I am considering a romantic relationship with a Christian gentleman who is open to marriage but does not want children. Is this just a personal preference or is it sinful?


In Scripture, children are a primary blessing of God's covenant with his people (Deut. 28). When God offers something as a blessing, he indicates that it is a good thing that he values. And to speak generally, as Christians we are to conform our values to God's values (e.g., Rom. 12:2), loving what he loves and hating what he hates. With specific reference to children, this means that we are to value children and to see them as a good thing.

Nevertheless, valuing children in general is different from wanting your own children. For example, Jesus didn't have his own children, and as far as we know neither did Paul. They present for us two examples of godly men who chose lives of singleness above marriage in order to pursue the goals God had set before them. Both Jesus and Paul purposefully forsook many of God's blessings in order to secure more blessings for the church (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:5-6; Heb. 2:9-10).

There are also times when the challenges of life make it unwise to take on the added burden of bearing and raising children. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul advised the Corinthians to place a temporary moratorium on weddings, in part to reduce the number of children born so that the church could better endure their present crisis (1 Cor. 7:26ff.; see the article Should Christians Marry?).

So, then, a man who conforms himself to God's standard will love and value children, but he may be willing to forego having them in order to accomplish something greater for the church. Or he may be in a situation in life where children are inadvisable. In general, God's people are to marry and reproduce (Gen. 1:28). In exceptional circumstances, singleness is to be preferred to marriage. Along the lines of 1 Corinthians 7, there may also be circumstances in which married couples choose for reasons of prudence not to have children, to delay having children, or to limit the number of children they have.

However, I must emphasize that children are a blessing, and that most people who conform themselves to God's standard will want to have children. In fact, Paul goes so far in 1 Timothy 2:15 as to call childbearing women's "salvation." Of course, he does not mean that women are forgiven because they have children. Rather, he means that faithful mothering is an ideal and hallmark of Christian womanhood (cf. 1 Tim. 5:10,14).

My greatest concern for you would be this: Although it may be fine for a man to deprive himself of children for the sake of accomplishing something greater for the kingdom of God, it is not fine for such a man to marry and to deprive his wife of children, should she want them. On the contrary, wives have a right to children, and in my opinion it is sinful to deny them this right, this blessing, this means of fulfilling God's command to multiply and fill the earth, this means of "salvation." If a woman agrees to forego this blessing for the sake of the greater good of the kingdom, she has the right to make that sacrifice. But her husband does not have the right to force this choice on her.

The birth of Dan illustrates this idea (Gen. 30:1ff.). Rachel and Leah were both married to Jacob. Rachel was jealous of Leah because Leah had children and Rachel did not. So, Rachel had it out with Jacob. Because God had not opened Rachel's womb, Rachel was rightly distraught, and complained to her husband to help her. His response ("Am I in the place of God ... ?") was true, although it was also defensive. But the outcome was that God blessed Rachel with a child through her maidservant Bilhah. Dan's name is a memorial to the fact that God "vindicated" Rachel, that is, he judged her case to be righteous. In other words, God recognized that Rachel deserved children, and so he blessed the union of Jacob and Bilhah in order to give Rachel the children she deserved.

The birth of Samuel also illustrates this point (1 Sam. 1). Hannah was barren, and she was anguished and grieved as a result. Like Rachel's husband Jacob, Hannah's husband Elkanah was fairly unsympathetic — men commonly fail to understand how important children are to their wives. In any case, in response to her faithfulness, the Lord finally granted Hannah a child, the prophet Samuel. Two things are noteworthy in this passage. First, Hannah's desire and petition were righteous. She was a godly woman who presents a model for all mothers. In fact, her prayer of thanks for the birth of Samuel (1 Sam. 2) is likely the model on which Mary's Magnificat was based (Luke 1:46-55). That's right — Mary, the most blessed of women (and that through childbirth!), followed the example of Hannah. Second, the Lord recognized the righteousness of Hannah's case. We see this in 1 Samuel 1:19, where God "remembered" Hannah and gave her a child. In Scripture, remembering is an act of God's favor. When he remembers someone, he looks on her with pleasure, generally because she has proven to be faithful to him. This is much like God's vindication of Rachel.

Now, in all of this, I have yet to talk about the possibility that a man might want not to have children for selfish reasons. Recognizing but foregoing God's blessings for the sake of the kingdom is righteous, but rejecting God's blessings for selfish or fearful reasons is sinful (Gen. 25:34 with Heb. 12:16; Num. 13—14). A man who does not value God's blessings and who does not desire to bless his wife should not be the kind of man a godly woman chooses to marry.

This is not a little thing; the matter of children in marriage is huge. Elkanah thought he should have been more valuable to Hannah than ten sons. But he was wrong. Not only was he not as valuable as ten sons, but he wasn't valuable enough to compensate for even one son. Without any children, Hannah was miserable — and rightly so, according to the way the story is presented in Scripture. But her reproach was taken away, and her grief turned to joy, with the birth of her son. Yes, some people are happy enough having no children, and perhaps this is easy to achieve in our culture because we have so many other distractions. But the standard of value we find in the Bible is that children are worth pining for, it is that women who despair because they have no children are justified in their grief.

I'm not telling you not to love this man or not to marry him. I am merely saying that not having children is a major sacrifice. It can be a great virtue to make that sacrifice for the sake of the church, and it can be great wisdom to go without children in certain circumstances. But when we eschew God's blessings for sinful reasons, we not only displease him but we set ourselves up for failure and unhappiness. If this man is a committed believer, and if his perspective is sinful rather than righteous, perhaps the best approach is to talk to him about the biblical doctrine of children and childbearing, and about the value of children to you, and to persuade him to submit his will and his desires to God in this matter.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.