UR WORLD IS increasingly uncomfortable with objective truth. Relativism and subjectivity attempt to redefine ourselves and our surroundings on the basis of our fallen viewpoints.
Yet science is stubbornly objective. It doesn’t matter whether or not you feel it—the law of gravity applies to you. God has created a universe where gravity operates. Jump out of a plane without a parachute and you will quickly discover that gravity is an objective truth!
Human chromosomes are an objective reality. If a child is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21, that child will have Down Syndrome. As a pro-life advocate, I passionately believe we should love, protect, treasure, and celebrate children with this extra chromosome. But we cannot wish away the objective reality of their genetic makeup.
Chromosomes also determine our gender. God has created human beings as male and female. We can change our names, wear different clothing, and even surgically alter our body parts, but every single cell in our bodies will still carry the same set of chromosomes that make us male or female.
But what does it really mean, from a Biblical standpoint, to be a man? Are we sometimes guilty of basing our ideas of manhood on culture rather than Scripture? Christian men need to ask what has been the greatest influence on our identity—Hollywood, ESPN, or the Word of God?
As a frequent visitor to the U.S., I love fellowshipping with my American brothers and sisters. Sometimes, as a representative of the overseas church, I am invited to men’s breakfasts or conferences to bring a missions emphasis. But I often feel like a fish out of water.
Much of the conversation, and most of the illustrations in the teachings, revolve around hunting or sports. I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the terrorist violence, and the only kind of hunting I experienced was when gunmen were chasing down human beings in order to kill them! As for sport, I played soccer (or “football,” as it is called in the rest of the world) every day on the street. At school I ran cross-country and played rugby. But American sports are a mystery to me. Nobody has yet managed to explain to me how you can have a “World Series” in a sport that nobody else in the world bothers to play!
Now, I’m certainly not arguing that hunting or American sports are sinful. But, as an outsider looking in, I have often wondered why so much of “men’s ministry” promotes ideas of manhood that are culturally, rather than Biblically, determined. Let me add that this insight caused me to look afresh at men’s ministry in Europe and other places. The contexts might be different, but we are just as influenced by our cultures as are Americans.
I understand where this is coming from. We see men underrepresented in many areas of church life and want to make church more attractive to them. But rather than trying to make Christianity more manly, why don’t we try to make our ideas of manliness more Christian? If our “manhood” is primarily shaped by our surrounding culture, then are we any more objective, or Biblical, than the gender confusion we increasingly see in government, education, and popular media?
The Bible is full of positive examples of what it means to be a man. Yes, the failings of men of God are also written large in Scripture, but in a way we can learn from. The redemptive “warts and all” portrayals of Biblical characters are much more instructive than our penchant for building up sporting idols only to be disillusioned by their subsequent greed, sin, and stupidity.
King David is described as “a man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22). In the New Testament, we see Jesus, the incarnate Son, as the perfect example of manhood. What can David and Jesus teach us about manhood that we can’t learn from sports or movies? Here are six characteristics of Biblical manhood.
1. David and Jesus were men of praise and prayer. They knew how to intercede and they knew how to worship with all their heart. In my country’s culture, men were not traditionally taught to worship. In Irish Catholicism, women and children would attend mass and sit in the pews. The men would stand near the back doors, physically present, but emotionally disengaged. As soon as
the priest dismissed the congregation, the men would race across the street to the pub for their pint of Guinness. Irrespective of our culture, David and Jesus teach us Biblical manhood involves a commitment to prayer and heartfelt worship.
2. The ability to worship passionately means a Biblical man should not be afraid of his God-given emotions. Many of us were raised to believe “real men don’t cry.” As a young man living on the streets of Belfast, I quickly learned that shedding tears, even under extreme suffering, would mark me as a victim, targeted for further hurt and abuse. The lives of David and Jesus, however, demonstrate that Biblical men are not afraid to shed tears. They were not controlled by their emotions, but they saw no shame in displaying their emotions.
3. Both Jesus and David formed close bonds of friendship with other men. The Apostle John described himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 NIV), and David enjoyed a close friendship with Jonathan. In our sex-obsessed world, some have even foolishly and blasphemously argued that David and Jonathan’s love for each other was erotic. Biblical manhood, however, makes us sufficiently secure in our identity to love—in a godly, nonsexual way—our brothers in Christ.
4. Both David and Jesus were convinced of the Father’s plan and purpose for their lives. They did not see comfort or pleasure as being their reason for living. They knew every event in their lives was inextricably linked with God’s purpose. In David’s case, that included his sin. He knew his disobedience and lack of self-control did not just affect him, but the nation he was called to lead. Biblical men are determined to grasp and follow God’s will.
5. That leads us to the subject of repentance. Obviously, Jesus committed no sin and never needed to repent. David could be a great sinner at times, but he was also a great “repenter.” A Biblical man is stubborn enough to hold on to God’s road for his life in the face of obstacles, but not too stubborn to recognize when he has taken the wrong turn.
6. David and Jesus understood the principle of protective servanthood. They knew they were leaders, and that leaders must provide a covering. They also knew when it rains, the covering is the one who gets wet. My earthly father would not have described himself as an Evangelical Christian, but he knew what it meant to be the head of the house. We were a family of seven, and if one of the portions of food was burned at dinner time, my father always took that portion. There was no debate on this point. He was the head of the home not as a “boss,” but as a protective servant who sacrificed for the family he led. My own life would take me on a downward spiral until I found Christ—but I’ve never forgotten the leadership lesson of watching my father determinedly chewing overcooked food!
Yes, as Christian men we reject the subjective and confused redefinitions of gender that surround us today. But let’s ensure that our ideas of manliness are Biblical, not just based on more traditional, yet equally subjective, standards from popular culture.
Nick Park is national bishop of the Church of God in Ireland and pastor of Solid Rock
Church in Drogheda. He is also executive director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland.