The fifth commandment may be the least understood of God’s Ten Commandments. It seems direct without much room for interpretation—simply do this—respect your father and mother. However, the commandment is much deeper than appears on the surface. A careful study of its placement as the hinge-pin connecting the first and second divisions of the law reveals the mystery of its complexity.
God is the father of all life which provides the strongest argument for the insistence of obedience to all the commandments, especially the first four which are revelations of His transcendence. Respect is due Him as He is God alone and worshipping Him because of His divine favor in granting us life flows from this. Providential wisdom juxtaposed these thoughts to the commandment to honor our parents who are secondarily responsible for giving us life. These two spheres are linked in the fifth commandment which produces a perpetual duty to respect the highest authorities in both spheres of influence.
Secondly, the commandment stands at the head of all human relationships. The next four commandments proceed with directions for the treatment of our fellow man. Thus, as Ezekiel Hopkins describes, we have the basis for handling all spheres of influence, that is the relationship to those in authority, the relationship of those in authority to their inferiors, and the lateral relationships of those who are our equals. The fifth commandment reflects the first sphere, namely, how do we respond to those in authority?
The command is more complex than imagined because it encompasses all authorities, not just the authority of parents. The scope is broad starting with God who gave the commandment, down to every relationship of every kind in which others are placed over us in the societal order. The command is difficult because of our natural resistance to authority. This begins with the resistance of man against God, as men do not like to retain God in their knowledge (Rom. 1:28). The rejection of God filters down into reluctant submission to all authorities. For this reason, children must be trained to respect their parents. If we fail here in the second greatest level of authority, there is no hope for the final commandments to be obeyed.
The fifth commandment produces an explosion of theological implications making the exposition of it a journey into some of the most important doctrinal concepts in scripture. This short list of statements caused Jesus to preach His most important sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, which relates the law of the Kingdom to the hope of eternal life.
We need to take time with this commandment as its concepts are woven throughout many Bible passages. Thomas Watson wrote, “By the first table, we walk religiously toward God; by the second, we walk religiously toward man. He cannot be good in the first table that is bad in the second.” This tells us there is no way to rest secure because we are through with the severity of judgment for our disobedience to the first table. The way becomes harder because of 1 John 4:20: “…he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” Perhaps you thought you could escape extreme scrutiny because God is invisible leading us to subconsciously believe no one really knows if our heart is right towards Him. Oh, no—the image of God is in the person you curse and treat badly. The recesses of your heart are cracked open and made visible each day in regards to your treatment of every human being. Learn these complications or miss obedience to all the commandments.
Pastor V. Mark Smith
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