How many children should we have?
...if she has brought up children... 1Timothy 5:10
Pastors, elders, and older women are often asked for counsel concerning birth control and the place of fertility in the Christian home and marriage. Whether in premarital counseling, home visitation, or women's Bible studies, questions are raised concerning God's will in the timing and frequency of childbirth. Such questions are spiritual in nature and present church leaders with a wonderful opportunity to lead Christian husbands and wives into a deeper understanding of the Biblical meaning and purpose of womanhood, manhood, sex, and marriage.
Years ago, my wife, Mary Lee, and I had the pleasure of announcing that Mary Lee was "with child" for the fifth time. The little one then nestled in his mother's womb (whom today we know as our high school junior, Taylor Isaiah Bayly) was a wonderful gift from God. As with our other four children, we were grateful to God for His good gift. When we announced the pregnancy, though, we knew there were some who wondered, "Why another one? Aren't four enough? How many are you going to have, anyway?"
Though part of the reason Mary Lee and I had children is that we liked children, we also believed raising godly offspring has always been at the heart of God's purpose for marriage...
Antediluvian as this may sound to late twentieth century ears, Scripture teaches it and we believed it.Mary Lee and I both come from large families. Mary Lee's mother gave birth to ten children and my own mother gave birth to seven. So both of us were blessed to be born into homes where children were loved and there were plenty of brothers and sisters.
Although the size of our families made us more open to having a large family ourselves, personal experience was not the ultimate reason we continued to have children, ourselves. Rather, the truth we returned to again and again was that children are a blessing from the Lord. When a husband and wife are told the pregnancy test came back positive, they're not discovering an accident of nature, but an act of God.
Scripture teaches that clouds, fields, orchards, and livestock bear fruit only as God wills it. If He desires to discipline men He withholds these gifts. If He desires to bless, His grace takes the form of rain, corn, grapes, calves... So also in our homes. When an expectant mother feels the gentle jab of her baby's legs she is feeling a form of God's grace and love.
Lo, sons are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:35)
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. (Psalm 128:14)
If we accept Scripture's teaching that children are a blessing from God, what would constitute a proper justification for the limitation of these blessings?
Just asking the question takes us a long way toward answering it. If Christians are to seek God's gifts and blessings, our fundamental attitude toward the gift of babies should be to pursue--not to reject--them.
When the disciples tried to push the children away because Jesus was too important and busy for them, Jesus indignantly rebuked His disciples and welcomed the little ones:
...He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these...." And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:14b16)
"But," you might ask, "what about world population trends? Isn't it irresponsible to have more than two children when babies in Africa are starving."
The truth is, world hunger doesn't derive from a surplus of children. Rather it's the result of a deficit of human love and compassion.
The answer to hunger isn't fewer children. Nor is it right for the well-fed to mandate such a solution to the have-nots of the world. Jesus said, "I was hungry and you fed me;" not, "I was hungry and you made a contribution to Planned Parenthood on my behalf."
Many Americans stop after one or two children voicing concern about world hunger, yet how many of these men and women use the money and time saved by their decision to adopt a special needs child, or to become foster parents--or even to feed the starving, for that matter?
Years ago, I helped officiate a wedding service in a Mennonite farm community in central Kansas. The bride was the next to youngest of twelve children. While there, I stayed at the home of another family from their church with eight children. What impressed me about the families I met that weekend was the love I saw between the parents and their children. And during the weekend I heard of a number of children in the church who were foster children or adopted.
For instance, the bride's father pointed out a young man seated at the dinner table Sunday after church who was married to one of his daughters. He told me this young man had been taken in by one of the church's families when he was just a boy. When he was all alone a godly family had opened their home to him and he had received their name and love. Another family had just taken in two foster children. Is it merely an accident that families with eight and twelve children find room, food, and love enough to take in the castoffs?
Sin often disguises itself as virtue, so it's not surprising people often argue, "it's good stewardship to have fewer children." But this makes God's gift out to be sinful and the rejection of Divine grace an act of righteousness. The Scriptural truth is that children are a blessing from God--red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight.
Some people use the scrimping that's often necessary in large families as an argument against them. "Mothers and fathers have a limited supply of energy, patience, and love," they say. "Parents shouldn't have more children than they can care for properly."
But wait a minute: since when have smaller families produced better-adjusted children than the children of larger families? Consider for instance John and Charles Wesley with seventeen siblings; their mother, Susanna, with twenty-four...
Examples like this abound. Family size has no correlation to a child's spiritual health. In fact, the one clear advantage in the whole equation is the unique ability of large families to pass on some of the greatest of human virtues: sharing, helping, listening, being patient, giving up one's individualism for the sake of the group. Yet in America today this storehouse of virtue is being ransacked.
The number of one-child families in the United States has increased 50% over the last two decades. What effect will such a drastic decrease in the size of our families have on the moral development of our children?
Throughout history Christians have acknowledged God's command "be fruitful and multiply" to be binding: for millennia, bearing children has been viewed, not as a matter of preference, but as an act of obedience.
Historically, the Christian church has maintained there are three purposes for marriage.
The Westminster Confession reflects this tradition when it teaches marriage to have been ordained by God for:
- The mutual help of husband and wife.
- The safeguarding, undergirding, and development of their moral and spiritual character.
- The propagation of children and the rearing of them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Martin Luther faced cultural pressures against childbirth in the church of his day similar to the pressures we feel in our time. Addressing the problem head on, he rebuked those, "who seem to detest giving birth lest the bearing and rearing of children disturb their leisure."
There is no shame in childbearing: not once, not twice, not ten or twenty times. God tells us He seeks a Godly seed from His people. Who are we to deny His desire?
It may seem foolish to talk about what the justifications are for the arrival of one more child, but the arrival of any child in any home or marriage causes us to reexamine the basic commitments upon which our lives are built.
The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Rocking the cradle ought, therefore, to be at the center of the priorities of the People of God.This Mother's Day poem was written by my father for his wife, my mother, many years back, and I reprint it here as a tribute to my Mother on this Mother's Day 2010.
A Psalm of LoveThank you for children
brought into being
because we loved.
God of love
keep us loving
so that they
may grow up whole
in love's overflow.