A sermon on the rewards and responsibilities of having children
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Intro- Lasting Wealth
One day an old land Baron was taking lunch in his manor house and he began to think about all the wealth he had acquired over the years and that surely this had been the blessing of God. His children had grown wealthy themselves and even the Baron’s serfs who worked his land had become more prosperous over the last decades. He had much to be thankful for and wondered about spreading his blessings wider still.
His thoughts finally rested upon the two slaves who had served him over the years at his manor. Unlike his serfs who had land and were able to make a living for themselves and their families, his household slaves relied upon him completely for food and lodging and worked long and hard hours in his service. He decided upon a course of action, set to work in preparation and told the two slaves to meet him early in the morning in the estate garden.
Early the next morning the two slaves presented themselves to their master in the gardens. The old Baron said to them, “You have both served me well over many years. I have been given much wealth and blessing in my life and many have received the benefits of my wealth including yourselves who are provided from my table. But it is not enough for me that you are clothed and fed and so I want to give you some special gifts this morning. Come with me.”
And so the two slaves followed their master eagerly in anticipation. He stopped by a young olive tree. It was a young tree, only 2 or so inches at the base and so it wouldn’t be ready to bear fruit for another couple years. The Baron turned to his two slaves and said, “I give you a choice. You may take as a gift either a young olive tree or a cask of olive oil” And there sitting on the porch was indeed a cask of olive oil- perhaps 10 litres worth. The younger slave thought about the amount of money represented by that cask of olive oil. It was probably worth a month’s wage for a labourer. In his lifetime he had rarely had access to his own money and he immediately started to think of the purchasing power of the olive oil. Besides, he had no place for an olive tree and it would be years before it bore fruit. He indicated graciously that he would accept the cask of olive oil.
The older slave too thought about the vast sum of money represented by the cask of olive oil, more money than he had ever had in his life. But then he turned his thoughts to the young olive tree. It would need tremendous amounts of care and work in pruning. Furthermore it would be a couple years before it started to bear fruit and he would have to be patient to reap it’s rewards. However, he knew that with work and diligence, this tree was worth far more than the cask of olive oil. The tree could last hundreds of years. It could supply fruit and oil not only for himself but for his family if he could find a way to pay for his freedom and find a wife. He didn’t even know where he would be able to plant it, whether it could remain here in the gardens or if he would have to take it elsewhere, but it was worth the risk. He told his master that he would graciously accept the young tree.
They went a little further in the garden and here were gorgeous grapevines. Again the Baron offered them a choice: “You may take as a gift either a grapevine or a cask of wine”.
The young man couldn’t believe it. He had been thinking of spending some of his new currency on some wine and now, there in a cask, was wine enough for a small banquet. He chose the wine.
Once again, the older slave carefully weighed the options. The cask of wine was attractive. It would be difficult to transport the grapevine if that was necessary and if he wanted wine from the grapes he would have to put in a lot work. Yet he knew that long-term, with some work and a bit of providence, it was the grapevine that would yield the greater wealth. He chose the grapevine.
They walked a little further. And here was a row of flax plants. Their master stopped and said, “Here is a final choice and gift for you. You may take either a row of flax plants or a new cloak of linen.” And there, laying on a bench were two beautiful new cloaks. They weren’t as exquisite as the Baron’s cloaks but they were far nicer than anything the slaves had ever worn. The young man didn’t hesitate. He said, “Master, I thank you and will choose the cloak”.
The older man sighed. His thoughts were conflicted. At every choice he had taken the gift that required the most work and the least immediate blessing. And yet he had never had an opportunity like this before and he was focused on doing what was best for himself and any future family in the long-term. Yet here was the most difficult of choices. How would he have time to turn the flax into linen? It was a long process and required certain tools and skills. He could possibly acquire them and learn but it would be no easy road. Yet he had already come too far down this road. With just a bit of hesitation and pain, he said to his master, “I thank you sir and choose the flax.”
The master then turned to the younger slave and said to him, “Go and enjoy your gifts”. And with a bow the young man left with the olive oil, wine and cloak. Then the master turned to the older slave and he said, “I can see that you are not afraid to work and that you are willing to put aside momentary gain for lasting wealth. I see now that whatever I give you will prosper in your hand. So in addition to these three gifts, I give you 20 acres of farm land on which to plant your olive tree and your grapevine and your flax. Make use of the land and the trees to provide for yourself a house and crops. And you may take a wife for yourself among my servant girls. May God bless you and make you fruitful according to your work and wisdom and may you and your family long enjoy the fruits of your labour.”
Wealth in Today’s Culture
When you think of wealth what comes to mind? For many people in our culture, they would think of belongings: property, houses, cars, boats, other expensive items that have a recognized value. Others may think more in terms of monetary measures of wealth: dollars, gold, GIC’s, bonds or equities. Rarely in our culture would people think of living things as wealth.
But in the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, blessings and wealth are often portrayed in terms of living assets. For instance, in Deuteronomy 28:11 Moses spells out the blessings of obedience for the Israelites before they enter the promised land of Canaan. And Moses starts by saying the Lord will make you abound in prosperity. And then notice how that prosperity is described. It goes on to say
in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.
So in biblical times, when a person’s wealth was measured, the things taken most into account were the amount of children and grand-children, the amount of animals and the size and productivity of your farmland. Wealth was measured by things that were alive and were capable of growing.
Times have changed drastically. And part of the difficulty in unpacking the teaching of Psalm 127 is that some of the changes between our culture and the one being described are a direct result of the dominion and growth of mankind. The fact that we are no longer mostly farmers or herders is not a bad thing. But other changes are perhaps not as positive and so we must be careful not to jettison important counter-cultural correctives within these verses.
The major theme of verses 3 to 5 here are how children are a blessing of the Lord and the greatest treasure or wealth a person can possess. Not only that, but I hope that we will also see how the growth of the “wealth” of the family is an important part of the growth of the kingdom of God.
Heritage and Reward (v3)
Let’s look now to Psalm 127:3-5. It says
4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
5Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
According to verse 3, the first way that children are a living treasure is that they are a heritage and a reward from God.
The word translated in the ESV here as children is the Hebrew word banim, it’s root being a very common word that is sometimes translated as children or people but most often as sons. In modern translations words such as “sons” or “brothers” are often translated more generically because in ancient cultures and languages the masculine would often represent a larger, more generic group. However, there are some important reasons we shouldn’t too quickly skip over the idea of sons here.
In biblical times and indeed for much of human history, men were particularly important in defending and extending the family’s interests, whether in commercial affairs or in warfare. And some of this figures very prominently into what the Psalmist is writing here in this passage. And so while much of what we can take from this passage applies both to male and female children, we should at least understand that the cultural context of this psalm likely had male children in view.
In verse 3, sons or children are said to be both a heritage and a reward. The word heritage means a lasting possession or an inheritance. It connotes some kind of measurable wealth with an aspect of permanence; something that can usually be passed on in the family. Often the word refers to property, but here it relates to children. Children are being seen here as an asset of permanent and lasting value.
We should recognize here at the outset that seeing children as an asset or a positive measure of wealth is very counter-cultural. I mentioned previously that while wealth used to be measured largely by things that were alive, that things have drastically changed. In fact, nowadays, if people speak about children and wealth at the same time, they speak of children not as assets but as liabilities!
People often speak of the expense of raising children and how they couldn’t afford another and how much money it costs over the course of a lifetime to raise and provide for a child.
That’s completely opposite to the way children were viewed in Old Testament times and indeed the way there are viewed in other farming or subsistence-level societies today.
Perhaps what is missing in our current understanding of family and economics is a family view of wealth. For a variety of reasons, ancient cultures had much closer family units where they would stick together and where wealth would be passed on to the next generation to help provide for them. And so the greater number of children meant the greater amount of people growing the family wealth and the better chance the family would have to survive and thrive.
In today’s culture, people have a much longer life and are more prone to thinking about wealth in personal, rather than family terms. If our world had a more biblical sense of both family and wealth I think that they would be far more likely to see children as assets, rather than liabilities.
The psalmist also describes children as a reward. And as much as I would like to translate this word here as gift, the word very plainly means reward or recompense or wage. And it raises an interesting difficulty. If children are a reward, then does that mean that the lack of children or the loss of children is necessarily punishment for us, or if we put it in milder terms, is God withholding that blessing because of something that we have done or perhaps, not done? Of course in some situations there is the possibility that God withholds his blessings and rewards because of our sins. David’s sin of adultery and murder cost him the life of the baby in Bathsheba’s womb.
But are all losses, all barrenness due to some shortcoming or sin in our own lives? No. There is no indication whatsoever that women like Rachel or Hannah in the Old Testament or Elizabeth in the New Testament were out of favour with the Lord in their times of barrenness. So then, if children are a reward from God but no children is not a punishment from God, then what are we left with? Well it seems that we are left with the fact that God’s gifts are sometimes rewards, and yet that he doesn’t reward equally in this life.
For example, in Matthew 20 Jesus tells a parable about workers that each receive a wage for their work. However, the ones who were hired earlier in the day worked many more hours than those hired late and yet all received the same wage, which of course seemed very inequitable to worker’s who had started earlier. And while the parable is first and foremost about the kingdom of God and not his more general blessings, it does illustrate that God has the right to distribute gifts and rewards as he sees fit.
However, we can go a step further than that. For we know that in this life we will suffer many things, but that in the future there will be a complete reward. In Matthew 5:12 Jesus says Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Many of God’s chosen servants did not receive what was promised in this life, but were persecuted, tortured and killed. And yet they will receive all the rewards promised to them by God. So then, God rewards each one as he sees fit in this life. In the future, all will be rewarded completely.
Children are a heritage and reward from God and though they are a tremendous responsibility and hard work in the beginning stages of life, they pay off in the long term in ways far greater than any other kind of wealth.
Strength and Security (v4-5)
The second way that children are living treasure to their parents are that they are strength and security to the family, which we see in verses 4 to 5. We read there
are the children of one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Unlike today’s society here in North America, the families of past centuries and millennia were vulnerable to attack and violence, to poverty and famine, to treachery and fraud. We live in a time and a place where we are defended well by the laws of our land. Most of us do not live in constant fear for the safety of our family, or in anxiety about where we will get food for our next meal or whether some powerful businessman or noble will take away the family business or farm. But in most times and in most places in the history of our world, these concerns were very real.
It was up to each family, to a certain degree, to defend and provide for themselves. And the strength and size of the family was an important part of its welfare. And so here in verses four and five, the parent or the father is depicted as a warrior who needs to defend himself against enemies. This defence is illustrated two ways, first by warfare and then second by politics.
In verse 4 and the first part of verse 5, children are depicted as arrows in the hands and the quiver of a warrior. Arrows are an interesting metaphor because unlike other weaponry, they are used repeatedly in battle and the less arrows an archer has, the less useful he is in battle.
And so in verse 5 we read that blessed is the man who doesn’t just have a weapon or has a few arrows, but fills his quiver with them. There is not a shadow of a doubt that in its original context the author is saying that the more children a man has, the more blessed he is and the stronger the family is.
At the end of verse 5 the author shifts to a more political illustration. He says that the man who has many children shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate. The gate of a city was the place where judicial or political matters were discussed and resolved. And the strength of a man’s position often lay in the strength of his family. Simply put, you think twice before you mess with a man who is the head of an enormous clan. Children bring strength and security and the more children and the bigger the family, the stronger and more secure it is.
Now someone might say at this point, OK that is what the passage meant back then. Children, and particularly sons were a blessing because the family business and land needed development and protection. And there were not societal defences in place and so a larger family was strength and security. And a larger family meant that someone could care for you when you were old and couldn’t take care of yourself anymore.
But now, most of us don’t have family businesses or family land and if we do it is no certainty that our children will keep doing that work. Furthermore, the wealth and protection of the family isn’t necessarily better served by more children in our day and age, at least certainly not in the same way. We have property laws and pensions and insurance and welfare. So what does it matter whether we have children or not? What does it matter if we have one or many?
Those are very good questions. But in order to answer those questions we have to ask a different question. And the question is this: What role does the family play in the growth of the kingdom of God?
The Family and Kingdom Growth
Up until this point, I’ve kept myself within the confines of this passage which seems to speak, at least primarily, about families in particular. However, we need to remember that individual families are part of God’s design for the growth of his worldwide family- the church.
In Genesis 1:28 we read that God blessed Adam and Eve and he said to them,
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
At this earliest stage of human history it is crucial to note that the increase of Adam and Eve’s family in the world meant the increase of God’s kingdom in the world. Their personal “wealth” was not just a blessing to them, but was glorifying to God because through the increase of their family and their family’s dominion, the kingdom of God too was increasing.
In the same way the opening verses of Exodus show us how Jacob’s family grew in Egypt. And in doing so it describes not only the blessing of God but also points o how it glorifies God. When some seventy people go down into Egypt and then some 2 or 3 million come up out of Egypt, wealthy not only in people but in the plunder they took from Egypt, isn’t God glorified? Isn’t he more glorified than if 70 went down and 70 came up?
So then, although the connection between the growth of a single family and the growth of the greater people of God is not perhaps immediately obvious in Psalm 127, it is very clear in the rest of the Bible and it’s here that we find a way of connecting this Psalm to our lives.
God has ordained, right from the very beginning of mankind, that families be the normative building block of society. Now, I don’t mean to say that a single person or a childless couple are any less valuable or useful. The apostle Paul is very clear that those who do not have the added responsibility of spouse or children are able to serve the Lord in special ways; unburdened ways, focused ways.
However, the family, and by that I mean a man and a woman covenanting together in marriage and producing children from their union, has always been and will forever be the normal and good building block of both society and church.
So then, one of the primary methods for the growth of the kingdom of God is child-bearing and child-rearing in faith. And it never ceases to amaze me that countless books and seminars and conventions focus on church growth or kingdom growth but rarely, if ever, is anything said about bearing children. If we are speaking about the numerical growth of the kingdom of God, I believe that nothing is more fundamental and basic than marrying and having children and teaching them the commandments of God so that they in turn marry, have children and teach them the commandments of God and so on and so forth.
Obstacles to the Growth of Families
So then, what gets in the way of people having children or having more children? I’m sure we could come up with a very long list and some of the things on our list may very well be legitimate or even good reasons for not having children or not having more. I don’t want to discount the specifics of your situation.
However, when we consider generalizations we see that our world and our country and our province and then even our churches are having far less children than in prior generations.
According to United Nation statistics, the world fertility rate in the 1950’s and 60’s was close to five. That means that if you took all the women in the world, the expected number of children they would have in their lifetime, on average, was close to five. Sounds like a lot these days. Well, by the 1970’s that average had dropped to about four. In the 80’s it dropped to three and a half and in the 90’s to three. The current worldwide fertility rate is estimated to be at two and half, almost half of what it was only 50 years ago. Now you might think that that is no big deal and that we would be fine with less people on our planet.
But those are just averages. In some parts of the world the fertility rate is dangerously low. You obviously need afertility rate of approx 2 to replace population. In many parts of the world, and especially in Europe and Japan, the fertility rate is far lower than replacement levels, below 1.5 with Italy at 1.3 and Japan at 1.2. If these kinds of rates continue (and these kinds of trends are very hard to reverse) many parts of the world will face cataclysmic population implosions over the next few generations.
So what about Canada and BC? Well, the statistics are not promising. The Canadian fertility rate is approximately 1.6, significantly less than the replacement rate but not as low as most of Europe. However, BC’s is lower still at 1.4, right about the same as most of Europe. The statistics are clear. There is no question that in general, couples are having fewer children across the world, here in BC and even in Christian families.
So we might ask then- why? And particularly for Christians- why? If indeed the Bible says with some consistency that many children are a blessing from God and that by having children who then follow the Lord the kingdom of God grows, why do many Christians choose either not to have children or stop at one or two. Let me suggest three reasons:
Feminism has played a part in this as well. The feminist movement says to women “why should you sacrifice your own goals and desires to have children? Don’t succumb to the patriarchal pressures of bearing children. If you must have children don’t have too many or you’ll never leave the home, you’ll never achieve what you really want in your life.”
That kind of thinking is a form of selfishness. The Bible instead instructs both mothers and fathers to be self-sacrificing. In Ephesians 5:25 husbands are instructed to give themselves up for their wives, and by extension their families as well, in the same way as Christ gave himself up for the church. Paul instructs young windows in 1 Timothy 5:14 to marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. Will marrying and bearing children and managing families and households require work and sacrifice? You bet it will. But that is what God is calling most men and women to do.
Nowadays, most youth spend their time surviving school and being entertained with a customized mix of music, movies, video games and sports. Expectations for young people in our day and age are not just low they are abysmally low. And so when I’m playing basketball with a bunch of young guys in their late teens and twenties and I talk about my wife and children, not only can they not relate, most of them cannot conceive of a family situation for themselves in the near future. In most societies in the history of the world a young man would be thinking about personal goals that relate to having a family by the time he was fifteen. Nowadays, if a young man has personal goals relating to a family at all, it’s probably not until he is in his late twenties or thirties. And this has a profound effect on both the quality and the size of families.
This is what a United Nations report called “World Population Monitoring 2001” says
While that may be surprising to evolutionists and humanists, that should not be a surprise to Christians with a biblical worldview. It should not be surprising that a God who told mankind to multiply and have dominion over all the earth would also give us the capacity to make the most of the earth in order to increase wealth and product in keeping with our growth. Overpopulation is not a significant problem in our world. Poverty is. Greed is. Overpopulation is not.
To be sure every, every situation is different. Beyond these negative considerations there are other considerations to take into account when it comes to bearing children or bearing more children.
Do you have job? Is your health adequate? Have pregnancies been dangerously difficult? Where are you in the cycle of the development of your family? These kinds of questions are not immaterial. So then we need to understand that the Bible’s view of children and family is at least somewhat, if not radically counter-cultural, and yet also recognize that there are a variety of circumstances and that one size does not fit all.
There is one question that I find cuts through the noise and all the many variable and gets to the heart of the matter: Why wouldn’t you have more children? If they are a heritage and reward and that by having more children and by teaching them the way of the Lord, his kingdom will grow, why not? And then consider whether your answer is a good one. It may be or it may not be.
Let me finish this sermon by suggesting a few applications based on where you may be in your life.
If you are a young person I want to tell you that you need to aim for adulthood. Plan on getting married and having children and figure out what you’ll need to do and to be in order to be a good husband and father, or a good wife and mother.
If you are an unmarried single, pray that the Lord would grant you a husband or wife if you are not convinced that you are gifted and called to be single and celibate. But do not, under any circumstances, court or wed someone who is not a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you are an older person without children, look for ways to encourage young people and young families. Be a spiritual parent or grandparent. Because you are part of the family of God, though you may be without children yet you can have a large family.
If you are an older person with children and grandchildren, enjoy your wealth. Continue to build your wealth by building spiritually into them whenever possible. And teach your children and grandchildren to follow the Lord.
Children are the most precious treasure a person can have. They are like an olive tree or a grapevine or a flax plant. The amount of work that goes into them is significant. They need careful cultivation and pruning. They may not yield their wealth for some time. But in the end their yield is immeasurable and long-lasting.
And through them, the kingdom of God can grow. When people often speak about the growth of God’s kingdom they speak about the conversion of souls, something very important that God calls us to. And yet many of those same people will not consider having more than a couple children. If you are concerned for the growth of the Kingdom of God, then unless the Lord’s called you to be single, get married and have lots of children and pour your life and faith into them.
Malachi 2:15 says 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. May we seek from our marriages what God seeks from them.