Catechism lesson 35: Respect for authority (LD 39)

We owe parents and other authority figures respect, because God has created and appointed our social relationships.

LD 39 q&a 104.

What does God require
in the fifth commandment?

That I show all honour, love, and faithfulness
to my father and mother
and to all those in authority over me,
submit myself with due obedience
to their good instruction and discipline,
and also have patience
with their weaknesses and shortcomings,

since it is God’s will
to govern us by their hand.

The fifth commandment is: “Honour your father and your mother.” The basic meaning is, of course, that children should be respectful to their parents, and show them honour and respect. This commandment is not less important that the other ones.

Read Deuteronomy 21:18-21. What punishment did God prescribe for children who insisted on disobeying their parents?

The fifth commandment also includes a promise: If you honour your father and your mother, you can expect that it will go well in the land that the Lord is giving you. The peace and prosperity of God’s people depended on respect for parents!

The church has always recognized that this commandment is not only about children and parents. There are other patterns and structures of authority in our lives. The unequal relationship between parents and children organizes the family. The unequal relationship between governor and subjects organizes the nation. The unequal relationship between employer and employee organizes the workplace. This is good and healthy for a society. The fifth commandment tells us to respect these relationships.

Jesus and authority

Some people think that Jesus was a rebel, who opposed the authority structures of his time. Did he not argue with the religious leaders? Did he not lead a rebellion against them?

But if you read the Bible carefully, Jesus always showed respect to authorities. Even when he was on trial in an unfair way, he spoke respectfully to the priest. He did not lead a revolution against the Romans or against King Herod.

How did Jesus show respect for his parents? (See Luke 2:41-51)

How did Jesus show respect for the Roman government? (See Matthew 22:15-22)

The only “revolution” of Jesus was, that he pointed out that God’s Kingdom is greater than any of these authorities on earth. Ultimately, the parent-child relationship and emperor-subject relationship will disappear. In the Kingdom of God, there is only one authority: God himself, who will be worshipped by all. Christians can therefore be “aloof” toward earthly authority: respect the structure, put up with unfairness, and in the end expect God to take care of all of it.

Imperfect authority

The problem with parents, teachers, employers, and governments is that they are not always right. They can treat you unfairly; they can demand things of you that simply are not fair. How do you deal with that?

What answer does the Bible give to this question in 1 Peter 2:18-25? How is Jesus an example for us in this regard?

Being in charge doesn’t always mean that you are right. If your parents or government forces you to do bad things, that is a big problem. At some point you may have to say “no”—but where do you draw the line?

From the other side, if you are in charge of others, that gives you extra responsibility. It is important not to abuse your power. Authority must be use for the good of others, not in a selfish way. That is why Paul teaches fathers: “Do not provoke your children, so they don’t become discouraged.” (Col. 3:21) And he tells slave-owners: “Masters, stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with them.”

Ultimately, whether we are the person in charge or the person on the other end of the stick, our greatest task is to honour God as our Father, our Master, and our King. That is where the fifth commandment eventually brings us: to worship the Lord, to live for him, and to take him seriously.

Discussion

  1. Can you think of a situation in which you should not listen to your parents?
  2. Can a Christian in good conscience become a boss or ruler and tell others what to do? How does his or her faith play a role?
  3. Suppose the government makes a law that you disagree with. Should you obey that law?

Homework

All: Memorize q &a 104.

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