By Gary and Jared Johnson
Like father, like son. He’s a chip off the old block. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. These well-worn phrases still impart truth. Life is lived in and through generations. From beginning to end in the Scriptures, we read of generations of people. The genealogy of Jesus is listed in both Matthew and Luke.
Today, there are five living generations: builders, boomers, gen X, millennials, and gen Z. Despite the untold volumes written and conferences held about the qualities and particularities of these generations, a far greater concern is each one’s legacy.
Many people think of generational legacy in mostly temporal ways that might include real estate, stock portfolios, bank accounts, or vocational impact. Temporal legacy is often built on money and the things money can buy. But what if we resolved to leave behind a legacy that has eternal worth, instead?
A Legacy of Faithfulness
The Bible speaks to this. King Solomon was known for wisdom, wealth, women, and writing. Among his contributions to Scripture is a short song—Psalm 127.
The first half of his brief worship song is about God building a house, protecting a city, and providing for our physical needs despite our anxious working (vv. 1, 2). Then, in the second half, Solomon mentioned children being a gift from God (vv. 3-5). He compared children to “arrows in the hand of a warrior” (English Standard Version). Moreover, Solomon said the warrior is blessed when his quiver is full of children (i.e., arrows).
This song is not about ample procreation, but about leaving a godly legacy. Arrows go where the warrior cannot to impact the battlefield beyond his direct reach. How ironic that Solomon wrote this, for his own legacy was largely a gilded spectacle with little or no God-honoring substance.
In the psalm’s second half, which is about war, notice the words warrior, arrows, and enemies. Children of the warrior will someday be sent into battle. We are at war, not with a country, but with the kingdom of darkness. Paul described it well: “For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). While on death row, Paul declared in his “last will and testament” to Timothy that he “fought the good fight . . . finished the race . . . remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7). What a legacy to give his son in the faith!
This is the kind of legacy we should want to leave the next generation. But will we leave a legacy of faithfulness to Jesus to those coming up behind us? Whether they’re our own children and grandchildren, our ministerial successors, or the elders who carry the weight of church leadership after we’re gone, what legacy will we give them? Jesus expects us to “be faithful, even to the point of death” (Revelation 2:10). Nowhere in Scripture are we ever called or expected to be successful, only faithful.
A Legacy of Eternal Life
By God’s grace, Solomon had a great beginning. God named this child Jedidiah, meaning “beloved of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:25, NLT), even though David, Bathsheba, and the people called him Solomon. God lavished love on Solomon throughout his life, even though Solomon left God and recklessly worshipped the idols of his hundreds of wives. He did not finish well, and neither did many of his offspring.
Even “good” King Hezekiah, who tried to reign in God-honoring ways, finished terribly. The prophet Isaiah confronted Hezekiah’s vapid, prideful leadership. Because of Hezekiah’s arrogance and self-importance, Isaiah warned the king that Judah would be destroyed by the Babylonians and the king’s own descendants would be made eunuchs in their captivity (2 Kings 20; Isaiah 38, 39). What was Hezekiah’s response?
“Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘This message you have given me from the Lord is good.’ For the king was thinking, ‘At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime’” (2 Kings 20:19; Isaiah 39:8).
Can you imagine? As a father, I (Gary) would never console myself with the thought that someone would mutilate my sons or grandkids! Would you ever refer to something as “good news” when it involved your child being brutalized and kidnapped, just because you would escape punishment? Hezekiah had a complete disregard for anyone besides himself; his legacy was anything but godly. We see proof of that in Scripture: Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was the longest-reigning and perhaps most pagan of any of the kings of Judah or Israel.
What legacy will we give to those who follow us? Is the name and kingdom of God more important than anything temporal to which we can point to feel good about? Can we, in humility, release our need to be needed and let the Almighty do what he needs done after we’re gone?
It gives me—Gary Johnson—great pleasure to write this column with my son, Jared. We are in complete agreement that no amount of money in the bank or square footage under roof approaches the incomparable riches of eternal life. The thought of eternity without one’s children and grandchildren is terrifyingly painful.
A God-honoring legacy is one that brings generation after generation to surrender their lives to the kingship of Jesus.
Gary and Jared Johnson serve as executive director and operations director, respectively, of e2: effective elders.