The fifth commandment (i.e. “Honor your father and your mother” – Exodus 20:12) applies to more than just the relationships and authority structure within the family. This commandment is most commonly understood or interpreted as dealing with all earthly relationships and authority structures in general.
John Calvin, for example, summarizes the intent of this commandment as being “that we must revere those whom the Lord has set over us and show them honor and obedience, acknowledging the good that they have done us” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, p.145).
The Westminster Shorter Catechism likewise states that what is required of us in the fifth commandment is “the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several [i.e. various] places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Q.64).
Some of those various “places and relations” include the family, the church, and the state, just to name a few. As the Westminster Larger Catechism says,
Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.
And so this commandment continues to have a great deal of practical application for us in a number of ways. For example, employees must learn to honor and obey their employers and supervisors. That is the will of God for you if you are employed by someone – to do your job well and to show proper respect to your employer and supervisors.
If you are a Christian, has it ever occurred to you that you are to serve God in how you do your job, and in how you relate to your boss and even to your coworkers? In Colossians 3:23–24 the Apostle Paul writes,
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)
Another way of saying that is that God cares about how you do your job. And how you do your job is a reflection of your love for the Lord. We are to work as if we work for the Lord Jesus – because ultimately that is exactly what we are doing! That should change how we approach our work.
The flip-side is also true. If you are an employer, manager, or supervisor, part of doing your job well involves showing proper care and respect to your employees and subordinates. In Colossians 4:1 Paul writes,
“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”
“You also have a master in heaven.” In other words, God is every boss’s Boss. How might a right understanding of these things transform the workplace!
Another area of practical application of this commandment is our relationship to the governing authorities. In Romans 13:1 the Apostle Paul writes,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (ESV)
No earthly government or authority figure is perfect. Frankly, many are far from being so. But that does not mean that we may throw off all due civility, respect, and even submission to the same. Why? Because, like it or not, “there is no authority except from God.” Ultimately God put them there, and so each one must one day answer to Him for the way they rule or govern.
These are just a few examples of the ongoing relevance and practical application of the fifth commandment. I hope that this has given you some food for thought that you can put to use in your daily life. How much better might our lives and even our society as a whole be, if we were to put the fifth commandment into practice as we should? May God help us to do just that.