I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about the topic of gender roles, perhaps because it’s been a matter of such public debate in Christian circles. In addition to that, my co-workers and I just finished writing a series of Bible studies (generally targeted to young men) based on the lives of a few prominent men in the Scripture.
So what does it mean to be a “real man”? If you listen to certain popular teachers, you’d think manhood revolves around hunting, football, monster truck rallies, and general machismo.
Here’s what’s interesting, though: As I look at the Bible, I don’t necessarily see certain spiritual gifts or virtues that are unique to men as opposed to women. Like I’ve mentioned before, I think the Scripture supports different roles for men and women at church and at home. I think those roles are based to some degree on how God has designed men and women to function. But it’s possible for different types of men (sporty, artistic, loud, quiet, tall, short) to faithfully fulfill their appointed roles.
As I examine the biblical commands concerning men and their roles, and look carefully at biblical examples, it seems that a “real man” (or a godly man) is primarily defined in terms of how he relates to God and to others.
-A godly man uses his authority and influence to build others up, not to oppress or tear people down (1 Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 20:25-28). If men are called to lead at home and at church, it’s a different kind of leadership than we see in the world. Leadership actually means sacrificing your own rights, serving others, and seeking what’s best for them. To some degree, machismo works against us on this point, because if I’m trying to prove my manliness I’m likely to run others down. Jesus was confident and bold in His leadership, but never abusive or unkind.
-A godly man loves his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Obviously this only applies directly to married men. But the principle of imitating Christ’s love undergirds the command. Loving like Jesus loves is something any man can strive for through the power of God’s Spirit. It’s not confined to bodybuilders or action heroes, although they’re not excluded from this command.
-A godly man takes responsibility for the needs of other people. This relates to the first point, but Paul urges men to provide for their families (1 Timothy 5:8). This is not a command to trash those who have lost a job or have difficulty providing. Instead it’s a command to those who have the means that they have an obligation to other people. That command is also given in the context of exhorting the church’s leadership to care for widows and orphans, what James calls “true religion.”
-A godly man relies on God rather than on his own strength. Paul boasts about his weakness, because in his weakness God is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). Great men of the Old Testament like Daniel and David found their strength through prayer and trust in God. This is in stark contrast to the posturing and swaggering that characterizes much of what passes for masculinity in our culture. Godly men accept their own weakness and insufficiency in order to allow God’s power to work through them.
Of course, many of these traits and activities apply to women as well. So the issue here is not whether men ought to show a particular set of virtues or character qualities that women don’t have, but instead that we are commanded to demonstrate Christ’s character in the particular roles to which he’s called us. In my particular calling as a husband, father, pastor, and leader, I’m called to imitate and proclaim the character and Gospel of Jesus. That’s what it means to be a “biblical man.” That’s much more difficult than subscribing to some cultural ideal of manhood. But it’s much more powerful, as well.
Do you agree with my assessment? Have I left anything off of this list? How do you feel about the concept of biblical masculinity (or femininity)?