The Fourth Commandment: From the Pastor’s Desk (May 2022)

This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:

The Fourth Commandment

Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter.  This month we continue by examining the Fourth Commandment.  I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.

The Fourth Commandment

Honor your father and your mother.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents

and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.

In some ways this commandment seems a little out of place (at least to me).  You have the first three that deal with our relationship with God.  Then you have commandments 5-10 that relate to our neighbors and seem more like regular laws (do not steal, do not murder, etc.).  The fourth commandment is one that bridges these two groups and relates specifically to the family unit.

Luther elevates this commandment.  He spends more time on this commandment in his Large Catechism than any other commandment.  He writes at least twice as much about this commandment than any other.  He shows this importance toward the beginning of his explanation in the Large Catechism where he writes:

 ‘Now follow the other seven, which relate to our neighbor.  Among these the first and greatest is: You are to honor your father and mother.’  God has given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it.  Not only has he commanded us to love parents but to honor them.  In regard to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general he commands nothing higher than that we love them.  But he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself.  For it is a much higher thing to honor than to love.  Honor includes not only love, but also deference, humility, and modesty directed (so to speak) toward a majesty concealed within them.  Honor requires us not only to address them affectionately and with high esteem, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and body, that we respect them very highly, and that next to God we give them the very highest place.  For anyone whom we are wholeheartedly to honor, we must truly regard as high and great. (The Book of Concord, p.400-401)

Luther in another writing affirms parents as teachers of the gospel and that both fathers and mothers are apostles, bishops and priests to their children.  He goes on to state that there is no greater or nobler authority on earth. (from The Estate of Marriage, by Martin Luther, 1522).

All this elevates the importance and significance of the family unit—that it is a gift from God.  Hence, we honor, love, serve, respect and obey our parents as we see them as a gift from God.  If we do not honor, respect them then in some ways we are dishonoring God by not embracing this gift that comes from God. 

Building upon this, I remember when I was in seminary and taking Hebrew (the language).  Our instructor was a Jewish rabbi because the normal professor was on sabbatical.  He taught us that the first letter in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) from Genesis 1:1 was בThis is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and gets its origins from the notion of the word ‘house’.  Thus showing the significance and importance of the family to the story of God. 

All this leads me to the question:  How are you honoring your father and mother?  Even in difficult relationships where boundaries need to be drawn, how do you still seek to keep this commandment?

Additionally, Luther as well as Scripture (see Romans 13), expand the idea of others in authority as a gift from God.  How do you additionally seek to live out this commandment in relationship to others in authority (government, work, etc.)?

What does this look like for you in your daily life?