Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world? Short answer: Yes.
Why? Because the cause is worth the risk, and the children are more likely to become Christ-exalting, comfort-renouncing, misery-lessening exiles and sojourners in this way than by being protected from risk in the safety of this world.
Provide for Their Greatest Good
When Paul said that “anyone [who] does not provide for . . . his household has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8), he was talking about world-idolizing slackers, not self-denying emissaries of Christ. But even that observation is not the main point.
“Perhaps we lose too many of our children because they weren’t trained as soldiers.”
The question raised by this text, and many others, is this: What is the greatest good you can do for your children? What does a real, countercultural, Christian ambassador and exile from heaven think when he is told, “Provide for your household”? Provide what? Culture-conforming comforts and security? Really?
I don’t think so. He is thinking, How can I breed a radical, risk-taking envoy of King Jesus? How can I raise a dolphin cutting through schools of sharks, rather than a bloated jellyfish floating with the plankton into the mouth of the whale called the world? How can I raise offspring who hear Jesus say, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58) and respond, “Let’s go”?
“Discipline of the Lord”
By all means, provide for your household. But what are we to provide? Paul says, “The discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Where might they taste the Lord’s discipline? Why should we think only in terms of spankings, time-outs, and family devotions? Why not the challenges and hardships implied in Hebrews 12:3–11?
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:3–4)
Not yet! “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7).
Train Up a Child
Or when you think about “providing for your household,” what about providing practice in self-denial and risk? After all, doesn’t Proverbs say, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)? Perhaps we lose too many of our children because they weren’t trained as soldiers. Maybe we trained them in comfort and security, and now they won’t leave it.
“Wasting your life is worse than losing it.”
Or what about providing for the young ones the way Deuteronomy 11:19 says? Teach them the wartime manual of life when you are walking among the hostile hearers, and when you lie down under the mosquito nets, and when you rise in the 95-degree heat. Come, my precious children, learn from mommy and daddy what it means to live with joy in the service of the King.
No matter how many Western, comfort-assuming, security-demanding, risk-avoiding Christians think otherwise, the truth is that there are worse risks for our children than death. This is simple Bible-reality. Not easy. Just simple. It is not complex or hard to grasp. There are things vastly worse than death. Wasting your life is worse than losing it.
Great Struggles Produce Great Citizens
One of the great ironies of history is that sometimes non-Christians see more clearly than Christians that the aims of family life are greater than safety. John Adams, who would become the second President of the United States, was sent as a Commissioner to France in 1778. His 10-year-old son, John Quincy (who would become the sixth President), went with him. Abigail, John Quincy’s mother, was totally behind this venture.
Here is David McCullough’s description of the mind-set behind this way of parenting. The boy would be away from his mother and his home for most of the next seven years. McCullough describes what this meant:
The boy was being taken across the North Atlantic in the midst of winter, in the midst of war. Just outside Boston Harbor, British ships were waiting to capture somebody like John Adams and take him to London, where most likely he would be hanged as a traitor. But the boy went, too, his mother knowing that she probably wouldn’t see him for a year or more, maybe never.
Why? Because she and his father wanted John Quincy to be in association with Franklin and the great political philosophers of France, to learn to speak French, to travel in Europe, to be able to soak it all up. And they risked his life for that — for his education. . . .
It was a horrendous voyage. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. And when the boy came back, he said he didn’t ever want to go across the Atlantic again as long as he lived. And then his father was called back, and his mother said you’re going back. And here is what she wrote to him. And please keep in mind this is being written to an 11-year-old boy and listen to how different it is from how we talk to our children in our time. It’s as if she were addressing a grown-up. She’s talking to someone they want to bring along quickly because there’s work to do and survival is essential:
These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.
Well, of course he went, and the history of our country is different because of it. John Quincy Adams, in my view, was the most superbly educated and maybe the most brilliant human being who ever occupied the executive office. (American Spirit, 115–116)
“They risked his life for that — for his education.” To be with Franklin. To be with the French philosophers. To be at the heart of the great doings of the day! Because, in their mind, that is what life is for. A life not given to great things is not worth living. So, risk your life — and the life of your children — to be part of greatness.
Made for More
“We are not about establishing a mere country—like America. We are about serving the King who is over all countries.”
But ours is not the same calling. Ours is infinitely greater. We are not about establishing a mere country — like America. We are about serving the King who is over all countries. We are not about building a temporary, fallible, historical nation, but an eternal people — “a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). We are not about rescuing people from earthly tyranny, but from totalitarian oppression and suffering in hell forever. We are not about maximal education in the ways of this world, but maximum insight and involvement into the saving paths and power of God. Our aim for our children is not historical influence, but eternal impact.
If John and Abigail Adams thought that their comparatively small aims for their children were worth the risk of death, are not our aims worth just as much risk?
But we have more reason to risk. We have a promise: If God is for us, no one can be successfully against us (Romans 8:31). If they take our lives, our spouses, and our children, they cannot succeed. In all these things, we are more than conquerors. How better can we show our children this truth than to take them with us to the nations?
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Reading the Bible Supernaturally.