The definition of a man seems to be getting harder and harder to establish. It used to just be a matter of a y chromosome, but those days are gone. It is not so simple anymore. We live in a world that is deeply confused about gender and what it means to be a man even once we get the identities sorted out. Throw in an ancient text like the Bible and now you really have a puzzle to solve. What is a Christian guy supposed to believe?
Do all real men have thick beards, hunt and dress like lumberjacks?
What if he has a disability?
What if he likes musical theatre or is more skilled with a laptop than a bow?
Are traditional views of masculinity really toxic? Should we be ashamed of being men?
It is a confusing world, but that is the beauty of faith in Christ. That old book, the Bible, is timeless truth. It gives us solid ground on which to build our lives while the world keeps changing it’s mind. God’s Word declares that he created us male and female…different and distinct. We can see through the pages of Scripture that men have vital roles to fill as leaders, lovers, providers and protectors. The stories of history illustrate godly men of all different sorts. Some are typecast as manly men of action like Noah, Samson or Paul. Some are more relational like John or theatrical like Ezekiel. Solomon was a philosopher. Other men like David or Jesus are blends of warrior and poet. There is great variety in the annals of Scripture just as there is in our day so what is the essence of man? What is the root? What is the essential nature of masculinity?
One major building block of true masculinity is strength governed by virtue.
Strength is everything that is longed for in a man and everything that is feared in a man. Strength is a foundational characteristic of a man that distinguishes him from a woman. Peter makes this distinction in 1 Peter 3:7 when husbands are exhorted to “treat them (their wives) with respect as the weaker partner…” As much as this language may offend many with modern sensibilities, it is not intended as a denigration of women. Peter goes on to describe them as heirs with you (equals) of the gracious gift of life. The description is given in the context of direct commands to be considerate and treat women with respect. This is not the modern cry of toxic masculinity. It is merely a recognition of a primary quality of men: strength. Are women strong? Certainly. Are some women stronger then men? Sure, but there is a reason that men have done the vast majority of the fighting, leading and providing for all of human history. Strength.
Physical strength is obvious. There is a reason that men don’t fight women in the Octagon. There is a reason that women are not Navy Seals. There is a reason that most construction workers and loggers are male. Men are designed by God to perform the most physical tasks of life. If some women have the desire and physical ability to enter into those arenas, great. However, men are made in a different way for tasks that demand strength and we need them. We need you. Too many men are seat belted into their couch and have forfeited any semblance of physical fitness. You are made to be strong and if you develop your physicality, you will feel better about yourself and be better equipped for life. If you are a desk guy and athletics or physical labor isn’t your thing, that’s okay. You don’t have to be a CrossFit fanatic to be masculine, but you will experience the same benefits of feeling better about yourself and being better equipped for life if you step into developing your gift of physical strength. Physical strength does, however, fade with time and it is sometimes ripped away from a man in his youth. It is easy for those men to feel a loss of their identity. The good news is that your strength is more than muscular.
Strength of will is the other side of this equation. Men have a special ability to grit their teeth, embrace the suck and do hard things. Are there really tough women too? Yes. A thousand times, yes, but a man has a different internal make-up. Men possess a special competitiveness, internal drive to succeed, and willingness to suffer. The willingness to lead or to love in the face of adversity, to do the dirty job or to fight the war can be in any person, but men are designed for it. You are made for it. The thing to remember is that just as a physical body can get better through discipline, so can the will. In fact, we see women moving ahead in areas that require these attributes of fortitude and men falling back. It is excellent to see women pushing forward, but men need to stop retreating. Strength of will is not going to be cultivated by playing Call of Duty on your Xbox. It will be cultivated by entering into the real battles of your life and deciding to win. You are strong. Be strong.
We need men of strength, but more than ever, the world is fearing men of strength. Historically, men, at times, have abused their strength whether it is from their physical advantages or from being in a position of power. Our culture is standing up against those abuses. That is a good thing, but sometimes, it is being reflected by extreme overreactions that can make you feel like just being a man is a bad thing. You must be guilty of something. Sit down. Shut up.
As men our proper response is not to abandon our strength. It is to do as Peter exhorted us to do. We treat others with respect and consideration. We do not lord our strength over others. We use it for their good. This is the other side of our foundation stone of biblical masculinity. Strength governed by virtue.
Our strength should not be presented to others as a threat. It should not be something to be feared. Our strength should be welcomed and invited into the mix, but it can only be so if it is restrained by our character. A character transformed by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Unrestrained strength is frightening. Imagine living in Central Asia in the 13th Century and you hear that Ghengis Khan is coming your way. What if you were a young women barely pushing 100 lbs. and an angry man twice your size has his hand around your neck? Unrestrained strength terrifies. Strength governed by virtue is reassuring. It brings blessing.
It’s fascinating to me that when the New Testament lists the qualities that men needed for leadership in the church that only two skills are listed. They needed to be able to teach and know how to care for people. All the other qualifications were matters of virtue. Leaders need to be men of character above all else. This tells us a great deal about what God thinks is important regarding the makeup of a man. All that we do, all that we say must be sifted through a filter of godliness. A man’s virtue will determine whether he uses his strength for good or for evil. Your character matters above all else and the only one that defines that character is you. You choose it. Are you above reproach? Are you reaching for it? What kind of man do you want to be? What are you doing to grow in godliness? It is your measure as a man.
There are a lot of mixed messages today about manhood. I still dream of being William Wallace and storming the battlefield with my claymore, but whether it’s a hard fight or the building of relationships, doing the dirty work or doing the academic work, we need men of strength. We need men of strength who are willing to submit that strength to virtue…use that strength to fight for what matters in their home, in their workplace, in their community, in their church… all for the kingdom and all for the glory of Jesus Christ. Strength governed by virtue. That’s a man.