Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

For some months now we have been making our way through Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits that are produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. Today, we consider Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are disobedient to parents.”

While our broader culture has degraded the authority of parents and often treats rebellion to parents as a minor or routine affair, God treats such disobedience seriously. Obedience to parents forms the foundation of social stability and the first pillar of love to neighbor. If the summary of the second half of the law is to love one’s neighbor as oneself, which it is, then the first pillar of love to neighbor is the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Ex 20:12). To dishonor one’s parents, therefore, is to hate one’s neighbor, undermining God ordained authority structures and forcing the care of elderly parents on others. So our Lord Jesus honored Joseph and Mary and obeyed them. He likewise submitted His own will to the will of His Father in heaven. Thus, Paul exhorts the children in Ephesus, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph 6:1). Obedience to parents is an essential part of reverence for God.

God takes this obedience so seriously that His law classified violence to parents or incorrigible disobedience to parents as capital crimes, crimes deserving the death penalty (Ex 21:15; Dt 21:18-21). Certain forms of disobedience, in other words, are not just sins but crimes. And Jesus appeals to the criminal nature of such rebellion to rebuke those Jewish leaders who were failing to care for their parents behind a façade of piety to God. “If a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban’ – (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition…” (Mk 7:11-13).

To serve God faithfully, therefore, is to uphold and revere the authority of parents. Societies that undermine parental authority – whether by treating rebellion as insignificant or by exalting the authority of the state over that of parents or by enabling children to neglect their aging parents – have been handed over to a debased mind and are in danger of yet further judgment.

Let us, therefore, give heed to Martin Luther’s words in his Large Catechism concerning the 5th commandment. He writes:

“You are to esteem and prize [your parents] as the most precious treasure on earth. In your words you are to behave respectfully toward them, and not address them discourteously, critically, and censoriously, but submit to them and hold your tongue, even if they go too far. You are also to honor them by your actions (that is, with your body and possessions), serving them, helping them, and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but with humility and reverence, as in God’s sight. He who has the right attitude toward his parents will not allow them to suffer want or hunger, but will place them above himself and at his side and will share with them all he has to the best of his ability.”

So what of you? Children, are you obeying your parents in the fear of the Lord? Adults, are you caring for your aging parents? This is what the Lord would have of us. And so reminded of our call to be obedient to parents and of the disobedience to parents that has come to characterize so much of our society, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.