[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermon at the United Church of God congregation in The Dalles, Oregon, given on Sabbath, October 30, 2021.]
For the last few weeks we have been discussing the limits of various commandments, and today I would like to continue that series by looking at the fifth commandment. If you remember my recent Bible Study on the Household Codes of Ephesians and Colossians , you will remember me spending a bit of time talking about the authority of parents and how it is that the Bible does not view parents in an idealistic way but instead in a realistic way. It is often thought that when we are commanded to honor parents that there is some sort of exception when it comes to not honoring parents who we judge to be evil or dishonorable. This is not the case. However, it should be noted that there are limits to the honor that we are commanded to give parents, and it is those limits that I would like to discuss today.
Let us begin by looking at what the Fifth Commandment itself says. First, let us turn to Exodus 20:12. Exodus 20:12 reads: “ “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” When we turn to Deuteronomy 5:16, we see this commandment slightly expanded. Deuteronomy 5:16 reads as follows: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” When we read this commandment in Deuteronomy, we can note that two aspects of this are extended from the brief original command. First, we note that when the fifth commandment is repeated there is a reminder that God has already commanded this–suggesting that it was a commandment that people have always struggled with. Let us also note that when this commandment is repeated that it is expanded not only that people may have a long life for obeying the commandment but also that it might be well with us for doing so, suggesting again that people have long needed a high degree of convincing to obey this commandment.
When we examine this law as it appears in the law of the covenant in Exodus 22:28, we find a commandment that expands the thrust of the fifth commandment beyond authority in the home. Exodus 22:28 tells us: “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” The opposite of honoring is cursing and reviling, and so this law reminds us that the requirement to respect authorities within the house is education in order to respect authorities in society as a whole as well as God as the authority of the entire universe. Lest we think that this law does not apply to us as believers, we are reminded in Acts that even apostles could at times fall afoul of this law. When Paul was put on trial in Acts 23:1-5, he himself cites this law against his own conduct, and it is worthwhile for us to pay attention to what level of conduct by Paul is viewed as reviling authority. Acts 23:1-5 reads: “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”
I am sure that we can think about plenty of authorities we view as corrupt and evil like the high priest Paul was rebuking, and calling such people whitewashed walls behaving contrary to the law is probably far milder than most of us would think of. Let us note, though, that as a whole this law and its application in Acts reminds us that the commandment to respect parents goes far beyond that to command us to respect authorities. We not only see that in Acts 23, but also see Paul (again) refer to this in Romans 13:1-7 when he is commenting on the honor and respect that are owed to authorities. Romans 13:1-7 reads: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
It is perhaps unsurprising that this is a very unpopular passage in the Bible. It is important to know, though, that the authorities of the state are called to be ministers of God–that is, God’s servants–and have a God-given purpose in the existence of their authority. We previously discussed this passage when talking about the biblical goal in decreasing violence. But this passage also deals with questions of commanding respect to authority. Since authorities in church and state are ordained by God, to respect those authorities is to respect God Himself, and ultimately God’s defense of authorities has been done in order to encourage people to respect His ultimate authority.
As we have seen, therefore, the first aspect of the limits of the respect of parental authority is to expand those limits to include authority within church and state as well as God Himself. This is fairly basic, though, and to recognize that authority is to be respected is not a very high level of understanding of the biblical view of authority. Having given this basic level of understanding, let us now move to expand that to answer the more complex questions we may have about authority. What limits do parents have on their authority within scripture, and what aspects of rebuking and correcting authority are themselves viewed as legitimate within God’s laws? We may recognize that we need to respect authority, at least the office of authority, while also rebuking and correcting the evil that is done by such authorities. And how can we do that without understanding what the bible prohibits authorities from doing and what it allows people to do in the name of rebuking authorities? It is to that question that we will now turn.
Let us first look at a law that limits what parents can do with regards to children. In Leviticus 19:29 and 32 we see two different aspects of the fifth commandment being addressed in a chapter of general moral and ceremonial principles. Leviticus 19:29 reads: “Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.” Similarly, Leviticus 19:32 reads: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.” Here we see two aspects of the limits of the fifth commandment in action. The second is the most obvious–another expansion of the fifth commandment to command honor of the elderly in general, even if they are not in positions of authority, as a means of giving honor to God and those whom God has blessed with long life. The first of the two laws, though, places a limit on what parents are able to do with regards to children. Parents are forbidden from prostituting their daughters in order to earn money for themselves and to pay off their debts. While parents in the biblical law have considerable authority over children, they do not have the authority to induce and compel them into doing that which is wrong. That the Bible feels it necessary to state that suggests that even early in human history it was already known that there were some wicked parents who exploited their own authority in such a fashion.
This sort of law may be seen as specific form of the general limitation to obedience that we find in Ephesians 6:1-3. This law is a part of the larger Household Codes that we recently explored in a Bible Study, but it is worth repeating them now. Ephesians 6:1-3 reads: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”” Here we see that the limit on obedience that children owe their parents is that which is commanded in the Lord. Children are under no obligation to obey that which is contrary to God’s law, although it is likely that most children will find it difficult, let us hope, to find a parental commandment that is contrary to God’s law. The vast majority of parental commands are so that children might obey God’s law and might preserve their honor, reputation, and safety.
Having examined the limitations to parental authority, let us therefore expand our search to look at the the limitations on our duties to obey authority in general, which as we have seen is merely an expanded understanding of the fifth commandment. Throughout scripture we find a lot of rebuking and correcting of authorities that is done, and it is worthwhile for us to examine the ways in which this happens in scripture. By determining that which is viewed as acceptable within the scriptures for conduct towards authority, we can therefore determine what is permissible for us to do when it comes to authority, and this can be of vital importance when it comes to us examining our own conduct to make sure it does not fall short of the biblical standard, which is all too easy to do in our own times when we adopt the lax attitude towards authority that tends to be found in our wicked generation.
Let us note, for example, that it is entirely acceptable for godly people to provide moral instruction to leaders that touches upon their moral flaws and thus serves as correction and rebuke. We see biblical people doing this sort of thing often in scripture, and it is worth paying attention to a few examples. As we might guess, Paul himself was no wallflower when it came to correcting the authorities that he came into contact with. Acts 24:24-27 gives one such example of Paul’s interactions with authorities that demonstrated his astute knowledge of their moral failings. Acts 24:24-27 reads: “And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.” This passage demonstrates considerable bravery on the part of Paul, but also some aspect of the corruption of authority that is not only the case in our time but has often been present in human history. Paul was a prisoner under false pretenses, and from this passage we can see that Felix, the governor of Judea, sought a bribe from Paul to do that which he should have done already, and that is release him from prison. He was unwilling to do what he should have done without corrupt action on the part of Paul, and Paul was unsurprisingly unwilling to engage in such corruption, even to free himself. It is worthwhile to note, though, that Paul, while a prisoner, engaged in a discussion with the corrupt governor about such matters as righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, matters that would not have been welcome to a corrupt governor who, as the passage indicates, would have reason to be afraid of such judgment for his moral and ethical corruption. Josephus himself records his own thoughts about this governor and his observations about Felix’s character were not very flattering, should you desire to read this history for yourself.
We see a similar situation when we look at Matthew 14:3-5. Here we find that being a prophet commanded to speak to evil authorities was by no means an enjoyable experience. Matthew 14:3-5 tells us: “For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.” John the Baptizer had in fact told Herod Antipas the truth. It was not permissible for Herod to have married Herodias, for two reasons. For one, he was forbidden to commit adultery and seduce and then marry his brother’s wife. This was off-limits to him and everyone else. In addition, Herodias was herself a niece of Herod Antipas and was within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity within the Bible that are defined in detail in Leviticus 18, and so the marriage would have been incestuous even if it had not been adulterous in nature. We will discuss this matter later when it comes to the boundaries of adultery and sexual immorality in general, but let us note that while it was entirely within the bounds of what was right for John to rebuke Herod Antipas for his immoral and incestuous conduct, it is also predictable that Herod as a political authority would reject a call to moral behavior and would abuse his authority in order to oppress someone who spoke out against evil.
This is, unfortunately, the example that we have repeated throughout scripture. To preach what is right in a world where authorities are hell-bent on doing what is wrong and promoting evil behavior is to invite persecution. The Bible is not blind to the realities of being righteous and preaching righteous and moral standards of conduct in evil ages or to evil authorities, and there are repeated examples of the response of people in authority to the godly rebuke that they receive from others. Indeed, it is instructive for us to examine the response to this godly rebuke as a reminder to the difficulties of being a prophet or servant of God under such circumstances where authorities are evil.
1 Samuel 2:22-25, for example, tells us about the response of Eli’s sons, who served as corrupt priests in Shiloh, to his mild and gentle attempts at rebuke over their greed and immorality. 1 Samuel 2:22-25 reads: “Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress. If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?” Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them.” Indeed, it was the stubborn hostility of Eli’s sons to the idea that they should mend their ways and cease to exploit and take advantage of the people of Israel that led God to desire to kill them. This desire on the part of God to kill those who exploit God’s brethren for their own lusts ought to be a warning lesson to us, for that which is written in the Bible is done so for our admonition and our instruction, that we not be like them.
Similarly, though, the record we have of the treatment of prophets of God who had bad things to say about wicked authorities does not inspire us with a great deal of optimism as to the likelihood that such messages will be successful either in prompting such wicked authorities to repent or in bringing honor and praise on the head of the prophet who speaks out against such evils. Amos 7:10-17 gives a poignant example of the mildest sorts of fate that tended to come to a godly prophet speaking out against evils in authority. Amos 7:10-17 reads: “Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said: ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive from their own land.’ ” Then Amaziah said to Amos: “Go, you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread, and there prophesy. But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is the royal residence.” Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: “I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheepbreeder and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’ Now therefore, hear the word of the Lord: You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not spout against the house of Isaac.’ “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall be a harlot in the city; your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword; your land shall be divided by survey line; you shall die in a defiled land; and Israel shall surely be led away captive from his own land.’ “
It must be candidly admitted that few of us, if any of us, have received the sort of divine call and privileged personal knowledge of God’s will and God’s plans as Amos did to be able to preach as authoritatively as he did against the evils of his time in Bethel, a royal residence and one of the sites of the golden calves that led Israel to sin after the manner of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who set them up in order to prevent the hearts of Israelites from returning to the Eternal in Jerusalem. Yet it should be noted that Amos’ call for national repentance fell on deaf ears and was instead views as an act of lese majeste, of an attack on the authority of the Israelite monarchy itself. If one went to Bangkok and preached against the immorality of the Thai king and of the Thai people for the harlotry and moral corruption of their king and of the leaders and people of Thailand as a whole, one would likely receive a similar response, that is, a response that viewed godly rebuke as an attack on the institution of the throne, with the result that one would be exiled from Thailand for one’s troubles, if not throne into jail for lese majeste, a crime in that country which carries lengthy jail sentences. In God’s eyes, rebuke for sins is not viewed as an act of contempt against that leadership, but in contrast an act which preserves the state through encouraging righteousness, so that the rulers and people may avoid God’s judgment for their sins. Yet rulers who are bent on evil have not tended to view such moral rebuke very kindly, and the Bible frequently records the godly rebuke of evil authorities leading to trouble for those who speak out against evil and encourage authorities to repent in order to avoid disaster.
We find many examples where those who rebuked wicked authorities have received a great deal of trouble for their efforts to turn those leaders from their evil ways. Let us, for example, look at one example from the life of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 38 we find a particularly grim period of Jeremiah’s life when he was imprisoned for his giving negative prophecies about the fate of his country by patriotic but deluded leaders among the Kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah 38:1-21 reads: “Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah had spoken to all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes over to the Chaldeans shall live; his life shall be as a prize to him, and he shall live.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’ ” Therefore the princes said to the king, “Please, let this man be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the [c]welfare of this people, but their harm.” Then Zedekiah the king said, “Look, he is in your hand. For the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the king’s son, which was in the court of the prison, and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire. Now Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs, who was in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon. When the king was sitting at the Gate of Benjamin, Ebed-Melech went out of the king’s house and spoke to the king, saying: “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon, and he is likely to die from hunger in the place where he is. For there is no more bread in the city.” Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian, saying, “Take from here thirty men with you, and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon before he dies.” So Ebed-Melech took the men with him and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took from there old clothes and old rags, and let them down by ropes into the dungeon to Jeremiah. Then Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, “Please put these old clothes and rags under your armpits, under the ropes.” And Jeremiah did so. So they pulled Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the dungeon. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison. Then Zedekiah the king sent and had Jeremiah the prophet brought to him at the third entrance of the house of the Lord. And the king said to Jeremiah, “I will ask you something. Hide nothing from me.” Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me.” So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, “As the Lord lives, who made our very souls, I will not put you to death, nor will I give you into the hand of these men who seek your life.” Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.’ ” And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, “I am afraid of the Jews who have defected to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they abuse me.” But Jeremiah said, “They shall not deliver you. Please, obey the voice of the Lord which I speak to you. So it shall be well with you, and your soul shall live. But if you refuse to surrender, this is the word that the Lord has shown me.”
This is not a hard situation to understand. Jeremiah had prophesied doom for the Kingdom of Judah, and rather than repent to God and surrender to Babylon, a group of people decided to resist and viewed Jeremiah as a traitor for his prophetic counsel. Jeremiah consistently told Zedekiah and the people of Judah what needed to be done and by and large they refused to listen to him and viewed him as a traitor because his words weakened the courage of those fighting against God’s will and God’s judgment against His rebellious and wayward people. We could easily find ourselves in a similar position for preaching about God’s judgment to a wicked nation, being imprisoned in conditions that threatened our death, dependent on godly people like Ebed-Melech in order to survive. We know of course that Zedekiah did not heed the advice of Jeremiah, that Jerusalem was burned, that Zedekiah’s children were slaughtered before his eyes before he was blinded by the cruel Nebuchadnezzar, and that Zedekiah did not escape from the hand of his enemies for his rebellion and treachery against them. Being a godly prophet endowed with supernatural knowledge does not exempt one from harsh treatment from the hand of authorities.
Let us further understand this by looking at the trials of the faithful that are recorded in Hebrews 11:35b-38. Here we see the list of torments suffered by the godly according to the author of Hebrews. Hebrews 11:35b-38 reads: “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” It is perhaps impolitic to say so, but most of these people suffered because of evil authorities. Who puts the righteous on trial? Who persecutes the godly because they obey God rather than men? Who is it that puts the peaceful and righteous to the sword and to the flame, driving them into exile, and forcing them into hiding to survive? It is those who hold power and do not acknowledge the authority of God, and whose hostility towards Gods leads them to be hostile to His people, among whom we are named.
In fact, the most unusual reply to authorities that are rebuked by the godly is an acceptance of the rebuke. There are only a few examples of godly rebuke being given to a ruler in the Bible where the reply has been a positive one, and let us look at two of them. First, let us look at the famous response of David to the rebuke of the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. Here we see a rare example of a wicked ruler being brought to repentance through the rebuke of the godly. 2 Samuel 12:1-15 reads: “Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.’ ” So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” Then Nathan departed to his house.”
Let us note that in none of the harsh comments to King David did Nathan sin. David had done what Nathan accused him of. He had abused his authority and stolen another man’s wife and then killed that man by the sword of his enemies, the people of Ammon. And by pronouncing judgment against the rich man in the fable, David had pronounced a fit judgment against himself. Yet despite all of his evil, what stands out the most in this story is that David was still, even in his darkest and lowest hour, enough of a godly ruler not to punish the godly prophet that brought divine rebuke to him. As we have seen, this is a rare phenomenon. By and large the powerful of the world are not inclined to accept God’s rebuke to them and to respond to it with repentance, but David did, which is a response that we must honor even as we stand with the prophet Nathan in rebuking his sins.
Another rare example of godly leaders accepting godly rebuke is that of the rebuke given to King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 19:1-7. Here we find that the godly king Jehoshaphat accepted a rebuke from a godly prophet, and it is remarkable enough and rare enough that it is worth looking at this example. 2 Chronicles 19:1-7 reads: “Then Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned safely to his house in Jerusalem. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Therefore the wrath of the Lord is upon you. Nevertheless good things are found in you, in that you have removed the wooden images from the land, and have prepared your heart to seek God.” So Jehoshaphat dwelt at Jerusalem; and he went out again among the people from Beersheba to the mountains of Ephraim, and brought them back to the Lord God of their fathers. Then he set judges in the land throughout all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.””
Admittedly, this is a bit of an argument from silence, but it is the best evidence we have that Jehu the son of Hanini the seer did not suffer anything because of his rebuke of Jehoshaphat for having allied himself with Ahab. We know that the house of David suffered because of the marriage alliance that Jehoshaphat made by uniting his house to that of Ahab through the marriage of the wicked queen Athaliah and Jehoram of Judah. Even so, Jehoshaphat remained a godly ruler himself, even if he brought trouble upon Judah and upon his own house through having allied himself to wicked rulers. And part of Jehoshaphat’s righteousness can be seen in the fact that he, at least according to the records we have, took no retaliation upon Jehu for having delivered a rebuke to him.
Let us look at one final example when it comes to what it means to honor one’s parents, because this is one of the few situations where the question of honoring one’s parents appears explicitly in the Bible, and in the life of Jesus Christ no less. We find this example in Luke 2:41-52, and it is remarkable that we are not more startled by the implications of this passage when it comes to honoring our parents. Luke 2:41-52 reads: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
There are at least two aspects of this passage that should startle us. The first is that what Jesus did in staying in Jerusalem at the temple and not going with his family was not dishonoring his parents. Most of us, I would think, if we had a twelve-year old child, would not be happy if they spent days talking with and eating with and spending time with adult strangers without having received our permission to do so. Such a child might be in trouble for a very long time, might be grounded until they were 30, and so on. Yet in doing this Jesus Christ did not sin. He was indeed about His Father’s business, business that his mother and stepfather did not apparently understand and that he apparently did not feel necessary to inform them of ahead of time. Yet what is equally startling is that even though Jesus’ parents did not understand the business He was about in talking about godly matters with the religious leaders of His youth, that He was subject to them.
Let us pause and unpack this a little, because it really is remarkable. Jesus Christ lived without sin and was God in the flesh, having existed for all time and possessing unlimited power and knowledge and righteousness. His parents were godly who were certainly generally obedient to God’s laws and ways, but they were certainly not on His level. And yet Jesus Christ, all-powerful as He was, subjected Himself to them. He did so not because they were smarter than He was or more righteous than He was, but because they were His parents and because He was perfectly obedient to God’s laws in a way that none of us are. God’s law requires that children submit themselves to parents, and so He did so without complaint and without demur, just as He submitted Himself to the will of Our Heavenly Father, even though that meant the painful and humiliating death of crucifixion to pay the price for our sins. We could not have been saved from sin and death apart from Jesus’ perfect honoring of His Father in heaven or His parents on earth, and for that we must be eternally grateful.
What does all this mean? We have looked at the commandment relating to honoring parents and have spent most of our time dealing with what it means to honor authorities without ignoring their sins and faults. All too often we as human beings struggle with honoring those authorities who we do not approve of. God commands that all parents, and indeed all authority, be honored. Yet the honor that we are commanded to show does not always seem or feel like honor to the person being honored. Most of us, after all, do not feel honored when people seek to correct our understanding or disapprove of something we have said or done. I know I don’t, and I suspect the same is the case for you all as well. Yet the Bible is remarkably clear that we do not honor our parents because they are good, and we do not honor human authorities because they are good–because none of us are good in the sense that God is perfect and blameless–but because by honoring our parents and other authorities, we give honor to God. And God is worthy of our honor regardless of what we think of others who may be in authority over us.
Again, though, it bears repeating that the honor that is due to those in authority does not always feel like honor and respect. Indeed, with that honor may come a fair amount of rebuke and correction and exhortation. None of us are perfect people, and as authorities none of us are perfect either, and in order to enter the Kingdom of God we must be transformed from our natural and carnal state to a more godly one led and ruled by His Spirit. This does not come easily or without great effort. And so it is that part of giving honor to those in authority is helping to point out where they may be going wrong, so that they may repent and so that their authority may be even more godly and righteous than it has been so far. And yet we must candidly admit that most of those in authority want to exercise power and do not want to be corrected and rebuked by those they consider under their authority. Not infrequently those in authority over others abuse that authority in order to punish those who rebuke and correct them.
We are called to be righteous, but we are not called to be stupid. We must all examine ourselves to make sure that our own attitudes towards authorities, even those authorities we disagree with and do not approve of, are in line with what God commands. There may be times when we are called to rebuke ungodly authorities for their wicked and corrupt behavior. We must not be under any illusions as to whether our rebuke will be taken to heart and will lead to repentance and a change of behavior. We may frequently end up with trouble ourselves for having taken the trouble to bring someone’s sins and shortcomings before their attention, as the author of Hebrews soberly points out. Yet what ultimately matters is that we have behaved with honor and respect towards authority in the eyes and in the judgment of God Himself, in the example of Jesus Christ and of righteous prophets and ordinary believers throughout history. In the end it is the opinion of God, and not man, that matters as to whether we honor authorities or not. Judgment in this matter has begun at the house of God, and if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will be the fate of the ungodly and rebellious?
 See, for example: