March 21, 2004 Q & A

Are Children an Obligation?


Does God command that married couples try to have children? If there is the "procreation command" in the Bible, then what does God tell us about how to determine when to stop having children? It always seems that parents are not ready/able to have another child, but God seems to always provide. My wife and I are talking about having another child, but we want to be wise in this. I would be glad of any thoughts on this matter.


The Lord created man in the beginning, male and female (and ordained by His own act the institution of marriage) with a mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it—the "procreation mandate," as you put it. I do not see that annulled anywhere else in Scripture; and, indeed, the Lord tempered the curse of death with the gift of life (physical life and procreation for Adam & Eve and all their posterity, and eternal life for all "the seed of the woman" in Christ).

"Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb His reward" (Psalm 127:3). In His Word our Lord holds before us the joyful expectation of "children's children" joining us in praising and serving the Lord, and in His incarnation He took a special delight in receiving and blessing children ("of such is the kingdom of God"). The promise is to us and our children (Acts 2); our children are holy (1 Cor. 7), etc.

All of that added together constitutes a positive view of children in the covenant and in our homes. And I think it means that our normal expectation upon marrying should be that we will bring children into the world, as God grants them, and seek to do our best to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

That summary does not necessarily resolve all questions, though. Some have pointed to the (alleged) fact that humans have now "filled the earth" and there is not the need for untrammeled procreation, while there is a great need (and a new command) to make disciples of all the nations to the ends of the earth. Because of the fall of man and the curse of God on man's dominion, some argue that the creation mandates (multiply & subdue) have been superseded for God's people by the Great Commission. It is Christ who will subdue the earth, not to man's rebellious dominion, but to His Father in His coming in final glory.

It is also argued that the "procreation" mandate is not necessarily a positive moral command impinging upon all. For example, our Lord said that some have the grace to be eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:10f.), and the apostle Paul wished that all might remain single as he was in order to give themselves fully to the things of the Lord (1 Cor.7). In these passages it is clear that not every believer is obligated to marry, despite the pattern set forth for us in Genesis 2.

If not all are obligated to marry, even though that is God's design for most men and women, are all who marry supposed to procreate freely with only the limits imposed on them by providence? It seems to me that God gave us brains to consider how best to fulfill this mandate. For example, if one parent is known to carry a serious inherited disorder (say, hemophilia), it seems wise to me that they refrain from having children and consider the ministry they might have otherwise (perhaps adopting special needs children who are unwanted). Or it could be that circumstances of education and employment (calling in life) or larger family responsibilities make it unwise to have a large family.

I have Christian friends who vehemently argue that parents cannot adequately provide a large number of children in today's world, and that the well-being of their children requires limiting themselves to 2, 3, or 4 at most. I have other friends who just as vehemently argue that we should trust God in such matters and not try to limit the number of our covenant children. Indeed, let us seek a "quiver full" and seek to out-reproduce the heathen.

I cannot see a "law" on either side of this question. I do think that a couple who don't want children or want to stop deliberately after just one or two because they are in love with a high material standard of living and don't want the trouble and expense of too many children cramping their style need to examine their priorities and trust. Are they truly seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting Him for their material needs to be supplied as He sees fit, or are they putting mammon first?

I know small Christian families whose children love and serve the Lord and I know large (eight children) families whose children all appear to be happy, secure in the love of their homes, and growing into mature young people who aim to serve the Lord. As I say, I don't see a "law" at work here, but I have seen the Lord wonderfully provide where the "world" would think we are being foolish (I say "we" because my wife and I have five grown children and have been criticized for lack of self-control/wisdom).

Parents with just two children who are committed to the world's standards of material and professional success may provide their kids more than enough of what money can buy and yet starve them emotionally and spiritually by neglect—working two jobs and long hours, coming home tense, exhausted, and preoccupied, having outsiders raise their children, and then hoping the little amount of time they spend in church or even also in a Christian school will somehow do the job of training them in the Lord that the parents haven't the time or energy for.

The large Christian families I know that are "successful" (well-ordered homes, generally obedient and happy children who know they are loved and are growing in faith and love for the Lord) are home-school families; they make clothes, garden, and share burdens together. I do not see in their children any sign of resentment that they are "missing out" on anything, but rather a real valuing of the things that truly matter. They vacation with tents in public campgrounds instead of motels and Caribbean cruises. They buy clothes at yard sales in upscale neighborhoods and don't look at all shabby. They deliver papers, mow lawns, do odd jobs, and get part-time jobs to earn their spending money and thus learn lessons in industry, savings, tithing, and managing money.

On the other hand, I have seen parents of just two children who seem overwhelmed and defeated by the task of raising their children. Some of the difference may be in personal abilities and resources, but a lot of it is in basic attitude—toward children, toward life and calling, and toward the Lord.

But for giving you advice on this question I am firmly on the fence. It is a matter of you before the Lord and His Word in prayer and in honest and humble discussion with each other making a wise decision, based on all factors (including your own personalities and personal resources), as you determine to do your best to serve the Lord first and trust Him for all things. But, coming down somewhat on one side of the fence, do not undervalue that tremendous privilege of serving God's kingdom by raising new citizens to serve in it or underestimate the sufficiency of God to provide for you and your children. We must be prudent; but we must live by faith, also.

The Lord bless and guide you as you think and pray this through.



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