Over the centuries of human existence, society’s definition of manhood has shifted slightly back and forth. Men have been hunters, foragers, knights, farmers, soldiers, businessmen, and everything in between. While the primary factors of determining manliness have remained relatively the same, though, our culture has wavered on what manhood has looked like. It’s definition has always been just to the left and right of center throughout history.
In our modern culture, I believe that shift has been greater than ever.
Society today makes jokes about being a deadbeat dad, increasingly objectifies women at alarming rates, celebrates ‘courageous’ men who have grown tired of the weight of manhood and opt to wear dresses and abandon their families, and Christian men have quit taking an active role in the Church (if they even still go to a church). Now we are sitting back wondering what is happening to our world and pointing our fingers at various single instances that we would like to blame society’s problems on, when we really have ourselves to blame.
Does that offend you? Guess what? Man up.
So this begs the question: What is a man? A real man. What should manliness look like? Television might point us to the Marlboro Man. Riding around horseback smoking a cigarette with your five o’clock shadow watching the sunset sounds manly enough. Movies might tell us John McClane from Die Hard is a man’s man. Swearing, smoking, shooting the bad guys, and letting Hans drop from several stories up a tall building to save the day could definitely get your testosterone pumping.
If that is our picture of what a man is, provided we let our television predicate our opinion, what do Christians have to turn to for our precedent on manliness? The obvious answer here is the Bible. The greatest example of manhood it provides us is Christ who came, in part, to be our example in all things.
Before we get started, understand that I’m not saying that all of the manly stereotypes we see in culture are wrong. As I outline what godly manhood looks like, there will definitely be some areas where these men in movies and pop culture will overlap with godly men. Watching movies and engaging in pop culture isn’t inherently bad, and we should expect that the world’s view on things will be skewed from what the Bible teaches because the Bible explicitly states it will. (John 15:18-25) We just need to be careful that we don’t let what we consume come in the way of our relationship with God.
One thing is definitely clear: The lines of what manliness is have been blurred. We can clear up those lines though by highlighting qualities Scripture tells us that men should exhibit, and by looking at the example set for us by the Son of Man.
Note: As I unpack these qualities that men should exhibit, understand that I am not saying women can’t or don’t exhibit these qualities as well. This article is geared toward identifying what a man should look like.
There are several verses in Scripture that tell us to be strong immediately after telling us to be a man. This isn’t just pointing to physical strength either. In fact, most times throughout history when a man of God needed to depend on physical strength, the Bible tells us that the Spirit of the Lord came on him in power. In Judges 14, the Spirit of the Lord came on Samson when he tore the lion apart and in 1 Samuel 11, the Spirit of God came on Saul and led him to a victory against the Ammonites.
The strength referred to in verses like 1 Corinthians 16:13 is strength in discipline and character. Resisting temptation and being morally upright is no easy feat, but it is necessary if we are going to draw near to God and stand out in a loud world. It takes a strong man to exemplify godly character when we live in a world that celebrates sin. It’s much easier to go with the flow or simply be silent in the face of evil. A real man won’t shy away from the challenge though. He’ll step forward and persevere in keeping himself and his family on the narrow path to the gate Christ mentions in Matthew 7:13.
As we mentioned before, our ultimate example of manhood comes from Christ, and He was certainly not lacking in strength in character. It would have been much easier for Him to submit to temptation in Matthew 4 and let us all suffer for what we had done. Thank God He didn’t. Instead He showed the manly strength we are talking about here and persevered. It’s a precedent all men are meant to follow.
This is a trait we see exhibited as ‘manly’ in our culture as well. A firefighter rushing into a burning building to pull someone out of it without fear for their own well-being is characterized with manliness. And rightly so. We can’t step out of our comfort zones and shoot for a goal outside of our capabilities that God is calling to without courage. If you haven’t known God long either, He is known for doing this so we learn to lean on Him.
In 1 Samuel 17 when David stepped out of the Israelite camp with a sling and five stones to face a 9-foot-tall giant that had men quaking in their boots, he showed himself to be more of a man than anyone else on the field. He was telling everyone in both camps that he trusted God so wholly with his protection and guidance that he had nothing to fear from Goliath. It is this heart that caused him to go on to be one of the greatest kings recorded in the history of our planet.
Imagine if he hadn’t made that courageous step. Israel would have failed, and God’s people would have suffered greatly. Saul was in that camp. God’s chosen people could have very easily lost their first king ahead of his time. Now think of what could be happening each time you aren’t courageous. The same way those around David would have suffered if he didn’t do what God was calling him to, those around you will suffer every time you don’t.
As 2 Timothy 1:7 says, the Spirit God gives us does not make us timid. It’s the same Spirit that led Peter and John to speak boldly to the highest of officials about Christ after being imprisoned by them the day before in Acts 4. They knew full well that their lives hung in the balance, and they refused to soften their message
and even called the officials on killing an innocent man (Jesus) even on a platform before a crowd as they were being tried.
It’s boldness such as this that is characterized in true manhood. You can’t hardly call someone a man’s man if they back down from every challenge presented to them and won’t step up to bat when they are needed. God will always call us to something that requires us to be bold. After all, who is going to listen to what you have to say if you don’t say it with conviction.
Think for a moment what the Civil Right’s Movement would look like if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t been bold. You can watch any speech that man gave and hear authority and conviction in his voice. The absence of boldness in his speeches would have led to far fewer people in attendance and would have left a much-needed movement lacking a leader. King knew that his speeches could lead to his death, but he didn’t let that keep him from stepping up into the role this country needed him for. Now men are calling for “safe zones” to exercise our right to free speech. Modern men would do well to learn from MLK Jr.’s example.
A seemingly-soft trait such as patience may seem antithetical to manhood. Most of the time we link the get-it-done and no-nonsense attitudes with manliness. While there is a time and place for both of those attitudes, we need to look to our perfect example of manhood, Jesus, for what patience inside of masculinity looks like.
Jesus shows patience with his disciples in many instances throughout the four gospels in Scripture. For instance, immediately after He gives the parable of the seeds and the soil in Matthew 13, He not only has to explain to them what the parable means, but why He speaks in parables as well! I don’t know about you, but having to explain myself once is bad enough. Jesus did this multiple times throughout His ministry.
It’s this patience that we need to remind ourselves of when our kids are climbing on the furniture for the fifteenth time or got caught at a party again at the house of the kid that is always in the principal’s office when you’ve explained to them plainly what the consequences could be. Patience is listening to a hurting friend that made a passive-aggressive Facebook post about you last week. It doesn’t take a strong-willed person to lash out at a misbehaving child or someone that has wronged you, but it does to show patience with them. That is what makes patience a manly virtue and why we should strive to exhibit it. Being a man isn’t easy, but it’s what this world needs.
Somehow over the course of our history lack of intelligence has become associated with men. It’s as if when men don’t know something today, they just throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know.” The most common portrayal of men in sitcoms and movies is a knuckle-dragging, fat guy that, by some miracle, has married some intelligent, beautiful woman whom he depends on for guidance more than she of him. Are we going to let this be the standard, men?
Look back at our nation’s history, though. Our founding fathers, and some of the manliest men in our history books, were well-studied, intelligent men. They fought wars, stood up to the tyranny of England, signed the Declaration of Independence when their lives were on the line, and even they made time to read and study. When they were met with a question they didn’t know, they went and found the answer. Our nation’s future depended on them being real men. In our modern culture of comfort where time should be of abundance, alongside information ironically, men are filling their time with social media, television, and porn. R&R has it’s place in manhood but c’mon, guys; it shouldn’t be this prevalent. Men should be brimming with knowledge!
When we look at Paul’s work in Scripture, we see a well-studied man who read and knew people’s history and culture as well. We see him writing to the Church in various different locations, and we see him speak specifically to things in their past and present; things he had to have studied. Paul was no sissy either. He was jailed many times and finally exiled for life for refusing to be silent when speaking of Christ. As he put plainly in Ephesians 5:15-17,
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
This is kind of a given. Love was commanded by Christ for all of His followers in John 15:12, so of course it should be a quality all men possess. Love isn’t exactly a quality that society puts in the same box as manhood though. Anti-heroes are becoming more and more popular in movies and hating those whose opinions differ from yours is promoted across all platforms.
A way men often struggle with bearing this kind attribute is because it gets misconstrued into being soft and agreeable. Far from it! In fact, it was love Christ was showing to the lady who had just had an affair by keeping the men of the city from stoning her, and when He sent her away, He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin” in John 8. He spoke to the men with boldness, though they came to catch Him in a trap and condemn Him, as well as the woman He just saved from being stoned to death.
So we can be bold and speak out against injustice while continuing to show love. It is actually out of love that we should show strength for our families and those who need our help. We actually show strength and boldness by first going to someone who has wronged us and offering a chance at reconciliation, or going to someone we have wronged in humility. We show love for that person by doing this too.
That also doesn’t mean that should the time come, God forbid, that our family needs us to defend them from something that we cow down out of “love” for our enemy. Sometimes we will need to strike our enemy down to protect others, if our hands are forced. But in hoping and searching for peaceable options first, we can actually show love to our enemies first by first giving them the option to not act out first, if you are able to do so. If there is no time for that, as there most times won’t be, then we do what we must. If the opportunity to make amends is present, though, a man should strive for that first.
I don’t think there is much dispute between culture and Scripture on this one. We see men portrayed as manly through giving their lives for others in all sorts of movies and television shows. Bruce Willis’s character, Harry Stamper, in 1998’s Armageddon is a great example. While the trait has remained romanticized in movies, though, the men of our world haven’t been listening. Alarming statistics shower the web of how many males are leaving children with fatherless homes and the effects it is having on our youth. (I refuse to give the same title of “men” that we give to those who fight for our freedoms and rush into raging fires to save lives to these people).
Where we should be laying our lives down for our families like we’re told in Ephesians 5:25, we are instead filling our selfish desires and letting our household suffer for it. This is the polar opposite of what men should be doing. Our wants and desires should come last. The same as Christ forwent His well-being and asked that the Father’s will be done in Luke 22:42, so to should we be willing to do; especially for our families’ sake. And make no mistake, if God has given you a family, He has called you to be it’s leader.
There are many examples of this trait with men in Scripture too. Everything from the apostles sacrificing their well-being and freedom to spread the Gospel to the ultimate sacrifice – Christ giving Himself on the cross for our lives. As we are commanded in Mark 12:31 to love our neighbors, we are also told in John 15:13 that there is no greater love than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It should come as no surprise then that we should put our families’ needs before our own.
We tend to look at the dude with a burly beard or mountainous figure and make assumptions on their manliness. Some men may choose to express their manliness in ways like this, and that certainly isn’t wrong. As it says in 1 Samuel 16:7, though, while mankind looks at a person’s appearance to make initial judgments about them, God looks at the heart. Thus a biblical manly man will most certainly be defined on merits of character. As our Creator, He is the best judge of what we should look like, the same as the designer of a motorcycle should best know what it should look like.
So, men, let’s reinstitute true manliness: biblical manliness. Let’s step into the haphazard and jumbled constructs of society’s idea of manhood and show the world what it should really look like. Let’s speak truth to others in boldness and love, and be the driving force of reestablishing the God-given role of the man in the household, the Church, and the world so we can shine the light of Christ in all nations.