Exodus 20:12


Sermon preached on May 6, 2008 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Last fall I was on my way to the Massena hospital to see W. E. who had surgery on his knee. I was going up Route 310 and just past Madrid in my rear view mirror I noticed that a police car was racing up behind me with his lights flashing. So slowed down and pulled over to the side, expecting him to zoom by me. But to my surprise he pulled in behind me. I was surprised because I wasn't doing anything wrong. I wasn't speeding, I hadn't done anything dangerous. So I waited and waited. But he didn't get out of his car and come up to my car. He just sat there behind me. I guess while he was checking my license on his computer. But it took a long time. Finally, he got out of his car, came up to my window and told me that I could go on. He explained that my car matched the description of car that a strawberry blond female was driving. She was wanted for a home invasion. I thought that a glance could have told him that I wasn't a strawberry blond female—but it took much longer than that.

About a week later Patricia was home for the weekend and on Sunday evening we drove her over to Brockville to catch the train back to Toronto. Just when we left the train station to return home, I noticed that in front of the car it seemed darker than it should have been. So I pulled over to check if one of my headlights was out. Sure enough, one of my headlights was burned out. So I made a mental note to myself to get it fixed the next day. But just before I got home to Canton I again saw flashing police lights behind me. I again pulled over and waited and waited while he was checking my license on his computer. It seemed to take forever. They must use PC's. Finally he came up to my window and said,

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"



I told him that I thought it was because of my burned-out headlight. But rather than treat me like a responsible adult, he treated me like someone who would purposely drive around with a headlight out. He gave me a fix-it ticket and told me that I not only had to get it fixed before dusk the following day (which I would have done anyway) but that I also had to provide proof that I got it fixed. The next morning I fixed it myself and then spent almost another hour taking care of the ticket. They told me to take the car down to the public safety building and show it to a policeman. But no one there could look at it and they had to call a trooper off patrol to sign the ticket for me. It took almost an hour. Then I had to mail the ticket in.

What a waste of time and energy—and not just of my time, but of police time. By the time I got it taken care of I was a little frustrated and the thought came to my mind that if a policeman stopped me again and asked me,

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"



I would say,

"Let me guess, you were bored and it gives you a thrill to turn your lights and siren on and waste people's time."



I don't know where that thought came from—but I quickly dismissed it and resolved that no matter how much I was tempted to say that, that I wouldn't.

There are two reasons you should never say something like that to a policeman, even if you think he deserves it. The first is because you're liable to spend the night in jail. Policeman don't appreciate sarcasm or rudeness, and if you're saucy with a policeman, you might end up getting much more than you bargained for.

The second reason you should never say something like that to a policeman is because of the commandment before us. It reads, (Exodus 20:12)

"Honor your father and your mother,
so that you may live long in the land
the LORD your God is giving you."

Although the command specifically mentions honoring your parents, the great principle we are taught here is that

you are to respect and honor those in authority over you.

That's the main lesson we should learn from our text. This commandment means not only that children are to respect parents, but it teaches all people that they are to respect those who are in authority over them, bosses, government authorities, like police etc. The Heidelberg Catechism, (Question 104) says that the fifth commandment requires,

"That I show honor, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother and to all who are set in authority over me…"



What we should remember about all of the commandments is what Philip Ryken calls 'the rule of categories' (Written in Stone, p. 123) in which,

"every commandment stands for a whole category of sins and duties."



The particular command that is put forth is usually about one of the most extreme forms of a particular sin. For example, the seventh commandment tells us not to commit adultery. But that covers all sexual sins. It forbids premarital sex, homosexuality, incest, sex with animals etc., etc.. which are delineated in the chapters of Exodus that follow after Exodus 20. It even covers our thought life, as Jesus told us that if someone lusts after a woman he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

So this commandment is about respecting authority and is not just about children honoring their parents. John
Calvin summarizes the commandment this way, (Institutes II:8:35)

"we should look up to those whom God has placed over us, and should treat them with honor, obedience, and gratefulness. It follows from this that we are forbidden to detract from their dignity either by contempt, by stubbornness, or by ungratefulness."



We are to respect and honor those in authority over us. We are to obey them and humbly submit to their authority.

There are
five things that we should understand about this commandment.

First, you should understand that

the honor you are to give to those above you is to be great.

We are to greatly esteem those over us. The Hebrew word that is used here means 'to honor' or to 'be heavy'. It is a word that is often used to refer to the glory of God, pointing to the 'weightiness' of His divine majesty, his worthiness to be praised.

In the same way when we are told to honor our parents, we are commanded to hold them in
great esteem. We are to admire them and appreciate who they are. We are to adore them, thinking of them with warmth and tenderness, loving them greatly. We are to revere them, having great respect for them because God has brought us forth from them and given them as gifts of God to us to bring us close to Him. They are the ones that He has appointed to feed and take care of our physical and spiritual needs. How we should esteem them because of that.

Remember what Paul said to slaves about the honor they were to give their masters in
Ephesians 6:5-7? He wrote,

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters
with respect and fear,
and with sincerity of heart,
just as you would obey Christ.
Obey them not only to win their favor
when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ,
doing the will of God from your heart.
Serve wholeheartedly,
as if you were serving the Lord, not men,"

They were to obey—just as if they would obey Christ. They are to serve wholeheartedly—just as if they were serving the Lord.

The honor and respect that we are to give to those who have authority over us is not to be small and superficial—but is to be deep rooted and from the heart.

Secondly, this esteem that we owe to those over us

is due to them whether or not they deserve it.

This commandment doesn't say,

"Honor your father and mother if they deserve it, if they're worthy of it."



No, there's no escape clause. You are to honor your father and mother—period.

Perhaps the best way to see this is to consider the story of
David and King Saul. During the latter part of his reign King Saul became very evil. He tried to kill his loyal servant David. He killed the priests of the Lord at Nob.

After that, in 1 Samuel 24, we read that Saul was searching for David and he went into a cave to rest. Unknown to him, David and his men were hiding further back in that cave. David's men said to him, (1 Samuel 24:4)

"This is the day the LORD spoke of
when he said to you,
'I will give your enemy into your hands
for you to deal with as you wish.'"

But David refused to harm Saul. He did go and cut off a corner of the king's robe, but later he was greatly conscience stricken about that. He knew that he must not touch the man God had made king.

A short time later he had another opportunity to kill Saul. One of his men told David that he would do it for him. He told David that God had delivered Saul into His hand. But David replied,(1 Samuel 26:9-11)

"Don't destroy him!
Who can lay a hand on the LORD'S anointed
and be guiltless?
As surely as the LORD lives,
the LORD himself will strike him;
either his time will come and he will die,
or he will go into battle and perish.
But the LORD forbid that I should
lay a hand on the LORD'S anointed."

David respected the position that God had placed King Saul in even though Saul had proved himself unworthy. David refused to disrespect Saul. He still honored him as the Lord's anointed.

The third thing we should understand about this commandment is that

the honor that we owe to our parents is not absolute.

If your parents order you not to go to church—what are you to do? If your boss orders you to lie—what are you to do?

The important thing to remember is that
your primary allegiance is to God. Remember that Jesus said, (Matthew 10:37)

"Anyone who loves his father or mother
more than me is not worthy of me;"

Our first primary allegiance is to God. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow down to the image of gold that he had set up. They refused. They were correct in doing so. You only obey lesser authorities when their commands do not conflict with God's.

You'll remember that at one point
King Saul became jealous of David and he ordered his men, including his son Jonathan, to kill David. (1 Samuel 19:1) Jonathan, however, realized that he had a higher obligation, to God. Thus he warned David and told him of his father's murderous plans against him. But even more than that, he warned his father that his actions were wrong. We read, (verses 4-5)

"Jonathan spoke well of David
to Saul his father and said to him,
'Let not the king do wrong to his servant David;
he has not wronged you,
and what he has done has benefited you greatly.
He took his life in his hands
when he killed the Philistine.
The LORD won a great victory for all Israel,
and you saw it and were glad.
Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man
like David by killing him for no reason?'"

In doing so Jonathan was not dishonoring his father, but was trying to preserve his honor.

The fourth thing that we see about this command is that

you should be very diligent in keeping it.

Some of the worst curses in the Old Testament have to do with children who rebel against their parents. In Leviticus 20:9 we read,

"If anyone curses his father or mother,
he must be put to death.
He has cursed his father or his mother,
and his blood will be on his own head."

And in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 we have,

"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son
who does not obey his father and mother
and will not listen to them
when they discipline him,
his father and mother shall take hold of him
and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.
They shall say to the elders,
'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious.
He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.'
Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.
You must purge the evil from among you.
All Israel will hear of it and be afraid."

Dishonoring one's parents is a great evil. Or as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-2,

"Everyone must submit himself
to the governing authorities,
for there is no authority
except that which God has established.
The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Consequently, he who rebels
against the authority is rebelling
against what God has instituted, and those who do so
will bring judgment on themselves."

John Calvin writes about God's ordering of positions in human society, (Institutes, II:8:35)

"the degrees of pre-eminence established by him ought to be inviolable for us."



He continues, (Institutes II:8:36)

"knowing that someone has been placed over us by the Lord's ordination, we should render to him reverence, obedience, and gratefulness, and should perform such other duties to him as we can… they have attained their position through God's providence—a proof that the Lawgiver himself would have us hold them in honor."



The fifth thing I want you to see about this commandment is that it has another side to it.

For those of you in power—parents, husbands, employers—God demands that you be worthy of the honor that He commands others to give you.

Parents, you break this commandment if you exasperate your children and don't discipline them correctly. You break this command if you don't provide a godly example to your children and show them that you are worthy of honor.

Husbands, you break this commandment if you oppress your wives and don't love her with sacrificial love.

Those of you who are
bosses, you break this command if you don't treat your employees fairly, if you take advantage of them, if you oppress them or don't pay them their due. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 124)

"people in authority have a responsibility to exercise it in a ways that are pleasing to God. We may not abuse our authority by using it harshly or by overstepping our bounds. Nor may we fail to do our duty."



If you're in a position of power make sure that you don't break this commandment. God calls you to be worthy of the honor that He commands others to give you.

Now what does this mean for us?

The first application I want to make from this is that

you should be praying that God would help you to obey this commandment.

There are two things that make this commandment very difficult to obey.

The first is that

this goes against our fallen nature.

John Calvin writes, (Institutes, II:8:35)

"this precept of subjecting strongly conflicts with the depravity of human nature, which, swollen with the longing for lofty position, bears subjection grudgingly."



We don't like to be told what to do. Our depraved hearts don't like anyone telling us what to do. Our natural inclination is to rebel against it. Listen to what one man wrote,

"Youth today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work. Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter the room. They contradict their parents, talk too much in company, guzzle their food, lay their legs on the table and tyrannize their elders."



Socrates wrote that 2400 years ago! This is not a new problem but I think that because of media today things are even worse. This command goes against our fallen nature and we need help in overcoming our rebellious hearts.

The second thing that makes obedience to this commandment difficult is the fact that

submission to authority is something that is under attack in our society.

Much of the power of the media is geared to personal independence and contempt toward authority. In his book Written in Stone, Philip Ryken tells about a recent cover of a magazine for teen-aged girls. It asked,

"Do you really hate your parents? Like, who doesn't?"



The magazine then goes one to give advice on,

"how to deal with your detestables."


It's not just teens who are encouraged to rebel against and hate authority. We live in a very individualist society and we are told to reject all types of authority. In public schools there is a great deal of peer pressure on students to disrespect teachers. Our society tells women to reject the headship of husbands in the family. In the workplace people are urged to disrespect their bosses and talk badly about them. You'll remember a couple of weeks ago I mentioned how one of my dad's co-workers had the nickname, Lurch. Actually, he wasn't just a co-worker—he was the boss. When I got one of my summer jobs when I was in seminary one of my co-workers soon told me that our boss's nickname was "The Village Idiot". Bosses are ridiculed and mocked and held up for derision. Christians must not fall in with it.

Elected officials, especially our President, are also considered fair game. Whether you like our elected officials, whether or not you like their policies, whether or not you voted for them—this commandment demands that you regard them with respect. As the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:17,

"Show proper respect to everyone:
Love the brotherhood of believers,
fear God, honor the king."

But our society encourages the opposite of that. Again, you Christians must not fall into that trap. We need God to give us grace that we may respect authority as we should.

People are also urged to reject the authority of the
government. Some tell you not to pay taxes. The actor Wesley Snipes was recently convicted of failing to file tax returns for a number of years when he was making millions of dollars. He was following the advice of certain tax protestors. I believe he's been sentenced to three years in jail. yet some are hailing him as a hero. Whoopi Goldberg recently referred to him as 'a victim'. Wow. He doesn't pay any taxes on millions of dollars of earnings and he's a victim?

We are also told to reject the authority of the
church. In the media Christians are presented in a very negative light. Anyone who is religious is presented as a fool. Religious leaders are portrayed as hypocrites and morally deviant. Society today is encouraging people to dispense with religious authority.

We must resist the temptation to cave in with the mores of society. We must resist the corruption of our own hearts. How much we need God's grace if we are going fulfill this commandment.

The second application I want to make is that

this commandment applies to you and you need to change because of it.

When our text was read this morning I hope that no one thought,

"Okay. I'm not a child so I can tune out this morning's sermon."



The fifth commandment reads, (Exodus 20:12)

"Honor your father and your mother,
so that you may live long in the land
the LORD your God is giving you."

But it applies to everyone of us. John Calvin suggests that the reason the commandment is put in terms of honoring our parents is because, (Institutes II:8:35)

"that subjection… is easiest to tolerate, the Lord therefore gradually accustoms us to all lawful subjection…"



This is where respect for all authority must start. Augustine wrote, (Quoted from Ryken, (p. 119)

"If anyone fails to honor his parents, is there anyone he will spare?"



Joseph Stalin, the tyrant of Russia, who was responsible for the deaths 10's of millions of deaths—who starved, brutalized and tortured them to death—didn't like or respect his mother. The story is that when he was younger, his mother sent him to a religious school, to train to be a priest. He hated it and despised her for it—never forgiving her. Even when he became leader of the Soviet Union, he never treated her well or showed any special concern for her. When she died he never even attended her funeral. Stalin's life illustrates the truth of Augustine's words. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 119)

"If we do not respect authority at home, we will not respect it anywhere."



So make sure that you have great respect for your parents. It is the foundation for respecting all other authority.

Yes, it applies to children. Younger children, listen to your parents and obey them. Thomas Watson wrote, (The Ten Commandments, p. 130)

"A child should be the parents' echo; when the father speaks, the child should echo back obedience."



You who are teens—the area that comes to mind as being most necessary is that of respect. Mark Twain wrote,

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."



Mark Twain speaks of an almost universal truth. Teens tend to have an exaggerated view of their own knowledge and wisdom. At the same time they are also aware of the failings their parents, so much so that they underestimate and undervalue their parents knowledge and wisdom. All this, together with the restrictions that parents place on their teens—can have a tendency to make teens despise, detest and disrespect their parents. Don't go there. You teens need to respect and honor your parents. I know you think you're a lot smarter than your parents. But trust me on this—a lot of kids who think that, aren't.

This also means that children should keep their
rooms tidy when their parents want them to keep them tidy. Let me say that again. Keeping your room and the house tidy when your parents want you to keep it tidy is a fulfillment of this commandment. I think I need to say that again. Keeping your room tidy when your parents want you to keep it tidy is a fulfillment of this commandment.

This commandment also means that children are to take care of their parents when their parents get old and can't take care of themselves any more. Some people put their aged parents in a nursing home and expect the home or the state to take care of them. They forget about their aged parents and take very little interest in their care or welfare, even refusing to help support them. That's a total disgrace. Philip
Ryken writes, (p. 130)

"Many children abandon their parents, or worse, try to help them die. This shows flagrant contempt for God's law."



Wives, you break this commandment if you aren't submissive and respectful to your husband. Employees, you break this commandment if you are disrespectful to your boss. Students, you break this command if you're disrespectful to your teachers.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. What does this mean for you?

What you need to recognize is that

you have failed to keep this command.

Perhaps you've done better than others. Perhaps you have shown great respect to your parents and to those in authority over you and have even exceeded Christians in this respect.

But that doesn't matter. You haven't kept it perfectly—especially as it relates to honoring your heavenly Father.

But there is One who kept this commandment perfectly—Jesus. He not only obeyed His earthly parents but He obeyed His Father in heaven – did everything perfectly. You can escape the punishment for your disobedience if you go to Jesus. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 132)

"God does not accept us on the basis of what we have done, but on the basis of what Jesus has done. And one of the things Jesus has done is to keep the fifth commandment. So instead of looking at what we have done—all the times we dishonored and disobeyed our parents—God looks at what Jesus did when he obeyed his parents perfectly. It is almost as if Jesus cleaned our room for us and then did everything else a child is supposed to do. One of the reasons he is the perfect Savior is because he was the perfect child."



You need Jesus to pay for your sin. Go to Him today.