Multiplying (Psalm 145)
We’re in the second week of our Advent series. During the month of December, as we near the family holiday of Christmas, we’re taking a break from our series in Luke to see what it means to be the family of God. Last week we looked at what it means to belong to the family of God. We talked about the fact that if we are Christians, then we are all members of the body of Christ, and that as a local body, no member is more important than any other. And we saw at the end that God’s plan for his people is never laid out in the Bible as coming to church and listening to sermons; his plan is not that we come to church, but that we belong to the church.
I announced the order of this series last week, but in the end we’re going to switch things around a bit. At the end of this sermon we’re going to do something we’ve never done before as a church—we’re going to have some baby dedications! Not all the families were available next week (when I had initially planned to do this), so we’re going to look at what it means to multiply as the family of God today, and we’ll look at living as the family of God next week.
I got the verb for this week’s sermon from Genesis 1.28, in which God says to the man and woman he had created:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God’s intention for humanity is that they multiply, and that upon multiplying, they do what he had created them to do. Mankind failed—not in the multiplying, but in their obedience to God—and so from that point on having children became more about our own personal egos and desires than God’s glory. But God set apart a people for himself, and through his people, he began to redeem humanity to go back to what he had intended them to be. That is, when Christians have children—when they are fruitful and multiply—they do so for a specific reason. And all of God’s people, including us, the local church here at Eglise Connexion, are drawn into that reason.
So that’s what we’ll be seeing today: we’re going to look at the Christian motivation behind having children, and how he calls us to manage the gifts he gives us in our children. (And if you’re single, please don’t check out on me: everything we’ll see is as much for you as for the parents—not just because you’ll probably have kids one day, but because you have a part to play in this right now.)
We’re going to read Psalm 145 together—we’ll be focusing mostly on one verse, but we need the rest of the psalm to let us see that verse clearly.
1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. 2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. 3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. 4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. 5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. 6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. 7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. 8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. 10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! 11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, 12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] 14 The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. 15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. 16 You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. 17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. 21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
There is an amazing back-and-forth we have here. And it really is laid out in pretty even sections: the psalmist praises God for his works and for his attributes, and he punctuates his praise by a commitment to further praise later on. In verses 1-7 he begins with a commitment to praise God; then in verses 8-9 he turns to God himself, saying what it is about God that drives his people to worship. Then he returns to the commitment of the people to praise God again, in verses 10-12. Then he goes back to why God’s people praise him in verses 13-20. And he ends with a final commitment to praise God in verse 21.
So there is this beautiful back-and-forth between who God is, and what the people of God commit to do in response to who God is.
But there is another back-and-forth going on here that is just as significant. In addition to a general commitment to respond to God in the way he deserves, we also see a back-and-forth between who is acting.
All the sections which speak about God are punctuated with “You”s:
13 YOUR kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and YOUR dominion endures throughout all generations...
15 The eyes of all look to YOU, and YOU give them their food in due season.
When David commits to praising God, he owns it—he says, “I, I, I”:
2 Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
But then, mixed in with David’s commitments to praise God as he deserves, he speaks of “they”—what they will do.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power...
So what’s that about? It would be easy to assume that David is simply bringing the people of God along with him—saying what he will do, and what the people as a whole will do. That’s definitely part of it, but it’s more specific than that. We have a clue to who “they” are in v. 4, and that verse is the main focus of the back-and-forth going on here.
Commending God’s Works to the Next Generation
4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
Here’s the key that unlocks everything. What we have in this psalm is David modeling what it looks like to see God clearly and respond to God rightly, and pass on that seeing and responding to those who will come after him.
We see a beautiful picture of this in Joshua chapter 4. Joshua has just successfully led the people out of the wilderness into the promised land. God parts the waters of the Jordan River, and the people walk across safely. And afterwards, Joshua commands that stones be set up in the middle of the Jordan River as a memorial to God’s deliverance.
And he tells the people the reason why these stones should be set up—it is not for them, but for their children. He says in Joshua 4.6:
When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.
In other words, he tells the parents who are there, “Tell your kids the story of what happened here. Commend the works of God to the next generation; declare God’s mighty acts, so that they will remember, and tell the story to the generation after them.”
Tell Them the Story
God’s given passions to all of us. The main passion he’s given me, besides my family, is a passion for stories. I don’t care what form they come in—whether it’s books or films or radio plays or TV shows—I love stories. I had a discussion this week about fasting, and I told the guys I was talking to that fasting a meal is relatively easy for me; but fasting stories—going through a day without hearing a single story—is practically unthinkable.
And part of the reason why that is, I think, is because of the way we’re wired as human beings. We are wired for stories; when something significant happens in history, we write it down, and we retell it, over and over again. We invent myths and legends and superheroes; there’s a reason why songs like “La Bohème” are so powerful. It’s not just because the song speaks about a powerful subject (it doesn’t, really—it’s just about nostalgia); it’s powerful because it’s sung in the form of a story we can all relate to. If we want to say something about morality and the darkness of evil, we can philosophize, and that gets us somewhere; or Oscar Wilde can write The Picture of Dorian Gray, and that’s altogether different. Stories help us anchor ideas in things that are familiar—they allow us to see the unseeable.
So it’s no surprise that the Bible is not mainly a theological treatise, but a story. There is theology in the Bible, but that theology is anchored to a narrative, a story of things that happened. It’s a story of a people which was rescued by their Creator, who made them promises, and who continually made good on his promises. It’s the story of this people’s rebellion, their inability to live up to their rescue, and how God sent his own Son in order to forgive them for that rebellion and make them able to do what he had created them to do.
So how beautiful is it that when we have children, and when God tells us what to do with those children, he doesn’t remain abstract? He doesn’t hand us some corny philosophy that can be infinitely interpretable, and can result in whatever we like. No—he tells us to tell our children these true stories. Tell them the story of how God created the world. Tell them the story of God’s goodness and mercy; of his patience and love. Tell them the story of Jesus, the ultimate proof of God’s love for them. Tell them the story of the church, how God consistently protected and preserved his Word for them. Tell them the story of things that haven’t happened yet, but that will—tell them the story of the New Heavens and the New Earth: how one day God will renew the earth, and bring heaven down to it, and how all his people will live with him there and enjoy him forever.
This is why it doesn’t take a philosopher to understand the Bible. This is why children are often even better suited to really understand the point of the Bible than we are. We have been trained to think more abstractly, to ask deep questions—and that’s good, but it can also be distracting: we can so easily miss the forest for the trees. Kids can’t do that yet: the only thing they’re really good at while they’re young is stories. So they hear the story, and they see the main idea far more easily than we can.
4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
We tell our children the story of God’s works, of his mighty acts, that they might do the same with their children—that they might go even further than that, and be the means by which God makes known his mighty deeds to the whole world.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, 12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
We are the family of God—everyone here who has faith in Christ belongs to this family. But this family of God is filled with families—fathers and mothers and sons and daughters—who multiply, and who are called to tell the next generation God’s works, that they might make known to the whole world who God is. That all of the local families of God—the local churches in cities all over the world—might themselves multiply, and plant more churches, that others may hear the gospel and know our Savior.
It sounds insurmountable when we say it like that, so it’s a wonderful reminder to us that the means God gives us to fulfill that mission is unbelievably simple: tell your children the story.
How do we do this?
Each of us have a distinct role to play here.
Firstly: fathers. I wish I could make you feel the weight of your calling. You have the primary responsibility of teaching your children the ways of the Lord—of doing exactly what David has been saying in this psalm. There is an entire book dedicated to modeling this for us. The book of Proverbs is set up as a steady stream of godly wisdom, transmitted from father to son.
Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 5-6 that the weight of responsibility for this rests on the husband, on the father. He is the one who is responsible for setting the spiritual climate in the home, for making sure that God’s story and his will are taught to our children. Dads, it is our responsibility to make sure that the grace and mercy of God are the very air we breathe in our homes.
And that’s not all—it’s not just a question of setting a general spiritual climate in the home. We also need to do it in such a way that our kids don’t shut down when we try to teach them.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
I’ll confess that I’m terrible at this. There’s so much about Jack’s five-and-a-half-year-old brain that I just don’t understand. It’s frustrating, and because I’m not a terribly patient guy, I’m far too quick to lay down the law. But of course he doesn’t understand why what I’m saying is so important, so he’s frustrated with me, and it just spirals out of control.
When Paul says, “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” what he’s saying is, “Do your best to understand your kids, and to speak to them in a way which is appropriate for them.” Some kids respond very well to certain kinds of discipline—no two kids are exactly alike. Fathers, it is our responsibility to become experts in our children, that we might teach them well.
Now if you hear this and it worries you, don’t worry: most men are naturally bad at this. Most men run away from this kind of responsibility—it’s part of the curse of sin that this takes a lot of work. But with God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do this—as Augustine famously prayed, “Lord, command what you will, and grant what you command.”
But the dads don’t do it alone. Mothers, yours is a job I’d never want—even if you’re only counting the actual birth. I’ve been in that room, and I would not want to be the one lying on that table. I don’t know if you all saw that video on YouTube of those two tough guys who let a doctor strap electrodes to their bellies to simulate the pain of birthing contractions. They fell apart at about 40% of what the intense contractions actually feel like. (Their wives were in the room with them, doubled over laughing the whole time.) I wish I could tell you that now that the baby is out of you, the hard part’s over.
But it’s not. Moms, you have work to do. We have many pictures of what a godly wife and mother looks like in the Bible. In Proverbs 31, for example, we have the “excellent wife”: a woman who is a ferocious worker, who is fiercely intelligent—this woman is not a pushover. Anyone who thinks holding to a complementarian theology (as we do here) means that the woman is to be passive and servile has never read the Bible.
This woman knows her theology; she knows the story of the Bible, and brings it out in conversation with her kids. I can’t count how many times I’ve had random conversations with Jack, and he has said, “That’s like what happened to Elijah.” How did he hear about that? Mom told him. Her mind is always on the Word of God, and it comes out naturally in a million different situations with her children.
Moms, even if your husband is called to lead in this regard, don’t ever think that means you get a pass on not doing this. Loanne has a job; in addition to that, she regularly meets with women from the church—discipling them, encouraging them, teaching them; she regularly meets with her unbelieving friends too, just giving them a window into what a godly home looks like. And on top of all of this, she picks Jack up from school every day and spends those hours before I get home with him—not to mention those days when Jack is off of school but I’m working. She sees Jack way more than I do, so very naturally a lot of these important conversations which need to be had with him, she’s the one having them, because she’s freeing me up to be able to pastor you well.
Please hear me clearly: as the husband the responsibility of raising Jack to be a disciple of Christ falls on me. But that responsibility would go unfulfilled without her. She is one of the primary means God has given our family to disciple Jack well. I have the responsibility, but I don’t get to take the credit. Even the Bible recognizes this—in Proverbs 1, right from the beginning (verse 8), Solomon says:
8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, 9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.
It’s Mom and Dad, in this together, equal partners in this endeavor of discipling our children. This is the task God has given us.
But we don’t do it alone.
No family in the church is an island—other couples, we need you. Loanne and I were pretty nervous parents at the beginning: we had Jack after nine years of marriage, so his arrival was like a grenade thrown in our laps. We didn’t always handle it very well. And one of the most precious gifts God gave us in those first years was Philip and Rachel Moore, our pastors at the time. They’d let us come over for no particular reason, just to be there—to observe them with their children, to see how they spoke to one another, to hear how they taught their kids.
Families, spend time together. You parents who have been parents for longer, there is an increasing number of new parents in the church—of the eight babies who have either come or who will come in the next few months, all but one are their parents’ first children. They’re going to need help. They’re going to need something to model themselves after. Some of them have godly parents they can look to, but this won’t be the case for everyone. Come alongside them and go through this with them.
Lastly—singles, or couples without kids. It is so tempting for a 25-year-old single guy or gal with no kids to look at all these new parents and think, “Whew! Thank God I’m free!”
Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not free. The primary responsibility of raising these children does fall on the parents, yes—but as we saw last week, every part of the body is essential. We need your help. All of the children in this church except for three are either only children or older siblings. They need big brothers, and they need big sisters. (And by the way: London and Graham, everything I’m going to say here is true of you too.)
Any parent can tell you what kind of impact you can have on their children. It’s kind of infuriating, but wonderful at the same time: we tell our kids a thousand times, “Not a good idea, not a good idea, not a good idea,” and then one of you comes along, and because you’re cool, and because you’re old but not too old, you say, “That’s probably not a good idea,” and the kid goes, “Huh—you may be right.”
When I was a young teenager—thirteen or fourteen years old—there was a young couple in the church who didn’t have kids yet, and they’d invite me and my little brother over to their house for movie night. It was nothing extravagant, it took zero preparation, but it made us feel valued, like we were actually a part of this. And the idea that these two cool grown-ups, who weren’t our parents, actually cared that we were there, meant the world to us. So when they talked to us about God, we listened—with laser focus.
If you don’t have kids, you have to know that you do have kids. Not in the same way as we do, obviously—but God has placed you in this church, and he has made you at least partially responsible for the people he’s put around you…including your little brothers and sisters. Do not shirk that responsibility.
4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts… 11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, 12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, we multiply (literally) to teach the next generation to sing God's praises. And isn’t this a beautiful picture of why we plant churches? We multiply, as churches, for the same reason—that the next generation of Christians in other places might declare the mighty acts of God.
This is not just a calling on individual families—it is, but it’s much more than that. This is a community calling. So let us fulfill our calling together.
Now without any pause or transition, we’re going to commit to doing that together by dedicating Paul-Elikia, Joseph and Gaël to the Lord. Let me just briefly explain what this means, because depending on where you’ve come from there could be some confusion.
A baby dedication is not a baptism—we haven’t gone pedobaptist on you, we don’t baptize babies—and this moment has absolutely zero impact on their spiritual lives. It doesn’t save them, or make them holier or more favorable in the eyes of God.
But that is not to say it is unimportant or insignificant. Baby dedications help us remember—as parents and as members of the church—that spiritual formation matters, and that disciple-making bears fruit in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
R. Kent Hughes reminds us that “if…parents live consistent Christian lives that testify to their child of the reality of Christ… [if they] are committed to the local body of Christ… [if] the family sits under the regular teaching of the Word and participates in the fellowship of Christ’s body, and if the body of Christ truly loves that child and nurtures and prays for his or her soul, that child is in a favored position to trust Christ and become his devoted follower. Of course, there are no guarantees, but a child in such a blessed position has rather a higher probability of receiving the endless grace of Christ.”
So a baby dedication is a public commitment, both on the part of the parents and on the part of the church. The faith of these precious boys does not ultimately depend on us; but God has already shown them grace in allowing them to be born into a family which knows him, which will speak of him, which will worship him together with other believers; and the Lord very often uses that foundation to convict the hearts of these children and bring them to faith in Jesus. This is very often the case—how many testimonies have we heard from Christians, during which people have said things like, “I grew up in a Christian home, my parents taught me about Jesus, and I’ve believed in him since I was a very young child.” If you have this testimony, or one like it, you may feel it’s boring—it is anything but. This is a beautiful testimony of God’s grace, and it happens when parents raise their children the way God tells them to.
This is our prayer for our kids—that they might never know a period in their lives during which they did not love and serve Jesus.
I’d like to invite the parents of Paul-Elikia, Joseph and Gaël to come forward with the kids.
We read in 1 Samuel 1.20-28:
20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel… and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said… “I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”
It is absolutely fitting, given the grace of God to you parents in giving you Paul-Elikia, Joseph, and Gaël, that you do as Hannah did. That you recognize that these boys are not your boys, but God’s boys—boys that he has lent to you for this time.
The purpose of this dedication is to help you as parents fully embrace the call of God on you, to raise your children as disciples of Jesus Christ. And so, in keeping with that purpose, I’d ask you to respond to the following covenant:
• Do you now present your child before God, recognizing your child as a gift from God, and giving him back to God?
• Do you commit to be parents who bring up your child as disciples of Jesus Christ?
• Do you promise to teach him in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the practice of prayer, in the gift of reading God’s Word, and to guide him in the development of Christlike character?
• Do you promise to try—by God’s grace—to shape the home life of your child, both by example and by family worship, by your word and by your conduct, that at the proper time he might, Lord willing, come to an open confession of Christ and membership in his church?
Parents: "We do, God helping us."
Inasmuch as you have promised before God and his people to raise your children as disciples of Jesus Christ, we charge you to set yourselves to that task by the grace of God.
Now church—we have a part to play in this as well. Please stand with me.
Do you, the body of Christ, promise to receive these children in love, to pray for them, to help instruct them in the faith, to encourage them, and to sustain them in the fellowship of believers?”
Congregation: “We do, God helping us.”