“As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
From the very first pages of Scripture, we hear of a God who brings order from chaos and establishes the universe according to his good pleasure. By his powerful Word, God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence – “all that is seen and unseen.” And in the midst of this created order, God formed and placed us into each other’s lives as human beings.
Our God is not only the Creator of things, but the Creator of our lives and relationships. From the start God made it clear that “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Scripture shows us that we were never meant to be solitary creatures. We were created to be in relationship with our Lord and with one another.
Jesus not only affirmed this as God’s intention for humankind, he also reminded us that God had provided for there to be a perpetual renewal of these relationships down through the generations. He said:
“From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (Mark 10:6-8)
According to Jesus, God himself created marriage as the first and primary relationship from which others would flow. As husbands and wives grow to become fathers and mothers, this primary human relationship serve as the foundation for many others. Around the family, God builds friendships, neighborhoods, communities, and nations. We care for each other through the web of relationships we have with one another.
It was in this sense that Martin Luther often spoke of marriage as an “estate” established by God. That is to say, Luther talked about parenthood as a “standing” or “office” that God has set up for the service of the neighbor. This notion of family fits well with Luther’s understanding of how God uses his people as instruments and channels of his divine love. For Luther, an estate or standing is more than just a title or position; it is a function and activity in which we engage for the sake of others.
Just as some Christians are called to serve in the office of ministry in Word and Sacrament, being a father and mother is another form of ministry by which the Word of God is communicated from one generation to another. Luther recognized that this was one of the reasons God places us in families in the first place, so that we would have others close at hand to speak God’s Word to us. He wrote:
“Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel. For whoever teaches the gospel to another is truly his apostle and bishop.” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, on “The Estate of Marriage”)
This is what makes the Fourth Commandment and the role of mother and father so important. On this familial relationship depends the continued propagation of God’s Word through time. Just as Luther’s explanation of the Sabbath Commandment rested in our human need for God’s Word and time set aside “to hear and learn it”—so also, the Commandment to “honor our father and mother” reminds us of the importance of the ones from whom we hear and learn it.
Our earthly fathers and mothers are bearers of God Word. Not only are parents communicate values and moral character as their children grow as human beings, parents are the primary teachers in faith development. Beyond respect and obedience in our life under the law, parents serve an even deeper evangelical role in communicating the grace and forgiveness of God in Christ.
In honoring father and mother, we learn the nature of faith in Christ. We remember the people who were the first to pick us up when we fell, the first who tended to our wounds, and first who held us in their arms. But it is not simply that parents are patterns or reflections of God’s grace, they are ones through whom God actually shows us his love and mercy.
God continues and multiplies lesson through the people with whom we share all our relationships. In honoring our father and mother, we also honor grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, pastors, and “others in authority” who protect us and provide for our daily needs. In return, we are given by God a host of other whom the opportunity to serve. We are given the opportunity to live as Christ’s disciples, with a world full of people to help and defend, to encourage and support, and to hear and forgive.
The Fourth Commandment recognizes that human beings never meant to be alone. It creates a confluence of relationships that lift us up in small and large ways. God knows we can’t make it on our own, so he places in our lives people on whom we can depend on and provide his help and strength. We are able to “continue in what we have learned and believed” because we honor and remember the ones “from whom we learned it” and how from childhood we have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which were able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
– Pastor Steven E. King