The Proverbs 31 woman is all the rage in Christian circles these days. Amazon.com offers over 130 titles on the Proverbs 31 woman – books detailing the ways you can become this lady of timeless virtue and godly character. In our world where biblical marriage and family have been increasingly devalued and even mocked, the Proverbs 31 woman’s delight in hearth and home stands brilliantly in stark contrast. As a result, she has become the heroine of the evangelical world. Today there are Proverbs 31 para-church ministries, Proverbs 31 seminars and conferences, Proverbs 31 study Bibles, and Proverbs 31 devotionals. Her traits and attributes are the subject of Sunday morning sermons and Christian talk shows around the country. Even the theme of this year’s ladies’ retreat at my church was – you guessed it – the Proverbs 31 woman. King Lemuel’s mother could not have possibly known how popular her description of a godly wife would be.
It is little wonder that the passage in Proverbs 31:10-31 has become the focus of so many Christian women. For what women is there who does not desire to be “more precious than jewels” (verse 10)? Is there a woman alive who is not thrilled at the thought of children who rise up and bless her or a husband who adores her, praises her, and trusts her in his heart (verse 11, 28-29)? And is it not comforting to know that you can laugh at the time to come because your future days are sure to be filled with memories of a happy life well lived (verse 25)?
The Proverbs 31 woman seems to have it all. Through marriage and motherhood she receives not only material blessings but spiritual ones as well. The Proverbs 31 woman “fears the Lord”, as verse 30 states. In other words, she lives out her Christian faith within the framework of her role as wife and mother. Marriage and family are the setting in which she displays her devotion to God and, as a wonderful consequence, experiences joy, meaning, purpose, and satisfaction.
For years, I have prayed for the blessings of marriage and motherhood but as time goes on I realize something: I may never be the Proverbs 31 woman. I am, by default, the 1 Corinthians 7 woman and will likely always be. But who is the 1 Corinthians 7 woman? The evangelical world doesn’t seem to know. There are no ministries, no conventions, no seminars, or study Bibles devoted to her, no books or sermons instructing us of her virtue or worth. There are no long, detailed discourses about her in the Bible. As a result, my life as a 1 Corinthians 7 woman looks lonely, silent, and empty. My future, bleak and undefined. What role do I fill? How do I display my faith in God? What is the setting in which I live out my Christian life? Where do I find joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose? If the Proverbs 31 woman is more precious than jewels do I have any value? Do I have any worth?
If the Proverbs 31 woman finds her joy, meaning, and worth in her role as wife and mother where does the 1 Corinthians 7 woman find hers?
Locating the Joy in Christ
When I have shared my concerns with fellow Christians they always confidently declare, “Your identity is in Christ! Your joy, satisfaction, and purpose is in Christ!” They point to 1 Corinthians 7:34 which reads that the unmarried woman “is anxious about the things of the Lord”.
When others tell you that your joy as a single woman is in Christ do you feel……..dare I say it………dejected by that statement? Does it depress you? Does it discourage you because you can’t imagine that sitting around thinking about Christ will get you through the next week, much less the rest of your life? It’s not hard to see where the married mother finds her joy. Her life is filled with the warmth of hugs and kisses from her husband, the smells of delicious family meals simmering on the stove, the sights and sounds of children laughing and playing. All the blessings in her world are so physical, tangible, and touchable. In the meantime, the single woman sits in a big, empty house talking to an invisible Jesus. I can’t imagine a more miserable existence.
Being told that my singleness gives me the opportunity to be totally devoted to the Lord leaves me cold. I feel guilty admitting that, but there it is. I’m not excited about such a life. Why? It’s not that I don’t love the Lord or truly appreciate his sacrifice on my behalf, I just don’t have any idea what that means. What does it mean to be totally devoted to the Lord? What activities does it entail? What kind of work does it involve? Could the “things of the Lord” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:34 be so enjoyable, so engaging, and so consuming that they replace marriage and family? In short, can I face a possible lifetime with no husband, children, or sex without throwing myself off a bridge in despair?
Believe it or not, I can! And so can you, single Christian woman. The good news is that our joy really is in Christ; this is a true statement filled with a lifetime of incredible delight, meaning, purpose, and satisfaction for the unmarried woman.
Where is the joy in Christ, you ask? It’s in the church.
The church is the framework in which the single woman finds joy in Christ
Rediscovering the Church
As I write this post, I can already hear the objections, hisses, and boos from some of you out there. “How can the church possibly fill the huge, gaping hole in my life that I thought would be filled with children and a husband? Church potlucks? Prayer meetings? Benevolence drives? Ladies’ fellowships? Missions fundraisers? Vacation Bible School? That’s not nearly enough! I can’t build my life around that – are you nuts?!”
Do you think the Apostle Paul was nuts? He was so enthralled with the church that he recommended singleness over marriage because it afforded more time and energy to Christ and the church. Paul’s ministry, even his very life, seemed to be centered on the churches he planted and visited. He saw the Corinthian church as his “beloved children” and himself as their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:14-15); he yearned for the church in Philippi “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8); he declared to be gentle among the Thessalonians “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul continually prayed for the church, pouring his heart and soul into its health and maturity, rejoicing over its spiritual growth, agonizing when it stumbled. But the church in Paul’s day was much different than it is now. The first century church was so energetic, stimulating, and counter-cultural that it “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). There was a remarkable closeness and camaraderie among the members of the church that went beyond friendship and family. It was composed of a diverse mix of peoples – Gentiles and Jews, wealthy and poor, slaves and masters – but all were “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), a reality of which the outside world marveled.
Sadly, in many ways, the church today is a far cry from that dynamic organism born with power on the Day of Pentecost. It is often little more than a variety of services to attend throughout the week. But the real church, the church Christ died for and purchased with his blood, is not nearly as mundane. The church is the body of Christ. Now, don’t just say, “I know, I know….” and blow by that statement as if it’s a cliché. It is in fact an unbelievably magnificent reality. The word “body” there does not refer to a group or a crowd of people like the definition you’d see in Webster’s Dictionary. You see, Christ is no longer in this world. After the resurrection, he ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us, according to John chapter 14, and has been there ever since. The church is Christ here on Earth. As pastor and author John MacArthur puts it, the resurrected Christ in heaven is Body One and we the church are Body Two. In each individual member is the promised Holy Spirit and collectively, with each individual member as a crucial part of the whole, the church is charged with the awesome task of revealing Christ’s nature and attributes to the world, proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Don’t envy the Proverbs 31 woman. God has blessed her but He has plenty of joys, blessings, and purpose set aside for you, too, single woman.
Beyond Proverbs 31
It is tempting as Christian singles to be envious of the Proverbs 31 woman. That’s because in every woman – indeed, in every person – there is a strong desire to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to have a reason for getting up every morning, and to be needed and fully utilized for some great effort or cause. The Proverbs 31 woman seems to have that in spades but the unmarried and childless 1 Corinthians 7 woman need not fear that her desires will go unfulfilled. What we must remember is that although the passage in Proverbs 31:10-31 is a beautiful description of womanly godliness, worth, and purity it is Old Covenant thinking. In the Old Covenant, or the Old Testament as it is more commonly referred, God’s people were the Jews (Israelites) – the era of the church had not begun. In the Jewish mind, the family was the ultimate display of God’s favor and blessings.
Under the New Covenant, however, we have now learned that the physical family is just a foreshadowing of the REAL family which is the family of God, the church family. The church family will continue on into eternity and it has already begun. We don’t have to wait to get to heaven to enjoy the blessings, joys, and purpose provided in the family of God today. This is wonderful news if you are a single woman: In the family of God you can use your spiritual gifts (those of helping, showing mercy, exhorting, teaching, as well as others) to help edify and mature the body of Christ. You can do the “one-anothers” of Scripture (encouraging, bearing burdens, forgiving, loving, admonishing, and there are many more) to other members of the church, being a vital part of its transformation into the image of Christ.
Dare to bloom where you are planted, single woman!
The church is a sturdy, indestructible foundation upon which you can build your life; an intricate framework of roles and activities that you can immerse yourself in; a warm, familial setting in which you can display your faith; a comforting future that you can look forward to with anticipation. While the Christian wife has the privilege of praying for her husband, for his leadership and spiritual strength and integrity, the Christian single woman has the honor of praying for the leaders of her church, who need prayers, support, and encouragement just as desperately. While the Christian mother trains and teachers her natural children, the Christian single woman focuses on training and teaching spiritual children, those young in the faith, those needing exhortation, admonishment, and building up. As the married woman prays blessings for her physical family, the single woman prays that God will bless her spiritual family, to build the body up until it reflects Christ.
The Christian woman’s joy then is not solely wrapped up in the praises of an adoring husband or appreciative children; it is the joy of being a part of God’s family, the church. That is the much-needed viewpoint that singles can provide to the church – that spiritual focus – because married people with families can easily get bogged down in the joys and travails of the physical family forgetting that they are a part of the family of God. The church then degenerates from the bright shining city on a hill displaying the spiritual kingdom of God to a religious social club for families, something God never intended. The church is a spiritual family, not just a collection of physical families. Though a husband and wife point to the relationship of Christ to his Church, singles point to the reality that the church is a spiritual family lasting forever and the kingdom of God has begun.
Single Christians are in a unique position to devote their entire lives to Christ though their role in the church and they have the unique incentive to see the church as a spiritual family, not just a place of worship, because it is their only family. This may very well be the reason God has allowed many of us who long to be Proverbs 31 wives and mothers to be instead 1 Corinthians 7 single women. Our need for the church to be truly what God intended, to provide a place for us to display our faith, receive joy and meaning, and have purpose, will keep the church from becoming complacent, ineffective, and routine. John Piper and Alistair Begg, nationally-known pastors and teachers, have both preached excellent sermons on singleness encouraging Christian singles to not simply pine over the blessings of marriage but to live out the special role God has given to them in the church. I have included links to both sermons below at the end of this post.
Singleness in Christ…..even if it lasts for a lifetime….is not meaningless and empty.
But…….what about SEX?!
As you may recall, at the beginning of this post, I asked the question “Can I face a possible lifetime with no husband, children, or sex without throwing myself off a bridge in despair?” and I have not even mentioned sex in this post. “Sure, Janice”, you may be thinking, “I can find fulfillment of my desires for family, purpose, and meaning in the church, but what about sex? What can I do about those desires?”
I must admit that facing a possible lifetime devoid of any sexual enjoyment whatsoever seems dreadfully depressing at times. Sex is the one area where there really is no alternative. I can satisfy my longings for meaning, purpose, and connection in the church but I can’t go around having sex with other church members. That is NOT okay with God. So what about sex? How do I face a possible lifetime of no sex without going completely crazy?
I think this is a very challenging topic deserving special consideration so I am devoting an entire post to it. Look for the future post, “Can I Face a Lifetime of No Sex….Without Going Crazy?!” I pray that it will be informative, inspiring, and encouraging to you as you navigate the sometimes rocky waterways of long-term singleness.