Children are blessings from God (Psalm 127:3).
According to the Scriptures, children are the expected result of marriage, not its purpose, as many throughout time have alleged. In marriage two cling to one another and become one flesh (Matthew 19:4-6); just as God shared in love within Himself and in love made the creation and sought to share in love in relational unity with His offspring made in His image, so humans share in love, and make a creation in love that are in their image (Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:28-29, 1 John 4:8). Children represent the embodiment of the connection shared between the two people who have made the child: each child carries the genetic legacy of both parents, and manifests the blended characteristics of both parents. Oftentimes parents feel as if the children have obtained the most unfortunate aspects of themselves; yet even in such circumstances they cannot deny their children are their own, or that they reflect much of themselves for better and for worse. As God is One in relational unity and created mankind His offspring to share in relational unity with Him and one another, so parents deeply desire not only to have children but to share in relational unity with them for the rest of their lives (Genesis 1:27, John 17:20-23, Acts 17:28-29).
God commanded mankind to go, be fruitful, and multiply in Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 9:1, 7; with over seven billion people in existence as we speak, mankind has certainly fulfilled this command. God desired godly offspring from the people of God, as seen in Malachi 2:15. In both Old and New Testaments it is expected for marriage to result in children, yet nowhere is it explicitly commanded or bound. God has thus made provision for those who would experience infertility and thus remain involuntarily childless. In Christ such couples have not failed in marriage and they have not failed God; they will share in life in the resurrection if they remain faithful to the Lord. No word is explicitly given regarding those who would voluntarily remain childless; ultimate judgment is left to the Lord, and a couple may have compelling reasons to maintain that condition, but all must give thought as to whether the factors which enter into that decision are truly glorifying God in Christ or capitulate to anxieties, fears, and cultural customs.
Children do not raise themselves; they must be raised and instructed in the ways they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). For Christians this ought to mean that we raise our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:1-4, Colossians 3:20-21).
When we think of the “discipline and admonition” of the Lord, we often think of studying the Scriptures, teaching facts regarding the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and imminent return of Jesus of Nazareth, and establishing consequences for infractions of rules. While these things are certainly aspects of the Lord’s discipline and admonition, they do not represent its totality. If all we do as parents is teach with the mouth and establish consequences for infractions, we have not raised our children fully in the Lord’s discipline and admonition; we should not be surprised if they have then become as the world, for we have embodied too much of the world to them and allowed the world to form them. In such instances Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs 22:6 has not failed; instead, we have failed our children because we did not truly raise them in the Lord’s discipline and admonition.
We say this with confidence on account of how Jesus Himself disciplined and admonished His disciples. Jesus provided plenty of oral instruction, yet He also embodied all He taught (Acts 10:38). He modeled the Way for them; He did not demand anything of them He did not do Himself (John 13:1-13, 14:6-9). He maintained discipline (Hebrews 5:8-9).
Children learn more from what we do than from what we say. Thus, raising one’s children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord demands that the parent embody the discipline and admonition of the Lord. If the child sees the parent fully embodying what the Lord has said and done in their lives, they will embody the ways of the Lord, and not depart from it when they grow old. If the child instead embodies the ways of the world, the parents ought to soberly reflect on how they might have embodied the world to their children before presuming their children provide some kind of exception to Solomon’s wisdom.
Among other qualifications elders are to have raised faithful children to display their credibility in the role of shepherding the flock of God (1 Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-7). It is appropriate for the human shepherds to have modeled the same characteristics as the Divine Shepherd: the experience of parenthood provides much instruction in, and ideally appreciation for, God’s love and treatment of mankind. Parenthood humbles a person well beyond almost any other condition in life. Loving parents rightly envision their children as their hearts outside of their chest out walking around. When our children hurt, we hurt all the more; when they celebrate, we celebrate. We learn in parenthood how life is not our own; parenthood ought to disabuse us of any pretense of maintaining control over life. Those who believe they have a full understanding of parenthood set themselves up for great humiliation; those parents who have learned much from the experience and wonder how well or effective they are at parenting are far more likely to be exalted. Parenthood should be unconditional love as expressed in the parable of the prodigal son and the older brother (Luke 15:11-32): no matter the terrible decisions a child might make, their parents love them, want the best for them, and would run to embrace them upon their return. As parents we can more thoroughly appreciate the deep love of the Father for us, and marvel at the lengths to which He has gone to save us and care for us even though we have time and again proven faithless toward Him (cf. Romans 5:6-11). We can also understand how God can maintain all authority without compelling or coercing us to do as He would have us do; we can only imagine the depths of lament and despair God must maintain in seeing His children depart from His way to their own harm. The quality of our parenting is embodied in the ways our children live their lives; through them people can see if we have loved them in the love of God in Christ or in the ways of anxiety, fear, or worldliness.
Children are blessings; it is for us to value them as blessings and treat them that way. In children we all too easily see our own difficulties and challenges reflected and embodied. May we raise children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord Jesus to share in relational unity with them now and forevermore!
Ethan R. Longhenry