VI. The Fifth Commandment: Q & A 63-66
Q. 63 Which is the fifth commandment?
A. 63 The fifth commandment is, “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex. 20:12)
Moses repeated this at Deuteronomy 5:16, but he also included a reminder that this is what their covenant LORD had commanded them already – “as the LORD your God has commanded you.”
Q. 64 What is required in the fifth commandment?
A. 64 The fifth commandment requires the preserving the honour, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.
It is important to bear in mind that this command has reference to all positions of authority in society, but it is with reference to persons in their “places and relations.” This includes parents of course (Eph. 6:1-2), wives and husbands (Eph. 5:22), and political leaders (Rom. 13:1-7). There are times when we must honour the position that one occupies, even though we may have no respect for their person because of their character, words, or other deeds.
Q. 65 What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment forbids the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honour and duty which belongs to everyone in their several places and relations.
As Christians, we are to honour all people, especially those in the faith. “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another. Bless those who curse you; bless and do not curse. Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:10, 14, 19 Cf. Js. 3:9-10).
We also know from other parts of scripture, that this is not a blind and blanket submission no matter what the behavior of others, or what may be asked of us. This commandment cannot be construed in such a way as to condone evil, nor to prevent us from doing what the LORD commands of us elsewhere. No one can say that they were simply obeying those in authority over them, when they knew that their leaders were guilty of breaking the very law one might appeal to, or asking them to do the same. No one is above the law, and no excuse will absolve one from condoning and supporting those who do.
It is a belief more common in the American scene, that civil and ecclesiastical government only came because of the fall, on other words, they are necessary evils. However, there is no biblical proof for this teaching. From the very beginning, before the fall, Adam was the head of Eve, and man as man was given authority over all creation. Sin has altered these positions, but there is no indication that this principle of headship would not have continued without the fall.
This position, of sin making these other institutions and positions necessary, is taken by G. I. Williamson (‘The Westminster Shorter Catechism For Study Classes’ pp. 242-3). However, he also raises a number of issues where, because of sin, each institution steps out of their sphere of authority, such as state control of education, when the bible gives this responsibility to parents (p. 243 Cf. Dt. 6:6-15; Eph. 6:4). However, he then suggests that the church oversteps its authority when it makes “pronouncements on political matters.” This is completely contrary to scripture, where the church is judged for not speaking truth to power! Williamson writes this even though he then quotes Acts 5:29 which states: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” It is not up to us to be selective about this principle.
Williamson writes more biblically consistent when he states the following. “When any person with authority (such as parent, minister, governor, etc) transgresses the limits placed upon his authority – and intrudes upon the proper authority of another – then the Christian may resist, and ought to resist. All divinely conferred authority is limited, in other words, and it is our duty to respect and obey it only so long as it operates within the sphere appointed by God.” (p. 244).
This may be viewed as the passive side of resistance, but the Christian is also obligated to actively oppose all authority which violates God’s law unto them. We ought to be opposed not only to our own sinning against God, but also those in authority, especially since their decisions will have an impact on those they lead. We are called to participate as citizens, and one reason why Jesus commanded us to pay our taxes (Mt. 22:21; Mk. 12;17; Lk. 20:25).
Q. 66 What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A. 66 The reason annexed to the fifth commandment, is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.
Paul makes the point that this is the first commandment with a promise (Eph. 6:2). This obviously also means that there are other commands with promises attached as well. This also highlights the covenantal context of the law – for the promises are contained in covenants (Eph. 2:12). Here we can agree with Williamson in the following. “We…understand this commandment to mean that preservation of God’s covenant people as a continuing community will depend upon their fidelity to this command. In other words, when we (as God’s covenant people) live under a strong sense of God-given authority (in family, Church, and nation) we will be preserved by the Lord.” (p. 245) What is curious with regard to this trinity, is the refusal among many in the church to turn to the word of God for the state, as they do with the family and the church. Individual Christians, and the church corporate, needs to ask themselves why this is the case.