I come from a world of strong men.
Bold men. Brave men. Men of courage. Men of valor.
Many nights, I accompanied such men as we descended from the black onto the unsuspecting heads of the enemies of righteousness, those who would tyrannize their fellow man with whichever brand of wickedness.
These are strong men, men who stare Death in the eye and unflinchingly demand, “Here am I, send me.” I can think of few things more manly, more masculine than closing with and destroying the enemy in battle…
…well, maybe one.
Our nation starves for masculinity.
Amid the tumult about ‘toxic masculinity’ resonates a deep misunderstanding masking a deeper need. The term itself is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or French resistance or democratic socialism.
By definition, masculinity could never be toxic. From the curse of the Garden, men stray from the azimuth of masculinity in one of two directions, becoming one of two caricatures:
Caricature 1 (Brash Man): Brash Man takes the perceived characteristics of masculinity and magnifies them. Absent the foundation of these characteristics, Brash Man becomes defined by these same characteristics.
Brash Man exudes self-confidence. Manliness governs his actions.
My upbringing was defined by the action heroes of the 80’s. Think Arnold and Rambo. If you tell me Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, I’ll impugn your manhood right now. “Yippee-ki-yay,”—okay, I’m a pastor so don’t expect me to finish the quote.
“Well, you gonna do something or just stand there and bleed.”
“Remember when I promised to kill you last…I lied.”
“Go ahead, punk, make my day.”
Brash Man exults in conquest, sexual and otherwise. Women swoon, men admire. Brash Man bends others to his unflinching will. Brash Man is capable. He can replace your alternator as easily as he can slap a mean rear-naked choke on your candy rear-end. Brash Man is what you want to be, until you don’t, or can’t.
We thrash young men with this caricature of who they ought to be, exposing deep perceived inadequacies. Some embrace it and pursue, others recoil and become…
Caricature 2 (Neutered Man): Again, from the Garden, Neutered Man simply yields.
Neutered Man gazes upon the worldly connotations of masculinity and rejects them wholesale. He yields his God-given role as the leader of the family and the church, surrendering them to the usurping woman.
Neutered man stands hapless as all that is righteous is stripped away.
The greatest treason of Neutered Man comes in his denial of the existence of his very masculinity and his championing of those who do the same. Gender-bending, gender-fluidity, trans-gender: these are all issues symptomatic of legions of men who’ve lost their way.
So Neutered Man meekly tucks his testicles between his thighs and does the only thing he can. He stands aside, lest he offend anyone with even a hint of testosterone.
I was reading, in the Bible, about the 30 and the Three.
King David had a crew of 30 mighty men, 37 actually, who fought for him, men of extreme valor and reckless courage. From within the 30, three stood apart.
Jashobeam, the chief of the three, killed 300 men at one time, with only his spear. Eleazar stood alone against the charging enemy as everyone else fled. Shammah too, stood strong against certain death as others fled. (2 Samuel 23, 1 Chronicles 11) These were men of renown, men of conviction.
David himself stood astride the fallen giant and removed his head with his own sword and then brandished the head for all to see. An emboldened army charged as the vanquished army fled. (1 Samuel 17)
So don’t hear me minimize courage or valor or strength or conviction. These characteristics ought to resonate from our masculinity.
Yet, masculinity is seemingly so much less than this, but really infinitely more.
If you think you’re church is jacked up, read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church!
In his lengthy exhortation about how the church ought to run, Paul gets to a peculiar section on love, chapter 13, the love chapter.
“Love is patient and kind.”
“Love does not envy or boast.”
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Common to see these verses on Hallmark cards or quoted at a wedding. Yet, this is an exhortation to the church. In the middle of directing church-members how to conduct church, Paul exhorts them to love in this way, sacrificially and unconditionally. He concludes this section with one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Paul tells us that the business of a man is to love, sacrificially and unconditionally. Okay, yes, apply it to everyone in the church, but who elsewhere is commanded to lead the church and the family, to set an example but, the man?
It is the child who maintains concern for himself. It is the child who does not love in this manner. It is the child who demands the rights to himself. This is not the business of a man.
The real definition of masculinity resides in self-sacrifice on behalf of love.
This is the business of a man.
As always, we find in Christ our perfect example.
Christ defines masculinity.
Consider. The Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Firstborn over all creation, the image of the invisible God, the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah…willingly and humbly went to the cross to save sinners, those who would otherwise hate him.
This is masculinity exemplified, sacrificial love.
There is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Jesus exemplifies the words of Paul to the church at Corinth in His willingness to suffer on behalf of others, even those who would hate him, that they might live. Jesus epitomizes masculinity. Forget closing with and destroying the enemy. Forget cutting the heads off our enemies. Forget a thousand other images of manhood, some biblical, some not.
Self-subordination, the relinquishment of self to others on behalf of love, this is the mark of a man, masculinity, as seen in the work of Jesus on the cross.
O’ man, what do you fence off for yourself?
To which part of yourself and your own desires do you cling?
Have you set aside your childish ways and loved like a man?
Very few of you will ever close with and destroy the enemy in battle, even those of you in the service. Some of you don’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold, much less how to actually work on a vehicle. You can’t tell a truss from a rafter. Maybe you’ve never even (gasp) fired a gun in your life. You’ve never killed anything or even been punched in the face.
Maybe you’re a mid-level office-worker with a boring job and no upward mobility. Life hasn’t turned out how you thought it might.
Guess what? You have an opportunity every single day to be a man of renown, a man of courage and conviction, even valor.
Pour yourself out for those around you, your wife and your children. Give to them what they need and quit worrying about what you need. Find that in Christ and in Christ alone.
Turn off the video games. Cancel the golf outing. Drop out of the fantasy football league.
Quit worrying about “you” time and collapse into bed each night from exhaustion…with nothing left to give, nothing left to offer. Be willing to suffer in love, to relinquish your needs, on behalf of those God has entrusted to you.
Be every bit the Firebreather—this is God’s call in your life, as a man.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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