A Biblically Grounded Vision of Masculinity

John Piper and Mark Driscoll have recently said some controversial things about masculinity in the church. In an interview with Justin Briary, Driscoll associates the doctrines of hell and penal substitutionary atonement with a masculine Christianity. At his Desiring God Pastor’s Conference, Piper also raised some eyebrows by saying: “For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Comments such at these have caused an uproar, and many have disputed these claims.

I also recently had a great conversation with a friend about what men’s ministry should look like. During the course of this discussion the subject of biblical masculinity came up. This got me thinking again about this much debated issue.  What does the Bible really have to say about masculinity? What does the Bible indicate a man should be like? It is my objective here to briefly survey a few of the passages I believe illuminate this issue.

Manhood Biblically Informed:

Before diving in here, it is important to start with at least two observations.  First, though many of the Scriptural passages touching on the issue of masculinity deal primarily with the husband/wife relationship, there are certainly principals in these texts that should shape our understanding of manhood in general. Marriage was the assumed state of mature men in Biblical times, and so it makes sense that much of the information we have about masculinity would be given in that context. Single men undoubtedly have much to gain from these passages today. As Paul and Christ prove to us, true masculinity can be present even in unmarried men.

What also must be noted is that when Scripture affirms a certain characteristic in men, this does not necessarily mean that the opposite should be true of women. For instance, to say that man is to be brave does not mean that women shouldn’t be. Saying that men are specifically called to bravery does mean that women are called to passivity or timidity. This isn’t s zero sum game. It is quite possible to encourage a certain trait in men without assuming the opposite is true of women.

I have recognized a tendency in these discussions to twist Scripture in order to make a certain point about masculinity that the Bible does not.  It is my objective to go no farther than Scripture does. We must also note that there is not a huge amount of teaching on masculinity in the Bible. Most of the advice we find in the Bible for Christian living is not gendered in nature.  That said, there are passages important to this issue. Here I will focus three passages I believe are significant when discussing the subject of Biblical masculinity. Because truth must be applied, I have included questions for men after each passage I discuss.

1 Corinthians 16:13 – Bravery and Strength

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

This is perhaps the most testosterone laden challenge in the entire Bible, and it almost sounds like part of a locker-room speech before a big game. We find this message in Paul’s closing comments to the Corinthian believers in his first letter to them. The key word in this passage is andrizomai, here translated “act like men” and it means “to render one manly or brave; to show oneself a man; that is, not to be a coward, or timid, or alarmed at enemies, but to be bold and brave” See Barnes. In this definition we see that both bravery and masculinity are in mind. This word is only used once in the New Testament.

Some have suggested that since there is no direct reference to men in the passage before this, it would be better to assume that this message applies to the whole church. In this understanding andrizomai should be translated: “be brave”. To that perspective I would say this, beginning at the start of chapter sixteen Paul’s focus seems to shift from general encouragement to personal instructions. It is certainly true that the letters of Paul would have been read to the entire church. However, the initial readers of this letter, and the ones responsible for carrying out these instructions were the church leaders – who were in fact men.  This is one reason I believe andrizomai should be understood in a distinctly male sense here. When we understand this verse in that way, we see that men are encouraged to be brave and strong in the midst of challenges to their faith. Similar wording occurs in the Old Testament: Job 38:3 “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Here we also see that bravery is mind.

Application Questions:

–       In what areas are you living out of fear instead of bravery?

–       Who is a Christian man you respect for his bravery?

1 Peter 3:7:  Compassion and Strength

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Many ladies react in anger to this verse because it refers to the woman as being a “weaker vessel”. However, if we simply read what Peter is saying here we quickly understand that his intent was to bless and honor women, not demean them. Women are held up as equal heirs, not as lesser beings. Husbands are even told that being inconsiderate of their wives will hinder their relationship with God. For men, accepting their wives as equal heirs requires that they treat them in a sensitive and understanding manner. A man who accepts his wife as his equal will seek to treat her differently than he treats others.

It logically follows from Peter’s comments that men possess some strength that women do not. The question remaining is what exactly did Peter see as the strength of man? It seems likely that the primary context he had in mind was indeed physical strength. The word “vessel” used here (greek skeuos) also shows up in other places in Scripture and is used to describe of the physical body (2 Corinthians 4:7). Jesus also uses the term vessel to describe a person chosen by him for special service (Acts 9:15)

Saying that women are not generally as physically strong as men is not judgmental, it’s reality. For husbands, and indeed men in general, treating women in an understanding way will inevitably involve using their physical strength to protect, provide for, and comfort women. AT Robertson comments that the use of the term weaker here refers not to “intellectual or moral weakness, but purely… physical” That being understood, there are other, non-physical ways in which men can show strength. A Godly man will at times be called on to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual strength to those around him.

Application Questions:

–          How can you use your physical strength to protect and serve the women in your life?

–          How can you use your strength to guard the heart and emotions of women around you?

–          Are you serving women in order to show them honor as your equal, or are you belittling them with your words and actions?

–          Is your relationship with God being hindered by the way you are treating the women around you?

Ephesians 5:22-33: Leadership, Sacrificial Love, Sanctification

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

This is the granddaddy of marriage passages, and here we find extensive insight on the question of biblical masculinity. The first masculine trait we encounter in this passage is that of leadership. The term “head”, chosen by Paul here, is also used by the apostle in a similar way in I Cor. 11:3. The assumption in both places seems to be that men are called to lead and represent their families. The husband/wife relationship is compared to the relationship Jesus has with God the Father. Scripture teaches us that Jesus and God the Father are equally divine, but we also know that Christ respectfully submitted to the Father during his life on earth. This principal of male leadership is also extended to church offices by Paul (I Tim. 2:12-15, 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). We see from these two contexts that God desires that men adopt a posture of leadership in various areas of life.

The second expression of masculinity in this passage is that of love. Dr. Michael Easley, the former president of Moody Bible Institute, once pointed out that nowhere in this passage are husbands compelled to order their wife to submit to them, they are simply required to love them. Husbands are called to love their wives as deeply as Christ loves the church. For Christ, this meant intense suffering and ultimately death. The love men are called to show to their wives is a dying kind of love. It is a never ending love that would rather meet its own end than let go of the one it prizes. While many in our culture would define masculinity as the ability to experience many different women without true emotional attachment, God’s man is defined by his ability to physically and emotionally express love to one woman. This theme of love also shows up in Colossians 3:19. “Husbands love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”

Lastly, men are called to imitate the example of Christ who leads the Church he loves toward purity and increasing holiness (v.26-27). From this we see that men are called to lead their wives spiritually. By loving, cherishing, and spiritually building up his wife, a man allows his spouse to blossom in an amazing way. With his protective shield of sacrificial love, a husband creates an environment where his wife can spiritually thrive without fear of abandonment or assault. While each individual is certainly responsible for their own walk with God, true men are called to create environments where those closest to them can spiritually grow.

We may summarize this passage by saying that true masculinity is defined in the person of Christ. He is the man we should emulate. Unmarried men can take particular encouragement from this fact. Single men can also exemplify each of these aspects of masculinity in their lives. They should learn to show leadership in their spheres of influence. They should love others with a deep and sacrificial love. And they should also seek to foster spiritual growth in the lives of those around them.

Questions for Application:

–          What areas of your life are you choosing to be lazy or passive instead of leading?

–          When you do lead, are you leading out of insecurity, or are you leading to bless and serve others?

–          Are you showing sacrificial love in your relationships with others, or are you merely doing nice things to get favors?

–          Do others feel drawn to God when they spend time around you?

–          How often do Scripture and talk of Christ show up in the conversations you have with others?

All Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *