What the Children in Your Church Need to Know About Marriage

As we reckon with huge cultural changes concerning sex and marriage, it’s vital to think through what the next generation most needs to know. Here are five things the children in your church need to know.

1. They need to know sooner rather than later.

When I was growing up, we were told to be charitable if an older lady ever asked us how old we thought she looked. My rule of thumb ever since has been to take the answer I believe to be true and then subtract at least five years, just to be safe.

Something similar might be said when considering the best time to begin conversations with children about sex and marriage. All of us will have in mind an ideal time in a young person’s life to raise such questions—a time when it would be natural to think about God’s purposes for sex, when the child is mature enough to handle such a significant and personal topic yet young enough to not have already been shaped in their thinking by the world around them.

The trouble is, that age is harder and harder to pinpoint. Children are being exposed to sexual ideas and realities at a much younger age than we typically were. It might be through public schooling or hearing things from peers or older siblings or just coming across same-sex couples. We also need to reckon with the ubiquity of online pornography and the many ways this can find its way to children at a young age. So whatever age we might have planned to have certain conversations, we probably need to subtract a couple of years off it.

2. They need to know some things first, rather than everything at once.

While we might want to hold back talking about the details of sex itself, there are earlier, more foundational conversations that can take place at a much younger age. It is good for young children to know what marriage is and why the Christian understanding of marriage has the particular shape it does. A child doesn’t need to know about sexual intimacy to know that God has designed men and women to pair well together—that the interplay of our different strengths and perspectives serves us all—or that marriage is based on covenant promises intended to reflect the very ones God has made to us in Christ.

These truths are foundational to understanding what is to come, and they are not age-sensitive. In fact, the younger the better. So, let’s start some of these conversations as early on as we can.

3. They need to know the positives and not just the negatives.

One of the recurring characters in the early 2000s U.K. comedy Little Britain was a dour receptionist who would respond to any request with the answer, “Computer says no.” Sometimes customer service can feel a little like that. And sometimes Christian teaching can too.

When it comes to sex and marriage, the Bible has many significant prohibitions, many of which fly in the face of cultural sensibilities today. It prohibits sex outside of marriage and between people of the same sex and defines marriage as being solely between one man and one woman. Needless to say, these prohibitions are hard for many people to accept. (They’re not always easy to teach, either!)

But the ultimate message of the Bible is positive, not negative. Where we see prohibitions, they serve a positive purpose and protect something good. So, whenever God says no to something, it’s always good to ask what the positive is behind the negative. God has given us a beautiful vision of what human sexuality is and what it’s for. As we establish this, we start to make more sense of why the Bible says no to alternative expressions of sexual intimacy. We see a vision of love based on covenant faithfulness, expressed across the sexual difference of male and female, ordered toward the creation of new life, and ultimately pointing to Jesus and the church. Once we see the beauty of this, we can make sense of what the Bible then prohibits about sex and marriage.

4. They need to know we all need grace, not just those outside the faith.

One of the most striking statements of the apostle Paul is when he describes himself as “the foremost of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). How could he be the foremost of all sinners? When one knows the true sinfulness of their own heart, they can’t believe otherwise. The sin we are most aware of, most exposed to, most able to see into the depths of, is our own. God’s grace to us in Christ doesn’t leave us thinking “I’m right, and the world around me is wrong” but “I am the foremost of wrongdoers, and somehow God has had mercy even on me.” So, we don’t look at the world around us from a posture of superiority but heartbreak, of compassion more than disapproval.

And this is what we want for the children in our church, too. They need to know, in their own hearts, they will not live up to God’s best. They need to know their parents—even if long-standing believers—have not always lived up to God’s best. And they need to know God has had grace for us, and there really is no one beyond His reach.

5. They need to know to trust our Father more than our feelings.

We learn through the prophet Jeremiah that “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). All around us we are told to look within our hearts to discover inner goodness and “our truth.” “Be true to yourself” is the creed of our day, and the prevailing message of our culture, from songs to Disney movies. So, we tend to base our most consequential life decisions on what our hearts are telling us.

But our hearts are not a reliable guide for how to live. When it comes to marriage, it is easy for our hearts to tell us we’ve “fallen out of love” with our spouse, or that we don’t need the confines of a covenant to be romantically fulfilled, or that we can pursue someone of the same sex or of another faith. Listening to our hearts will ultimately destroy our lives. We need our children to know, from the earliest age, that the heart is not a true friend.

The answer, ultimately, is to follow the one heart in all the universe that is neither deceitful nor incurable—the heart of Jesus. His heart will never lead us astray, or along paths we will eventually regret. We can put the full weight of our whole lives on his heart for us, his will for us.