In this week's installment of our Lenten catechetical series, we focus on the Fourth through Sixth Commandments under the theme, "Life with Protection."
God’s design for life also includes the neighbor—the person or persons God puts in our path in daily life. This week and next we look at God’s design for life with our neighbor. And, since we have seven commandments to cover in only two weeks, we can only briefly touch on each one. So we group them together by a common thread, or theme. Tonight, we see how God wants us to live life with protection.
Fourth Commandment—God’s Protecting Representatives
In the Fourth Commandment God gives us a very unique word. He says, “Honor your father and your mother.” Now, “honor” is greater than “love.” God wants you to love all other people—brothers, sisters, next door neighbors, classmates in school, people at work. But when it comes to parents and other authorities, God wants you to honor them. He wants you to give them great respect, address them with humility, and give them the highest place next to God. Why? Because God gives parents and other authorities a certain majesty, a hidden majesty. You see, parents and other authorities are God’s representatives on earth, God’s representatives for your protection.
So, children—and, yes, this includes us “adult children”— God wants you to prize your parents as the most precious treasure on earth. Even if parents seem “odd” or “old-fashioned” or so stuck in last century. God commands you to honor your parents. God also wants you to honor teachers, police officers, and any other authorities—yes, even bumbling or brash politicians. For children, God gives a great, good, and holy work. Honoring your parents and other authorities means more to God than any other good work. That’s why it comes first in this second table of God’s Law.
Yes, all of us can learn this commandment better. Even as adults, we despise and anger our parents and other authorities. When I tell you to honor the mayor or the county executive, chances are good that you scoff and say, “Ha! Those buffoons?” God says, “Yes, honor them.” You see, when you despise any authority that God has given you, you are also despising God Himself. Not only did God give you the authorities you have, but every authority stands as God’s representative. This applies for parents. This applies for civil authorities. This applies for bosses and supervisors. And this also applies for spiritual fathers, those who govern and guide you by God’s Word.
One area where this commandment deserves special attention is the parent-child relationship. Not only are children to honor and treasure their parents, but parents are to take responsibility for their children. Being a parent is an office given by God. And God also wants you parents faithfully to carry out the duties of that office. That means providing for your children, putting your children’s physical needs before your own desires. It also means training your children in God’s Word, to the praise and honor of God. We see it a lot these days: too often in churches, parents don’t want to take responsibility for their own children. They want to pass off instruction in the Scriptures and the Catechism onto someone else. And when children are disobedient or rude, parents want to blame someone else. Actually, parents, all you have to do is look in the mirror, and then you’ll see the greatest influence on your children. And, on the Last Day, God will not ask about how fun the school dance was, or how busy you were shuttling your children to different events. He will ask every parent: “How did you bring up your own children to fear, love, and trust in Me?”
Just so you don’t despair, God also gives a gracious promise. He promises happiness and good days to all who keep this commandment. When you honor parents and other authorities, you are living under God’s protection. And when you break the commandment, when you do despise any authorities, when you do fail in your tasks as parents, run to Jesus crucified and risen. His suffering and death honored His heavenly Father. Because of His Son hanging on the cross and risen on the third day, God promises to honor you with forgiveness. His forgiveness really is the only way to learn and keep this commandment.
Fifth Commandment—Protecting Life.
In the Fifth Commandment God is protecting life. It is a most precious gift from God, one that our culture values less and less as time marches on. God wants life protected in every way possible. That’s God’s design for life.
The first way to talk about this is protection for your neighbor. Remember, the commandments of the Second Table teach you how to live for your neighbor. “You shall not murder” your neighbor, whoever that person is. Yes, your neighbor needs protection from you. For out of your “heart come evil thoughts, murder, etc.” (Matt. 15:19). God is putting a protective fence around your neighbor’s body and life. You see, God knows how you can and do get angry and upset at other people. Jesus Himself talked about this commandment. He put on the pressure when He said, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:22). God not only forbids harming your neighbor in his body; He also forbids the thoughts and passions and angry words that would lead you to murder. And remember, it’s all God’s design to protect your neighbor.
God’s design is that you help and support your neighbor in every physical need. Yes, this sounds simple, and it is. When we face big, ethical, hotly-debated dilemmas such as abortion, or embryonic stem cell research, or euthanasia, God cuts through all the tangled webs of our human rationalizations. God’s simplicity is great help and comfort. He says, “You simply worry about helping your neighbor in his body. I will worry about the decisions of life and death.”
Now, there’s also protection for you. God also gives you the gift of life. He wants you to be protected from the anger and revenge of other people. God’s design is that we allow no one to suffer harm. So let this encourage you to gentleness and patience yourself. Remember, in the First Commandment, God says, “I am your God.” God wants to help and protect you and your neighbor. So, when you get angry, Jesus says, “I will protect you.” When you are harmed by another person, Jesus says, “I will take care of you; trust Me. You don’t need to get even or get revenge.” What a precious promise! It’s a promise made by the same Lord who was Himself counted a murderer. Your forgiveness and protection come from the crucified Christ, who was killed in your place and gives you His life.
Sixth Commandment—Protecting Marriage
In the Sixth Commandment, God protects marriage. Marriage is a precious gift from God. Each person’s spouse is a great gift from God. So God’s design for life is that you live chastely—that is, purely, with discipline, and with restraint. God’s design for life is that you also help your neighbor live chastely. Again, the first point of this commandment is protection for your neighbor. Yes, again, God is protecting your neighbor from you. For out of your “heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality,” etc. (Matt. 15:19). Jesus also addressed adultery. He said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Talk about “if looks could kill”! Even your lustful looks can kill you. Here God is putting up a protective fence around your neighbor’s spouse. God is also putting up a protective fence around anyone who is simply an object of your sexual desire outside of marriage. Here God says, “Hands off…until you’re married.”
From this Sixth Commandment we can see how highly God honors marriage. And we can see how much we fallen creatures despise it. Pre-marital sex and divorce may be very widespread, but that does not make them God-pleasing or right. This commandment hits us between the eyes even if we have never participated in such things. God wants husband and wife to love and honor each other. Yet it’s often the person you love most who receives your harshest words. The person you are most committed to has to put up with your disrespect. Adds new meaning to Jesus’ words about loving your enemy!
This commandment is so vital and crucial in our culture where adultery is assumed, same-sex so-called “marriage” is viewed as a “right,” and matters of gender confusion and gender identity are welling up like a giant tidal wave. In the face of the deadly rot called “sex education” and the feverish infection of the “sexual revolution,” we Christians actually have something to say. God has a design for life different from recreational sex that leaves souls hurting in its wake. We can actually help our neighbor—either face-to-face with hurting individuals or as a community voice in the culture. We do not speak against sex outside of marriage, or against so-called “same-sex marriage,” or against the many other sexual sins because we are mean or being “kill joys.” No, we know, from God’s design for life, that the many and varied sexual sins actually do harm to our neighbor. Based on God’s design, we have something better. It’s called marriage, between a man and a woman—a loving, committed, trusting relationship that reflects His relationship with us.
God’s commandment about adultery is also protection for you. God Himself highly honors marriage. He gives you marriage to protect you from your own sinful desires. The proper place for passions and sex is in the trusting bond of marriage. When husband and wife love and honor each other, it is the best holy work that spouses can do. And when you fail in such love and honor, when you let your desires and lusts control you, again run to Jesus crucified and risen. He welcomes the adulterers to receive His forgiveness. And His forgiveness heals and changes the lives of all of us adulterers. Remember what He told one woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). And when one forgiven adulteress anointed Jesus’ feet, Jesus actually rejoiced in it (Luke 7:47-48).
Whether it’s God’s gift of parents and other authorities, or God’s gift of physical life, or God’s gift of marriage, God gives these blessings for our good. His design for life is that we also protect these precious and bountiful gifts. Amen.