For the next few weeks, we will be engaging in a short series on marriage by one of our blog contributors, Linda Rice. Read below to see the latest part in this marriage series, and if you need to catch up on previous posts, head to our “Blog” tab!
My mother married before she was twenty years old. That was not uncommon at the time. Young people grew up more efficiently when there was farm work to do, responsibilities to handle, and discomforts to endure. Now, it is not unusual for grown children to delay marriage and remain at least somewhat dependent upon parents. The carefree lifestyle of adolescence is extended well into the twenties or higher. It contributes to delaying child-bearing.
Along with the refusal to mature is the view in our culture that children are inconveniences to be avoided by contraception, abortion, neglect, or passive parenting. We don’t want the nights of disrupted sleep, the messy house, the evenings spent on homework, or the financial drain. We want the fun of married life but not the imposition of children, so we limit the number to one or two, or none. Much of our limitation on the number of children is out of selfishness.
On the other hand, some insist that the primary purpose for both marriage and sex is procreation. Evidence is in God’s blessing, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This view then works into advocacy against any form of birth control. After all, God opens the womb and closes the womb, so who are we to try to control that?
It is true that since God is sovereign over all things, and by definition that includes conception…and the authorities for whom we vote, the mates we choose, the employer we seek — all of our choices.
One very important purpose of marriage is the rearing of children for godliness. They are gifts from God and are to be trained in such a way that they, hopefully, follow Christ and spread His kingdom by both their testimony and their own families (Ps. 127; 128).
Although procreation is one purpose for marriage, it is not the primary purpose. After all, animals procreate very well without marriage. So do people. Since Adam and Eve did not have to marry in order to procreate, God must have had more than procreation in mind for their marriage.
It is true that “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen. 1:28). The “be fruitful” followed and was connected to “God blessed.” Children are a blessing added to the companionship of marriage. However, if this blessing is viewed as a mandate directed at every individual, how can barren couples and singles who can’t find a mate obey?
To make procreation the primary purpose of marriage is to ignore the teaching of Genesis 1:26-27 and Ephesians 5:31-32. This teaching says that the primary purpose of marriage is for a companionship that images God and enables mankind to rule the earth so that God’s glory may be displayed. Eve was not created to be a baby factory, but to be a companion, a helper suitable. Children are important, but there is much more to marriage than children.
Making procreation primary minimizes the broad scope of marriage. While we certainly rejoice when children arrive, surely we hold a greater desire for their own marriages — that as husband or wife our children would glorify God and enjoy godly companionship.
If the primary purpose for sex is baby-making, then once we are done bearing children, sex should end, too. Rather, sex expresses union, “one flesh.” In this way, it images the intimacy, affection, pleasure, and joy of the union of Christ and the church. Children are blessings that accompany it.
Other passages reinforce the truth that at least two purposes supersede procreation. Proverbs 2:17 warns against the adulteress “that leaves the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God.” It does not say, “that leaves the father of her children.” Procreation is not even mentioned.
When God, through the prophet Malachi, rebuked those who had divorced their wives, did He say, “you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your baby-maker and your wife by covenant”? No, He said, “though she is your companion” (Mal. 2:14, emphasis added).
When Paul exhorted married people to not withhold sex but give themselves generously to one another, it was for their mutual enjoyment and protection against temptation to sin. At a moment of prime opportunity, Paul didn’t even hint that sex was for procreation (1 Cor. 7:3-5).
In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul’s exposition on marriage says nothing about procreation. If procreation was the primary purpose for marriage, he should have mentioned it.
So then, while procreation is important, it is not the primary purpose for marriage. Just because God opens and closes the womb does not mean that we own no responsibility over conception. God controls the weather, but that doesn’t justify outdoor exercise when a lightning storm is present. Our “times are in [His] hand” (Ps. 31:15), but that doesn’t warrant Russian roulette or that I do nothing if I am diagnosed with treatable cancer and claim, “I’m just trusting God.” God promises to provide for our needs and commands that we be generous, but that does not signify that it is godly to give away all of one’s income and “live by faith.” Just because God is sovereign and divinely involved in all aspects of life, including reproduction, does not mean that humans can abdicate the responsibility to make wise choices and then dump the outcome into God’s lap.
As in every other area of life, God gave people brains and gave His Word as a guide to wise decision-making. People are responsible for their choices even while God is free to override those choices (Prov. 16:9). Might it be wise for newlyweds to wait awhile in order to establish their marriage? What if the doctor determines that another pregnancy would endanger the wife’s life? What if pregnancy would endanger her life and there are children at home who need her care? Is it responsible or loving of others for a couple with extremely limited finances to keep having children until they become dependent upon the state or the church and defend their choice with “God promises to provide”? What about the husband that sees that his wife is not handling pressures well with the children she already has and he thinks it best for emotional and spiritual well-being of her and the present children that they wait before having any more?
Children are indeed a wonderful blessing from the Lord. Selfishness is not an acceptable motivation for limiting the number that we have. We need to welcome children with open arms, glad to make the sacrifices that rearing them requires. At the same time, making babies is not the ultimate purpose of marriage nor even the primary purpose for sex. We need to practice responsible wisdom in all areas of our marriages as we seek to glorify God.