Follow the Leaders
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q 63-66:)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
When we were kids we played the game, “follow the leader”. When you had your turn to be the leader, everybody had to follow you, and do what you do. The idea was to do things the others would have a hard time doing. If someone couldn’t do it, or wouldn’t do it, they were out of the game for that round.
The way we played it was not so much to get anybody to lose. It was to have fun leading the group in doing fun things like climbing trees, balancing as we walked across an old branch over a muddy puddle, or crawling through a tangle of bushes in an overgrown field.
If the leader wanted to do something dangerous the group would usually talk him out of it because nobody wanted any of his friends to get hurt, or to abuse his turn as leader.
The best reward was when we were all following, having a good time keeping up with each challenge, and laughing as we struggled along. Then, when the game was over, we would let the leader know he had done a good job. The only real losers were the moms who had to clean our clothes when laundry day came along.
In that little game we learned a lot about being a good leader, and about being good followers.
Leadership is something God built into his world. It teaches us that God is the Lord over everything. He is our leader in how we should live. To teach us about his loving oversight, and about his ways of doing things, our Creator determined to put people in charge, and to hold them responsible when they were leading others.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches about the Fifth Commandment in Questions 63-66.
Question 63. Which is the fifth commandment?
Answer. The fifth commandment is, “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
Question 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?
Answer. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor of, and performing the duties belonging to, every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.
Question 65. What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
Answer. The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of; or doing any thing against, the honor and duty which belongeth to every one in their several places and relations.
Question 66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
Answer. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is, a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory, and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.
At first glance, the 5th Commandment
seems to apply only to children.
Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
However, like the other 9 Commandments, it is a summary of a principle taught all through the Bible. God created his world to display his truth, grace, and glory. He organizes us under leaders who are to be good models of particular truths about God.
God set up the home to show his special relationship with his people. Parents are to be honored and obeyed because God gives them authority over their children. When the family structure does not fit the way God made it to be it, fails to fulfill its place in declaring God’s truth and glory.
God gives authority to leaders in three other areas of life too. In the church God teaches us about being his spiritual family. He authorizes Elders to represent him as shepherds and teachers of his people. In the workplace, business owners and managers have authority over those who work for them. They show how God is our master as we work in his world to produce our provisions. In the state, the leaders are given authority to govern nations and local communities. The state is there to represent God as our protector.
Each has authority directly from God to do a particular job in the way that honors the Creator. No one has to earn that authority. It is conferred upon them by God. When they abuse that authority, they answer directly to God for their rebellion.
There is more here than just children doing what parents say. The 5th Commandment is a summary that teaches two of life’s basic principles:
1. We should honor those God rightfully places in authority over us.
2. God promises to bless those who live according to his ways.
The first principle summarized in this commandment
is the need to honor those God puts in charge.
To teach us about his dominion as Lord over everything, God appointed humans to represent his authority here in his world. The principle of submission to human authority represents the ultimate authority of God. Since God distributes that authority to different areas of leadership, there are implied limits to each. No one in charge has authority beyond what God gives him.
To summarize this moral principle, the 5th commandment uses a relationship common to us all, the family.
We should respect the order God sets up for our homes.
Our first schooling about respect for rightful authority takes place when we as children learn to honor our parents. Long before we get involved in the work place, in civil politics, or in a church as active members we need to learn the principle of respect for authority in the home.
Ephesians 6:1-4 expands upon these duties of parents and children, “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.’ And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
Parents are to take responsible control of their homes as God’s representatives. God calls them to lead as good examples of how our Lord loves and cares for his people.
Their leadership needs to be taken seriously. They are not given this authority for their own peace, comfort, and glory. They represent God’s authority in the home as long as they are guided by Scripture. They need to lead with a love confidently anchored in what God says is right and important.
Parents should make God’s word the obvious standard in the home. They should make it an integral part of conversations and daily activities for the family. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 God said, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
If the Bible, Prayer, Church attendance, and Godly Encouragement are missing from a home, the children are being deprived of the most important nutritions for their souls.
By the words and example of their parents, children learn either apathy about God’s ways, or a love for truth, kindness, and responsible living.
Respect for God and for others is not accomplished by yelling at them, or by forcing them to do things that are not explained to them. In Colossians 3:21 the Bible warns parents about how to treat their children. It says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” That is how we should teach this important lesson of authority to our children.
As loving leaders, parents need to listen to their children, teach them to understand biblical values, and guide them to become responsible adults. Where sinful or harmful issues are involved, parents need be very clear and consistent.
These lessons are best taught patiently by personal example, and by helping the children understand God’s principles behind the rules in their home.
Children need to know how to be guided by God’s word in every part of their lives. They should be learning to read the Bible daily, to study it, and to talk about it. They should be regularly engaged in confident prayer, both privately and together as a family. Children should see parents care about others in their friendships and social lives. They need to learn compassion, and to have a self-giving attitude. They need to learn wisdom in choosing those who will influence them as friends. We all tend to become like those we spend our time with. Children need to learn to apply christian moral principles in choosing their entertainment. Some movies, games, tv-shows, websites, and literature are not appropriate for God’s people.
Parents need to responsibly monitor all their children’s choices. They ought to teach them to consider how each option measures up against God’s moral standards. If our children are not trained well in the home, they will pay a horrible price as they get older. Society will also pay when the next generation has leaders who never learned to lead in a godly way.
The commandment is mainly directed to us as followers of our leaders. Children should honor and obey those who are their patents. That is how we learn to respect all the offices God set up for leadership. We honor and respect our bosses at work, our church leaders, and elected officials.
We do not respect them as leaders because we agree with all their ideas, policies, or personal lives. We honor the authority God gives them, even though some handle their responsibility poorly. It is the divinely appointed office that deserves respect.
Unless those in charge command you to disobey God, or if they exceed their authority, you should obey, and show respect as those God put in charge. If those in rightful authority tell you to disobey God, you should respectfully disobey them, but only in that one area.
As a child you may not like your bed time, your chores around the house, or other home rules. But you need to show respect when you talk about these things with your parents. It is OK to explain politely why you disagree. As long as it does not go against what God says, you need to respectfully obey, without any anger inside.
The children’s place in the home is in itself an important lesson about God’s truth. They shows us all how our Creator should be honored. His word might tell us to do things we do not understand. However, as obedient children we need to respect and love doing all our Lord tells us to do.
We should show respect for all rightful authority by how we speak about and treat those in charge at work, in church, and in the government.
To keep order in his church God calls
and appoints Elders and Deacons.
Christ is the head of the church, but his leadership is represented by ordained officers. It is their job to oversee the spiritual lives of the flock as shepherds and ministers. They are to carefully and comprehensively teach God’s word, and apply it in the care and operation of the local congregation.
The Elders should oversee the worship and administer the Sacraments. They pray, and exercise spiritual discipline to preserve the purity of the church. They give counsel and biblical advice to those in the congregation who come to them for help. As good stewards of God’s material blessings, the Deacons are given authority to manage the tithes and offerings in support of Christ’s Kingdom
The abuse of these responsibilities has caused many to have an unhealthy view of the church. The church is limited in its authority too. It may advise but not interfere with parenting, businesses, or the state.
It is the duty of every believer to respect the authority God grants to his church. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
This is what Church Membership means. Members come under the shepherding care of specific officers, therefore they should honor the office to which God has called those who lead.
In the work place God gives authority
to those who are the masters over the workers.
The managers, owners, and bosses are responsible for providing products or services so they can exchange them for the means to provide for themselves and for their families. Those who work for them need to respect that responsibility and do their work faithfully.
Ephesians 6:5-7 tells us to, “… be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,”
Then in verse 9 God’s word warns those in charge of the work place “… do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven …”
The boss’s authority ends in the work place. Earthly managers also have a Master, the God who defines their authority. So they have no right to ask employees to violate the Sabbath, or to be deceitful in business. They have no right to dictate how we vote, where we worship, spend our money, or what goes on in our own homes and private lives.
To keep civil order God raises some up
to govern communities and nations.
In Romans 13:1-4 Paul summarizes the principle of civil authority.
“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.”
Civil leaders are to work on behalf of God who is alone the Supreme Lord over all men. Their job is to enforce civil justice and protect our national security. They should ensure that civil crimes like theft, fraud, violence, and murder are punished.
However, they need to stick to the duties God gave them. They can never require citizens to go against God’s law. They are not permitted to intrude into the work God gives to his church. Government has no authority to unduly restrict commerce, other than enforcing laws against fraud and exploitation. They aren’t to interfere with the parent’s work in raising and educating their children, as long as parents do not violate civil law by actually harming their children.
It is important to remember that Paul wrote Romans 13 when pagan Rome ruled the civilized world. Honor and obedience to Rome’s laws and leaders was required by God as long as it was within the boundaries of God’s own laws.
Peter wrote about that same corrupt Roman Empire in 1 Peter 2:13-14 when he said, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”
God obligates us all to respect and to be in subjection to the governing authorities. The Bible says they represent the Creator as ministers for good. We might not respect the immoral lives or policies of some who hold office. Criminals in public office answer to the same laws as the rest of us. Regardless of abuses by individual office holders, the office and its God-given authority should always be shown respect.
The second principle in this commandment
is that God promises to bless obedience.
“… that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
God made his world to operate in such a way that obedience lengthens life. We are the safest, when things are done the way God says is best.
When there are good loving parents and respectful children in a home, there will be greater security from sin and fewer dangerous practices. Children will learn not to glorify or admire violence, drugs, sex and rebellion. They will not be as likely to develop angry self-serving attitudes and ungodly immoderation. They will become interested in safer, more healthy, and God-honoring things.
Those who obey the laws of the state will generally live longer. When traffic laws are obeyed, there are fewer dangerous accidents. When safety regulations are respected, lives will be preserved. When they don’t steal, or hurt others violently, they will be much more likely to avoid vengeful people and the force needed by the state to catch them as lawbreakers. Those who ridicule the police, elected leaders, teachers or their bosses at work are generally the ones who break the rules, get in trouble, harm their bodies, hurt their loved ones, lose their jobs, spend time in jail, or come to an early and tragic death. Those who become capital criminals are sometimes executed which definitely shortens life.
Generally keepers of the Commandments outlive those who do not keep them. It is always healthiest and safest to live within God’s moral boundaries. Part of that is respecting the authority God gives to those rightfully in charge.
God did not just promise a long life. He promised prolonged days in the land he would give. When this commandment was given, God had promised Israel the land of Canaan. It represented the blessing that comes from God’s deliverance. It symbolized God’s Kingdom in which his covenant people would one day live as followers of Christ.
Today we live in the gospel fulfillment of that promise. In Matthew 5:5 Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” He was quoting from a familiar passage in Psalm 37. It contrasts the humble man with the evil man who tries to get things by force and greed. In contrast, those who respect others by being kind, humble, and patient will be the inheritors of the land. He obviously had far more in mind that a mere Jewish territory. He quoted the Psalm to show that what God gives as his blessing will not be given to corrupt opportunists and oppressive leaders. It will be the inheritance of humble believers, who live trusting in God and in his ways, who show evidence of a redeemed soul.
It takes a breed of courageous people
to show respect where mockery is expected in return.
We live in an age that thinks it is cool to ridicule and make fun of authority figures. It is easy to go along with the sarcastic crowd, but it is neither right nor smart. Those who refuse to give in to that way of the fallen soul will be blessed by God. Meanwhile the rebels of this world are unable to figure out why they cannot find real inner happiness.
To repair the moral problem of disrespect and disorder in our world we need to begin at home. We need to diligently learn the principles of responsible and loving leadership. We should be examples of godly respect for authority and leadership at every level of society. Our duty is to trust these principles, and to put them into practice. Pray seriously for God’s help in this crucial obedience.
When the order God set up is followed responsibly, and leaders lead responsibly, we have the best setting for living in peace and contentment in our homes and in God’s world. It is the best hope for turning things around for our homes, church, work, and nation. When proper authority is abused or refused, our lives become confused.
Disrespect leads to confusion and chaos which usually lets the powerful become even more oppressive. Order, respect, and clear direction in our society cannot be restored until the Biblical model for the home, the church, the work-place, and the state are re-established by the gospel as it changes fallen hearts. Respect for proper authority shows your respect for God as the Sovereign Lord over all things.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)