Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 39
Lord's Day 39
What does God require
in the fifth commandment?
That I show all honour, love, and faithfulness
to my father and mother
and to all those in authority over me,
to their good instruction and discipline,
and also have patience with their weaknesses
since it is God's will
to govern us by their hand.
Q. & A. 104 Honour Everyone God Has Placed Over You
- The verb, “honour,” in the original, shows that it is directed to the individual. To honour is more than to obey. It means to regard the object of one's honour as important, to esteem the object. Further, it speaks about loving the object. We must remember that the Bible also gives the name of father and mother to prophets, teachers and rulers (see Gen 45:8; Judg 5:7; 2 Kings 2:12; 13:14). The commandment applies not only to our parents, but to everyone God has placed over us.
- The law speaks about authority in this commandment. Authority differs from power. Power implies strength. The powerful person can assert himself. Authority, on the other hand, implies the right to command. He who has authority can command, even though he is not able to assert himself for lack of power. God, who is everyone's Creator, has absolute authority, and he never abdicates it.
But God in his providence does not exercise his authority directly and immediately, but mediately, i.e., through the interposition of, by means of, others, to whom he grants authority. Even then, these bearers of authority do not act in God's stead. They are his servants. Article 36 of the BC speaks very clearly about the task of the civil government in this respect.
This is true of all authority that exists. It does not come from the people (sovereignty of the people), as if the government could only give effect to the will of the people. Nor does it come from the strong (despotism). Authority comes from God. He has it and he confers it. Hence, we must recognize God in the authorities which are placed over us. And he who resists those in authority resists God (Rom 13:2). That is why Scripture says: Fear God; honour the king. These are the same in principle.
- The most natural form of authority, clearly established in life, is the authority of parents over their children. Everyone is met first with this form of authority and the resistance to parental authority is often the most intense. That is why the commandment is expressed with reference to parental authority. But, as mentioned under Note 1 above, it has wider application.
- In human society we distinguish between the authority of:
"the husband over the wife in marriage;
the parents over their children in the family;
the employer over the employee in society;
the government over the subject in the state; and
the office bearer over the member of the congregation in the church."
- The husband has authority over the wife in marriage (Eph 5:22). Its nature was persuasive in Paradise, but it became coercive because of sin. This authority is recognized in Christian marriage (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18), in which its persuasive nature is again recognized (Eph 5:24ff). It does not demean a woman to submit herself to this authority, for it conforms with her nature to do so and she does it for the Lord's sake.
In the family the parents have authority over the children. This is not because they are wiser or more powerful, for they have the authority even if they lack wisdom and power, because God has placed them over their children (Eph 6:1, 2). That is why you must show honour, love, and faithfulness to them. When the children become independent and leave the family, the duty to be obedient ends, but the duty to show honour and love remains.
In society the housewife has authority over the maid and the employer over his employee (Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22ff; 1 Pet 2:18). The employment relationship is established freely by the parties. They enter into a contract. But in the relationship the employer has authority with respect to the employee's work.
In the state the government (king, president, college of rulers – Scripture does not prescribe the correct form of government) has authority over the subject (Rom 13).
In the church the “overseers” or elders have authority over the members. However, this authority is not coercive in nature, but has the character of service (see LD 21, Q&A 54).
- All earthly authority is limited. No one has authority over all aspects of the lives of those subject to his authority. Each authority limits the next. For example, the government must respect the authority of the parents over their children. Thus, it may not interfere in the upbringing of the children. But the parents must respect the authority of the government and must, therefore, permit their children to fulfil their military service if that is obligatory. Further, all authority is limited by God's authority. Only he may require what he commands; only he may ask for a response from those whom he made responsible.
All those who exercise authority must remember this. They must require obedience; they may even enforce it if necessary, but only for God's Sake! And they may never misuse their authority. Nor may they neglect to use it as Eli did. Further, they must exercise their authority with dignity and be followers of God.
- We must show honour, love and faithfulness to all whom God placed in authority over us (parents, teachers, employer, governments, etc.), not because and to the extent that we find them agreeable, but because it is God's will to govern us by their hand. In doing so, we must submit ourselves with due obedience to their good instruction and discipline. This is subject to only one exception, viz., that we obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). Further, we must have patience with the weaknesses and shortcomings of those who exercise authority over us (“office bearers”). Often as not, they have to have more patience with us! Eph 6:5, 6 teaches us that our obedience must be: ". . . in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, Doing the Will of God from the Heart."
- God added a promise of long life in the land which he was going to give to this commandment. Thereby the Lord promises that everyone who complies with this commandment shall share in the blessing of the covenant already in this life.
B. Cross References
- Article 36 of the BC confesses the Word of God about the governing authorities in detail and states that everyone must subject himself to them and pray for them. In 1905 the General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands amended the article by deleting the words: “all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of the antichrist may be destroyed.”
- The idea that love can take the place of authority.
- The denial of the duty of children to maintain their parents.
- Sharing authority with the subject.
- Rejection of authority in society.
- Strikes in which the employment contract is breached.
- Sympathy strikes.
- Emancipation (feminism).
- Independentism (congregationalism).
- The class struggle (Marxism).
- What does “honour” mean? Who must we honour?
- What is the distinction between authority and power? Who has absolute authority? How does he exercise his authority? Whom do we oppose when we resist authority?
- How many kinds of authority do we recognize?
- Who has authority in marriage? How and why must it be honoured?
- Who has authority in the family? Why do they have it? Do adult children still owe duties toward their parents? Which ones?
- Who has authority in society? What is the extent of the employer's authority?
- Who has authority in the state? What form of government is the correct one?
- Who exercises authority in the church? What is the nature of this authority?
- What limits authority? Why must those who exercise authority require obedience?
- How must we conduct ourselves toward those who stand in authority over us? What is the limit of the duty of obedience?
- What promise did God add to this commandment?