Do Christian couples have to have children or is it okay to forego that part of the marriage relationship?
- “Neither my husband nor I feel any desire to reproduce.”
- “My husband and I got married in our late forties…”
- “I have a disability that requires me to need more hours of sleep at night”
- “The more we prayed and the more we listened, the more it became clear to both of us that God’s decision was not for us to have children.”
These are some of the numerous excuses I have heard regarding why some Christians choose not to have children.
My beautiful mother had eight children of which I am the seventh.
I can remember numerous times thinking, “I’m not having eight kids, that’s too many!” At the time I could not tell you why I thought eight was too many or what was the basis for that conclusion? For some reason, I thought two or three kids was the perfect, nuclear family.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved growing up in a large family. I loved our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations together, especially since my older siblings were married and had children of their own. A house full of people, laughter, smiles, football watching, story-telling, babies crying and plenty of good food to go around. Those are some of my fondest memories. Still, I had my mind made up, only two and maybe three kids for me tops.
I carried that line of thought right into my marriage. However, my husband wanted at least five (he is the youngest of three). What happened? God gave us four, only three pregnancies, but four amazing kids. Yes, the last pregnancy was twins. Sometimes I wondered if God knowing how emphatic I was not to have more than three, slipped another baby in my womb just to remind me that He is God and I am not! He is sovereign over all and I am sovereign over nothing!
Even though I know that God is sovereign, it has crossed my mind what might have been if I was less concerned about what I wanted and more concerned about honoring and glorifying God.
Before I continue, I want you to be aware of the fact that the truths I am about to share are coming from the Word of God and cannot be understood, accepted or heeded without a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, we not only desire to know Him more but to serve Him through faithful obedience to His Word.
Secondly, I know that there are some medical conditions that prevent women from conceiving and giving birth who would otherwise welcome the gift of children. I know that some marriages begin after child bearing years have ended.
Thirdly, I know this topic is not just a female issue alone. Some women are married to men who do not want to have children and while the wife’s heart is open to having children, her husband discourages it. I also know that some women along with their husband have been negatively impacted by the cultural mindset that acquiring things, position and success are much more pressing than having children. In this case the decision whether to have children or to limit the number of children is often influenced by a desire for attaining the things of this life.
With that said, grab your Bible and let’s see what God has to say. You may want to read chapters one and two of Genesis to get the full scope of the creation story.
After God completed the fifth day of creation, He said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). Next God blessed the man and the woman and said, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Take notice that the very first command God gave to Adam and Eve was to have children, not to build a house or start a career. He did not even tell them to settle in and spend a few years getting use to their existence, let alone married life. He did not command them to acquire certain things before starting a family. So that there would be no question or misunderstanding regarding His purpose for the man and his wife, God repeated Himself three times. That’s right, God said the same thing three times? You have to ask, “why would He do that”? He could have said “multiply” and that would have been enough.
So critical to the heart of God was the command to procreate that God put emphasis on it. By saying the same thing in three different ways, God drew our attention to what is of value to Him. God is all about His image prolifically filling the earth. God values people, especially people who champion His cause and who set aside their agenda for His. Clearly God was not offering a suggestion or an opinion that He wanted Adam and Eve to strongly consider. God did not preface His command by saying, “this is the ideal situation for your life, please try your best to attain it.” God gave a clear and direct command to the married couple to bear children.
How should the command be understood? What does it mean? Several things.
1. The time to decide whether you want to have children is not after you are married.
Marriage belongs to God because He created it. (Genesis 2:22; Mark 10:9) He has set the parameters and stipulations for it, one being that you must “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.” Simply put, if you are an individual who does not want to have children, marriage should not be entered into. However, once you are married, God’s expectation is that you will follow through in obedience to His command and bear children.
If you are a single woman desiring marriage, it is highly unwise to marry a man who does not want children. If he does not want children, that is not going to change after you get married. Child bearing is a command of God. This is one reason why premarital counseling is so critical. Topics such as this should be addressed and settled long before you walk down an isle and enter marriage.
Notice also that the command was given before the fall of mankind. Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God had already commanded them to reproduce (Genesis 1:28). One of the devastating results of sin’s impact in the Christian marriage is the hesitancy of some and the outright rejection of others to bear children.
2. The command is applicable to New Testament Saints.
Some women think that because the command to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth was given in the Old Testament, it is not applicable to New Testament Saints. This belief is erroneous.
Yes, the command is in the Old Testament. However, just because something is in the Old Testament does not mean that it is not applicable for us today. The Old Testament is part of the whole counsel of God and is very much relevant today in our Christian walk. Also, it is to be noted that every New Testament author quotes directly from or appeals to the Old Testament in explaining a particular doctrine or teaching. Here are just a few direct quotes from the Apostle Paul appealing to the Old Testament in his teaching.
While we are no longer under the old covenant, the command to procreate predates the establishment of that covenant and therefore we are accountable to it. The command is also found in the New Testament.
“Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.” (I Timothy 5:14)
3. God’s judgment in Genesis 3 sheds light on His clear intention for women to bear children.
Notice what God said to Eve in response to her sin in the garden.
“To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children. Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
Why would God judge the woman in the area of childbearing if His expectation of her was something other than bearing children or if He was going to convince certain women not to have children at all. Why greatly increase the pain in childbearing knowing that a married woman could simply choose not to have children.
God’s judgment was specific and particular. He chose an area of a women’s life where she would severely feel the impact of her sin and consequence for her role in the fall of mankind. God did the same in judging Adam for his role in the fall of mankind. God chose an area of a man’s life where he would severely feel the impact of his sin. A man is to work and provide for his family yet God said, “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).
Here’s a caveat that I’ll have to unpack at another time. A woman due to biological reasons will reach a point in her life where she will no longer be able to bear children. Also, the children she has borne will one day no longer be under her direct care and influence. Therefore, that part of the woman’s punishment will end eventually. However, the man’s punishment will go with him his entire life. He must work and eat by the “sweat of his brow” (Genesis 3:19). He will feel the consequences of his role in the fall of mankind until he dies.
4. We have been given an enormous responsibility.
Leave it to God to extend grace even in the midst of judgment. Although it was a woman who led the way in the fall of mankind, God has graciously provided a “counter” for the stigma that the woman bears for her role in the fall. A married woman who follows through in obedience to God’s command to procreate, has been given the opportunity to bring up a godly heritage unto the Lord as she rears her offspring in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
A godly woman reigns in herself and resolutely determines to continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (I Timothy 2:15). A godly woman is going to see about the things of the Lord and making sure her life is a beautiful reflection of what God intended for her. John MacArthur had the following to say,
“The pain associated with childbirth was the punishment for the woman’s sin, but the joy and privilege of child rearing delivers women from the stigma of that sin. Women are kept from any accusation of inferiority through the godly influence they have in the lives of their precious children. For the church to depart from this divine order is to perpetuate the disaster of the fall.”
5. Children are a gift and a blessing from God.
“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…” (Psalm 127:3-5).
You would agree that if you came into a windfall of money (legitimately) it would be a blessing, a wonderful gift from God? Right? Would you refuse the gift? Would you do whatever you could to keep from being the recipient of financial increase? Would you attempt to limit the amount of the financial increase headed your way? Absolutely not! When it comes to our finances, we want them to be fruitful. We want our finances to be multiplied (exponentially) and we want them to fill up our bank accounts. Right?
You would also agree that physical health and vitality is a gift and blessing from God. Right? Would you attempt to destroy your good health on purpose? Would you harm your physical body so as to ruin any chance of being healthy? Absolutely not!
However, when it comes to the gift and blessing of children, some of us have an attitude and disposition to greatly limit the number or completely prevent the possibility of having children altogether. Although most married women desire to have children, when and how many is quite often determined by their personal desires and circumstances. One individual in a recent article I read had this to say:
“As my husband and I turn 50, we can truthfully say that we have not had any regrets regarding our decision not to have children. We continue to believe that this was God’s will for our lives personally and that it is consistent with the general biblical guidelines governing Christian life and practice. I believe a Christian couple has the freedom in Christ to decide not to have children. I believe there are a whole range of legitimate, even selfless, reasons for choosing not to have children, often related to one’s life circumstances or calling.”
Reading those words coming from a Christian is sad. It is tragic how some “Christian” couple’s believe whatever they want to believe without any Biblical factual basis whatsoever and regardless of what God’s Word says. I cannot tell you how many times women have started or ended their argument explaining why they believe a certain way with the words… “I just don’t think God wants me…” or “I don’t believe God would have me…” or “I just don’t feel God would…” etc.
Ladies, we cannot come to the text of Scripture with what we think or what we have heard or what our mother always told us or how we feel. Rather, we must come to the Word of God humbly, eagerly, openly and ready to receive what thus says the Lord. “What does the Bible say” should be our mantra!
Here’s where I start stepping on my own toes. I was not focused on glorifying God in my attitude for two and no more than three children. My focus was on me and what I wanted in life. I viewed too many children as an unnecessary financial burden. Having married at a young age, I wanted to be finished having babies by the time I turned 30. In fact my twins were born when I was twenty-nine. I wanted to pursue my own goals and desires and more children would certainly have hindered my efforts. Clearly, I did not have a God-centered perspective and I limited the number of children I could have had.
After my third pregnancy and giving birth to twins in May of 1994, I was all too ready to halt any future opportunities for childbearing. My circumstances, personal desires and goals and pure selfishness are some of the reasons why. It was a decision made that I have regretted. However, I am grateful that God in His grace has not allowed me to continue in feelings of regret. He has given me opportunity not only to teach my children but also to teach women the truth about childbearing. I am reminded often that God does not want me to live in a state of regret. Paul put it like this:
“…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)