I often feel distant from mothers — largely because I am not one.
I don’t personally know the heart-rending pains, the uncovered instincts, the humbling lessons, the affirming fulfillment, or the eternal bonds that come through pregnancy, labor, and childrearing. This perceived “distance” has caused me to consider motherhood as a higher calling from God.
As a single, I particularly felt like I was secluded from the “mysterious worlds” of marriage and parenting and how it seemed God often spoke to and through those particular roles. To put it bluntly, I felt left out — and I still can sometimes.
One of the most common command/blessing combinations throughout Scripture is specifically for parents: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Some variation of this charge echoes at least 25 times throughout the Bible. We hear it often quoted in reference to the worth and blessing of children — an irrefutable fact throughout Scripture that I believe and desire.
But what is to be made of these important verses for those physically or circumstantially without children?
Barren, Not Fruitless
What does God say through these verses to my single friends feeling left in the dust as they scroll through one engagement, wedding, and pregnancy announcement after another? What does he say to the friend who has allowed me to walk alongside her through the painful journey of infertility? What does God say to someone like me, who three weeks into my marriage discovered a physical complication that will put that blessing on hold for the time being? How does this command and blessing apply to us?
In this instance, we need a look at the bigger picture. When God gives this command/blessing to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28, it directly follows the verse explaining humanity’s creation in God’s own image. More than work, marriage, or parenting, our ultimate purpose in this life is to reflect God. As John Piper explains, “God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation.” God’s command and blessing to Adam and Eve is to continue this purpose and this reflection by conceiving more “statues of God,” each a means of highlighting the presence and character of the Creator.
And then came our fall into sin, which distorts the humanity of God’s image-bearers. Rather than imaging God in the world, man became captivated by the image of himself — narcissistic, statues of the self, the self as an end. The Bible becomes the story of God winning his statues back to him — restoring them, pulling them out from dark corners of selfishness, reclaiming them for his glory.
God’s Plan for Israel
He begins this story of redemption with the people of Israel, his chosen people originating in the covenant with Abraham, where God again ties in the blessing of being fruitful (Genesis 17). Early on, we see foretastes of God’s plan to include all nations when he tells Abraham, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).
The Israelites were God’s first step in this restoration, thus more Israelites needed to be born to ensure the continuation of God’s chosen people, his statues — thus, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
While the Old Testament, from Moses to Elijah, is all about the nation of Israel, making them into a glorious people and a sight for all the nations to behold, it sets the stage for the New Testament where God’s people are commissioned to reach all the nations.
The New Testament expands the work of the Old Testament. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ fulfilled and established a new covenant, making salvation available for all people, not just the people of Israel. Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). In Christ, Jew and Gentile are alike brought together into God’s family (Galatians 3:28–29).
Therefore, what was once the command/blessing for the Israelites (“be fruitful and multiply my people”) is now expanded in terms of the Great Commission: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). It is as if Jesus was telling us, “multiply my people spiritually” (Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:7–9).
All Are Called
This new commission not only includes Gentiles, but the single and married, the barren and bearing. Even if a woman is physically fruitful, she is spiritually barren, from God’s perspective, if she is not seeking to glorify him. If being obedient to this command looks like raising your own biological children in the ways of the Lord, you are blessed. If making disciples looks like doing mission work, you are blessed. If making disciples looks like regularly getting coffee with someone, you are blessed.
Everyone we lead to Christ, or lead farther in their walk with Christ, is a fulfillment of this command and a reception of his blessing — the blessing of being used by God and discovering new depths of his character.
It is not an absolute that we will marry or that we will have children. What is an absolute is that we are called to bear and raise spiritual children within the covenant marriage of Christ and the church. Whether you are in the season of bearing and raising children or a season of painful barrenness, either physically or circumstantially (in unwanted singleness), we are called to the same task, gifted with the same blessing.
Therefore, it is my pleasure to invite you, child of God, whether bearing or barren, to go make disciples.