The Fourth and Fifth Commandments and God’s Will for Our Lives

In the last article I wrote about the first table of the law, which deals with our relationship to God. This article is about the first two commandments of the second table of the law, which deals with our relationship to our neighbor. These commandments are summed up with the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Fourth Commandment states, “Honor your father and your mother that it may be well with you that you may live long on the earth.” With the Fourth Commandment, God defines the authority and responsibilities He has written into the order of creation. The culture, with the “it takes a village” mentality, denies that parents hold a special, innate authority over their children. They believe that other entities, such as government, hold equal authority as parents, or perhaps even more authority. (An example is the push from some to take away parents’ options to homeschool their children or to send their children to private school.) Parents are given authority over their children by God according to His order of creation. All other authorities in this world are an extension of and subservient to the parental authority. (We can see Luther’s understanding of this in his meaning to the Fourth Commandment which will be stated later.) But this also means that parents are ultimately responsible for the children’s upbringing, for their safety, for their education, for their training in virtue, and most importantly for their training in Christian faith and life. Thus, this parenting task is to be taken with much  fear and trembling, and with prayer for the Lord’s help and guidance.

Since parents are God’s hands in this world to raise up children to be good citizens of this kingdom and faithful citizens of His heavenly kingdom, children are to respect and honor parents and the authorities derived from parenthood. Luther says, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise parents or superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love and esteem them.” This commandment is not just for children, but this is for adults as well. We are to have such a humble, loving and respectful manner toward parents and others who hold authority over us, even if they abuse their authority and are wicked people. We also ought to help them and provide for them when they become elderly and sick.

The Fifth Commandment commands us, “You shall not kill.” Luther explains it, “We should fear and love God so that we do no bodily harm to our neighbor, but help and befriend him in every need.” Scripture even expands this commandment to the thoughts of the mind and feelings of the heart. Jesus said, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Hatred after all is the same attitude of the heart that a murderer has. Thus this commandment condemns actions, such as murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and causing physical harm. It condemns hateful and harmful words. It also condemns thoughts and attitudes such as resentment, grudges, vengeful attitudes, apathy toward our neighbor and a lack of love and forgiveness toward our neighbor.

So, with these commandments, as well as the other eight, consider the will of God for your life. It is so often asked, “What is God’s will for my life?” The answer is simple: keep the commandments. I remember a youth from years back felt that it was the will of God to be involved in the youth group at church and do mission trips. However, he treated his parents horribly. There is no command in Scripture to get involved in youth group or go on mission trips (though these are good things), but God does command a child to honor his father and mother. So we know what God’s will for us is that we keep the commandments. Doing them are the great and glorious works in the sight of God. We strive to do it.

But we know that we also fail in keeping the commandments, which deserves eternal punishment. Thankfully, by God’s grace, we know that it is God’s will for us also to be forgiven and be saved eternally. That is not a work of ours, but a gracious work of His accomplished by His perfect keeping of the Law and His suffering and death on the cross. So in repentance and faith we daily turn to Christ to be restored in Him, and to be strengthened to live according to His commandments for the good of our neighbor and for His glory. Amen.