I remember the first time I ever heard someone preach on the biblical roles of men and women. Scripture was used to show how men are the loving leaders in their marriages and women are called to help and submit to the man’s leadership. To be honest, I just didn’t like the idea of it. “A woman is a submissive helper? Seriously!?” I was unmarried, and yet my heart was already keenly experiencing the desire against this, as foretold in Genesis 3:16. I continued to understand these doctrines, became convinced through the study of the Word, and came to love and embrace the truth that men and women are equal in value but have different God-ordained roles in which they function. I saw being a helper for what it was, a glorious calling and task. However, as I sought to apply these truths to my life I became confused. Nearly every good article and resource I came across was written for married women. The married woman submits to her husband’s leadership (Ephesians 5:22,24; Colossians 3:18); the married woman is a helper to her husband (Genesis 2:18); the married woman wins her unbelieving husband without a word by her good conduct (1 Peter 3:1); the married woman honors and doesn’t revile the Word of God by her good works (Titus 2:5). What of the single woman? What does this doctrine look like in the warp and woof of single life? In God’s sovereign hand, he gave me the gift of singleness longer than I had anticipated (the Lord brought me my wonderful husband Trevor at the age of 29) and while I greatly desired marriage, I also desired to continue to grow in holiness and obedience to Jesus during this time.
Fully Woman, Married or Single
As I lived year after year as a single woman, and saw many of my friends marry and have children, I began to feel as if I was missing out on spiritual growth and being complete as a woman. I felt that when the Bible spoke to women, it spoke primarily to women who played for “team marriage.” I wasn’t on the field just yet. My purpose in the Kingdom felt blurry. As I began to think through and understand Scripture, several truths became clear to me.
The single woman can practice being a helper in many different areas (Genesis 2:18)
In Genesis 2, God created woman to be a helper to the man. This, of course, is in the context of being a helper fit for a husband. The single woman does not serve any one man, but she is still able to cultivate a heart that helps and serves. Sarah, a dear friend of mine, lives her life serving and helping her local church, families in her church, her boss at work, and her friends and family. In fact, whenever Sarah’s name is spoken by people who know her, it is always spoken with a smile and an acknowledgement that she excels in serving many.
The single woman can affirm and encourage male leadership (Genesis 2:15, 1 Corinthians 14)
Men should be leaders in the home and in the church. Single women have the chance to encourage this leadership by the way they interact with other men. Some practical ways to encourage male leadership are asking single brothers to lead in planning social gatherings, asking men who are present at meals to bless the meal, encouraging and thanking elders and deacons for their work in the church, and writing notes of encouragement to married couples and praising the Lord for the good leadership the husband is evidencing in his family.
The single woman can cultivate a posture of submission to her God-given authorities (1 Corinthians 14:34)
A woman should cultivate a posture of submission in her singleness to her earthly authorities, whether her parents, a pastor, a boss, or anyone else in authority to her. A woman should do this for two reasons: First, Jesus commands it, and she’ll look more like Him in her obedience. This is valuable whether she is married at 21, at 71, or never. Second, when a single woman learns to submit to and honor authorities God has placed in her life, earthly marriage will simply be an easier transition than had she not.
The single woman can develop a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4)
A gentle and quiet spirit is not a gentle and quiet personality. It is very possible for a woman to have a gentle and quiet personality while her heart is raging with rebellion against God. A gentle and quiet spirit is a heart that rests and hopes in the Lord (Psalm 131:1-3). Peter says this is a beauty that is imperishable and is of great value to God. I always tell people that my 80 year old widowed grandmother is the most beautiful woman I know. She laughs and rejoices in life with her children and grandchildren, has a heart that loves to meet people and know them well, a heart that serves wherever and whenever she has the ability, she prays continually, and is the hardest working and most generous woman I know. Her heart is steadfastly resting and trusting in Jesus. Her beauty as a single widowed woman is of great value to God and it is imperishable.
The single woman can practice hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10)
Hospitality is a great gift that single women can give. For several years of my singleness, I lived with amazing sisters who practiced hospitality. It was not uncommon for our home to be a gathering place for meals, baby showers, birthday parties, missionary send-offs, hymn sings, and more. We welcomed over believers and unbelievers, small groups and large (once we had 65!). Opportunities for discipleship, encouragement, and evangelism abounded. We all grew during that time in understanding the importance of hospitality and that we could cultivate those gifts in our singleness.
The single woman can be an older woman to younger women (Titus 2:3-5)
My friend Caitlin has one of the sharpest theological minds I have ever known and she has great gifts for teaching. She uses these gifts of knowledge and teaching in her singleness when she disciples other women, single and married. My friend Hannah has walked with friends of hers through very hard seasons. She has taught them what was good and how to walk in self-control and purity. These women are examples of what it looks like to be an older woman to younger women even in the midst of singleness.
The single woman can commend and honor marriage by rejoicing with those who are rejoicing in biblical marriage (Romans 12:15)
This truth became a reality when my little sister got engaged at the age of 21. I was 28 with no prospects. I felt sin crouching like a lion, ready to attack; I could feel bitterness and envy creeping into my heart. During the months before her wedding I worked to repent and rejoice with my sister in her joy of marriage. The day of her wedding I was able to joyfully give a toast as her maid-of-honor. In retrospect, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I realized the grace the Lord worked in my heart, and was thrilled for the good gift of marriage given to my sister. She and her husband were now another living example to me of Christ and the church.
Singleness as a Signpost
The married woman is a signpost, reminding the church how to be Christ’s bride. The single woman can also become a similar reminder. By her gentle and quiet spirit, by her willingness to follow and submit to Godly authority, by her desire to be a helper and a servant in the church, she stands as a vibrant reminder, pointing to Christ and the church. The world may scoff at a woman clothed with such strength and dignity, but the bride of Christ will be strengthened and encouraged.