Be fruitful and multiply, by all means

The definition of “family” has become one of the most important issues in our culture. It’s more important than energy policy or presidential politics. Of course, foundational to that is the definition of “marriage.” But perhaps more important than the makeup of a marriage or family is the “why” of it. What are the value and purpose of family units? Do we marry only for our own comfort and prosperity, or is there a larger purpose behind the institution? Marriage can and should provide comfort, moral encouragement and spiritual strength—all mutually given by the spouses to one another. Once you’ve married and set your course together, what do you do with the powerful thing that God has built between you?

God’s intent for marriage is that it adds something to not just the husband and wife but also to those outside who are presently mindless of God’s will. In a God-honoring marriage you have something that not everybody has or even knows that they want. The most essential way we share those blessings is by producing children who will become godly adults. That does not argue against marriage for those too old or otherwise unable to conceive. All of us, including empty nesters, still have opportunities to share our homes with others. I’m saying that no home, just like no church, should be a receptacle that receives and never gives. The word for that is “stagnant.” And yet many homes are just that. Yes, I’ve seen childless couples who were generous with nieces and nephews, church members, neighbors, co-workers and anyone else who needed what God had given or taught them. Many empty nesters also find ways to bring others into the warmth of their own home. But too often, families are tempted to keep to themselves if they find out they’re infertile, or perhaps after they’ve done their bit with their own kids. Would you like to guess which kind of couple is happier?

Producing children is a key aspect of God’s intent for marriage, an extension of the best reasons to marry in the first place. Compare it with evangelism at your church. It adds to the size, strength and giftedness of the church, and it also enriches the lives of many outside your church as redeemed, loving, law-abiding people populate shops, factories and government offices. The children you produce from your body and teach the ways of the Lord are a product of the gospel that provides the foundation for your marriage. They increase your family’s size, strength and giftedness, and they will very often enrich their own families and communities as they follow your godly example. I’ve said in this space before that giving your best effort to producing godly kids is counter cultural and more powerful than anything else we can do to change our communities. As joyful and emotionally satisfying as producing and raising kids mostly is, it is also a calculated broadside into a culture that honors neither God nor life. It is an obligation that most can and should fulfill in the old fashioned way.

And adoption is like unto it. Except for increasing the human population, the things true of procreation are true of adoption. Adoption has an intriguing added benefit of observably diminishing the number of captives in the enemy camp. Adoption is the alleviation of real and potential human suffering, but it very often has a more strategic spiritual result as these victims become transformed bearers of salt and light. What a happy thought!

Romans 8 uses adoption to describe our redemption (vs. 15) and our ultimate salvation (v. 23). It’s hard to imagine a more pointed picture of God’s grace than our love for an orphaned child. It speaks loudly not only of God’s love for the “least of these” but also of his love for those we don’t traditionally see as helpless but who need God’s adoption nonetheless. There is also an undeniable aspect of gratitude lived out when we who have been adopted as brothers and sisters, co-heirs with Christ, pay forward the blessing of adoption.

A family that adopts interacts with perhaps scores of people who witness a sermon as dramatic and arresting as that of Hosea buying his wife out of slavery. Even skeptics must sometimes wonder why atheists are not much into starting or funding or serving children’s homes. Lost people may not ask that question, but they notice the sacrificial love being modeled by a Christian family. The sermon has half preached itself by the time they ask.

I think God’s call for nearly all of us is to marry and experience the joy of a committed relationship with someone who complements us in significant ways. For nearly all believers who marry, the call of God is to add children to our homes either by procreation or adoption—both beautiful expressions of God’s blessings and our faith in him. Pragmatism implies that your marriage and family exists primarily for your purposes and will progress according to your own plan. If you don’t think that way (and you shouldn’t) about your own life or your own church, why do so many think that way about their marriages and their families? And for those whom God calls and enables, the striking and powerful message of adoption is ours to preach.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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