An old photograph hangs on the wall of my office. Taken in 1959, when I was barely a year old, the black and white photo shows my father sitting at his desk in the pastor’s study. On his desk are an open Bible and a world globe. I love this photo because it captures the greatest passions of my father’s life, outside of his family—the Word of God, the local church, and world missions.
I’m thankful for a father and mother who taught me, by word and example, to love God, treasure His Word, serve His church, and live on mission. This is what the psalmist writes about in Psalm 78. Asaph addresses the importance of the home and the vital role of parents and grandparents in leading the next generation to know, love and serve God. The psalm answers four critical questions regarding our responsibility to future generations: who, what, why, and how?
Who’s responsible for teaching the next generation? Take a look at verses 5-6: “He [God] commanded our fathers to teach … their children so that a future generation—children yet to be born—might know. They were to rise and tell their children.” Notice at least three, possibly four generations are mentioned in these verses—fathers, their children, the children yet to be born, their children.
From the time God established His covenant with Israel, He commanded parents (dads are to take the lead) to teach their children, who in turn would teach their children, who then would teach their children. The “command” to which the psalmist was referring in verse 5 is likely Deuteronomy 6:6-7. The same command is found in the New Testament, “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The responsibility to disciple children falls squarely on the shoulders of parents, and this requires a strong intentionality on our part. Charles Spurgeon said, “Let no Christian parents fall into the delusion that Sunday School is intended to ease them of their personal duties. The first and most natural condition of things is for Christian parents to train up their own children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
What must we teach the next generation? Again, the answer is in verse 5: “He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children.”
The first two lines of verse 5 are parallel, meaning “testimony” (or “statutes,” “decrees”) is synonymous with “the law.” The word testimony is sometimes used in the Old Testament to refer to the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written (Ex. 25:16). This word relates to what God has required of His people. The word for law here is torah and means “instruction. In this context, it refers to the commandments in the Mosaic law. The emphasis in verse 5 is clear: it is God’s inspired and authoritative Word we must teach to our children.
Psalm 78 also answers the “why” question. “So that” in verses 6-7 means “to the end that” and points to the desired outcome of an action.
- So that they “might know” God through His Word (v. 6)
- So that they might trust Him (“put their confidence in God,” v. 7)
- So that they would obey Him (“keep his commands,” v. 7). Stated negatively, so that they would not become another “stubborn and rebellious generation” who are not faithful to God (v. 8; see vv. 32-37)
We teach so that the next generation will know, trust, and obey God. This desired outcome goes beyond just hoping our kids will stay out of trouble. For us, it means we seek to raise up faithful and passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
How are we to teach the next generation? Again, Psalm 78 provides answers.
- Tell the stories of things God has done (“the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, his might, and the wondrous works he has performed,” v. 4).
- Teach what God requires of us (v. 5, “a testimony … a law”).
- Warn against sinfulness (v. 8)
All of the above requires that we be intentional about our responsibility to make disciples of the next generation.
In what specific ways can you be involved in equipping the next generation to be bold followers of Christ?
Mike Livingstone is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.