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What makes a real man?

(Rob McLeod)

“What makes a real man?” has always been a loaded question to address, in any culture and generation. Scripture clearly describes the high and noble calling for men within their families, marriages, workplace and church life. Sadly, in 2020 the fundamental question of “What makes a man?” involves tackling subject matter that was barely imaginable even one generation ago. The notion of what constitutes a man has been blurred to such an extent that even physiological differences between men and women are simply being ignored in this process of re-defining gender. Current thinking among ‘experts’ is that gender is fluid and that one can simply ‘identify’ according to their inner desires and feelings. This vein of teaching says that one’s gender identification does not have to align with the assignment of one’s biological sex at birth. Thankfully, the shifting sands of popular opinion can be compared and contrasted with that of unchanging truth contained in Scripture.

First of all, the Bible clearly teaches that there are only two genders, male and female. Nowhere does Scripture provide any endorsement of ‘gender fluidity’ or multiple categories of gender identification. Each person’s gender directly corresponds to their biological design. An honest reading of Scripture clearly evidences this. Consider Genesis 5:1-2: “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.” Jesus reiterates much of this in Mark 10:6-8: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Scripture also claims that its teachings are unchangeable. Hebrews 13:8-9 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines (teachings).” The confusion in our culture regarding gender does not originate from the Lord since “God is not the author of confusion but of peace.” (see 1 Corinthians 14:33.) Our present culture has relegated the authority of Scripture into so far of a back seat that answers to basic (really, trivial) questions have been completely redefined. Under the now far reaching scope of ‘gender conversion laws’ in Canada it is potentially a criminal act to merely tell people that certain sexual desires contrary to Scripture are indeed sinful.

Despite the preceding (and potentially inflammatory) paragraphs we haven’t even scratched the surface regarding the high Biblical calling for men. We will keep things ‘simple’ and use Scripture as our guide. The Lord’s call for every man is incredibly high and full of eternal purpose. But let’s be honest. Our role as image bearers of Jesus Christ has been largely usurped. In the creation account of Genesis the LORD placed Adam in the Garden of Eden with the express purpose of guarding it and overseeing it. Genesis 2:15 says “Then the LORD God took the man (Adam) and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” If you are familiar with the biblical account it was not a long time before Adam relinquished his God-given role by disregarding God’s instruction to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since then it has been Satan’s desire, from generation to generation, to usurp and demean the role of men today.

Below are some highlights from Scripture regarding man’s life purpose. In this issue we will only briefly consider each of these:

(i) We are to find life from the Word and to put away childish things that starve our souls.

(ii) We are to have our ultimate satisfaction and identity from Jesus Christ.

(iii) If married, we are to love our wives as Jesus Christ loves His church.

(iv) We are to be the primary example to our children.

(v) We are to actively participate in strengthening the spiritual quality of our local church.

(vi) We are to be ‘salt and light’ in the workplace.

(i) We are to find our life from the Word:

Just like we need physical food in order to get through the physical demands of our day so we need spiritual food to fight the larger battles of life. We cannot successfully meet any other life demands without properly providing the ‘spiritual calories’ for our ‘inner man’, our spirit. John 1:1 describes Jesus as the Word. Since Jesus is alive, He is truly the living Word! John 6:57-58 says “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus is not saying that we literally need to eat His physical body. He explains in John 6:63 that the words that He speaks are the food we need to grow: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” So, spending time with Jesus involves prioritizing time spent in the Scripture. The Scripture comes alive and feeds us as the Holy Spirit convicts us and illuminates the Word in our heart. Not surprisingly the worldly competition is fierce in alluring us to waste this time elsewhere. It is incredibly tempting at times to prioritize online searches for the latest sports score or news headline. However, to thrive we must first feed our spirit. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O LORD of hosts.”

(ii) Our satisfaction and identity must come from Jesus Christ:

Since society loudly applauds men for their work accomplishments, physical acumen and intellect most men end up placing high priority on flourishing in these areas. In contrast, Scripture prioritizes an intimate walk with the Lord. “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NASB). So, if we are to glory in anything it is to glory in the fact that by the Lord’s mercy we are growing into Him! Consider also Psalm 147:10-11: “He (God) does not delight in the strength of the horse; he takes no pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.” What a contrast to what the culture teaches us.

(iii) If married, we are to love our wives as Jesus Christ loves His church:

Consider Ephesians 5:25-26, 28-29: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word…So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.” What a lofty calling! We are to love our wives as we love ourselves! On multiple occasions I have despaired within myself as I have seen my shortcomings in this area. It is definitely unattainable without the Lord. We cannot look to ourselves to accomplish this in our own strength. Notice the role of the ‘word’ here in Ephesians 5. We are first to build up our wives by the living Word. This points us back to our need for being in the Word ourselves. If we see our wife struggling could it be that we are not living out the truth of the Word to her? Elsewhere Scripture says that “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13).” As I put the needs of my wife above my own I will see her flourish. How many marriages amongst believers have been ruined by a man’s selfishness? At many times in my marriage I have been convicted of simply carrying out my own agenda for the day without considering the needs of my spouse. Marriage is not intended simply to meet my needs for companionship, sex and a helper within the home. Our marriage is to reflect the love that Christ has for His own body, which is the church (see Ephesians 5:29-30). Understanding the care that the Lord has for us as believers enables us to exemplify this within our marriage.

How does all of this apply to me if I am single? For starters, it is best to ground ourselves in Christ long before marriage. Any man can strengthen the possibility of a future marriage by walking in obedience to Christ while as a single man. A man can love his future wife by building himself up, prior to marriage, in the Word. As a single man, we are also to guard our eyes just as much as a married man. A verse that convicted me while still unmarried is found in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Use this verse as a spiritual litmus test for assessing the content that you are placing in front of your eyes and dwelling upon within your heart. It is amazing how much ‘information’ in our life does not satisfy the standard described in Philippians 4:8.

(iv) We are to be the primary example to our children:

Ephesians 6:4 says “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Nowhere in Scripture is someone else given the primary responsibility to raise our children. Raising children is a joyful yet sobering life-long stewardship. Psalm 127:3 says “Behold, children are a heritage (gift) from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward.” Also, Malachi 2:15 declares that “He (God) seeks godly offspring”. Contrary to what much of our culture believes, children are not a mistake or an impediment to a good life. Yes, raising children for the Lord requires long term commitment and a deep spiritual vision. Raising children for the Lord does not come without a cost to our own self-centered plans. However, since children are eternal beings their impact for the Kingdom of God can have eternal consequences! Children are worth infinitely more than the temporal happiness that fleshly pleasures may give you. In our self-prioritizing culture it should come as no surprise that children are frequently depicted as financial and time burdens. The rampant sin of abortion is one tactic of Satan to attempt to destroy the possibility of children living for their Creator.
As a father of young children and teenagers I am continually amazed by the number of ‘voices’ out there clamouring to teach our children in the world’s ways. Whether it is news media, social media, the entertainment industry or our own secular school system there are many sources of ungodly
information that desire to grab hold of the minds and hearts of our children. Even more importantly than being a financial provider for the household, a dad is supposed to the spiritual head and spiritual protector within the home. Our homes need to be safe zones from the ways of the world. Living in the age of the internet and wireless media, every home is easily accessible to the world without proper oversight. Beyond that, our speech, hobbies and the things that we run to for fulfillment as fathers are also readily apparent to our children as they grow older. Is our walk pointing them to find fulfillment in Jesus or are we pointing them to be satisfied in the temporary pleasures of the world and culture? Children are quick to discern any hypocrisy and distraction within us. By the Lord’s grace, we can live a life that points our children to the Lord.

(v) We are to actively participate in strengthening the spiritual quality of our local church:

Before I lay any responsibility upon the shoulders of men for their local church, I first must admit that, by and large, the typical church life in North America does not follow the Scriptural model. The scope of this article cannot begin to address all that is meant by the preceding statement but let me summarize the current state of things just a little. When we hear the word ‘church’ today, sadly most people think of only a building. Much time, effort and cost is given to build elaborate and costly ‘churches’ that are used for only a fraction of the hours that exist in a given week. The success of a local church is often gauged by the curb appeal that the building generates. Furthermore, most churches today are run by a confident and Type A ‘senior pastor’ under a model that mostly mirrors a business. In medium to large churches, a senior pastor typically has paid helpers (be it an assistant pastor or two, a youth pastor, a worship pastor, etc). Effectively the church life is run by paid staff and most of the church ‘members’ typically show up only for a brief Sunday morning service to hear the senior pastor exercise his spiritual gift of teaching or preaching. In such meetings the rest of the body does not get to function in their gifts, they merely go home after the service. If the members are asked to function in any capacity on a Sunday morning it is typically to give money in order to support the substantial costs of this hybrid church / business model. This is not the highest model for the church life. The North American church model effectively renders the typical male useless and unneeded (aside from giving money). The Scriptural pattern is for a plurality of spiritually mature elders to provide Godly teaching and discipleship to equip the next generation of believers (see 2 Timothy 2:2 and Ephesians 4:11-14 for starters). There is no room for ‘mini popes’ or for larger-than-life individuals to run their personal ‘ministry’ out of ego or show. All men who desire more of the Lord must be able to spiritually function within the parameters of a properly conducted church life. Seek the Lord as to where you may function. Ask your church leadership where they envision you serving according to your gifting. Mature church leaders will not be threatened by such requests but rather highly encouraged! There are many ways that the ‘brothers’ in a local church can properly function. This can be accomplished by having various men speak over the course of the year rather than having every Sunday message coming from one individual. Perhaps you can also function in a small group setting, in outreach in the community, meeting one on one with others, etc. The options are many. Again, be in prayer and be in fellowship with church leadership concerning how you can be properly invested in the church life. Our church family lasts for eternity! It is wise to begin living in this reality even now.

(vi) We are to be ‘salt and light’ in the workplace:

Let me start off by saying that it is no more noble to be in ‘full time Christian ministry’ than it is to be working in the secular workplace. The key is to be where the Lord desires to plant you! Too many men have felt condemned in their minds because they are supposedly not doing the ‘Lord’s work’ while working in the marketplace. Many men in the pages of Scripture (think of Daniel and Joseph) have been highly used of the Lord in very secular occupations. Even John the Baptist, when talking to Roman soldiers, did not tell them to quit the Roman army. Rather John told them “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (see Luke 3:14.) Wow, no one would deny that the Roman army could use a godly witness! Other than your own family, your workplace will likely be your most important mission field. In fact you may be the only believer on your shift or in your entire workplace. What an opportunity! Matthew 5:13 says “You are the salt of the earth” and Matthew 5:16 says “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Simply by having the job that you do, you will have opportunities for the gospel that your pastor will never have! These opportunities are not be lost or minimized; rather, they are a precious gift from the Lord.