by Rev. William C. Cwirla
From the moment of our birth, God places us in an order. We have a father and a mother who have begotten and birthed us. Even if we have been adopted or have stepfathers or mothers, God has set us into the holy order of a household as children under the authority of our parents.
This is the very heart of the 4th commandment. ” Honor your father and your mother.” Out of fear and love of God we should not despise or anger our fathers and mothers, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. Father and mother are God’s deputies; they share a verb normally reserved for the Lord alone: to honor. Their rules are God’s law for us. This is why the apostle Paul warns fathers not to exasperate their children. Don’t frustrate them with endless, useless rules, which will only make them worse and teach them to despise God’s Law.
Rather parents, with fathers at the head, are to bring up their children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord. This begins with bringing their child to Baptism, where the life of being a disciple of Jesus begins. It means bringing the kids to church, teaching them how to sit still in the pews, how to use the hymnal, how to hear and speak and sing with your fellow believers. It means involving the children in devotions at home, teaching them the Scriptures and the catechism, confessing and forgiving each other, and training them to live as God’s free and forgiven children.
Parents are for our blessing, even though it may not always seem that way, especially when we as children don’t get what we want. They protect us, provide for us, nurture us, and mentor us into adulthood. The apostle Paul reminds us that this commandment is the first one that contains a promise: “…that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
While obedience to parents doesn’t necessarily increase your life span, life does tend to go a lot better when you live at peace within the order God places you. You don’t get into trouble with your teachers. You don’t run afoul of the government and wind up in jail. You aren’t a nuisance to your neighbors. In short, you become a good citizen, member of the household, and congregation member.
Our problem is that we have this old Adam, our inborn “brat” who doesn’t want to be under anyone’s authority and even despises father and mother. Our old Adam is why we act up at home and in school, why we don’t help with the dishes or clean our rooms or come home at the appointed hour or don’t listen with respect to our parents. The Old Adam is why we resent their place in our lives. God’s order of the household is intended to reign in that old brat of ours.
Like the Law itself, parents are a curb, a mirror, and a guide. They curb the effects of sin with curfews, rules, and expectations. They show us where we have fallen short of the glory of God and how we have failed to live up to standards. They guide and instruct us into adulthood, apprenticing us, and teaching us by example. This literally kills our old brat, Adam, and that’s precisely what’s supposed to happen. Daily we die to sin; daily we rise to new life in Christ, until we attain full maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4).
The evangelist St. Luke tells us that Jesus, as a 12-year-old young man, was obedient to his parents, Mary and Joseph, and lived under their authority in Nazareth (Luke 2). Imagine that. The Son of God in the flesh, the second Person of the eternal holy Trinity, lived in the household of Mary and Joseph under their authority and was obedient to them. He did this for us and for our salvation. He did this to redeem our broken homes by His obedience, suffering and death. He became the obedient child for us all, so that in Him, our lives might again be ordered as God’s children, and we would receive the gift of an ordered household as God’s good and gracious gift to us.
Where sin has disrupted the holy order between parent and child, Christ brings forgiveness and reconciliation. Where we have sinned against one another, confess to one another and forgive one another as you have been forgiven in Jesus.
Gracious Father, bless our homes with ordered peace. Bless fathers and mothers in their holy vocations of raising their children in Your nurture and instruction. Bless children in their vocations as they apprentice to adulthood and train to form their own households. Bring healing and forgiveness to homes that are broken by sin, and turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents, for the sake of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus. Amen.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, California.