Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
Holy & Free, Part 8 – Children: Having them, Raising them
This morning we are going to be looking at the Scriptures to see what God says about children, both having them and raising them. It is fitting to do this today since we will be having a baby dedication later in the service.
A generation or two ago this would not have been much of a topic even here in the United States. Society was very favorable toward children and understood what was necessary to raise them to be responsible adults. Some years ago advice columnist Ann Landers did an informal survey of her readers about children. A majority of those responding said they would not have them if they had it to do over again. Perhaps that says more about her readers than it does about our society, but it does indicate that a large portion of our society does not view their children to be the blessings God says they should be. They view them as problems. In addition, as society has turned away from God toward man’s theories, an ever increasing percentage of families have become dysfunctional with children growing up to be self centered leeches on society instead of productive, contributing members of it. God has given Christians both a better understanding of the family and children, and a better way to raise them.
Children: Who Should Have Them?
The first question to address is who should have children?
I previously pointed out that the Bible is clear that God’s design is that children are to be a product of marriage. It is one of the purposes of marriage. The best environment for children is under the care of a monogamous man and woman who have a lifetime commitment to each other. This is not to say that single parent homes and group homes such as an orphanage cannot successfully raise responsible children, for some of them can, but it is more difficult. Neither is it saying that being married automatically makes the couple good parents. It does not. Nevertheless, God’s design is that raising children in the context of a godly marriage is best.
Our society has increasingly turned away from God’s design for the family, and therefore the best environment for children. It is not just the problem of single motherhood, but of an advocation by societal elite that disdains marriage and treats children as property of the mother. That may sound strong, but how else do you describe those who believe that it is the woman’s decision alone whether to kill or keep the baby in their womb? They have removed personhood from the child while ignoring the father. What else can you say about those who go to the extreme of arranging to undergo artificial insemination so they can have a baby without any relationship to the father? Then, once the baby arrives, the child is soon put in day care so that mom can continue to pursue her career. Of course a lot of women who get pregnant the normal way do the same thing.
The men involved are no better. They are often the ones that push the women to have abortions. Many shirk their responsibility toward the children they father, and even in those cases where they do not, they often think their responsibility is only financial.
God’s design is for a man and woman to marry, have children and then raise those children to become responsible adults. That is the best environment for a child. But what about the children born to women that did not follow that design? While we praise God that these women did not have an abortion, as is so common now, there is still a huge decision they have to make. Should she keep the baby or give the child up for adoption?
There is a lot of societal pressure on her to keep the baby herself. She is told that letting the child be adopted would be just too emotionally difficult. In fact, this supposed “horror” of adoption is what pushes some women to have an abortion. They know they cannot handle raising the child by themselves and they reject adoption as an option. What tragically perverted thinking! In the minds of abortion advocates, it is better to kill the baby than to endure the emotional strain of having your child living somewhere in the world, but not as a part of your family. That thinking reveals the utterly selfish mindset that is behind it all. The child is viewed as an extension of the mother instead of a precious independent human life he or she actually is. The mother is only considering herself instead of what is actually best for the child.
Abortion is not an option, for it is nothing less than the wilful taking of a human life. It is murder. Keeping the baby maybe an option, but that has to be considered in light of what is actually best for the child, not the mother. Certainly there will be those cases in which family support is so strong that the child will be able to be raised within that larger family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. But when a woman will have to raise the child on her own, she needs to seriously consider what would be the best for the child. Adoption into a godly family is a good Biblical option.
Adoption is actually one of the most striking and beautiful examples of love there can be. A family welcomes a stranger into their home and accepts the child as one of their own. Adoption reflects God’s love, for He extended His love to us in Jesus Christ while we were yet sinners who were at enmity with Him. He then forgives the sin of those who place their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and then He adopts us into His own family (Gal. 4:5) making us joint heirs with Jesus (Rom. 8:17).
God’s plan is that children should be the product of marriage. The best environment for a child is with a godly couple. God’s grace extends to those that are not in that situation, but that is the ideal.
Children: Why Should you Have Them?
The next question concerning children is, why should you have them? The three main reasons are that it is fulfilling God’s command; they are a blessing and that is the means by which the next generation is trained up.
Fulfilling God’s Command. God’s command to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). That command was set in the context of God’s command to them to have dominion over the earth. The command to rule over the earth and its creatures can only be fulfilled if there are enough humans to do the work. That command was repeated to Noah and his sons (Gen. 9:7). It has not been revoked anywhere in the Scriptures. This does not mean that every married couple will have children, for it is the Lord that opens and closes the womb (Gen. 20:18; 29:31). It does mean that what should be normal for married couples is that they have children. There are certainly valid reasons that some couples do not have children, but those are the exceptions.
What are some valid reasons for not having children? First, and most obvious is that the Lord simply has not given the couple that blessing. Second, there are those that have some medical reason that prevents the couple from having children. In both of these cases, it is not from a lack of desire, but simply the reality of their situation. Some are able to find a medical solution to their problem, and the Lord blesses, as He in has for the Halpins’ daughter, Jennifer and her husband Tim.
Another legitimate reason would be people who have some medical condition that would make it very unwise to have children. It could be a genetic problem or a disease that they do not want to pass onto a baby. It is not that they do not want children, nor that they have any kind of lack of trust in the Lord. They are simply taking seriously the risks involved and making their own desires secondary to the welfare of any child they might produce. Such couples often pursue gaining children through adoption.
There can also be legitimate reasons for delaying having children due to current life situations. I think of those couples that delayed because the husband was going on a dangerous military mission. Of course, other couples took the opposite approach and had children quickly just in case he was killed. There is freedom in Christ for either decision. Some couples may realize they have a lot of work to do in their marriage before they are ready to take on the responsibility of kids. They get their lives and marriage in order first.
There can be a lot of legitimate reasons why a couple may delay in having children, but many times the reasons are either not well thought through or just plain selfish. A common one is that a couple does not think they are financially ready. As a friend of mine put it, you can never afford children, you just have them. Some people do not think they can afford a child because they are projecting expenses, such as college and weddings, that are not actually their responsibility. Prestigious colleges and elaborate weddings may be nice, but those reflect more parental pride in showing off their wealth than in what is actually needed. Some simply do not want the expenses associated with children because they want to spend that money in other ways.
Some couples are selfish to the extreme that they do not want children at all. They do not want the expenses of children because they want to spend the money on themselves. Others do not want the hassle of kids. They like to do what they want when they want. Children take up a lot of your time and they hinder spontaneity, as anyone that has ever cared for a baby knows. I think we can all understand that decisions made because of selfishness are always ungodly (Phil. 2:3). The double tragedy here is not only are they demonstrating a lack of submission to and trust of God, but they also miss the blessings that come with children, which is the second reason for having children.
A Blessing. Psalm 127:3 states, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, When they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
Throughout the Scriptures, having children is presented as a blessing from God (Gen. 48:4; Deut. 28:4; Ps. 128:3,4) and not having them as a curse (Gen. 20:18; 2 Sam. 6:23; Job 18:16-19). The blessings of children are multiple. From the selfish side, it is your children that are to take care of you in your old age (John 19:27; 1 Tim. 5:4,8). Children carry on the family name and remembrance of you (Job 18:17; Ps. 109:13). In an agricultural economy, children are a financial asset since they will help with the chores for many years until they are adults who establish their own household. That is the pragmatic reason that families in farm communities tend to be much larger than those in city communities where children may be a financial liability.
Another blessing of children is the joy and pride they can bring to the parents when they are wise (Prov. 10:1; 15:20; 23:4,5), of course, a foolish child is a grief to the parents. Frankly, that is why many parents view their children as curses instead of blessings. But even a child’s foolishness can be used by the Lord to bring a blessing to us if we will let Him. So often we are oblivious to our own bad habits until they are picked up by our children. That can be embarrassing, but ultimately, that is a blessing. God can use our children to teach us to be more godly ourselves as we are forced to change in order to set the proper example for our children.
Another blessing of children is the greater understanding of God’s love that you learn. You learn a lot about true love when you get married. You learn even more about it when you have children. It is nearly impossible to love your spouse unselfishly without soon getting a return of love, but with a child, there may not be any return for years. As one person put it, true love is best demonstrated by trying to comfort a baby with colic in the middle of the night.
Training the Next Generation. Another reason to have children is so that we can impact the next generation. Yes, you can affect the next generation by other means, such as becoming a teacher, but your greatest impact will be on your children. Psalm 78:5-7 says, “For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, [even] the children [yet] to be born, [That] they may arise and tell [them] to their children, That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.” What we teach our children is to go beyond them to the next generation and then through them to the generations that follow. That is how godly people can impact the generations to come. That should be the legacy you leave and the heritage they will receive from you.
Children: How Many Should You Have?
The next question to arise concerning children is how many you should have. There are two extremes. There are those who believe you should have as many as you can, and those that say that if you have any children, you should carefully plan for them and only have enough to replace yourself in the next generation. Both views will claim to be the way of godliness, but both err. The former in a reliance upon God’s sovereignty that is nearly fatalistic and forgets that God holds us responsible for our decisions, and the latter in a reliance on human wisdom that forgets God’s sovereignty.
As I pointed out earlier, God is sovereign over birth for He opens and closes the womb (Gen. 20:18; 29:31). We can trust Him to keep His many promises to us including to provide for our needs as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Mt. 6:33). If we walk in godliness, we can trust God to provide for us and our family no matter how many children we have. Relying on God’s sovereignty is to respond in trust to God’s character and promises. It is not fatalism of whatever will be will be, and it never blames God for the results of our decisions.
God desires for us to trust Him and rest in the peace that comes with that (Isa. 26:3), but at the same time, God expects us to assess the circumstances we find ourselves in and make appropriate decisions in response. I pointed out in a previous sermon from 1 Cor. 7 that Paul was advocating that those who were unmarried should remain in that state due to a “present distress” they were facing. He was calling each individual to assess their own situation and then decide before God what would be best for all concerned. The same principle is in view in making decisions concerning our careers, the specific job we have, where we live, who we choose for friends, and what we do with our money. We can trust God in all of these areas and live in the peace that comes in knowing that God in His sovereignty can use any decision we make to accomplish His will. We gain His blessings when we make godly decisions, but even when we make sinful decisions, He does His work in us by correcting and chastising as needed in order to make us more holy and mature.
The same is true when it comes to children. How many can you have? That depends upon you and your walk with the Lord. The tragedy is that in our time so many people have such poor walks with the Lord, or their understanding of Biblical principles is so poor, that they make poor decisions concerning their family size. Many limit or expand the number of children due to social or economic pressure instead of Biblical principles.
There is a lot of social pressure to limit the size of your family. When Diane was pregnant with Jimmy and had the other two with her, some people would giver her a strange look or make a comment to suggest that either she was crazy or had some cruel, oppressive husband. It was obvious they thought that three children was too many. Those looks and comments gets worse with each additional child. Children are a blessing or burden depending on your attitude and how you raise them.
Many people have bought into the myth of overpopulation and so put pressure on others to have small families. From an agricultural standpoint, we have a long way to go before there will be a shortage in the ability to produce enough food. There are local food shortages due to local weather problems, but most food shortages are the result of economic and political problems. If it were not for immigration, the U.S. would have a shrinking population.
If you are walking in godliness, you can trust God to meet your needs, so economic pressure should not limit the Christian. However, many believers do limit the size of their family because they either value the things money can buy more than children, or they falsely believe they have to provide things for their children that God does not require. I mentioned college education and a fancy wedding earlier as examples, but that also includes much of the extraneous stuff people think is necessary – toys, games, lessons and all sorts of activities.
You can have as many children as you desire and the Lord grants you. For Diane & I, the Lord granted us three sons. We desired more children, but due to Diane’s medical conditions, which were increasingly aggravated with each pregnancy, we finally came to the point we realized that we were crossing the line between trusting God and putting Him to the test if we were to have another child. Wisdom was leading us to believe it was best if Diane did not get pregnant again. We then decided that any further children in our family would have to come through adoption.
If we had decided differently, or if God overruled our decision and we did have another child, we would rejoice in that gift of that baby. At the same time, we would have to be content with whatever medical consequences Diane would suffer. That would be the expression of our trust in the Lord and His sovereignty. The same is true when it comes to economic issues involved.
If you have a lot of children, you need to be content with the joy those children bring. God will provide for your needs, but you cannot expect to keep up with the materialism of your neighbors. Your investment is in your kids, but if you raise them correctly, the return on your investment will be infinitely more than what you could get from any kind of retirement account. That brings up the question of how you raise them.
Children: How do you Raise Them?
Society’s Methods. As a whole, our society has rejected God’s method of raising children for those developed by man’s wisdom. There are two major problems with this and a host of negative consequences. First, regardless of how intelligent a person may be, their wisdom in comparison to God’s is foolishness (see 1 Cor. 1:25). The difference between God’s wisdom and man’s is infinitely greater than what exists between a preschooler and a University Professor, yet man consistently thinks his ways are better than God’s. The result is folly and its consequences. You cannot improve on God’s plan and methods.
The second major problem is that many of modern child rearing methods also reject God’s purpose and design for man. The foolishness is compounded. The virtues that characterize godliness are replaced with traits that are far less or even the opposite. Pride instead of humility. Macho instead of meek. Miserly instead of generous. Victorious instead of fair. Arrogant and brash instead of quiet and respectful. Independent instead of obedient. Selfish instead of helpful. The list could go on, and on.
The greater tragedy is that most parents want to train their children to become adults who are responsible and respectful. They will not realize until it is often too late that the methods of child training now common in our society that they have used are not designed to produce such a child. A child that is consistently allowed to express themselves however they would like and to do whatever they want is being trained to be selfish, disrespectful and irresponsible.
There are two general means by which parents develop their methods of child training. First, they tend to repeat what their parents did. That has been the saving grace in our nation until the last generation or two because up until the 1960’s, the general methods used were designed to produce virtuous adults. That began to change as the second general influence changed.
People want to succeed, so they will follow the advice of those who are considered to be the experts. As society turned from godly wisdom to child psychology as the source of expertise, the general methods of child rearing began to change. The result is that it is now normal for two year olds to throw temper tantrums and teen age rebellion is an expected part of growing up. That is not true around the world, especially in non-western cultures. It was not true in America two generations ago. I will also venture to say that though every society has criminals and those who display flagrant acts of selfishness, I believe that this change in how most Americans raise their children is the base cause for the huge increase since the 1960’s in such cultural indicators as rates of fraud, theft, assault, murder, and other criminal activities, divorce, abortion, STD’s, unwed mothers, drug abuse, alcoholism, drop out rates and illiteracy. If you do not put a high priority on instilling virtue in your children, you should not be surprised when they have little ability to control their innate selfishness and sinful desires. It takes work to teach children to become responsible adults.
God’s Methods. Until two generations ago, American cultural largely reflected Biblical values, but that is no longer true. Christians must be careful to raise their children according to God’s design following His methods. If you are not diligent in this, then your children will be molded by society into its image. A Christians, we are not to be conformed to this world, but are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). It is the parents responsibility to train their children to be godly, and to do that, you must use God’s methods.
In what little time remains this morning, I cannot give even a cursory overview of all that God says about raising children, but I can recommend some materials and briefly outline a couple of basic Biblical principles. I will develop this further next week.
Your first and primary objective as Christian parents is to teach your children to know and have a proper fear of the Lord. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The principles set forth by Moses in Deut 6:4-8 still apply. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 “And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” If you want your children to become godly adults, then you must love the Lord God first, and then teach your children about Him and His commandments. This cannot be done passively, but only with diligence to use every opportunity in every kind of setting in life. This is the responsibility of the parents, not the school or church. They can only assist.
Second, you must teach your children to obey. In Ephesians 6:1-4 Paul gives the commands, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth, and fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It is the responsibility of the children to obey and the responsibility of parents to teach them to do so. Parents, if you are letting your children disobey you, then you are teaching them to sin.
How will you teach them to obey? Most of a child’s training should be accomplished through loving and patient instruction (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21; 1 Thess. 2:11), but godly child rearing also includes corporal punishment. Secular thought is that a child is innocent and it is his environment that causes him to do evil. Christians should know better. All people are born naturally sinful (Eph. 2:1). Proverbs 22:15 tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Physical chastisement is the proper and loving consequence to a child’s rebellion. Proverbs 13:24 states, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”
Next week we will examine Biblical principles of child rearing in more depth. For this week, just keep in mind that the goal of godly parents is to produce godly offspring, and the only way in which to do that is to follow God’s methods.
For more information on parenting, get materials from any or all of the following resources. The materials by Growing Families International, the series by John MacArthur put out by Grace to You, and the book Shepherding Your Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp. There are other good resources, but in my opinion these are among the best.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children : Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times “children” are mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents what helps you to obey them.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others: How does present society differ from 100 years ago in the manner in which children are raised? Who should have children? Why? What are good reasons for having children? What are legitimate and illegitimate reasons for not having them? What godly factors should determine how many children a couple has? Why do so many couples have so few children? How much do you understand about God’s methods of raising children? In what ways are you affected by society in how you raise your children? How should you change?
Holy & Free, Part 8 – Children: Having Them, Raising Them
Children: Who Should Have Them?
Children: Why Should You Have Them?
Fulfilling God’s Command (Genesis 1:28; 9:7)
Legitimate Reasons Not to Have Children
Illegitimate Reasons People Do Not Have Children
A Blessing (Psalm 127:3-5)
Proverbs 10:1; 15:20; 23:4,5
Training the Next Generation
Children: How Many Should You Have?
God’s Sovereignty (Gen. 20:18; 29:31; Matt. 6:33)
Human Wisdom (1 Cor. 7)
Children: How Do You Raise Them?
Repeating the Past
Following the Experts
Obedience (Ephesians 6:1-4)
Recommended Resources: Materials by Growing Families International, John MacArthur (Grace to You); Shepherding Your Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp
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