themselves, deserve to have God deprive them of His Word and blessing. Treasure those who are faithful in proclaiming the gospel, lest preachers of lies arise leading many to the devil.
Those who take this commandment to heart have the promise that what they bestow upon their physical and spiritual fathers shall be richly recompensed to them. It will be well with them, for they have long life, food, clothing, money, and treasure in heaven. Therefore, do what is your duty, and trust God to support you and provide for you sufficiently. Since He has promised it, and cannot lie, you know that He will do it. This promise of God ought to encourage us in giving, and give us hearts that would melt in pleasure and love toward those to whom we owe honor. You ought to thank God for such a promise. Such a promise would be worth traveling to the most remote part of the earth to obtain. For without God's blessing, there is nothing in the entire world that can add an hour to your life or cause a single grain to spring from the earth. But God wishes to give you all exceeding abundantly according to your heart's desire. Those who despise this promise and cast it to the wind are not worthy to hear a word from God.
Although the Ten Commandments do not speak of how those in a position of honor are to conduct themselves; the Bible speaks of it, and God desires to have it taught in connection with this commandment. For God did not give this commandment for the benefit of scoundrels and tyrants, nor does He want such people in this office. The authority to govern was not given to men that they might have themselves worshiped, but that they should consider the fact that they are under an obligation to obey God. God expects them to faithfully discharge their office while teaching those under their authority, by word and example, to honor and praise God. Therefore, how they conduct themselves it not left up to their arbitrary will and judgement, but must be according to the will of God to whom they must give account.
Failing to understand this, many live as if God gave them children for their own amusement, employees for their own profit, and subjects to gratify their own desires. People are put to work just as a horse or ox might be put to work, without any concern as to what they learn or how they live. No one is willing to see that those in authority must account to God, who will surely punish those who neglect their responsibility or abuse their authority. The training of young people is a very serious responsibility. A failure to train our children according to God's Word can have disastrous results that last for generations -- as well as for eternity. If we are to have wise and able persons for the administration of both civil and ecclesiastical government, we must spare no effort, time, or cost in the education of our children. And the emphasis in their education should not be the accumulation of wealth, but how to serve God in the world. We are to train them according to His will. Fathers and mothers exist to carry out that training. The children belong to God, and parents are His stewards. For that reason, parents who neglect their responsibility are in danger of God's judgement and wrath. We are to bring our children up in the fear and knowledge of God, and should prepare them, according to their ability, that they might carry out the will of God in government, or in any other job to which they are called. Such training would be a source of great blessing to our society, for it would produce citizens who know the Word of God and how to apply it. Such knowledge would produce strong homes, chaste marriages, and domestic wives who are able to rear godly children. On the other hand, great harm will result if you fail to bring up your child to be a productive and God fearing adult. All of the evil we see in our nation has resulted from a neglect of godly education. Therefore, be warned. Those who shirk their responsibility have every reason to expect God's wrath, and they may earn damnation by their own children.
[The above is based upon, and closely follows, Martin Luther's explanation
of the Fourth Commandment.]
*Martin Luther saw this commandment as a summary of all that the Bible says about authority.