Learning to Multiply
Did you know that some countries will now pay you to have another child? Countries like France, South Korea, Canada, and Singapore offer a third-child bonus to families. That’s because more and more countries are beginning to fear extinction rather than overpopulation.
The evidence speaks for itself: global fertility rates have fallen by half since 1972. Not a single industrialized nation today has a high enough fertility rate to replace itself. Two of the most graphic examples are Japan and Italy, where the United Nations estimates that by 2050, 42 percent of their population will be age 60 or older. When a third of your population is in a nursing home, it tends to affect public life. You can imagine how this shrinks a country’s labor force and expands its welfare and healthcare demands for the aging. (Go here to see sources on this trend.)
In our consumer-oriented world, childbearing is regarded as a costly obstacle to personal fulfillment. Pets are far more affordable and convenient. A recent study showed that in the city of Seattle there are 45 percent more dogs being raised than children! Other trends that contribute to collapsing fertility rates could also be examined, such as people getting married later in life, and the rise in gay marriages.
MIMICKING THE WORLD?
But that is the world, so Christians should not be shocked. We expect the world to reject the Creator’s good design and replace it with selfish pursuits. We expect the world to go against the grain of God’s universe and to ignore the laws that He has built in, at least until the consequences are unbearable.
What should disturb us most is not when the world acts like the world, but when the church acts like the world. This was God’s constant warning to Israel—to not become like the nations around them. And this is no less God’s concern in the New Testament—that his people would « not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind » (Rom. 12:2). Yet in vital areas, such as our views on the family, the church often appears no different from the world.
My wife, Michelle, and I are blessed with two boys and two girls between the ages of two and eight. Whenever we meet new people, whether Christians or non-Christians, they usually say, « Boy, you are brave, » or, « Haven’t you figured out what’s causing this yet? » My wife notices that at baby showers the comments usually revolve around how much sleep a mother will lose and how many nappies she’ll change. But what is the dominant note sounded in Scripture—that children are a burden or a blessing?
The other day, we asked our eight-year old, Evan, what he read that morning in Deuteronomy. He said he read about God’s blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (7:13). Then he added, « God would bless the fruit of their womb and their animals and their crops. » We probed, « What is the fruit of their womb? » « Their babies! » he cheerfully replied.
We can only have God’s perspective on children when we are saturated more with God’s mindset in Scripture than with society’s mindset. For the record, I do not believe the Bible teaches you must have as many children as physically possible. Nor do I believe the Bible forbids all forms of contraception. And surely the number of children any family has falls into the realm of Christian liberty (Rom. 14). But my wife and I are convinced that, amidst the challenges of raising four young children, having children is far more about blessing than bravery!
Pastors, teach your churches that they too can share more of God’s joyful perspective on children, no matter how many children they have. So let’s take a jet tour of what the Bible says about the blessings of multiplication.
MULTIPLYING IN THE OT
One of God’s first instructions to mankind was for us to « Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it » (Gen. 1:28). Yet, the Bible treats this more as a blessing than a command—something that would be a joy to fulfill. In fact, producing children is one of the privileges of being made in God’s image, as we share in his work of creating a living, eternal soul (Gen. 1:26-28).
But instead of subduing the earth, Adam and Eve were subdued by it. Enticed by a piece of fruit and tricked by a snake, they sinned and deserved to die before ever having children. God could have immediately wiped out the human race; but he still wanted to fulfill His blessing. He graciously tells them that with the consequences of their sin, including death and pain and hard work, he would also give Eve a seed, a son who would crush the serpent’s head and conquer sin and death. So as Eve went through the pain and labor of her first childbirth, she must have strengthened herself by knowing this was an undeserved blessing of God, and that this child might even be her deliverer.
When Cain was born, Eve joyfully declared, « I have gotten a man-child with the help of the Lord! » (4:1). Unfortunately, Cain revealed that he was not the promised deliverer. But Eve knew that God would keep his promise, and she soon gave birth to Seth. God later preserved the line of Seth by saving Noah and his family from the great flood that destroyed all flesh. After they came out of the ark, God blessed them again: « Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth » (Gen. 9:1). Again, this was more a blessing than a duty.
Abraham & Israel
Then the blessing carried on to Abraham. God promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the sea shore, and that all nations would be blessed through them. Few people today understand this blessing of innumerable offspring. But recently I talked to a 93-year-old African grandmother who boasted to me about her « many » grandchildren. When I asked her how many, she gave me a huge one-toothed smile, threw up her hands, and laughed—too many to keep count! She may be living in a little township home, but, according to God, she is a rich lady. Abraham was even richer because he knew that his descendants would love God and be a blessing to the world.
We too can be assured that God still loves to multiply godly descendants by blessing faithful parenting (Exod. 20:6; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 102:25-28; 103:17-18; 128:1-4; Prov. 20:7; 31:28; Luke 1:50; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor. 7:14). As Psalm 112 says, « Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed. »
Abraham’s children eventually became slaves in Egypt where God was blessing them with so many children that Pharaoh became worried and tried to destroy them. But God delivered them. He brought them into the Promised Land where he said he would again bless the fruit of their wombs if they would love and serve him.
David & Sons
King David, who was a man after God’s own heart said, « Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace… How blessed are the people who are so situated; how blessed are the people whose God is the Lord » (Ps. 144:12, 15).
In Psalm 127, David’s son Solomon called children a heritage from the Lord, a reward, like arrows in the hands of a warrior, especially when you have them « in your youth » (v. 4). Most Christian young couples today are shocked to hear that the Bible actually recommends having children while they are still young. Too often we miss these truths if we are shaped more by the culture than by Scripture. In Psalm 128 the greatest evidence of the happiness of a God-fearing man is that his wife will be like a fruitful vine and his children like olive shoots around his table.
Michelle and I have already been immensely blessed by our young children. I remember when I first held each of them. It was so amazing to finally see that little person who had been formed in secret for nine months. Each was a complete surprise: dark hair, light hair, red hair; brown eyes, hazel eyes, blue eyes. Each one looked like us but in a different way. Each one has a soul that will live forever! What an unspeakable privilege to work with God to create.
The Christian Old Testament concludes in Malachi with another huge statement about multiplication. Malachi 2:15 tells us why God joins us together in marriage: « Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. » God did not design marriage only for companionship; he also designed it for reproduction—so that we will fill the earth with godly disciples in the faith. As one of my mentors, Wayne Mack, has written, « Scripture seems to indicate that unless there are good physical and spiritual reasons for not having children, God wants Christian couples to produce and raise godly offspring » (Your Family God’s Way, 38).
I get strange looks from couples during premarital counseling when I smile and say to the couple, « You are planning on having children, right? » Western culture today wants to shift childbearing into the purely optional « if-it-suits-my-lifestyle » category. Society separates sex from procreation and reduces pregnancy to a disease. But we must let God’s Word shape and govern us instead of the culture.
For those families unable to bear their own children, the AIDS orphan crisis in Africa presents us with a crucial opportunity to adopt and raise up godly offspring. May God cause an « adoption revival » in our churches (cf. Jam. 1:27; can also apply to families who have biological children)! And may every kingdom-minded Christian home multiply soldiers to fill the ranks in Christ’s army, to be salt and light in this decaying and dark world, and to continue a legacy of magnifying the true and living God.
MULTIPLYING IN THE NT
Mary, the mother of Jesus, experienced the joy of childbearing to the full. She got to bear the deliverer that every mother in the line of Seth had been hoping for. She sang, « My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has had regard for the humble state of his bond slave; for behold from this time on all generations will count me blessed » (Luke 1:46-48). Her body got to be the home of the God of the universe. She got to cradle the man who would save his people from their sins.
Timothy and Titus
In the New Testament we see that every Christian woman now has the opportunity, like Mary in a sense, to help reverse the curse. In a puzzling phrase, 1 Timothy 2:14-15 says, « it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. » It was through a woman that mankind was led into sin, but it was also through a woman that God graciously sent a Savior. So I believe 1 Timothy 2:15 means that God has uniquely given mothers the chance to free women from that original stigma by raising a generation of godly children in a way that only a mother can do.
This is why the New Testament, over and over again, holds up motherhood as such a high calling. It was for this reason that a Christian widow was to be honored in 1 Timothy 5:10, if she has brought up children. Then, in verses 11 to 15, Paul counsels younger widows to remarry and to multiply (« to have children »), as a safeguard against temptation. And God’s way is always best, no matter how « politically incorrect » it may sound at times.
Titus 2:4-5 says that the older women should teach the younger women to be godly homemakers who love their husbands and their children, for the purpose of advertising God’s Word to a watching world. I try to never ask a married woman (especially if I know she has kids), « Do you work? » How insulting. Rather, I try to say, « Do you work outside the home? » This question acknowledges that a homemaker also works a full-time job, and then some! I remind my wife often of her God-given high calling as a wife and mother. Through her devotion to that calling, God multiplies godly offspring. I don’t know where I would be today if my own mother had not been committed to these same priorities.
So we’ve seen from the Old Testament that children are a great blessing, not just because they increased wealth in an agrarian society, but because they were a gift from God and the means by which the deliverer would come and the nations would be blessed. In the New Testament we have seen that God is still passionate about multiplying godly offspring in his world and that the role of mothers are central to this great cause.
Sadly, the world religion that most believes in multiplication today is Islam, as witnessed by the massively shifting demographics in Europe. Not that Christians should ever act out of competitive fear with another religion, but we should feel rebuked when followers of a lie are more zealous to fill the earth with disciples than those who have the truth. We must remember that God designed childbearing not merely for personal fulfillment, but to advance his kingdom and glory in this world.
In today’s church we must rediscover God’s passion for the home and for relaying his blessing for generations to come (e.g., Ps. 78:1-8!). May the nations be blessed as we learn to multiply!