Childless Missionaries by Design?
Brianna writes and says, “I’m a twenty-year-old woman who, by God’s leading, wants to live among unreached people groups in India or the Middle East. I’ve never had the desire to have my own kids (even though I love kids), and the guy I’m currently dating doesn’t either. If we get married, we see ourselves living as ‘Paul-type’ missionaries. Practically speaking, it makes sense to not have kids. I’ve heard so many different opinions, but I want to know if biblically it is a sin to not want to have kids if you’re able to.”
First, I am assuming in listening to this person that this couple is in a totally different category than the modern, secular couple with their personal dreams and consider children an inconvenience on the way to self-realization. That, it seems to me, is very common. It is sinful, because God and his word are not the plumb line in those choices, but rather, self-absorption is. I don’t hear that in this question, so I am not treating that issue. That is another issue.
Childless for the Sake of Christ
It seems to me that this couple has a question much more like 1 Corinthians 7 when Paul ponders whether singleness is advisable for himself and others. So let me draw out the implications of Paul’s words about spouselessness for the question of childlessness, because I think the principles relating to spouselessness and childlessness are the same. So here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:7–9:
I wish all were as I myself am [namely single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am, but if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.
And then he gives this reason to them in 1 Corinthians 7:32–35:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Unusual Steps of Devotion
Now the reason this is important is that Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” And Genesis 2:24 says, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife.” So marriage is normal and good and expected, and here comes Paul and he says, “Well, there are circumstances since the fall” — because all those instructions were given before the fall — “in this redemptive era of people needing to come to Christ and much sin abounding in the world, where devotion to the Lord’s work of redemption may demand unusual steps of devotion and singular focus.” In other words, he warrants his own singleness that way, and he says others might take that step as well, but it is not a sin to marry.
“For the Lord’s sake and for his unusual purposes in your life, you are free to forgo the normal, wonderful blessing of children.”
Now, I think the same principle applies to having children. In the beginning before the fall, God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). That is normal. It is needed. It is the way God’s purpose to fill the earth with worshippers is going to be fulfilled. If you don’t have babies, you won’t fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord like the waters cover the sea (see Isaiah 11:9). But now, may we not infer, because of the analogy with marriage, that there are circumstances after the fall where devotion to the Lord’s work of filling the earth with worshippers — the work of redemption — may demand unusual steps of devotion and singular focus?
Three Pieces of Counsel
1. You have freedom to forgo normal blessings.
So, my counsel would be this: Yes. For the Lord’s sake and for his unusual purposes in your life, you are free to forgo the normal, wonderful blessing of children. That is number one.
2. Remain open to God’s leading.
Don’t make this a lifelong commitment. God may change the situation, and he may change your mind. You may find yourself ten years into a missionary situation where you thought childlessness was crucial and discover, No, having babies here would be a great help, because it would give me normal fellowship with these women, for example. I mean, that is just one possible example.
3. Win worshippers by gathering children.
So whichever way you do it for the name of Christ, gather children for the name of Christ. So as a single person, as a married person, or a couple without children, gather children. Fill the earth with worshippers by winning worshippers if not by begetting worshippers.