God says, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).
Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
Salvageable adds: Once again, to despise can mean to hate, but it also can mean to consider unimportant. When we treat parents and other people in authority as if they did not matter, we sin against the authority of God, because all human authority represents God’s authority.
This commandment has no age of expiration. Adults honor and respect their parents in a different way than do children living in the homes of their parents. Even the white-haired father and mother in a retirement village or nursing home still should be honored, loved, and cherished. As we grow older, though, we encounter more authorities. Parents entrust their children to sitters and then to teachers. Anyone who applies for a job is expected to honor and respect the authority of a supervisor. Pastors have authority in their congregations, and all citizens are under the authority of the government. That authority is held not only by elected officials, but also by other government employees, including police officers and judges.
But those in authority often sin. When they command us to sin, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Still, even when Daniel was commanded not to pray to any God but only to the Persian Emperor, Daniel did two things. He broke that wrongful law, but he continued to honor and obey the Emperor in all other matters. Likewise, Peter and Paul both wrote that government authorities should be respected and honored, in spite of the fact that the highest authority of their government was the corrupt and wicked Caesar family.
American culture struggles with our relationship toward authority. We value independence and the right to question authority. Worse, we are surrounded by people who mock authority. After an election, supporters of the losing candidate often fight against the plans and commands of the winner, seeking to undermine his or her authority. Entertainers join the fray, mocking and scorning those who have been placed in control of the government. Likewise, literature and drama belittle teachers and school administrators, workplace management, police officers, and—especially—parents. It seems as if no one remembers that opposing earthly authorities is, by its very nature, opposition to the authority of God.
Jesus is our model of perfect obedience. As a child he honored and obeyed his parents, and as an adult he continued to honor his mother. Though he debated scribes and Pharisees, priests and Sadducees, he did not seek to overthrow them, nor did he treat them with scorn and mockery. In his trials he respected those of authority, earning in return the grudging respect of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who three times declared that Jesus was innocent and tried to set him free. Though the Jewish authorities and Roman authorities were corrupt, Jesus never called for their overthrow. His respect for human authorities did not have to be earned by them; it already existed as part of the respect Jesus has for his Father.
When we fail to follow the perfect example Jesus set, we grieve the Holy Spirit and contribute to the penalty Jesus paid on the cross. Yet Jesus has freed us from all our sins, even our sins of disrespect towards authority. We are free—not to mock and scorn authority or rebel against it, but free to submit as Jesus submitted, doing what is right in all matters, only breaking the rules when those rules conflict with God’s rules. J.