There is a person who is above you, and you must obey him, even when you don’t want to.
Be honest: what’s your first response to such a statement? As a good modern or American, you might be offended. You might get red in the face and arm yourself to defend your right to autonomy.
If you think I’m talking about God – you’re right. But I’m also talking about those who God has placed in authority over you. We cannot easily separate the 1st and 2nd greatest commandments: a primary way of knowing how much we love God is by seeing how much we love those He puts in our lives. And a primary test of this love for God by loving neighbor comes when we are in some kind of a subordinate position. These relationships are, ultimately, tests of our submission not to our earthly masters but to God Himself.
How are you doing?
In verse 1, St. Paul teaches that children should obey their parents. We spend the most formative years of our lives as children. What happens to us before our 19th birthday, perhaps even before our 5th birthday, has profound consequences for the rest of our lives. Our early lives set the habits of our hands and hearts. Isn’t it amazing that each of us starts life helpless, dependent, and in submission?
Obedience is the very foundation of God’s order, and that’s why from the beginning God has required our obedience. It was precisely this obedience that Adam and Eve withheld from God. But there is an order that God has ordained, a Creation order, which we must accept, contrary to our first parents.
We must be content and obedient in our relationships, even if unequal ones, and please God in them. God has lovingly provided all we need through His Son. He’s taken care of the big problems of life: sin, death, and separation from Him. And all that He asks is that we love and obey Him, just as His own Son did.
Proper obedience, submission, respect, and love in all of our relationships is the primary way we show our love for God in this life. Because God is the one who has ordained such relationships, obedience to those God has put in authority over us equals obedience to the God who has put them there.
What s the first commandment with a promise? “Children obey your parents,” because it’s how we live in our God-ordained relationships that God will bless us. Obedience is the foundation of godly family: it’s how children show obedience to God. It’s easy to say that we love God in the abstract, but the proof is in our human relationships.
It may surprise you that even Jesus Christ was subject to His parents (Luke 2:51) and even Jesus Christ learned obedience by what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). And He is the pattern for all of our human relationships.
As is so often true, the commandments of God imply more than we imagine. Is it only parents that children must obey? Every adult knows (and kids soon figure out) that their obedience extends to grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, policemen, pastors, etc.
Likewise, in verse 5, we are taught that slaves are to obey their masters. Is this commandment irrelevant to us anymore? I don’t think so. For if even slaves, who sometimes might be in abusive relationships, were to obey, how much more should we be able to show the proper respect (and obedience where necessary) to those in authority over us?
Just as obedience to parents means more than just parents, obedience to masters means more than just obedience to masters of slaves (thank God there are few of those left). God, through the mouth of Paul, is speaking to all of us, by application. Elsewhere, Paul applies the principle to husbands and wives, as well as to citizens and rulers.
What may be even more amazing than that God actually requires us – us – to be submissive to other humans is that he expects us to submit with fear and trembling (verses 5-8) – not for master but for God. We are to please those God has placed in authority over us, not as eye-pleasers, that is, not as Uriah Heeps, but as those who joyfully serve God.
I’m sure that some of you may have had bosses in the past who you didn’t feel like obeying or respecting. Maybe you knew more or were more competent; maybe your boss was arrogant or demeaning; some bosses treat their employees like just another piece of equipment to be used for their own ends; and some people are just plain jerks. Or maybe you just can’t stand that someone else has the power to tell you what to do.
But slaves: obey your masters. Employees and those in subordinate positions: respect those God has placed above you and submit to them if they are not acting contrary to God’s will.
I believe that this principle of submission and obedience extends ever further – to the very circumstances of our lives. The events of every day are God-ordained. But sometimes I don’t like what happens, and sometimes I rebel against what God has offered. Sometimes I get tired of eating manna and demand quail. (“You want some quail,” God says, “I’ll give you some quail!”)
But God isn’t just concerned about the proper submission and obedience of children, slaves, and those who are subordinate: He is just as concerned how those in positions of power and authority use the position they have – for it has been given by God.
The God who commands obedience in human relationships also commands those in authority to rule wisely and in love. And so fathers, you must not provoke your children to anger. Just because parents have authority over their children – and have a right to demand obedience – does not mean that their will is without limit. It is very much limited by God’s commandment to love.
Remember the reason why God has given you the care of His children. Woe to the one who makes one of these little ones stumble. Sometimes we provoke our children by not listening to them. Yes, parents usually do know better than their children, and yes we are usually more capable. But we’d better listen, lest we provoke them.
Sometimes parents provoke in slow motion, by not paying adequate attention or spending adequate time with their children, and years later they wonder why their children are remote from them or go looking for love in the wrong places. I’ve been reading a ton of books on today’s youth and on youth ministry, and many of them have reached the same startling conclusion: that if you had to choose one word to represent youth today it would be “lonely” or “abandoned” or “hurt”. Why? Because the adults in their lives have retreated (often because they’ve asked them to go, and we obediently go).
If we as parents somehow managed to avoid provoking our children, would we then necessarily be good, “successful” parents? No, we have a positive commandment to bring them up in the discipline of Lord. This means we must actively teach them, and not abdicate and leave this to the schools or their peers. It’s our job to set limits, to train them in right from wrong.
As parents, we can never overestimate the influence we will have on our children. And not just in our verbal teachings, but in what we teach with our lives, for that’s what they see, and that’s how they learn. All of the teachers and youth ministers a kid may ever have all put together and multiplied by themselves will never have the influence or potential to influence their own children. Parents, especially fathers image God for their children.
There’s a scary thought. But true.
So we’d better have our lives right with God first. But even that’s not enough: we must share this life with our children. If we don’t do it, they are unlikely to become Christians. It’s our obligation to have our children baptized and to make sure they grow up knowing the Bible. We are the shepherds who must lead them to graze in the Church.
There are very sobering statistics about children and church, but they can be reduced to this: parents who love God, disciple, train, and guard their children daily, and go to church tend to have kids who love God, become disciples of Jesus Christ, and go to church.
We should pay more attention and spend more time with our kids – and with all of our neighbors that God puts into our lives. Maybe it’s not an accident that these are both words having to do with money: kids (and other humans in your life) are your most important investment, after God Himself.
Years ago, my oldest brother was discouraged, after adopting his son, that he didn’t have as much uninterrupted time to paint. I remember telling him: “Your children are you masterpieces.”
If being a godly master or parent sounds like hard work, you’re right – it is! The King of Glory came to serve. In obeying as a Son, and in ruling in love as a servant, Jesus Christ is the pattern for all of our human relationships. Too often, we want to play God and tell Him how He should have tailored our lives. But God has put you where you are for a reason.
If you are a child or an employee or in some other subordinate position – as we all are to some degree – then obey and respect. If you are a parent or employer or one in authority – then remember that you have been placed there by God to do His holy will – and not your own.
Too often, we seek contentment by seeking to change what God has ordained for our good instead of being content and being faithful with what He has given us each day.
The Orthodox Metropolitan of the Russian Church in England once said: “You will find stability at the moment when you discover that God is everywhere, that you do not need to seek Him elsewhere, and if you do not find Him here it is useless to go and search for Him elsewhere because it is not Him that is absent from us, it we who are absent from Him.”
Lamb of God, I look to Thee;
Thou shalt my Example be;
Thou art gentle, meek, and mild;
Thou wast once a little child.
Lord, I would be as Thou art;
Give me Thine obedient heart;
Thou art pitiful and kind,
Let me have Thy loving mind.
Let me, above all, fulfill
God my heav’nly Father’s will;
Never His good Spirit grieve;
Only to His glory live.
Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Savior, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart.
I shall then show forth thy praise,
Serve thee all my happy days;
Then the world shall always see
Christ the holy Child in me.
Point for Meditation:
Am I faithfully seeking God in the present circumstances in my life, instead of searching for Him in vain in the future or some other imaginary place? How might I submit to the Lord by seeking Him in what He has ordained?
Resolution: I resolve to look intently for God in one particular circumstance in my life where I may not have seen Him recently.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day