Large Families United in God’s Service
“Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah,” wrote the Psalmist. “The fruitage of the belly is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of youth. Happy is the able-bodied man that has filled his quiver with them.”—Psalm 127:3-5.
YES, children can be a blessing from Jehovah. And just as an archer finds satisfaction in knowing how to direct the arrows in his quiver, so parents find happiness when they direct their children along the path that leads to everlasting life.—Matthew 7:14.
Long ago, families having their ‘quivers filled’ with many children were common among God’s people. Think, for example, of their years of captivity in Egypt: “The sons of Israel became fruitful and began to swarm; and they kept on multiplying and growing mightier at a very extraordinary rate, so that the land got to be filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7) A comparison of the number of Israelites that entered Egypt with the number that left suggests that families having ten children were average in size!
Later, Jesus grew up in a family that might seem large to many today. Jesus was the firstborn, but Joseph and Mary had four other sons and some daughters. (Matthew 13:54-56) That they had so many children likely explains how Mary and Joseph could begin a return journey from Jerusalem without realizing that Jesus was missing from their group.—Luke 2:42-46.
Large Families Today
Today, many Christians decide to limit the size of their families for spiritual, economic, social, and other reasons. Nevertheless, large families remain the norm in many societies. According to The State of the World’s Children 1997, the region with the highest fertility rate is sub-Saharan Africa. There, the average woman gives birth to six children.
For Christian parents of large families, bringing up their children so that they love Jehovah is not easy, but many are successfully doing so. Success depends on the family’s being united in pure worship. The apostle Paul’s words to the congregation in Corinth apply with equal force to Christian families today. He wrote: “Now I exhort you, brothers, . . . that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) How may such unity be achieved?
Parents Must Be Spiritual People
A key factor is that parents must be fully devoted to God. Consider what Moses said to the Israelites: “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. And you must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force. And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.”—Deuteronomy 6:4-7.
Notice that Moses pointed out that the commandments of God needed to be ‘on the hearts’ of the parents. Only then would the parents be inclined to impart regular spiritual instruction to their children. In fact, when parents are spiritually strong, they are eager to instruct their children in spiritual matters.
To become a spiritual person and to love Jehovah with all one’s heart, it is vital to read, meditate on, and apply God’s Word regularly. The psalmist wrote that the one who delights in the law of Jehovah and who reads in it “day and night” will “become like a tree planted by streams of water, that gives its own fruit in its season and the foliage of which does not wither, and everything he does will succeed.”—Psalm 1:2, 3.
Just as a tree bears good fruit if it is consistently watered, so, too, spiritually nourished families bear godly fruitage, to Jehovah’s praise. Typical is the family of Uwadiegwu, who lives in West Africa. Though Uwadiegwu and his wife have eight children, both serve as regular pioneers, or full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He says: “Our family has maintained a regular family Bible study for over 20 years. We have taught the children God’s Word from when they were infants, not only during our family study but in the ministry and at other times. All our children are proclaimers of the Kingdom good news, and only the youngest, who is six years old, is not yet baptized.”
Working as a Team
“By wisdom a household will be built up,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 24:3) Within the family, such wisdom produces teamwork. The “captain” of the family team is the father; he is the God-appointed head of the household. (1 Corinthians 11:3) The inspired apostle Paul stressed the seriousness of the responsibility of headship when he wrote: “If anyone does not provide [both materially and spiritually] for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:8.
In harmony with this counsel from God’s Word, Christian husbands need to care for the spirituality of their wives. If wives are burdened down with household chores, their spirituality will suffer. In one African land, a newly baptized Christian complained to the elders in his congregation that his wife seemed apathetic about spiritual matters. The elders suggested that his wife needed practical help. So the husband began to help her with household chores. He also spent time helping her to improve her reading and her knowledge of the Bible. She responded well, and now the entire family is united in God’s service.
Fathers also need to concern themselves with the spirituality of their children. Paul wrote: “You, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) When parents heed the admonition not to irritate their children, as well as the direction to train them, the children feel that they are part of a family team. As a result, children are likely to help and encourage one another to achieve spiritual goals.
Teamwork involves giving children spiritual responsibilities when they are ready for them. One father, a Christian elder with 11 children, wakes up early in the morning and conducts studies with several of them before he leaves for work. The older ones, after their baptism, take turns helping their younger brothers and sisters, which includes sharing in teaching them the Bible. The father supervises, commending their efforts. Six of the children are baptized, and the others continue to work toward that goal.
Good Communication, Shared Goals
Vital to united families is loving communication and shared spiritual goals. Gordon, a Christian elder who lives in Nigeria, is the father of seven children ranging from 11 to 27 years of age. Six of them are pioneers, like the parents. The youngest, recently baptized, regularly shares in the disciple-making work with the rest of the family. The two adult sons are ministerial servants in the congregation.
Gordon personally conducted Bible studies with each of his children. Besides that, the family has a comprehensive program of Bible education. Every morning they gather to consider a Bible text and then prepare for the congregation meetings.
One of the goals set for each family member is to read all articles in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. Recently, they added daily Bible reading to their routine. By talking about what they read, family members encourage one another to continue the habit.
The weekly family Bible study is so well established that nobody needs a reminder—everyone looks forward to it. Over the years, the content, structure, and duration of the family study have varied with the ages and needs of the children. The family has drawn close to other faithful servants of God, and this has had a beneficial effect on the children.
As a family, they do things together and set aside time for recreation. Once a week they enjoy a “family evening,” which features quizzes, tasteful jokes, piano playing, storytelling, and general relaxation. Occasionally, they go to the beach and other places of interest.
Relying on Jehovah
None of the above minimizes the difficulty of rearing large families. “It is a great challenge to be a good father to eight children,” said one Christian. “It requires abundant material and spiritual food to sustain them; I must work hard to earn enough money to support them. The older children are in their teens, and all eight attend school. I know that spiritual training is vital, yet some of my children are stubborn and disobedient. They sadden me, but I know I sometimes do things to sadden Jehovah’s heart, and he forgives me. So I must patiently continue to correct my children until they come to their senses.
“I try to follow Jehovah’s example in that he is patient with us because he desires all to attain to repentance. I study with my family, and some of my children are working toward the goal of baptism. I do not depend on my own strength to achieve results; my power can accomplish little. I try to draw ever closer to Jehovah in prayer and to apply the proverb that says: ‘Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your path straight.’ Jehovah will help me to accomplish the training of my children.”—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
Never Give Up!
Sometimes the training of children may seem to be a thankless task, but do not ever give up! Keep at it! If your children do not respond positively to or appreciate your efforts now, they may do so later. It takes time for a child to grow up to be a Christian bearing the fruitage of the spirit.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
Monica, who lives in Kenya, is one of ten children. She says: “My parents taught us Bible truth from our infancy. Dad would study the Christian publications with us every week. Because of his work, the study was not always on the same day. Sometimes, as he was coming home from work, he would see us playing outside and tell us that in five minutes we were all to come inside for our Bible study. After our Bible study, we were encouraged to ask questions or discuss any problems.
“He made sure that we associated with godly children. Dad regularly visited the school to ask the teachers about our conduct. On one visit he heard that my three older brothers had fought with other boys and that they were sometimes rude. Dad punished them for misbehaving, but he also took time to explain from the Scriptures why they needed to conduct themselves in a godly way.
“Our parents showed us the benefits of attending meetings by preparing meeting parts with us. We were trained to become ministers by having practice sessions at home. From infancy we accompanied our parents in field service.
“Today, two older brothers are special pioneers, one sister is a regular pioneer, and another sister, who is married and has a family, is a zealous Witness. My two younger sisters, 18 and 16 years old, are baptized publishers. The two younger boys are being trained. I have been serving at the Kenya branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses for three years. I love and appreciate my parents because they are spiritual people; they set a fine example for us.”
No matter how many children you have, never give up in helping them along the path to everlasting life. As Jehovah blesses your efforts, you will echo the words of the apostle John about his spiritual children: “No greater cause for thankfulness do I have than these things, that I should be hearing that my children go on walking in the truth.”—3 John 4.