What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”
Thinking of the Ten Commandments as God protecting the gifts He gives to us, the 4th Commandment protects the first gift we receive the moment we are born: our parents. Luther writes that in this Commandment, God “reminds and impels all people to think of what their parents have done for them. Then they realise that they have received their bodies and lives from their parents and have been nourished and nurtured by their parents when otherwise they would have perished a hundred times in their own filth. Therefore, the wise people of old rightly said… ‘God, parents, and teachers can never be sufficiently thanked or repaid'” (LC I, 129-130).
Our parents have given us all we have: life and body, possessions and health, education, and a home. Therefore, we ought to honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. How one honours their parents looks different depending on their station in life. The 14-year-old honours her parents differently than the 40-year-old.
When I teach on this Commandment, often the question is asked, “What if someone has abusive parents?” I could dedicate many pages on the ethics of such a question, but I’ll turn simply to Scripture, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1, 4). The Greek word for “anger” strongly implies the father’s parenting be effective through nurturing rather than threats (and, furthermore, abuse). Thus, while the Commandment demands obedience to parents, it also demands the parent be nurturing and caring as they raise their children in the Lord. If they do not, they abdicate their parental status and have become a devil to them instead. The Commandment does not permit the child become party to their parent’s sin. Just as the Commandment demands we obey government authority but we practice godly disobedience when they become a tyrant rather than God’s servant (Romans 13:1-7) and counter the Word of God (Acts 5:29), so a child practices godly disobedience when their parent becomes a devil rather than a loving father or mother.