In Genesis 1:26-28, we read how God created man, blessed him, and told him to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” How does this apply if we are single or cannot have children?
Made in God’s image
The command in Genesis 1:28 should be read in its context: the preceding verses are about humanity’s creation in God’s image “… in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”
Human beings are superior to all of God’s other creatures that we see on the earth, because we are made in his image. Not only that, but He made us with his hands, and breathed into us the breath of life. From this we can see that we have a special relationship with God, which animals do not share. We therefore also have the special purpose to reflect God in our lives.
Being fruitful and increasing in number
Then God said to them “be fruitful and increase in number…” This tells us of God’s desire and plan for human beings.
So what about those of us who are not married, have no children, or cannot have children? Has God overlooked us? Are we being punished for something? Should we do everything possible in order to be fruitful and increase in number? Even if you are not a Christian, it is possible that you do everything in your power to have a partner and have children because everyone assumes this to be the norm.
If you are a Christian, there is no need to feel pressure, or to feel that being single or childless is wrong, subnormal or something you need to fight to change. God has a perfect plan for everyone of his children – that includes every aspect of their lives: education, work, family, spouses, or singleness.
Taking a narrow view of life, being fruitful could mean having children. But actually it is possible to be fruitful in every area of our lives, and feel fulfilled and content in whatever state we may be. See for example John 15:5-8: “Whoever abides in Me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing […] By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples”.
Not only is it possible to be fruitful as a single, it is even possible to multiply. The command to multiply in Genesis 1:28 served the expansion of God’s kingdom, since there would be more of those unique humans reflecting God’s image.
But since humanity’s fall into sin, procreation doesn’t “automatically” expand God’s kingdom anymore. The humanity of God’s image-bearers has been distorted. Therefore the procreation mandate given to Adam and Eve has received a new meaning through the coming of Christ: God’s kingdom doesn’t (only) grow through physical multiplication, but through spiritual multiplication by disciple-making (see also Romans 9:7-8 and Galatians 3:7-9).
An example: the apostle Paul
An example of this is the relationship between the apostle Paul (who probably was a single) and Timothy. They had no biological family relationship, but Paul calls Timothy his “child” (2 Timothy 2:1-2) since he was his spiritual mentor. And Paul even considers a whole church as his children, since he was the one who first preached them the gospel.
In 1 Corinthians 4:14-17 he writes:
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ…”
The Great Commission of all believers
Paul thus shows us how we, whether or not we have biological children, can bear and bring up spiritual children by proclaiming the gospel and leading others further in their walk with Christ. That’s what Jesus commanded us to do in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
There will always be those who wish they were married, some wish they were single, some wish they had children, some wish they hadn’t had children. For all of God’s children, He desires that we will be content in whatever state they may be in. Just as Paul found “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
Being fruitful and single
So yes, this command applies to everyone single or married. God desires that all that we do will be fruitful, and that we find contentment in life. This is only possible when we know God, and are his children. Because then we can be sure that whatever our circumstances in life, He is in control, and I can be at peace in whatever state I am. Whatever our situation is – having biological children, having adopted children, being single, being childless – God wants us to be fruitful and multiply spiritually.