I’ve received hundreds of gifts over the years and a handful stand out as markers on my heart and life. Two of these are on my mind today as I write this article. The first came on Mother’s Day over twenty years ago. Libby, a beloved younger sister in Christ, gave me a dozen red roses, thanking me for the way God has used me as a ‘spiritual mother’ in her life.

Then, another younger woman, and coworker with me in the trenches of ministry at Harvest USA, gave me a wall-hanging with a photograph from WWI, displaying soldiers climbing out of the trenches to engage the battle in front of them. Caitlin, knowing that I’ve gleaned so much from military documentaries (yes, me!), gave me this gift to express appreciation for equipping her for the works of ministry, and for being ‘in the trenches’ with her.

Though I’ve not birthed or adopted children to raise and nurture as my own, God has generously given me hundreds of spiritual daughters (and a few sons). These dear ones, and Libby’s gift of roses and Caitlin’s gift from the battlefield of ministry, provide beautiful pictures of the profound mystery embedded in a faithful theology of singleness. Curious? Read on!

Wait?! I thought the profound mystery was only about marriage? 

Ephesians 5:32 continues to shock and discombobulate new students to God’s word. Paul’s words at the conclusion of a key NT passage about God’s design for marriage surely must have prompted some head-scratching, and more than a few exclamations of, “Waaitt…whaaaa?” He wrote,

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).

The mystery Paul referenced is that God’s good gift of marriage is meant to point beyond itself towards the eternal, exclusive, fruitful, mutual loving relationship believers have with our Savior. Husbands and wives receive the good and beautiful gift of marriage and the unique all-of-life oneness (emotionally, sexually, relationally, etc.), while recognizing that marriage is meant to reveal the way Jesus and his people relate to each other for all eternity. Human marriage will, after all, end with this lifetime.

Does this mean that singles miss out on pointing to Christ, even if they live faithfully for God’s glory and the expansion of his kingdom? In a word, NO! Though different, faithful singleness is meant to point to the beauty of Christ and the eternal family of God which one day will celebrate, worship, and live in uninterrupted, unpolluted fellowship with each other and in union with our Bridegroom.

Singles have the eternal reality, yet not the human signpost

The Church rightly honors, preaches about, and disciples women and men about God’s good gift of marriage, as well as the comfort and counsel of the gospel for the challenges and suffering that are unique to husbands and wives.

But what about us who aren’t married? How can we grow in also honoring and explaining the unique and just-as-beautiful profound mystery of singleness? We need to understand what a biblical theology of singleness is. As new covenant people, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and living out a radical re-ordering of human relationships ushered in by Jesus, consider the following summary points.

  1. God our Father is sovereign over all details of life, including our life as single and/or married (see Psalm 139:16).
  2. In Christ, the family of God grows through spiritual birth, not through sexual intercourse and the bearing of children, though these children may be born again spiritually (see John 1:12-13).
  3. The household of faith made up of eternal sons and daughters of God is the permanent, precious reality that may not be true of biological families (see Mark 3:31-34).
  4. “Marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church — the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face.”[1] 
  5. Singles uniquely point to the eternal reality of our union with Jesus, the Bridegroom of the bride of Christ, revealing the sufficiency of Christ, and the reality of spiritual sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who comprise the household of faith. “No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.”[2]

What if I want more than gifts of roses and wall decor?

Beloved sisters-in-Christ who long for marriage, and deeply desire to raise your ‘own’ children: please don’t read this as glossing over the pain which is woven with disappointments and losses. The Christ-exalting, mystery-revealing reality of singleness exists alongside the suffering embedded in experiences of being unmarried. Married women need to remember this too, since marriage holds the capacity for tremendous suffering.

My roses and WWI photo were touching, deeply meaningful gifts that encouraged, affirmed, and spurred me on to faithfully love and trust Jesus as a single woman. But those roses wilted, and my photo will fade away with all earthly treasures. But Christ and my union with him will only grow more intimate, more satisfying, more comforting when the profound mystery is made sight. This is our hope, and our anchor, when singleness is lonely, painful, disappointing or seems pointless.

Unmarried sisters and those who want to love singles well, here are a few resources to encourage and strengthen you to remain faithful, steadfast, unmoved in the hope of Jesus!

  1. Singleness: Living Faithfully, Jenilyn Swett
  2. 7 Myths about Singleness, Sam Allberry
  3. Single Sexuality
  4. Sexuality and the Single Christian: Godly answers in a confusing world
  5. God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery (great resource to understand what IS God’s design for sex within marriage, with words of encouragement for singles too!)

[1] John Piper, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/single-in-christ, Apr 30, 2024.

[2] Piper.

Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

Ellen Dykas

Ellen received her MA in Biblical Studies from Covenant Theological Seminary and a graduate certificate in biblical Counseling from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. She serves as the Director of Equipping for Ministry to Women for Harvest USA, a national ministry focused on gospel-centered discipleship and teaching regarding sexuality and gender. Ellen loves ministry to women and is most passionate about mentoring, teaching God’s Word and spiritually nurturing others to walk deeply with Jesus. New Life Presbyterian in Dresher, PA, is her home church.