One of the best ways for a Christian child to honor his father and mother is to surpass them. If a child outgrows his parents in love for Christ, in knowledge of the Bible, and in a true grasp of what the gospel is all about, no one who truly loves God can begrudge it. And there is a paradox involved in it. One of the best ways to surpass your parents is to make sure you look up to them. The first will be last, and the last first.
“Give ear, O my people, to my law: Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; Who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; A generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God” (Psalm 78:1–8).
Summary of the Text
This psalm contains much that we could consider, but I would like to draw out one basic lesson from the first eight verses. This passage outlines for us how a younger generation might surpass their parents in spiritual maturity. This is truly aspirational because in Scripture we frequently see the spiritual declension from one generation to the next.
Asaph begins by exhorting the people to listen to the words of his mouth (v. 1). The next verse is cited by Matthew (Matt. 13:35) as an explanation for why Jesus taught in parables. Here it is “dark sayings of old,” and in Matthew it is things “kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Whatever else this is, it is big. The people have heard and known about them (on the surface at least) because their fathers told them (v. 3), and the sayings will be passed on to the generation to come (v. 4). What will be passed on? The answer is the praises of the Lord, His strength, and His wonderful works (v. 5). A testimony was established in Jacob, and a law in Israel, which was a command to “our fathers” (v. 5), that they might teach their children (v. 5). This was so that the next generation would know, and in turn instruct their children (v. 6). To what end? That they might hope in God, not forget the works of God, and keep His commandments (v. 7). This would have the good effect of enabling them to not be like their fathers—stubborn, rebellious, wobbly, and with a spirit that was not steadfast (v. 8).
In sum, the fathers hand down the memory of God’s mighty works so that their children might learn not to be like them. Honor your parents. Respect them. Look up to them. Listen to them. And do not imitate their frailties and sins.
No Human Authority is Absolute
The Bible teaches us that human authorities are true authorities. They have been given this position by God. This is true of civic authorities (Rom. 13:1-7), it is true of church leaders (Heb. 13:7, 17), and it is true of parents (Dt. 5:16). God has established these three institutions directly, and He commands us to honor them all.
At the same time, Scripture also teaches us that this is a fallen world, and so it has to be recognized that no human authority is absolute. There are times when all these authorities must be disobeyed and disregarded. Their authority is not absolute. This is true of civic authorities (Acts 5:29), it is true of church authorities (3 John 9), and it is true of family authority (1 Sam. 25:25). And this means, children, that your parents do not have the authority to require you to sin, and they do not have the authority to require you to be silent about their sin against you or your siblings (e.g. if there is real abuse). Of course, check your motives before resisting, and check where your definition of abuse came from. Having to make your bed is not abuse. But how do you check on things like that? One of the best ways is to be as obedient as possible in all the areas where there is no conflict between your family culture and Scripture.
Holding You to Your Baptism
The fact that you are still young does not set aside the requirements of Christian discipleship. When the apostle Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, he wrote to all the different kinds of members. He wrote to husbands and wives. He wrote to slave owners. He wrote to slaves. And he wrote to kids. You are part of this. You all belong with us. It is not the case that you are somehow not called to be diligent Christians only after you get to a certain height or weight. The name of Christ is on you now.
You are not old enough to have long-established habits of reading the Scriptures and praying to God. That might seem like a disadvantage, but if you flip it around it means you have the great advantage of establishing these habits while the concrete is still wet. You are actually in the same position that Timothy was in. “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The word for child here is brephos, which would be better translated as infant. Timothy had known the Scriptures from infancy.
But as you do, make sure you grasp the inner logic of it. Make sure you learn the secret that was hidden from the foundation of the world. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; And he will shew them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14). You don’t want to be like your fathers, handing down the mere external data points.
Bring It All Back Around
In the sixth chapter of John, the Lord Jesus has an encounter with the people that illustrates how the dark sayings of old simultaneously hid and transmitted a knowledge of God. This is the other place in the New Testament where this psalm is quoted. Jesus saw that the people were going to make Him a king by force (John 6:15), and so He evaded them. They tracked Him down at Capernaum, and Jesus said they were as interested in Him as they were because “they did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (v. 26). Don’t labor for that kind of food, but rather for the food that lasts forever, Jesus said (v. 27). They asked Him what they should do in order to work the works of God (v. 28). Jesus told them that they should believe on the one who was sent (v. 29). The people replied by asking for a sign, quoting our psalm as they did so (Ps. 78:24). God gave our fathers manna to eat. And Jesus said that Moses did give them bread from Heaven, but what they really needed was the true bread from Heaven (vv. 32-35). And He was that true bread. It is always about Christ.