306. In the spiritual sense honouring one's father and mother means reverencing and loving God and the church. In this sense father means God, who is the Father of all, and mother means the church. Children and angels in the heavens know of no other father or mother, since the Lord causes them to be born anew there by means of the church. This is why the Lord says:
Do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in the heavens, Matthew 23:9.
This is said for the benefit of children and angels in heaven, not for children and people on earth. The Lord teaches the same lesson in the prayer shared by all Christian churches: 'Our Father in the heavens, may your name be hallowed.'
The reason why mother in the spiritual sense means the church, is that just as a mother on earth feeds her children with natural food, so the church does with spiritual food. This too is why in the Word the church is frequently called mother. For instance, in Hosea:
Strive with your mother; she is not my wife, and I am not her husband, Hosea 2:2, 5.
Where is the divorce document of your mother, whom I have sent away? Isaiah 50:1; also Ezekiel 16:45; 19:10.
And in the Gospels:
Jesus, stretching out his hand to the disciples, said, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God, and do it, Matthew 12:49-50; Mark 3:33-35; Luke 8:21; John 19:25-27.