Itâ€™s tempting to think that there really isnâ€™t a niche for the unmarried women in the church. The married women have their hands full with learning respect and submission to their husbands. The mothers have a big job managing their homes and rearing their children. Scripture lays out the duties of wives and mothers clearly, and the church provides plenty of teaching and instruction on the family. Sermons on marriage, books on courtship and childrearing, conferences for wives and husbands seem to occupy a central place in the work of the church. And of course, these are very important issues and need to be addressed. But the unmarried woman can feel at sea in all this. If she is not engaged, what is she doing really? Does everyone assume she is biding her time waiting to get married? What is she supposed to be doing?
Actually, many Scriptures address unmarried women as well as married women. We are sometimes too quick to divide up into the married/unmarried categories. Though the Bible sometimes singles out different groups, most of the Scriptures address us all as Godâ€™s people, no matter what our individual station.
Galatians 3:28-29 tells us we are “one in Christ Jesus” whether we are male or female, and we are all “heirs according to the promise.” We all share the same fundamental duties as Christian people, and our first duty is to worship God rightly. This is of first importance. Paul says to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). It is only in light of this most important calling that we should consider the specific duties God lays out for us as women whether married or not. In other words, our primary calling is to be a good Christian. Being a woman is secondary, and being unmarried follows this. In other words, you cannot be a godly unmarried woman if you are not a godly Christian. So we should consider these primary duties first.
This means that you should be giving foremost attention to how you are worshiping God. Are you a woman of prayer? Do you love Godâ€™s Word? Are you striving to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Are you worshiping God on His day in a reverent way that glorifies Him? Are you concerned with obeying Him, no matter what others think or say? Do you love your neighbor? Are you forgiving others? Do you confess your sins? Each of us is called to live a fruitful, obedient, joyful, and abundant life according to the promise. You have a Savior. Your first duty and calling as a Christian is to love and serve Him with a whole heart all your life. This has to be our starting point, because if you are not clear on this, you will not be able to be a fruitful member of His church.
So you need to be in a healthy church, a church that faithfully proclaims the Word, feeds and shepherds the people. Sometimes people view going to a solid church as just a lucky happenstance rather than the result of a deliberate search. If for some reason you are not in such a church, then you must determine to make every effort to find one, even if it means relocating. In our culture today, Christians relocate for jobs, but seldom for a church. Actually, the church you are in is far more important than the job you have. But if for some reason it is entirely impossible for you to be in a good church, then you must be attached to some church, even if it is mediocre. You must be meeting with and worshiping with Godâ€™s saints. You can still be a woman of the Word and a woman of prayer, even if you donâ€™t have a lot of encouragement. But particularly as an unmarried woman, it is very important that you be surrounded by godly, serious Christians who will be a family to you.
But after you find a good church, what can you really do as an unmarried woman in the church? Women are often mentioned in the Bible as helpers, offering support to those who labor with the ministry; they are described as helpers of the gospel. In Romans 16 Priscilla (with her husband Aquilla) is called a helper (verse 3). The church met in her house! Mary (in verse 6) is described as bestowing much labor on Paul and his band. She must have fed, cared for, and provided housing for Paul and those with him. Phoebe (verse 12) is called a servant of the church. She obviously laid herself out for the saints. These women are described as serving, sacrificing, bestowing, and helping. Women like this are a tremendous resource in the church. They were in Paulâ€™s day, and they still are. But I often think that unmarried women in particular donâ€™t realize the huge impact for good they can have in the church. They donâ€™t give themselves a good job description, and they donâ€™t think they can really be very fruitful (at least in any important manner) until they are having babies. This is simply false.
2 Peter 1:5-9 gives us all enough to do to keep us very busy the rest of our lives, insuring that we are fruitful in Godâ€™s kingdom. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I italicized the last part because often the unmarried women in particular feel barren and unfruitful because they do not have husbands to care for, and they are not having children. But look at the wonderful promise in that passage: If we are working hard, paying attention to our spiritual lives, applying ourselves to be more virtuous, godly, kind, charitable, knowledgeable, faithful, patient, and temperate, God promises that we will be far from fruitless. We will be women with fat souls, whether we are married or not.
Unmarried women have many opportunities to be fruitful in their churches. They can find ways to help those who labor in the church. They can be rich in good works, known like Ruth for goodness. Boaz says of Ruth, “For all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” Ruth was just looking after her mother-in-law, and the word got out all over town what a good woman she was. Her reputation was connected to her good works. Unmarried women can visit the sick; they can take a meal to the new mom, or take cookies to the kids next door; they can visit the mother with little children and help her with the laundry; they can show hospitality, attend prayer meetings, write a note or visit the widow. They can get to know the older women and gain wisdom. They can get to know the younger women and encourage them. There is really no limit to what the unmarried woman can do if she is ministry-minded.
I have sometimes told unmarried women to make themselves indispensable, and I have seen them do it. They help out with childcare, make meals, show hospitality, and help the church in countless ways. And they do this while attending school or working full time. They are productive members of the church, contributing in countless ways with much sacrifice and hard work. We need them!
Of course this ministry is not limited to the church. The good works of the unmarried Christian woman should begin with her own immediate family, work out into the church, and overflow into the community. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” In other words, if you live next door to a widow, by all means reach out to her. Donâ€™t think that you should just visit the widows in your church. But God has established the family as our first priority (1 Timothy 5:4) and the church family is next. We should not overlook the needs of our relations because ministering to them is not as glamorous as going into a foreign country to be a missionary. No. God has placed us in families for good reason. We should begin there and love and honor our parents and grandparents first.
Part of the difficulty with all this is the modern mentality of “live for yourself.” We are told repeatedly that we deserve this or the other thing. We are encouraged to buy what we want, eat what we want, wear what we want, and do what we want, whenever we want. Unmarried women are targeted especially with this kind of unbiblical propaganda. Christians fall prey to this just like everyone else. I read a Christian book for unmarried women that pointed out all the advantages of being “single” to cheer up the unmarried and to get them to look on the bright side. Though itâ€™s a great idea to get us all to count our blessings, the author cited all the wrong reasons: married people have to think of someone else all the time, and they canâ€™t eat what they want or get up when they want in the morning. But not only is this just an appeal to selfishness, but it turns out to be a cold comfort as well.
Christian women have to live counter-culturally, and this means self-sacrificially. When they begin to give their time and resources to God and serve His people and His church, there are tremendous rewards for everyone: the church is blessed and the one serving others is blessed. And when God is pleased with us, we are most satisfied as His people.
As you begin, or continue, to lay down your life for others, you will find that you do have a place in the church. Your ministry may not be highly visible to everyone, but God sees what you are doing. And those you reach out to will bless God for you. There is nothing that takes our eyes off ourselves and our troubles quite so well as ministering to others who are in need.