The Gift of Order

By William M. Cwirla

Honor your father and your mother. 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. (Small Catechism: The Fourth Commandment)

Imagine a world without authority. You could do whatever you wanted. Drive whatever speed you thought was best. Take anything you needed without paying for it. Stay out as long as you wanted. Go to school, or not, whenever you felt like it. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Or maybe it doesn’t. If you can do whatever you want, others can do the same. Imagine traffic where everyone drove according to his or her own rules. They have a name for that: Demolition Derby. Imagine running a business where employees showed up whenever they felt like it. They have a name for that, too: bankruptcy. Imagine a classroom with no teacher, or a community in which there was no law enforcement, no laws, no order. We call that “anarchy.” The word “anarchy” literally means “no head.” There’s no one in charge. If the police announce they aren’t coming to work on Monday, you’re going to lock the doors on Sunday and not leave the house.


God Is a God of Order

He creates things in an ordered fashion and sets things in order. In His temporal kingdom, God has three orders or authority structures: home, civil society, and the Church. The home is the first order from which the other two flow. From the household flows community and nation. Temporally speaking, the Church as we see it is part of God’s temporal government, too, as He arranges to have the Gospel preached in this world until Jesus shows His glorious face again on the Last Day.

Each order has its own authority. In the home, it’s husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants. In civil society, it’s governors and citizens. In the Church, it’s preachers and hearers. God has established these orders for our blessing and to keep our old Adam in check. Our sinful nature, the “old Adam,” doesn’t like authority or order. He’s an anarchist and rebel. He prefers to do what is right in his own eyes and doesn’t care about what happens to others. And so he despises parents and other authorities, including teachers, bosses, pastors, presidents, governors, legislatures, the police–anyone in authority.


Old Adam Hates “You can’t!”

What the old Adam hates the most is when the authorities say, “No, you can’t do that.” It kills him. Literally. “Honor your father and your mother,” and, by extension, all other temporal authorities in home, society, and church. These authorities are God’s gift to you. The word “honor” is usually reserved only for God Himself, but in this commandment, it applies also to God’s representatives and deputies–parents and other authorities. To honor parents and other authorities in this world is to honor God Himself. To fear and love God is also to honor, serve, obey, love and cherish God’s deputies–the temporal authorities He puts over us to protect us from ourselves and from each other.

When we step over the line–when we create disorder and hurt others–we will find ourselves in timeout, grounded, in prison, or under church discipline. This is to mortify (kill) our sinful nature, the old Adam, and discipline us to live as sinners/saints in this world.


How Do We Honor Parents and Other Authorities?

First, you esteem them as the most precious treasure on the earth. The Large Catechism tells us that if you didn’t have father and mother, you’d set up a couple of rocks and call them Dad and Mom. Second, you speak respectfully to them at all times, and hold that tongue of yours, even if they go a bit too far. Third, you honor them with your actions, obeying them when you are young, taking care of them when they are old. There is literally a lifetime of good works to do in this simple commandment to honor your father and mother.

The Fourth Commandment uniquely comes with a promise: “. . .that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2-3). That’s not eternal life, but temporal life in God’s temporal kingdom. Those who live at peace with God’s authority tend to have long and peaceful lives; those who live at odds with the authorities tend to die young. This isn’t a bargain, just simply a fact of life. “This, in short, is the way God will have it: render him obedience, love and service, and he will reward you abundantly with every blessing; on the other hand, if you provoke him to anger, he will send upon you both death and the hangman” (Large Catechism, 1.136).


Jesus’ Obedience Is Yours!

Jesus was 12 years old, Luke says, “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them [Joseph and Mary]. . .” (Luke 2:51). Think about that. Jesus, the Son of God, was obedient to His earthly parents, Joseph and Mary. He came into our flesh to be the obedient son for all of us. When we, as baptized children of God, honor our father and mother and other authorities, we are doing precisely what Jesus would do, and what He did, because Jesus is doing it in and through us! His obedience is ours; our obedience is His.


Rev. William M. Cwirla is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, CA. He is also a president emeritus of Higher Things.


This article was originally published in the winter 2015 issue of Higher Things Magazine.