An old photograph sits in a frame on my desk. Taken in 1959 when I was barely a year old, the black and white photo is of my father sitting at his desk in the pastor’s study. Visible on the desk are an open Bible and a world globe. I cherish 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 grateful 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.
We know that Timothy in the New Testament had a mother and grandmother who influenced him toward faith in Christ. Paul saw in him the same “sincere faith” that thrived in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). A passion for Jesus ran three generations deep in Timothy’s family.
Timothy’s life provides an example of teaching the next generation, while numerous other Bible passages provide instruction for doing so, including Psalm 78. Psalm 78 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. This psalm, with other key passages, answers four crucial questions regarding our responsibility to future generations: who, what, why, and how?
Who’s responsible for teaching the next generation? Hear Psalm 78:5-6: “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, and 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 same imperative is found in the New Testament: “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4b). The responsibility to disciple children falls squarely on the shoulders of parents, and this requires a strong intentionality on our part.
What must we teach the next generation? Look again to Psalm 78, 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 word testimony is sometimes used in the Old Testament to refer to the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. (See 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 Psalm 78:5 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. We teach the next generation …
- 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).
The “why” question also finds an answer in 2 Timothy 1:5. We want the next generation to have a “sincere faith” (2 Tim. 1:5). The word sincere conveys an authenticity. 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. It means we seek to raise up faithful and passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
Look again to Psalm 78 for answers:
- tell the stories of what 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).
In Deuteronomy, God commanded: “Repeat them [His words] to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. … Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates (Deut. 6:7-9).
Don’t miss this key point in the Deuteronomy 6 passage: before issuing the command to teach the next generation, God said: “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart” (v. 6, emphasis added). Teaching involves explaining to our children what they observe in our lives.
And this brings us back to Timothy. His “sincere faith” first “lived in” his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). It “lived in” them. It’s by word and example we will teach the next generation to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
This article was first published in the Summer 2019 Explore the Bible Leader Guide.