I recently read an interesting article by a man named Shane Morris, called A Message to Intentionally Childless Millennials. The article was inspired by a tweet by Shane which sparked a fierce Twitter debate. Here is the tweet:
Apparently my fellow millennials poured in to condemn this tweet, claiming that they preferred their freedom and money to children. Shane obviously disagrees and calls out such hedonism, as he should. He does make one guarded caveat, though:
“Not everyone will get married and have kids, and not everyone should. Christians have a very ancient category for those who are called to lifelong celibacy for the purpose of serving God’s kingdom, and there are some who will find their calling in spiritual, rather than biological, parenting. Still others are physically unable to bear children and choose to adopt. I owe my existence to that beautiful choice, and my extended family is still growing because of it.
But the vast majority of those devoted to childfree lives do not fall into these categories. They’re simply living for themselves, maximizing “hedonic pleasure” and “leisure time,” with little thought of the future. And it’s not just happening among our secular peers. Statistics show it’s happening among Christian millennials too.”
The overall conclusion of Shane’s blog is that most Christians should get married and have children. Further, we as the Church should fight against the indifference and hostility in our culture against children. I don’t disagree with these conclusions, however, I feel like the application is missing a pretty important component: since singleness and childlessness can be used for God’s kingdom we should actively encourage singleness and childlessness (for some people).
I don’t see these two perspectives as antithetical, just two sides of one coin. In response to a culture that has a negative view of children, and calls people to be childless for the purpose of hedonism we should both: 1) encourage people to get married and have kids, and 2) encourage people stay single and/or childless for the purposes of serving God’s kingdom.
Paul Encouraged Childlessness
I am not going to pretend like this is a normal call, though honestly it seems to me an obvious outworking of several passages of Scripture. For instance, Paul (a single who consequently also did not have children) said, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:8). Paul was looking out at widows and singles and his call to them was not: “Go get married and have children!” Instead, he encouraged them to remain single. And to be clear, a call to singleness is a call to childlessness.
I know, I know. There is a lot of discussion of the context of what he is saying. Some have said, and do say, that he only said this because of the level of persecution and the state of the church at that time. Honestly, I don’t buy it. Paul does not discuss circumstances. There are no modifiers like, “since persecution is so bad right now…” I think that he was just wanting to encourage a category of Christian (single) and his encouragement for them was (if they were able) to remain single. And by single, with the Christian sexual ethic, childless.
This means that we have to have a theology that allows that for some people it is preferable to remain single rather than getting married and raising children (at least in some circumstances). It means that choosing to remain single, and childless, is not necessarily selfish, hedonistic, or sin.
To be clear, I am not saying that singleness is more pleasing to the Lord. Paul here said that singleness was preferable, but in other places encourages younger widows to marry and have children (1 Timothy 5:14). For Paul, singleness was preferable for some. This has many implications, but it definitely means that when someone says that they do not want to have children, we cannot assume that this desire is ungodly.
Jesus Encouraged Childlessness
Shane in the quote above links to Jesus words in Matthew 19, which describe something more than singleness. The specific verses he is referencing are verses 11-12:
“Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (vv 11-12, emphasis mine)
What I understand of the flow of the passage is something like this (most of this is a summary in my own words, but you can read it all HERE):
- The crowds were following Jesus and in their midst the Pharisees challenge him, trying to test him. They say, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (vv 1-3)
- Jesus responds that God from the very beginning with Adam and Eve created marriage to be a union of two people that should not be separated on earth. (vv 3-6)
- The challenge continues and the Pharisees ask, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (v 7)
- Jesus responds that God allows divorce because of hardness of heart, but anyone who divorces his wife for anything other than sexual immorality commits adultery. (vv 8-9)
- The disciples freak out! Hearing that they cannot get out of marriage unless there is sexual immorality makes them think no one should get married! (v 10)
- Jesus responds to his disciples by saying, “You’re right, remaining single (and thus childless) is a real option! Many people have done it, and some have even made themselves eunuchs so that they can better spend themselves for God’s kingdom.” (vv 11-12)
This is really an amazing claim. The disciples probably were just being dramatic, saying that if they cannot divorce their wives, they would rather not be married. But Jesus says that some people have chosen not only singleness, but childlessness for God’s kingdom. If you don’t know what a eunuch is, look it up. It is not talking about a marital relationship. The word implies inability to have children. Jesus, here, is speaking positively about a choice to make oneself unable to have children, again, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” I discuss what it means to do something for the kingdom below, but take a second to test yourself. Do you believe that it is good for some people to choose childlessness? You should, because Jesus did.
A Better Call: Don’t Seek to Only Please Yourself
With all of that said and defended, I will come to my point: I don’t believe that our call to childless millennials should be: “Get married; have kids!” Rather, I think that our call should be: “Don’t seek to only please yourself!”
Christians like Shane above tend to look at millennials, and whoever else, see that they are not wanting to have children and immediately chastise. But, childlessness is not a sin. Even (if I have interpreted Jesus correctly) MAKING yourself unable to have children is not a sin. And we cannot look at a childless individual and assume that they are selfish. But they might be, and many are. And when we have examined their lives and their motivations and are seeking to encourage them as brothers and sisters in Christ, our call should be a call to selflessness.
Selflessness can look like a lot of things. Selflessness can look like a father or mother daily caring for their children. Selflessness can also look like a Christian childless man or woman caring for orphans in a country that married couples will not consider. This is why Jesus commended those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. It’s not so they can vacation more often and keep more money in their bank account, it is for Christ. Listen to the pastoral advice Paul gave to singles:
“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.” (1 Cor 7:32-34)
Paul was not telling singles about how awesome it was to be able to wake up whenever you want. He wasn’t commending singleness because of freedom for a hedonistic lifestyle. Paul commended singleness because singles are able to be free to serve the church in ways that married couples cannot. This same thought extends to the childless. I can testify that children take a lot of time away from ministry in the church. And ministry to my kids is good, God-honoring, service which is pleasing in the sight of God. But a single person (or a couple with no kids) are able to serve in good, God-honoring ways that I cannot. And God loves it.
Shane talks about all sorts of good reasons to have kids. I am glad that we adopted, and I would not take it back. But there are all sorts of ways that children can lead to wasted lives. Millions of people all over the world, most adults in the world I believe, have children. And most of those people are wasting their lives, not pleasing God. Childless adults too can waste their lives. They can live for money, or pleasure, or immorality. And those choices are tragic. However, childless people can and should serve and please God, sometimes in ways we parents will never please him. If someone wants to remain single and childless for the kingdom of heaven, why would we discourage it?
I am going to take this a step further. It is possible that you will encounter a Christian couple that says that they do not want to have kids. Obviously, this is different than just someone choosing to be single. This is a category not directly addressed by Scripture. However, based on what I have described above, I do not believe it is forbidden in Scripture either. Which would leave us with the same advice: Do not live just to please yourself. Does that necessarily mean they will have children. I don’t think so.
I write this not to rebuke Shane Morris, nor even contradict him. I think his blog has a lot of good points to be considered. However, I do think that the American church is slow to affirm those who would seek singleness and childlessness for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Paul was not slow to commend this route, and I don’t think we should be either. Most people will get married and have children and I think that is good. But for those who long to serve God in a different way, I say, let them serve. If we are concerned that someone might be choosing either singleness or childlessness for selfish reasons, our call should be not to children, but to selflessness.