From the beginning, raising children has been central to the LORD’s call to mankind. When the LORD issued the cultural mandate to Adam and Eve, raising children was at its heart.
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. (Genesis 1:28)
The LORD commanded our first parents to be fruitful and multiply in order to fill the earth and subdue it. In other words, they were to beget children who would join them in the cultural mandate. Certainly this meant not just having a bunch of babies and leaving them to find their own way in the world, but raising LORD-given children with a view to sending them forth in the earth to accomplish the LORD’s command. Adam and Eve would have understood that instructing their children in this mandate was a necessary part of their task of “being fruitful.” Surely this instruction would have included repeating and explaining the LORD’s words to their children, as well as involving them in the actual dominion that Adam and Eve were already exercising. This reflection is based not only on common sense application of the mandate but on Adam’s own example of previously telling Eve about the LORD’s particular warning about eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (See Genesis 2)
Of course, this project got off track by Adam and Eve’s defiance of the LORD’s word. The whole cultural mandate has been a train wreck ever since.
It should not be surprising that when the LORD begins his renewal of man, he puts raising children at the heart of this work. Notice his words to Abraham.
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings will come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. (Genesis 17:6-7)
In his covenant with Abraham, which is foundational to all of the LORD’s saving work in Christ, he promised to give Abraham children who would be in the covenant and receive the gracious promises of that covenant. Abraham’s faithfulness was to include acknowledging this gift of children and raising them to know and embrace the LORD’s covenantal purposes of redemption. (See Genesis 17:9-14)
That brings us to Christ’s Great Commission to his apostles, a commission that is fulfilling God’s covenant with Abraham. We will consider its implications for children of believing parents.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a)
Where are children in this passage? Well, one has to keep in mind the covenantal context of Scripture as a whole. That means remembering the LORD’s cultural mandate to Adam and Even, which involved their offspring. And it means remembering the place of children in the epochal covenant with Abraham. This mandate renews creation, spreading Christ’s lordship over the earth which has been blighted when the cultural mandate got sidetracked by sin. And this new mandate in Christ fulfills the Abrahamic covenant’s promises to renew the nations. Given the place of children in all of this previous divine activity, we should be looking around for the place of children in this new epoch of God’s dealing with man. In other words, since children were originally given for God’s worldwide purpose of establishing a godly dominion over the earth; and since the children of believers are a given by God to participate in his covenant purposes; we begin to understand that children are always at the heart of the LORD’s unfolding purposes in this world. As we read through the Bible our heavenly Father teaches us to expect that our children are included in the discipleship command. In the Great Commission he calls us to baptize our children and then teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded. This fits the creational and covenantal patterns that the LORD our God has already established.
So, the task of raising children is and always has been at the heart of the LORD’s plan for man. We should lift up this work as central to the gospel, as central to work of parenting, and as central to the restoration of all things in Christ.
This does not mean that the Church only grows through procreation. Going into all the world means discipling every tribe and tongue on the planet. But it also means that discipling our own children is at the heart of this mission. And it means that if we don’t do that, we can’t accomplish the rest of the Great Commission. For we need to prepare the next generation to keep spreading the word over all the earth. Do you hear the echo of Genesis 1:28?