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God's Love for the Unborn

God loves unborn children and calls on us to do the same.


Several years before I became the pastor here [at Tenth Church in Vancouver, BC], my predecessor was talking to a group of people at the church, encouraging them to host a potluck dinner as a way to connect with our neighbors. As he was doing this, a prominent member of the church vehemently objected, saying, "The day we start hosting potluck dinners here at Tenth will be the day my family and I leave."

Up until that point, Tenth Church was having their meals catered by fancy restaurants, four- and five-star hotels—and apparently this woman thought it was beneath the dignity of a "polite" Christian to participate in a potluck dinner. We have a great history as a church overall, but there was a time when Tenth had a decidedly upper-middle-class bias.

When I became the pastor in 1996, I began to pray that God would direct us. And as I was praying one day, I had this distinct sense that the Holy Spirit was saying, "If you will bless those who cannot repay you, I will bless you." I didn't know what that meant, but I sensed God was calling us to care for the poor and for those on the margins of our society. And then, as many of you know, a homeless person died outside of our building one cold February morning. Exposed to the cold, he just died. At that moment, I said we needed to begin a ministry that will help to shelter the homeless. We did, and we continue that ministry to this day.

Scripture tells us that God has a very special heart for the vulnerable, for those on the margins of our society. For example, Psalm 68:5 says God is "[a] father to the fatherless, a defender of widows." And we who bear God's image—and that would be all of us—are called to do the same. In Micah 6:8, in words I pray are tattooed on the soul of every follower of Jesus Christ, God says to us, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. / And what does the Lord require of you? / To act justly and to love mercy / and to walk humbly with your God." In Proverbs 31:8, we are called to "[s]peak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, / for the rights of all who are destitute." And in Proverbs 24:11, we are called to "[r]escue those being led away to death"; we are called to "hold back those staggering toward slaughter."

We are going to look at God's call for us to care for the vulnerable, for those who cannot speak for themselves, and who, in some cases, are being led away to death.

God's heart for the unborn

I am talking about God's special heart for the unborn. Now, in a country like Canada where about 100,000 babies are aborted each year and where some 3 million babies have been aborted since abortion was legalized in Canada in 1988—to put that number in perspective, that's more than the entire population of [Canada's] Lower Mainland—every single one of us, in some way, has been touched by this phenomenon of abortion. Whether through our mothers, our sisters, our spouses, our partners, our cousins, our aunts, or our friends, we have either been directly or indirectly touched by abortion.

As I start, I want to say that if you have been party to an abortion—because you've had one, or because you've encouraged someone to have one—and you feel sorrow and regret over that decision, I want you to know that God's grace is generously extended to you. In a wonderful verse in Romans 5, God says to us, "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (v. 20). If you've sinned—and who among us hasn't sinned in some way?—I want you to know that God's grace is offered to you with more abundance than the water that is currently cascading off Niagara Falls.

I also want to say that I realize people have strongly held views on a topic like abortion, and I don't expect to change your views in the next 30 minutes. I respect that.

I also want to acknowledge that, as a man, I am profoundly limited in my capacity to understand this theme. In fact, I thought about the possibility of inviting a woman, a female guest speaker, to address this topic. But I also felt that I didn't want to abdicate my responsibility on this really important subject. I felt that some of you would want to know what your pastor feels the will of God is on this matter.

Finally, I also want to acknowledge that some of you will likely find my ethical views on this matter so repugnant that you will not come back to this church. There are all kinds of downsides and very few upsides in addressing a topic like this, but I feel that as we begin this emphasis on fullness of life for every child, I would be remiss if I didn't speak about God's special heart for the unborn.

In our society, as you know, there is a wide range of opinions regarding whether abortion is right or wrong—and when it's right and when it's wrong. Part of the reason for this wide range of opinions is because of the fact that there is not consensus on when a human life becomes a human being. However, there is consensus among informed people about when human life begins. Every embryologist, whether they are religious or not, affirms that human life begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg. In that moment, all the genetic characteristics of a baby are determined: their hair color, their eyes, etc. Where there is debate is when human life becomes a human being. This is the question that is beyond the scope of science. It is not something we can answer by simply looking at some kind of physical specimen; it is beyond our ability to answer by simply looking at a mass of tissue. It is beyond the physical. To use the words of the philosophers, it is "a metaphysical question." But the Bible does weigh in on this metaphysical question.

The psalmist David, the great poet, once prayed, "[Y]ou knit me together in my mother's womb….My frame was not hidden from you / when I was made in the secret place…Your eyes saw my unformed body" (Ps. 139:13, 15-16). God saw your body when you were being knit together in your mother's womb, and God loved you and valued you even then. In the Book of Jeremiah, we are told that God set aside Jeremiah as a prophet for his people when Jeremiah was still in his mother's womb (Jer. 1:5).

We've just celebrated Christmas, and in chapter one of the Gospel of Luke, in a remarkable passage, Elizabeth—six months pregnant with the baby who will one day be known as John the Baptist—visits with her close relative Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus. As they greet each other, John the Baptist "leaped for joy" (v. 44) in his mother's womb because he recognizes that the baby who is being borne by Mary—the baby who is just four or five days old, who is just a tiny embryo—is in fact Jesus Christ, the Messiah. John recognizes this through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In John the Baptist, in Jesus, in Psalm 139, and in the story of Jeremiah, we see that God values a baby while they are still in their mother's womb.

Why abortion?

The Bible doesn't directly address the subject of abortion. Why not? Because it would have been inconceivable for an Israelite woman in ancient times, under normal circumstances, to consider the possibility of terminating her pregnancy. She would have seen the baby in her womb as a gift from God, as a blessing. But with the coming of Jesus Christ and the emergence of the Christian church that drew in people from all kinds of different societies, including those that practiced abortion, this issue had to be addressed. And so, in the Didache, which is considered the earliest and most authoritative guide to Christian practice aside from the Bible itself, we read these words in Section 2:2: "You shall not murder a child, whether by abortion, or by killing it once it is born."

You might wonder why it is that the Didache had to specify not killing your child once it is born. Isn't that obvious enough? As it happens, in the ancient world, the child was considered the sole and absolute property of the father. A father could beat his child, sell his child into slavery, and could even kill his child without penalty because that child was considered the father's property in much the same way that his cattle were considered his and his stack of wood was considered his. Therefore, the Didache had to address this issue in the ancient world, and it clearly stated: "You shall not murder your child once it is born, and you shall not murder your child by abortion."

In the opinion of our church fathers and mothers, who knew the apostles, it was wrong to kill your child once it was born, but it was also wrong, in God's eyes, to kill your child when it was still in its mother's womb. The Bible and the Didache affirm how God values a baby in its mother's womb. Through the gifts of modern technology, we can see that a fetus—a young life at three or four weeks of age—is amazingly able to pump blood through its heart. We can see that the young life's arms and legs are forming at around week three or week four. We can see that around week nine, the baby's fingertips are starting to experience definition. We know at week twelve that their nervous system is so developed that they can actually experience pain.

Whether a person is religious or not, haven't you noticed that when someone wants their child, they refer to the life within them as their "baby"? My colleague Dan and his wife Caryn experienced a painful miscarriage just over a year ago. As they began the new year, they were praying, hoping, that one day God would give them a child. In the spring, they conceived, and from the earliest moments of this young one's life, still in Caryn's womb, they referred to this life as their baby. Through the use of ultrasound technology, they were able to discover that their baby was a girl, so they started to describe their baby as their "girl." When you want a baby, whether you believe in God or not, you describe the life growing in you as your baby, as your child.

So why is it that some people have abortions? Let me specify that question further: Why would a Christian, who has been exposed to God's teaching in his Word, choose to have an abortion? The data shows that Christians have abortions at about the same rate as those who are not Christians. Why? Let me offer a few reasons (though obviously, for the sake of time, I cannot provide an exhaustive list).

A friend of mine, a Christian leader, told me and some other pastors that while he was engaged to be married, he was having sex with his fiancée; they became pregnant, and he pressed his fiancée to have an abortion. She did not want to have one, but he reasoned that if they had the baby out of wedlock, it would ruin his otherwise-promising future career as a Christian minister. Now, I can empathize with him, because if I had been in his circumstance, I would have feared the same. I know that certain doors would have been closed to me, particularly in conservative Christian circles.

Some couples who have had, say, two or three kids, and are in their 30s (or perhaps 40s), experience the shock of getting pregnant again. They think, What?! This can't be! They look at each other and say, "We are so done with kids; there is no way we have the emotional energy to raise another kid. We don't have the financial margin to do this." They decide to terminate that pregnancy.

Two days ago, I was in a kids' pool, and I noticed this young boy, maybe two or three years old, who had Down syndrome. He had a very caring father who was saying, "Come on, son, you don't need to be afraid of the water. Why don't you come into this section, which is just a little bit deeper?" His older brother came around and said, "Come on Ethan, you don't need to be afraid. You can be with me." They were so caring for this sibling, this son, with Down syndrome, and I thought, You know, I don't see many children with Down syndrome these days. When I was a child I saw many more. Why is that? It is because, in many instances where Down syndrome is detected, those pregnancies are terminated.

In some societies, as we know, boys are more valued than girls, and so when a mother or a father discovers through ultrasound technology that they are carrying a girl, they may decide to abort their pregnancy. This is why, in certain cultures, you have an abnormal ratio between men and women—and that also drives the sex-traffic, because there are not enough partners for the men.

In some cases, a woman just feels absolutely overwhelmed about the prospect of becoming a mother. She feels unready because she doesn't have the emotional energy to engage in raising a child. Perhaps she doesn't have the money, or she is deathly afraid that if she has the baby, her partner will leave her. Or she just feels she can't raise the baby with the biological father, and so she feels she has no options. She doesn't want to end the life of her baby, but she feels this is the only reasonable choice she can make.

Now, let me ask this question: Is abortion something that is absolutely prohibited by God under any and all circumstances? I believe the answer to this question—and there is a difference of opinion here—is no. There are some situations in which you might choose to end a pregnancy, and here is one that comes to mind: If you have to choose between the life of the mother and the life of the preborn child, I believe you choose the life of the mother. If my wife were pregnant, and I had to choose between her life and the life of our preborn child, whom we would surely love, I would choose my wife's life every time. I feel that would be the difficult—but right—decision.

What about the case in which a woman is raped and is pregnant as a result? Again, let me acknowledge that there are differing opinions on this. Among people who love God as much as I do and want to honor God as much as I do, there are differing opinions. I've been thinking about this question in anticipation of this message, and I thought about the scenario of having a daughter who was impregnated through rape, or if one of my four nieces was raped and became pregnant, and how I would respond. I've got a niece who is a teenager and two who are pre-teens. If my teenaged niece, Danielle, came to me and said, "Uncle Ken, I've been raped, and I've discovered that I'm pregnant. What should I do?" I think that I would respond with something like this: "Danielle, I am so terribly sorry that this horrible, evil thing has been done to you. I am so terribly sorry. Whatever you decide to do, I want you to know that I love you, and I will support you no matter what."

And then I think I would say, "Danielle, something terribly wrong has been done to you, and I can understand why you would want to terminate this pregnancy, but remember that this baby—though you didn't choose it—is also partly you. I believe that, though a wrong thing has been done to you, the right thing for you to do, as hard as it would be, is for you to carry this baby to term and to have it. If you feel like you can't be the mother of this baby, then your aunt and I will raise this baby as if it were our own. If for some unforeseeable reason we couldn't do that—and I can't see that unforeseeable reason—we would find a father and a mother who would love this baby and raise it as if it were their own. But Danielle, no matter what you decide to do, I want you to know that I love you, and I am for you."

God-honoring responses to abortion

Let me shift gears just for a moment.

I want to reflect the thinking of my friend Dr. Stephen Tu, who has thought about the subject of abortion a lot. He points out that almost every reason that a person would have for ending a pregnancy could also be applied to a toddler, to a two year-old. Some of you are parents, most of you are not, but believe me: Raising a toddler can make you go crazy. You think, I didn't sign up for this! I don't have the emotional energy for this! This is a lot more money than I had anticipated! This is throwing a wrench into my career plans! This is separating me from my partner! There are all kinds of reasons you would want to have in your mind to justify killing your toddler—and it is a temptation you will face if you become a parent, trust me.

But I think most of us here would say, as much as that thought may go through our minds momentarily, that we would not support the idea of killing off our two-year-olds. We would find a way to cope; we would call in favors from our friends; we would ask our family to support us; and in the worst-case scenario, we would offer our toddler up for foster care or adoption. We would find a way forward, and so I believe it can be with abortion, in almost every circumstance. We can find alternatives to protect a life that God loves.

How can we respond to abortion in a way that honors God? If you've had an abortion, or if you've encouraged one, know that God's grace is generously extended to you. As I cited earlier in the sermon, the apostle Paul says, "[W]here sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom. 5:20). If you've never done so, repent. Turn to God, and receive his forgiveness as grace and the gift of a new beginning. Receive what God offers you. If you've had an abortion, or if you've been party to an abortion by encouraging one, confess your sin to at least one other trusted person in your family or among your friends, with a pastor or a counselor. I know it is hard to confess such things, but it is harder still to keep that kind of thing to yourself. As our friends at Alcoholics Anonymous remind us, "We are only as sick as our secrets."

A couple I will call Seth and Leah (not their real names) went to see a friend of mine, a pastor with whom I went to seminary. Seth and Leah look like they are part of a perfect family. They've got great professional jobs, and they have a lovely and healthy young daughter, but their life is not as charmed as it appears. In conversation with this pastor friend, they confessed that, while they were still dating, they became pregnant. They were—and are—Christians, and they just felt too ashamed to have a baby out of wedlock. They were scared, and so they had an abortion. Seth, the husband, began to sob and said, "I was the father, and I killed my child. I was supposed to protect this baby, and I killed it!" He cried uncontrollably, and my pastor friend became a priest to that couple, mediating God's grace and forgiveness to them in a beautiful way, helping them begin a healing journey.

If you've had an abortion, or have been party to one, confess this to God and receive his grace, but also confess this to one trusted friend, or family member, or pastor. I have always respected people when they have confessed their abortion to me. I have respected their courage, their integrity, and their desire to come clean.

The story of Seth and Leah also reminds us that we can avoid the temptation to abort an unwanted child by honoring God's call to reserve sexual intercourse for marriage; in other words, abstain from sex unless you are married. This is relevant because five out of six abortions occur among couples who are not married. God says to us in Scripture, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the ancient world, as I mentioned earlier, it was believed that children were the sole property of their fathers, and as such, they could be beaten or sold into slavery, even killed. It was considered that a father who acted in such a way shouldn't be punished because, after all, children belonged to their father. Scripture challenged that assumption years ago, and now, in our modern world, we believe that our bodies belong to us—that they are ours. But Scripture says that our bodies belong to God: that they are entrusted to us, that they are on loan to us from God. When you rent a car, you can do all kinds of things with your car, but you will be held accountable for how you used that car when you turn it in. One day, we will be called to give an account for how we used the body that God entrusted to our care. Honor God's body, the body he has loaned you, by keeping it sexually pure, by honoring his call to reserve sexual intercourse for marriage. Abstain from sex until marriage, admit sin if you've sinned, and if you become pregnant but can't raise the child, consider giving the baby up for adoption.

Lives worth saving

We have just published the newest edition of our community magazine Epic, titled "Fullness of Life for Every Child," and the issue features an article by my colleague Catherine Fenn, the kids' pastor at one of our sites. She describes an experience she had when she was a teenager:

"I didn't want to have an abortion. I've been down that path before, and I couldn't handle the thought of going there again. It was a traumatic experience. I was afraid to keep the baby; I couldn't really imagine doing something like that. For all of my irresponsibility, I was responsible enough to know that I wasn't responsible enough to become a parent. Babies are serious business—even I knew that, so I came up with the plan to give the baby up for adoption. It would be straightforward: maybe not easy, exactly, but entirely possible. I marvelled at the life inside me: 'Who was this?' I devoured every book I could find on prenatal development. I talked to my baby, prayed for him, loved him. I dreaded the day of his birth, because I knew it would be the end of our relationship. My mom drove me to the hospital in the morning. She sat with me and waited with me as I labored until the time came for me to go into the birthing room. I remember crying out to God when the pain became too difficult, and I remember visualizing God's hand reaching down and mine reaching up and the pain diminishing when our hands connected. God held my hand until the end, and Danny was born.
"They whisked Danny away. I never touched him. I never spoke to him again. The connection we shared while he was with me was severed, and he became a great gift for another family. I was not saved by them, but he was. They loved him, and they raised him as their own. He brought them much joy, and he still does. I have seen pictures of him: a little boy at birthday parties, at hockey games, and at church, standing outside with a best friend, hopeful expressions on their faces, and a new lunchbox in his hand."

Several years ago, Catherine became curious about what had happened to her son Danny. She connected with a social worker and asked if there was any possibility of her communicating with Danny. The social worker made contact with Danny and said, "Your biological mother would like to establish communication with you. Would you be open to that?" Danny said, "Yes." The social worker then contacted Catherine, who was now a children's pastor, and said, "Your son Danny is open to communicating with you, and, by the way, Danny is a children's pastor."

Danny is now married with a daughter of his own, but even if Danny had been working at McDonald's and was destined to work at McDonald's until he was 65 years old, his life would have been worth sparing, because God values all life.

When I thought about Catherine and Danny's story, I thought about the story of a woman named Joanne Simpson. Joanne was a graduate school student back in 1955 when she became unexpectedly pregnant. Her partner would eventually leave her. She felt that, with all the pressure of being a graduate school student, she could not become a mother. She could have easily chosen an abortion, but she quietly decided to bring her baby to term and then to offer it up for adoption. A couple from California named Paul and Clara, who had not finished high school, took her son. Frankly, Joanne was disappointed; here she was a graduate school student, and her son was being adopted by a mom and dad who had not finished high school. But they loved him.

The boy's name was Steve Jobs. He went on to found the technology company Apple, and some of you have benefited from his company and his creativity, because you have an iPhone in your back pocket or in your purse right now, or you have an iPad at home. But again, even if Steve Jobs had not founded Apple—even if he was destined to spend all of his working life cleaning toilets and sweeping the streets—his life would have been worth saving because God valued his life. Perhaps God would have had an even deeper affection for Steve, in some way, if that had been his lot, because the Bible tells us that God has this special concern for those who are vulnerable and on the margins of our society.


How do we respond to abortion in the ways that honor God? Admit our sin. Receive grace. Abstain from sex outside of marriage. Consider adoption if we are part of an unwanted pregnancy. And then, finally, advocate. Advocate on behalf of an unborn child.

What does this look like? If you are a father of a life that has been conceived, advocating for that life means you offer support for your partner emotionally and financially. It means that you man up. It means you don't bail. It means you step into the hardest of all arenas, and that you are there, and that you will fight for your baby, and that you will fight for your partner. If you are a woman and you find yourself with an unwanted pregnancy, it means you keep yourself really healthy. It means you care for yourself, and in so doing, you care for your baby in utero. If you are approached by someone who asks for your counsel because they are not sure what they will do with their unwanted pregnancy, it means you offer your unconditional love and support, no matter what decision they make—but you gently encourage them to consider the beautiful choice of life. You offer your emotional support, and your financial support as you are able, and you connect that person to others who can connect them to the right resources and the right kind of community that can walk with this person through this very difficult journey.

What might it look like in your professional life? There is a doctor named Sherry Chan in our community who recently wrote to me and said, "When I was a medical student, I asked permission, during our second-year abortion lecture, to let a pro-life physician speak about the practice of pro-life medicine. Several students told me afterward how much more comfortable they felt openly sharing their pro-life views with their peers." She also says, "As a doctor, I will counsel a woman with an unwanted pregnancy about all her potential parental options, including parenting, adoption, and abortion, but I will not refer for an abortion. Referral is not necessary here in BC. Just like Canada, where capital punishment is illegal, and here in Canada we will not repatriate American criminals who know they will be executed by the death penalty if they were returned to the United States, I would feel morally complicit in ending the life of an unborn child by referring for an abortion."

I began this message by talking about God's very special heart for the poor and the vulnerable and how I, as a new pastor, prayed for God's direction—how I sensed the Holy Spirit saying, "If you will bless those who cannot repay you, I will bless you as a church," and how God led us to care for the homeless of our city. Now, as we turn a page in a new year, I believe God continues to call us to bless those who cannot repay us, to not neglect the homeless, but to also embrace children: our own children within our own family, children within our neighborhood, and vulnerable children throughout the world. As we bless these children, we will be blessing their Creator. We will, in fact, be blessing Jesus directly, because Jesus once said, "[W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40). In these coming weeks, we are going to be called to have an open heart and spirit toward children—to bless those who cannot repay us. May we be attentive to the leading of the Spirit and embrace God's call on us individually, but also as a community.

If you have had an abortion or you have encouraged one, let me say for the third time: The Bible says, "[W]here sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom. 5:20). God's grace is offered to you in a way that is more abundant than the water cascading off Niagara Falls right now. So please receive that grace. Confess your sin to God, if you haven't done so, and to a trusted friend, or a pastor, or a counselor.

If you are contemplating the possibility of ending a pregnancy that you do not want, may I urge you to not take my word for it, but with all of your heart, seek God and ask your maker what would honor him in this situation. One day, you will be called to account for the decision you make. This is one of the most important decisions of your life. Please seek God with all that you are in this matter. If you feel desperate—if you feel like you can't become the mother, you can't become the parent of this child—then please bring your baby to one of the leaders here, and we will raise your child. If we cannot, we will find a mom and a dad who will raise your child as if it were their own. That is a promise.

Finally, in the spirit of prayer: If you are a follower of Jesus, and even if you are not, but you believe that a preborn life is worth protecting, then pray that God will give you an opportunity, in your personal or professional sphere, to advocate on behalf of a preborn child. Receive God's grace, pursue God's will, and pursue the fight and advocate on behalf of a preborn child as God gives you an opportunity. As you do, you will be blessing the very Jesus who said, "[W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Ken Shigematsu is pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, BC and the author of the award-winning, bestseller God in My Everything

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Sermon Outline:


I. God's heart for the unborn

II. Why abortion?

III. God-honoring responses to abortion

IV. Lives worth saving