|What It Means to Be a Man|
A Study for Guys, Young and Old
(by Christopher Long)
There's an epidemic in our society of men that are existing and floating along that I believe, whether they realize it or not, are genuinely confused about what it really means to be a man. Many men are continually trying to prove themselves to themselves as well as others and trying to meet some standard, even though they really aren't even fully sure what that standard actually is. There has been great confusion in our society regarding manhood. Boys are often left to fend for themselves when they hit adolescence and most guys just try to figure things out based on what they see other guys telling them and showing them - especially in movies and television shows and so forth.
Just from television, movies, music, and video internet sites like YouTube, here is what we typically learn about what it means to be a real man:
- Men are to be macho and tough - to not take any junk from anybody.
While there are definitely exceptions, that's pretty much the overriding narrative from our culture.
So when boys start becoming men, they look around at what it means to be a man and this is what they see and hear. So guys are always trying to prove themselves and their worth as men by trying to outdo each other in these areas because they think that's what it's all about. They think that in order to be "cool" and accepted as a man, these are the markers they need to attain to. So they talk and act in ways to try to prove to themselves that they are an okay guy, but all the while often having this nagging sense that something's not quite right.
Now, recently there has been a push in our society to blur the lines between men and women. There's more "gender confusion" going on now because of this blurring. There's a camp of people that see men and women as pretty much totally the same and they don't see distinctions for men and the roles of men. Because of this, what's happening is that some girls and women are conforming more to several of the cultural manhood messages shared above as well. So you end up with some women trying to be more like what they think men are and some men trying to be more like how they think women are. Basically when one looks at the messages society today is giving about what it means to be a man, it's recently gotten even more confusing and more of a jumbled mess.
The predominant picture though on what culture says it means to be a real man is still as shared above.
However, there's another picture of what it means to be a man. And that is the one I want to showcase for a few minutes. Because this one comes from the Bible and from God.
Most people, whether Christian or not, would acknowledge that Jesus was a really good man, and many people would say that he is the only perfect man that ever lived.
So if Jesus was the perfect man, then it would make sense to look at his life to see what a real man is supposed to be like, right?
Just for the fun of it and a nice change of pace, what do you say we do that for a few minutes?
- Jesus was a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, so he knew how to work hard. I'm sure he was "tough" in that sense - he was a "man's man" in that kind of sense. Men are supposed to work hard and showcase strength of sorts, but not be prideful or arrogant. We never see Jesus coming at people arrogantly talking about how he's a stronger man or better carpenter than other guys.
- Jesus knew how to have compassion and express appropriate emotion. In John 11, there's a story of Jesus' friend Lazarus that had died and Jesus raised up from the dead. Even though we are told that Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, when he saw his friends weeping and in pain because of Lazarus' death, it moved Jesus. It says this: "When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36 ESV, bracketed text added for clarity)
We are told in this passage that Jesus wept. He also wept other times such as when he wept over a whole city of people that were living in rebellion to God (Luke 19:41). We're also told many places that Jesus was "moved with compassion" for people and wanted to help them. Jesus knew how to be compassionate and he cared about peoples' feelings. And though he could be a strong guy, he wasn't afraid to show emotion or to cry when it was appropriate to cry. And he modeled that for us.
- Jesus could get angry, but he didn't sin when he was angry. The Bible tells us: "In your anger do not sin" (Eph. 4:26a NIV). One of Jesus' pet-peeves was religious people - people that claimed to know God but yet made everything all about their works and putting burdens on people and misrepresenting God to people. He talked about how those people claimed to honor God with their lips, but their hearts were really far from him. In one instance he drove a bunch of people that were selling and doing business in the temple courts out with a whip because among other things he didn't like that they were turning God's house into a marketplace! (John 2:13-17). When Jesus got angry, it was a righteous anger. He showed us that there is a place for anger, in a right sense. That men can legitimately get angry (such as when seeing injustice) but do so in a way that is right and not sin. Jesus was clearly a strong leader who could take appropriate action when he needed to.
- Jesus said this: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV). Jesus loved people and declared that he was gentle and humble in heart. Jesus was no wimpy guy. We just saw him a minute ago taking some intense action in the temple court. He wasn't weak, but he was "meek". Meekness is a state of being humble and not arrogant or prideful. It's having power, but keeping that power under appropriate control. Jesus lived confidently and could take strong and decisive action when warranted, but his life was one of living in a humble and gentle way. Jesus modeled all the time that being gentle and humble is a key part of being a real man.
- Jesus genuinely loved people and wasn't afraid to show that emotion, including with other guys. In John 13:23 we read: "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved." (KJV). This wasn't a weird or "gay thing" - this was just pure genuinely expressed love. I'm not saying guys need to go around leaning on each other's chests all the time, but giving someone close to you a hug and telling them you love them is clearly in line with the type of picture we see portrayed by Jesus.
- Jesus knew how to have a good time with and relate with people. He attended a wedding feast and even performed a miracle in creating more wine when the wine ran out. (John 2). He had dinners with people of all types. He interacted with children and could meet them on their level. He interacted with prostitutes and people that were despised. Jesus knew how to have fun, but he didn't do wrong and try to make himself seem cool by participating in wrong things. Jesus never ran around with women, he never looked at porn, he wasn't obsessed with sex. He didn't use foul language or tell dirty jokes. He didn't take drugs. He did drink wine but he did not get drunk. He was able to talk with people and be real with people, but to not lower his standards. Jesus shows us that real men know how to control themselves - to have self-control. And actually the Bible tells us that self-control is something that is a help given to believers in Jesus - that God helps believers to have self-control if they let him - it's what's called a "fruit of the Spirit". (Galatians 5:22-23).
- Jesus taught us to guard our eyes, because he said "if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." (Mt 6:23b ESV). In other words, what we look at and allow to enter our lives through what we watch matters! Have you ever watched something you knew you shouldn't be watching (porn, violent film, etc) and then afterwards felt kind of dark inside? Usually at least the first time one does it, that's what happens. Now if a person keeps letting such things in their lives, they can become numb to it and not really sense the darkness anymore. But it's not that it's not there; it's just they don't really realize it anymore. (they often then rationalize the behavior as being "okay" or "just something guys do").
- Jesus taught us to do to others what we'd have them do to us. To treat others the way we want to be treated. (Mt 7:12). Do you want to be treated rudely? Do you want people to take revenge on you every time you make a mistake? Do you want people to talk bad about you?
- Jesus taught us to watch our words, because he said, "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mt 12:36-37 ESV). Jesus placed a high priority on speaking good things and not evil things. I can guarantee you he didn't go around dropping f-bombs thinking he was being all cool... He also knew when to speak and when not to speak. He knew that there is a time for talking and a time to hold your tongue.
- Jesus taught us that "everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26b-27 ESV). In other words, a "foolish man" is one who doesn't listen to Jesus' words and put them into practice. But in contrast, a "wise man" builds his house on the rock (of Jesus) and puts Jesus' words into practice in their life. (Mt 7:24-25).
So what did Jesus say?
Lots of things of course, but how about this? Jesus said: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23 ESV).
So here Jesus defined even more about how a man is NOT to be - he listed a bunch of things that are NOT markers of a real man. That if you want to be a real man that's living a good life, these aren't things that should be a part of your life.
He talked of the problems of murder and lust (including that people can commit murder or adultery in their hearts - see Matthew 5). He talked of how we should be peacemakers and that violence ain't all that great - that "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Mt 26:52b ESV). Somehow I don't envision Jesus spending hours playing violent video games where he's going around trying to virtually kill others for "fun".
He also talked about divorce and hatred and revenge. He talked about thinking you're better than other people and judging others without giving consideration to yourself. He talked about forgiving people especially given that God has been willing to forgive you.
- Jesus taught us to care about others and put their needs ahead of our own. He said, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42b-45 ESV)
- Jesus taught us to love and be merciful to all - "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36 ESV).
- Jesus exhorted people in Matthew 5 to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be peacemakers. He did NOT tell us to try to outdo other men in being as badass as you can, to dominate people, to cut people down.
- Jesus treated women with respect and love. He interacted with lots of women and we always see him being compassionate and loving and treating them well. We never see him talking down to women or treating them as "lesser-than's".
- Contrary to messages we are told about men today, Jesus was NOT dumb or clueless or lazy. He lived his life purposefully and exhorted us to live the same. He lived each day with purpose - seeking to fulfill God's will - to do all that God the Father had for him to do. He told a story of a rich guy who built more and more things for himself and then told himself, "[Self], you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’" (Luke 12:19b-20 ESV, bracketed text added for clarity). Jesus then went on to say: "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Lk 12:21 ESV).
Life isn't about just climbing the ladder of success and making lots of money, nor is it about partying and being lazy. You can have all the riches in the world, but what will that profit you on the day you see God? Jesus was teaching us to live with an eternal perspective - realizing that we are all here for a short time and we don't know when we will go and we only have one chance to do this right - so we want to live the way God would have us live and doing the things he has for us to do. Jesus said "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38 ESV).
- Jesus didn't find his identity as a man in his work as a carpenter. He didn't find his worth and value in what he did, but in WHO he was. He didn't let his worth as a man be defined by work, status, money, race, sexuality, or any behavior or label others might want to put on him. He found his identity in who he was as the Son of God and he really didn't care a whole lot about whether other people liked him or thought he was cool or not - he didn't live for the approval of other men, but for the approval of God the Father. While we are not Jesus, if we believe in Jesus and accept his gift of salvation, the Bible says that we are also sons of God (Galatians 3:26) and thus that also is what we are to base our worth and value on.
- Jesus spent time alone with God the Father. He often went off by himself to pray. And Jesus was part God! How much more for us that aren't! As a 12-year-old boy, Jesus' parents weren't sure where he was and they basically found him at church (at the temple) and he said to them, "Why were you searching for me? ... Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?" (Luke 2:49 NIV). Even as a 12-year-old, he placed a priority on talking to God and spending time with him.
Real men know that they are NOT God and aren't trying to be him, but they know who is God and defer and submit to him. Real men know that they aren't perfect and that they can't live like Jesus did in themselves. They realize that they've sinned and need a Savior just like everyone else - that they've done those things that Jesus mentioned as evil. They aren't trying to prove themselves to people, but rather humbly are willing to receive the grace and gift that God has for them. They are willing to come to Jesus and find their everything in him - just like we read earlier when Jesus told us to come to him and he'd give us rest. They realize that Jesus knew what he was saying when Jesus told us that apart from him, we could do nothing (Jn 15:5) - that we can't really succeed in what we were created for and bear any lasting fruit without Jesus.
The biggest mark of a real man is one that gets this. That isn't prideful and trying to measure themselves according to other men, but measures themselves according to God's standards, and is willing to humble themselves before God and wants to live the full and abundant life that God has for them to live. That's what makes a real man.
Guys, there's so much more for us and such a higher way to live than what our culture tells us. Our culture, spearheaded by the devil, lies to us and tries to get us to do all sorts of things that will keep us down and non-effective and living in a wasteful way with little direction or purpose and no lasting benefit. As men, if we follow what the culture says, we will live defeated, purposeless, hopeless, discouraged and not truly be a success in what really matters for all eternity. God has so much more for us. There's a better way.
There's pretty much just 2 paths in life. Jesus illuminated this very clearly for us when he told us:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV).
Much of our culture has taken the wide gate path, but real men buck the confused culture and follow Jesus and what he says. He is a much better example of how to be as a man than what our confused culture says.
I leave you with these words of Jesus: "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12b NIV)
That's real, full, victorious, truly successful life.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is version 1.0 of this document (June 21, 2019).