I was grumpy this morning.
It happens occasionally. Usually it is an unnamed dissatisfaction, an uptight sort of irritation that is just there it seems. I attempt to identify the cause of this feeling, (have I ate anything in the last seven hours?) but only for a few seconds, as prolonged efforts only compound the sensation. The best remedy is to name it aloud; “I am grumpy right now.” It is often helpful to have an engaging conversation as well.
Today, however, I had a bit of a rant.
After my wife graciously heard me out, (which is a long process; I have to stop myself mid-rant to make sure the things I am saying are truly valid, I hate making inaccurate or meaningless statements) she suggested I should blog about it. I won’t rant here, I’ll just express my thoughts.
The topic: Christian Manliness.
Manliness in the church has been a hot issue in the last decade. Many books, programs, seminars, conferences, and group study materials have been produced to address and solve this issue of manhood. I personally have read a couple books addressing this issue. I have been to the “Wild-at-Heart” conference, a weekend-long event specifically targeting the area of Christian manliness. I have even participated in “Novemberfest”, a celebration of manliness that included a couple of my guy friends eating bratwurst and ultra hot wings, watching braveheart, and drinking really dark beer, all without a shirt on; and no shirts allowed.
Essentially, while many of these activities and products may make people feel manly, they certainly do little to nothing to actually produce true manliness in an individual. In some cases, they actually are harmful in that they wind up establishing framework for manhood that is quite other than what scripture would tell us. This is detrimental in that case, even if manliness is achieved, it is an earthly manliness which is of little spiritual value, compared to a godly manliness, which is of eternal worth.
And so basically my rant was that the proposed fixes for Christian manliness tend to look in all the wrong places.
The power to grow in manliness is not repeated viewings of Braveheart, or Rocky or any other MAN movie (certainly not The Expendibles, as I heard one man suggest recently!) nor is it doing any number of manly events or activities. As many of the MAN books or seminars that I am familiar with would point you to some of these things, they too are powerless to produce true manliness.
No; the power to grow in manliness comes from sound doctrine.
I have experienced this to be true in my life. I am in many ways not the same person I was just a few years ago. I have grown leaps and bounds in confidence, maturity, wisdom, and strength; and I can connect most all of this growth to truths I have learned about God, Christ, sin, myself, the world, the flesh, the devil, the Holy Spirit, and so on. Having a proper understanding on these issues has positioned me and empowered me to make decisions that I would not have made before, decisions that reflect the growing maturity as a man.
What I have realized is that true manliness is not a standalone character trait or collection of traits; rather, true manliness is the male expression of godliness. The “manliness deficiency” I experienced as a boy, and adolescent, and right up into my twenties was really a godliness deficiency.
It follows then that the cure for any lack of manliness is not to redefine manliness, nor to expose ourselves to worldly displays and complexes of manhood, nor to engage in more “man activities”, but to seek godliness.
This reminded me of some messages I had heard a year ago that were immensely profitable to me. A pattern of spiritual growth is outlined in 1 John 2 that I want you to notice. John outlines his reasons for writing his letter, starting in verse 12.
I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
This scripture outlines three progressive categories of spiritual maturity: CHILDREN, YOUNG MEN, and FATHERS. We can apply this very profitably to a discussion on biblical manhood. Notice how each category is defined:
CHILDREN – Sins forgiven for his names sake, and they know their heavenly father.
YOUNG MEN – Have overcome the evil one, are strong, the word of God lives in them.
FATHERS – Know him who is from the beginning.
I’m going to add one more category to lump in everyone to whom none of these categories apply:
OTHERS – Sins not forgiven, don’t know the heavenly father.
By noting the differences in each category, we can discern what is necessary to move from one category to the next:
OTHERS –> CHILDREN
The process of spiritual maturity (and growth toward true manhood, to stick to our topic) begins with SALVATION. Consider John 1:12 – But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. You begin the process of spiritual growth as a Child, born again into the family of God. God is the heavenly father to every true Child of God. Note that the Child has his sins forgiven and knows his heavenly father; these are the first things that accompany salvation, the forgiveness of sins and the knowledge of the loving heavenly father.
It is critical to note that the Bible recognizes no true maturity, no growth, no manliness apart from Salvation. That is the absolute beginning; the scriptures d. I will return to this thought later.
CHILDREN –> YOUNG MEN
While it is wonderful to know the heavenly father, and have their sins forgiven them, this would be a sorry place to end. There are two full categories of maturity (and degrees of true manliness) that await the newborn Christian, and by all means he should strive to attain them.
Consider now the difference between the Child and the Young man, specifically of what they take in. I have a child of 8 months, and while he is happy and healthy, he has a habit of indiscriminately putting whatever he can get his hands on into his mouth. For this reason, it is imperative that I as the loving parent am on constant duty to ensure he does not take in anything dangerous. Now, I can say with confidence that as a young man, he will not have retained that habit. As a young man, he will know what to take in and what not to take in, what is good for him and what is bad.
This is precisely the physical picture of the spiritual reality that we are considering in this shift from the Child to the Young Man. The Child consumes indiscriminately, taking into his mind and heart all manner of teaching or philosophy; some good, much useless, and much detrimental.
The Young Man however has no such problem, we are told that his is strong, and that he has overcome the evil one. What a feat that is! Should believers not strive with all they have to earn that claim? For we know that the evil one is none other than the Devil himself, the enemy of all that God is and all that we would become. How is it that a mere child can grow to overcome Satan himself?
The answer comes in considering further our enemy. He goes by many names; for today let us consider him as “The Father of Lies” (John 8:44) and “The Deciever”. We can think of how one with names such as these might be overcome; by the truth! One who is grounded in the truth cannot be deceived, and one who knows the truth will recognize the lie. The greater the knowledge, the greater the scope of our victory.
It is by DISCERNMENT and DOCTRINE that children can mature into young men, even overcome the devil. Consider Hebrews 5:14 …solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. The mature man is practiced in discernment, noThey no longer need to take in to know, they can often identify early on what is good and evil, what is true and false, and thus they overcome the devil and grow strong.
YOUNG MEN –> FATHERS
Overcoming the Evil One is marvelous, and one would wonder that it is not the pinnacle of spiritual maturity and manhood. Yet we have one more echelon to attain, and that is the category of Fathers, who “know Him who is from the beginning.” This speaks of an intimate knowledge, a deep wisdom, and a close and steady walk with the Alpha and the Omega. To know Him who is from the beginning is to be well acquainted with righteousness, to have shared in the sufferings of Christ, to have explored the depths of God’s heart and communed with the All Holy God.
Young men know their doctrine, have discernment, and are no longer susceptible to false teaching or false doctrine; but there is much more to God than doctrines. They lay the boundaries by which we have the immense privilege and honor to commune with God himself. As the Young Man continues his walk, he will experience many things that will sanctify him, make him Christ like. As he shares in the joy’s and sorrows, trials and victories, he shares in the very life of Christ, established firmly in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the relationship honed by years of communion and fellowship with God eternal.
And so it goes like this:
Discernment, Sound Doctrine, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Life Experience, Faithful Obedience, Constant Communion
To apply this to the topic of Christian Manliness, the thing to remember is that true manliness is really the outworking of godliness through a male individual. True manliness comes by growing spiritually, by growing in godliness.
It is dangerous to define manliness by categories other than the ones present in scripture. To do so is to establish a target outside of God’s word, and it is impossible to grow in godliness unless our eyes are fixed on the right target. Many Christians get caught up looking at some successful businessman or some character in a movie as if they are a model for manliness. Forgetting the fact that these men or characters show no regard for God, his word, or his righteousness, Christians hold these characters up as models of manliness worthy of emulation.
This is totally backwards! Consider the categories. Maturity BEGINS with salvation, before that, there is nothing worthy our consideration. Whereas many Christian men today may esteem certain traits of unsaved men with high regard, even jealousy; this is due to a worldly complex of manliness that has crept (rather unimpeded if I might say) into the church of God. This worldly system doesn’t account for godliness one wit. I think it is disappointing to say the least that men can get caught up treasuring the worldly constructs of manliness rather than godliness, which is of immeasurable value!
On another note, I can’t help but see this as revealing either a great ignorance or disregard of the value of salvation. It is supremely offensive to God that we would fail to consider the value of our salvation when we compare ourselves to other men. Whatever we may see in others that we desire for ourselves, the fact is that if the person we envy is without God and his salvation, there is simply nothing there we should desire in the slightest; certainly not when we have been blessed with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN THE HEAVENLIES in Christ Jesus!! We have the greatest treasure and the most powerful resources in our Salvation! O God that we would not forget that our salvation is the supreme possession, as our Salvation is none other than the person of Jesus Christ himself. He IS, in every way, the entirety of our salvation. To neglect Salvation is to neglect Christ, and to esteem anything higher than salvation is to esteem it above Christ. In him we have everything, manliness included.
The man who is saved for one minute is more mature and more manly in the eyes of God than Alexander the Great. If you are a Christian man, then so are you. You are more blessed than he, you are more mature than he. You are in the truth. Stand in it! Revel in it! Rejoice in it! Be eternally satisfied with your salvation, and covet not for a moment anything other than Christ and his glorious eternal reward!