“Manhood is under attack.” “Manhood is misunderstood.” “There is now a new masculinity.” “The differences between men and women are shrinking.” These are just a few of the phrases that I have heard in the past few months about masculinity, and the idea of manhood in general. With so much talk of gender and gender confusion it leads one to ask if there are any real marks or signifiers of a true man. The following are seven marks from Scripture that describe the tone and character of what it means to be a true man. While some of these characteristics should also be true of women, there is a story arc, a tone, and a movement throughout the Bible that directly encourages these things among men.
Two passages in the book of Proverbs that urge men, in particular, toward a posture of humility, are Proverbs 1:7, which says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, and Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction.” The first passage reminds us that in order for a man to be wise or knowledgeable in anything he must know who he is in light of who God is. When a man understands that he is not the center of the universe, but that he is a created being by a divine and sovereign creator, then, and only then, does he have the perspective to rightly know anything. This perspective change obviously brings about a beautiful humility. It puts us mentally in our right place in the universe; and leads to deep peace, strong poise, and wise knowledge. The second passage may be better understood to say that “pride brings about destruction,” or “pride destroys.” Pride is a defiance of our place before God. Pride is an anti-God state of mind that ultimately dislocates the soul, destroys community, and disrupts any right notion of God.
Another Proverb that I find helpful for understanding manhood is Proverbs 14:4, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” This Proverb reminds us that if we want to be fruitful we need “oxen” in our lives, but these “oxen” are messy. Oxen need to be fed, oxen need to be cleaned, and oxen need to be cleaned up after; oxen work is really hard work. In our lives these “oxen” are our jobs, families, schoolwork, relationships, volunteer responsibilities, and all the rest. These “oxen” require a great deal of work and effort; they can sometimes be painful, and they can sometimes be draining. Oxen-work requires a lot of grit, but it is necessary for a fruitful life and we are called by God to be fruitful; we are called by God to put the gifts that he has given us to good use. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents. To the servant who took the talent that his master had given and did nothing with it, the master does not say, “you could have done more,” or “try better next time.” He says, “you wicked and lazy servant.” If you want to be a true man that is fruitful, and that isn’t wicked and lazy, you must learn grit.
A third Proverb that is helpful in terms of understanding Biblical manhood is Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” The true man is a man of courage, and courage ultimately comes from conviction that is rooted in righteousness. Where there is no anchor of righteousness there is no courage. Vince Lombardi famously said, “fatigue makes cowards of us all” – well so does shame, so does sin, so does unrighteousness. The true man is called to be courageous in the face of evil, in the face of danger, and in the face of a challenge. You can’t be courageous unless you have a strong conviction in what is true, and right, and good. This is why the righteous are as bold as a lion, and as Spurgeon once said, “you don’t have to defend a lion, you just turn him loose.”
The hardest and highest calling ever has been given to Christian men. Christian men (and women) are called in Ephesians 5:1 to “imitate God,” i.e. to be like God. Paul works out what this means in the rest of Ephesians 5 and into chapter 6. Christian men are to love like God, to be pure like God, to be wise like God, to be filled with the Spirit of God, and to be strong in God. Each of these exhortations comes with a few particular out-workings, but one of the things in particular that it means for Christian men to be filled with the Spirit is that they love their wives as Christ loved the church. Think about that. Christian men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Jesus died for the church and Jesus pursued the church even when we were sinful. Jesus became our sin and died the eternal death that should have been ours on the cross so that in him, Christians are made new. And this, this is how husbands are to love their wives, in this kind of deep and sacrificial way. The kind of sacrifice that will ultimately bring about life, and joy, and renewal in our wives. Even if you aren’t married, true manhood is a life of sacrifice. The unrighteous man is willing to sacrifice the community for himself, but the righteous man is willing to sacrifice himself for the community.
Another thing that God has called husbands to in particular is found in 1 Peter 3:7, “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” There are two things that men need to understand about this passage. First, when Peter tells husbands that the woman is the weaker vessel, he is not saying that the woman is less valuable; he is saying that she is more precious, that she should be treated with more care. My wedding china is much “weaker”, or more fragile, than the $2 plates I got at Target, but it is certainly not less valuable. In fact, it is more valuable and more precious, and should obviously be treated with more care and delicacy. For men this is true of our wives, and really of women in general. Second, we need to notice the warning that Peter gives to husbands that fail to honor their wives. He says that “their prayers will be hindered.” In other words, it is as if God is saying that if a husband won’t listen to his wife and seek to understand his wife, then God won’t listen to a man when he prays. Once again, I believe this posture of care and understanding should be true of all men toward all women.
A husband is a called to be a godly leader of his wife and family (Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 9,11). He is responsible to lead his family well, and to lead his wife and children spiritually. In Ephesians 5 we read that a faithful husband (like Jesus toward the church) loves and leads his wife well, “ that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” Ultimately men, it is the husband who will one day stand before God and give an account for his family both in terms of their well-being and their spirituality. In many cases men have this same kind of responsibility in the businesses and organizations we lead. This should not be done with fear or by lording over people but with gentleness, humility, and charity.
Finally, the true man is the one who loves much. If a man is really going to be like Jesus in the way he conducts himself, then he must be a lover of his wife and children (if married) and his community. We live in a world of marketplace love where love is something that you give in order to get something in return, but biblical love is an unprovoked, unwarranted passion towards someone else, and it is an enduring commitment of the will. God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. God calls Christian men to love one another as he loves us. God calls Christians to have a posture of love and honor to everyone around us. A true man is not only full of self-love, but a love for God and a love for others; in this he fulfills the law of God, in this he finds joy, and in this he honors the Lord.
There are other marks to true masculinity but these are seven that I hope to live by, that I hope to raise my sons to live by, and that I hope to encourage the men of my church and other friends around me to live by. A world filled with men like this would be a world of less confusion and less division; a world of true manhood would be one of hope and peace.