One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
The Responsibility of Each Generation to the Next
It is the Biblical duty of every generation of Christians to see to it that the next generation hears about the mighty acts of God. God does not drop a new Bible from heaven on every generation. He intends that the older generation will teach the newer generation to read and think and trust and obey and rejoice. It's true that God draws near personally to every new generation of believers, but he does so through the Biblical truth that they learn from the preceding generations. The Spirit comes down vertically (you might say) where the truth of God is imparted horizontally.
But there is another reason that Psalm 145:4 is so relevant to our theme this morning. Not only does it speak of the imparting of truth from one generation to another, it speaks of a certain kind of imparting. It is an imparting with exultation and for exultation. Notice the words. It does not say, "One generation shall merely teach Your works to another." It says, "One generation shall praise Your works to another." Praise is exultation in God. The education of the next generation must not only aim at exultation, it must involve exultation.
Teachers and parents who do not exult over God in their teaching will not bring about exultation in God. Dry, unemotional, indifferent teaching about God - whether at home or at church - is a half-truth, at best. It says one thing about God and portrays another thing. It is inconsistent. It says that God is great, but teaches as if God is not great.
Psalm 145:4 shows us another way: "One generation shall praise Your works to another." Let praises carry the truth to the next generation, because the aim of truth is praise. The aim of education is exultation. So let education model exultation in the way it is done.
"Infatuated With the Kingdom"
Now let me build a bridge from last week's message to this one. I said last week that our aim in the coming decades will be to breed children and young people here at Bethlehem who are radically surrendered to Jesus and radically committed to his cause of world evangelization. By "radically committed," we mean so deeply committed that no price is too high to pay to follow Jesus wherever he leads, no matter how distant or how dangerous.
One of you sent me a quote from Jim Elliot's journals to underscore this aim and say amen. At age 22, Jim Elliot had a promising ministry in front of him in the United States. He probably could have been a very successful pastor or evangelist or teacher. His parents were not very excited about his call to go to the Quichuas in South America. They wrote and told him so. He answered bluntly.
"I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America," he replied on August 8. "This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And He never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves that we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause. Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly - all of them, straight at the Enemy's hosts.
"Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious, Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way, Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious, And all thou spendest Jesus will repay."
(Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, [New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers: 1958] p. 132; hymn quote from "Oh, Zion Haste")
That's what Education for Exultation - in the Next Generation is about: to breed that kind of child and teenager and young adult. Where will they come from? That kind of 22-year-old doesn't grow on trees. Where do they come from? That is what I want to talk about today.
The answer is that they come from God. God makes hearts like that. And he is sovereign: he can make such a heart in a dysfunctional family and a failing church. But that is not his ordinary way, and it is not the way he commands. His ordinary way is to breed hearts like that in God-exalting families and in churches where "One generation shall praise Your works to another."
Notice one key word in Jim Elliot's explanation to his parents. He said, "[Jesus] told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not." Why the word "infatuated"? Because Christianity is more than right thinking about the kingdom. It is also right feeling about the kingdom. It is right allegiance to the kingdom. It is not just education about following Jesus; it is exultation in following Jesus.
That's the link with Psalm 145:4: "One generation shall praise Your works to another, and declare your mighty acts." What we want from the next generation is not just heads full of right facts about the works of God; we want heads full of right facts and hearts that burn with the fire of love for the God of those facts - hearts that will sell everything to follow Jesus into the hardest places of the world.
Convictions That Shape the Way We Educate
So how shall we do this? How shall we do education and exultation for the next generation at Bethlehem? I'll mention three convictions or principles that will shape the way we aim to shape children and young people. I will try to show Biblical texts that support these three principles. Psalm 145:4 gives the overarching aim: "One generation shall praise Your works to another." These other texts tell us how.
Parents Educate Their Children
Foundational to all our ministry to children and young people is that God's ordinary way of shaping children into radically committed, risk-taking, countercultural, wise, thinking, loving, mature, world Christians is through parents who teach and model a God-centered, Bible-saturated worldview to their children. Why do we start with that conviction? Because Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says,
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (See also Deuteronomy 11:19)
Centuries later, Asaph says in Psalm 78:5-7:
[The Lord] established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, Even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.
And in the New Testament, Ephesians 6:1-4 says:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
The Biblical pattern is for parents, especially fathers, not to relinquish their role as the primary teachers and shapers of their children's mind and heart - not even to the church. The Biblical pattern is for parents to impart to their children a God-centered, Bible-saturated vision for all of life. Education for Exultation is not primarily a vision of how to replace parents with church, but to restore parents to their God-ordained role. This is one reason why David and Sally Michael are called Pastor and Minister for Parenting and Children's Discipleship, not simply Pastor and Minister for Children.
That's principle #1: Parents educate their children.
The Church Is a Partner With the Parents in Educating the Children
There are lots of reasons why this is important. Practical ones include the facts that 1) some children don't have believing parents; 2) some single parent homes are so stressed and overworked that they need all the help they can get; 3) there is a whole range of competencies in moms and dads that may need supplementing in the world the way it is (if not the way it should be); 4) even the best home-teaching will benefit from reinforcement in a corporate setting; and 5) some aspects of God's character may be caught better in a larger corporate setting than at home.
On this last point consider Deuteronomy 31:10-13:
Moses commanded them, saying, "At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. "Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess." (Emphasis added)
Notice those words in verse 13, "Their children who have not known . . ." Does this mean that Moses assumes that fathers will be delinquent, and a corporate gathering every seven years will make up the difference? Probably not. Rather, it probably means that there are some things that are going to be picked up and seen and felt in this kind of gathering that would not ordinarily be picked up at home. Peter Craigie takes the meaning to be that
The function of the ceremony would be educational. . . . The younger generation, however, would learn for the first time the full meaning of the covenant (v.13). Although they would know about it beforehand, its significance would dawn on them fully only as they left their homes and villages and heard the public reading of the law in the presence of all Israel (cf. v.11). (Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976], p.371)
One lesson to draw from this is that church education can be an important supplement and reinforcement to what parents do at home. Therefore partnership between parents and church is the image we see for Bethlehem.
There is a pointer in the New Testament that the Jewish people did not understand the passages about home teaching to rule out the supplementing of education from others who have a special expertise. In Acts 22:3, Paul was making his defense before the Jews, and said, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today." Notice the reference "educated under Gamaliel" - literally "at the feet of Gamaliel." This was the usual place for the younger students of a gifted rabbi to sit as they were instructed. This does not mean that the parents were delinquent. It means that when we say parents have primary responsibility to shape their children's mind and heart, we don't mean that they cannot or should not avail themselves of gifted teachers to supplement their own efforts.
So principle #1 is: Parents educate their children. Principle #2 is: The Church is a partner with the parents in educating the children. And now principle #3 . . .
The Church Helps Equip the Parents to Educate the Children
When children grow up and become adults, they don't cease to learn and grow - at least they should not (see 2 Peter 3:18; 1 Corinthians 14:20). And as some of them move toward parenting and teaching children, they must continue to be taught and shaped Biblically, and the church has a high calling to see this happen.
Moses says to the people (in Deuteronomy 4:9), "Give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons." First, Moses must minister to the people and they must give heed to themselves and their own souls. Then they will be able to teach their children.
So in the New Testament, Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-12, "[Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." Pastors and teachers equip the saints to do the work of the ministry - the ministry of parenting and the ministry of teaching Sunday School and Kids' Connection and a hundred other ways to nurture others, young and old.
Which means, in summary, that Education for Exultation - in the next Generation is three things: 1) parents educate their children; 2) the Church is a partner with the parents in educating the children; and 3) the Church helps equip the parents and others to educate the children.
And if you have eyes to see, you will know that in this last point everyone is included. The church that educates only children with Biblical truth will get shallower and shallower and shallower, until the reservoir of Biblical doctrine is so small that no one can drink there and find the words of life. And where there was perhaps once a robust Bible-teaching, Christ-exalting, mission-minded church, there is now only a Bible-neglecting, God-belittling, social Christianity.
To guard against that, and to keep the reservoir of truth and doctrine full and deep and pure enough to drink - for all ages - is the aim of Education for Exultation - in the next Generation. I hope and pray that you will be part of it.