My mother married before she was twenty years old. That was not uncommon then. Young people grew up more efficiently when there were farm work to do, responsibilities to handle, and discomforts to endure. Now, it is not unusual for grown children to delay marriage and even remain somewhat dependent upon parents. The carefree lifestyle of adolescence is extended well into the twenties or higher. It all delays 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, 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 godly rearing of children. People can reproduce with or without marriage, but within marriage is the most advantageous way to develop godly children. 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 (Pss. 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, for that matter. According to the Pro-Life Action League Q & A about Abortion, the unmarried make up 87.6% of abortions in the U.S. That would be at least 700,000 children per year conceived out of wedlock, just among the aborted. In “The American Dream,” a February 17, 2013 article “21 Signs That U.S. Public Schools Have Become Training Centers For Sexual Deviancy” says, “For women under the age of 30 living in the United States today, more than half of all babies are being born out of wedlock” (emphasis original). Obviously, marriage is not necessary for procreation. 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 that the ultimate purpose is for imaging God. It ignores the teaching of Genesis 2:18-20 where God Himself emphasized the need of marriage for the purpose of companionship. Eve was not created to be a baby factory, but to be a companion. Children are important, but there is much more to marriage than children.
Making procreation primary minimizes the broad scope of marriage. Is baby-making really the primary goal that any of you parents hold for your children as you think of them getting married? While we certain rejoice when grandchildren arrive, surely we hold a greater desire–that as husband or wife our children glorify God and enjoy godly companionship whether or not they ever have children.
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, delight, 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, and just because God opens and closes the womb does not mean that we own no responsibility over conception. I believe that God controls the weather, but that doesn’t justify outdoor exercise at my usual time when a lightning storm is present. I believe that our “times are in [His] hand” (Ps. 31:15), but that doesn’t warrant that I do nothing if I am diagnosed with treatable cancer and claim, “I’m just trusting God.” I believe that 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 except what supplies basic needs, 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 doctors determine that 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 her emotional and spiritual well-being and that of the 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.