Date: February 9, 2014
Study: In His Image: Biblical Manhood, Womanhood, and Relationships
Teacher: Lawson Hembree
Our culture has a shortage of true men. How did we get to this point? In the introduction to his book The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits, Darrin Patrick says the problem is that “many men are simply unprepared to face the journey of manhood, in part because they have never been prepared in the first place.” Somewhere along the way, our culture misplaced the road map to manhood. Of course, many factors have contributed to this drift: the rise in divorces and single-parent homes, the removal of traditional rites of passage, and the attempt to remove traditional gender distinctives, just to name a few.
This lack of preparation for men has led to a culture filled with males stuck in a prolonged boyhood and adolescence: avoiding responsibility, lacking passion, and letting life pass them by as they escape in their careers, video games, sports, and/or porn. Or as Patrick puts it, ”Many of us [men] avoid real life and escape into a psuedoreality that is more comfortable and less taxing than our own lives.”
Today, we’re going to spend time diving into the definition of manhood and unpacking how it plays out in the lives of Christian men. Here’s the definition we will be using: The essence of Biblical masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. (Source: John Piper- Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, chapter 1, page 35)
“. . . A SENSE OF . . .”
What it is: acknowledging masculine responsibility, regardless of mental/physical ability to act
To be biblically masculine, a man must not only be responsible (a theological reality that is outside of him and beyond his control), but must also believe or feel – and acknowledge – that he is responsible. If he does not “acknowledge” and “affirm” his responsibility, then he is not really mature in his masculinity.
On the other hand, the word “sense” also implies that a man can be “fully masculine” even when his circumstances are such that he is not able to regularly act on that sense of responsibility in relation to a particular woman or women. So for example, a man may be in combat or out to sea away from women. He may be in prison. He may have a solitary job in some remote location. A man can still be properly masculine in those circumstances if he has that sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women, even if that sense is not directly actualized in relationships with women during every period of his life. What might that look like? Well, even if there’s not a woman anywhere to be found for miles, a man’s “sense” of responsibility will affect how he thinks and talks about women, the whether he engages with pornography, the kind of concern he shows for the marriages or relationships of the men around him.
This idea of “sense” also means that a man can still be biblically masculine as a husband and father even if he is not physically able to provide for or protect his family. He may be paralyzed. He may have a disabling disease. If he’s married, his wife may be the main breadwinner in such a circumstance. She may also be the one who has to get up at night to investigate that frightening noise in the house. Now, make no mistake; circumstances like those would be incredibly hard for any man (not to mention his wife), but if a man maintains a sense of his own benevolent responsibility under God, one thing he will not suffer is the loss of his masculinity. His sense of responsibility will find expression in the ways he conquers self-pity, the way he gives moral and spiritual leadership to others, the way he takes the initiative to protect his family from Satan and sin – which, truth be told, are ultimately even greater enemies than physical hunger or anything that threatens his family physically.
So that’s the idea. We could talk about a lot of other examples here, but the important takeaway is how this idea of a sense of masculinity – really just shorthand for a conscious, biblical understanding of the required traits – can transcend the sort of “tyranny of events” and leave the masculinity of godly men intact even through a host of difficult providences.
“. . . BENEVOLENT . . .”
What it is: fulfilling the masculine role with a servant attitude in an effort to honor and edify others
This word is intended to capture the idea of servant leadership that we talked about from Luke 22. “Benevolent” is defined as “characterized by or expressing goodwill; desiring to help others; intended for the benefit of others rather than for personal profit.” The idea here is simply that one of the central, essential responsibilities of manhood is the good of woman. Benevolent responsibility is meant to rule out all self-aggrandizing authoritarianism. It is meant to rule out all disdaining condescension, any act that makes a mature woman feel patronized rather than honored and appreciated. Benevolence rules out not only those actions or omissions intended to harm or undercut a woman, but also those actions intended solely to puff up the man. The word “benevolent” occupies the place it does within the larger definition of masculinity so that it hardwires the ethic of selflessness into everything else that follows.
“. . . RESPONSIBILITY . . .”
What it is: a God-given calling to care for all of creation
The role of this word in the definition is to stress that masculinity is a God-given trust for the good of all his creatures, not a right for men to exercise for their own self-exaltation or ego-satisfaction or selfish desires. Piper and Grudem describe it as “less a prerogative than a calling. . . . a duty and obligation and charge.” Like all God’s requirements of us it is not meant to be onerous or burdensome, but it is a burden to be carried. The word “responsibility” also correctly implies that man will be uniquely called to account for his leadership, provision and protection in relation to women and in relation to the rest of the garden that he has been called by God to care for as his central task. This doesn’t mean the woman has no responsibility, as we will see. It does mean that man bears unique and primary responsibility for the state of the creation he is called to rule over, and for the relationship between man and woman.
“. . . TO LEAD . . .”
What it is: the strength to serve and sacrifice for the good of others while mobilizing their strengths and regularly taking initiative in an attitude of repentance and humility
Now we get to the heart of the matter, and also to a more difficult idea to tease out. Remember this idea of male leadership, or headship is evidenced in Genesis 2, in 1 Timothy 5, and in the marriage passages; it’s there, so we need to figure out what it means. People’s experience with both the definition and practice of leadership will lead them to think wildly different things when they hear the verb “lead.” Another problem is that this one word carries many different nuances and implications for different contexts and situations. So let’s try to get at what we mean by talking about a handful of clarifying statements on the meaning of biblical, masculine leadership.
1. Biblical masculinity expresses itself not in the demand to be served, but in the strength to serve and to sacrifice for the good of woman.
Think back to Luke 22. Jesus said, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves” Leadership is not a demanding demeanor. It is an attitude toward service and moving things forward to a goal. If the goal is holiness and Heaven, the leading will have the holy aroma of Heaven about it – the demeanor of Christ. So immediately after saying that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy” (Ephesians 5:23, 25). Jesus led his bride to holiness and heaven on the cross. Though he looked weak by the world’s definition of power, he showed infinite strength by rejecting the world’s understanding of power and embodying servant leadership. Biblical men will feel this tension all the time if they take up the responsibility to lead according to scripture.
2. Biblical masculinity does not presume superiority, but mobilizes the strengths of others.
No human leader is superior to those he leads in every way. Because of that, a good leader will always take into account the ideas of those he leads, and may often adopt those ideas as better than his own. This applies to husbands at home and elders and other in the church and men leading in various ministries or business ventures and all the other places where leadership is critical. A man’s leadership is not measured by his indifference to the ideas and desires of others. A leader of peers may be surrounded by much brighter people than himself. A good leader will listen and respond to those he leads. The aim of leadership is not to demonstrate the superiority of the leader, but to bring out all the strengths of people that will move them forward to the desired goal. Men, single or married, in the home or the church, or whatever it is, lead the people around them by valuing them. This is part of servant leadership.
With respect to marriage, in Ephesians 5:28-29 the wife is pictured as part of the man’s body as the church is part of Christ’s body. Keep in mind as well that Christ does not lead the church as his daughter but as his wife, his bride. He is preparing her to be a “fellow-heir” (I Peter 3:7), not a child. This understanding of Ephesians 5 rules out any brand of leadership that treats a wife like a child. Any kind of male leadership in the home or the church or any other context that in the name of biblical masculinity tends to belittle or patronize or marginalize a wife or any other sister in Christ into personal immaturity or spiritual weakness, has entirely missed the point of biblical leadership.
3. Biblical masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.
This means that in a family setting, the husband need not (and should not) do all the thinking and planning, but that he is to take overall responsibility for initiating and carrying through the spiritual and moral planning for family life. There will be many times and many areas in the specifics of daily life where the wife will plan and initiate and run numerous things within the house and family. So the idea is that there should be a general tone and pattern of initiative that should develop and that should be sustained by the husband.
So a husband is falling down on his leadership responsibilities if the wife in general – consistently – is having to take the initiative in getting the family to church, and gather the family for devotions, and discussing with her husband what moral standards will be required of the children, and talking over ministry possibilities and how the family should prioritize serving in the church. A wife may initiate the discussion and planning of any one of these, but if she becomes the one who senses –and takes – the general responsibility for this pattern of initiative while her husband is passive, something contrary to Biblical masculinity is happening. If the family never reads the Bible or prays together, God holds the man responsible. If the children are disrespectful and disobedient, the primary responsibility lies with the father, not his wife. This is the same sentiment another author expresses when he says he assumes that every problem a couple has is the husband’s responsibility. It’s not that the wife has no fault or responsibility, but leadership means that primary responsibility for everything that grows out of the general spiritual pattern of a home lies with the head of that home – the husband.
4. Biblical masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between leader and led, but does not presume to use it in every instance.
In marriage, the idea here seems to be that in a good marriage, decision-making is generally focused on the husband, but is not unilateral. A good husband actively seeks input from his wife and often adopts her ideas. This pattern gels scripturally with the love that governs the marital relationship (Ephesians 5:25), with the equality of personhood implied in being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and in the status of being fellow-heirs in Christ (1 Peter 3:7). Unilateral decision-making is not usually a mark of good leadership. Now, on the other hand, husbands should also work to avoid passivity and insistence on “family consensus” with the wife and/or children that leads the family to perceive a pattern of weakness or indecision in the husband. So there’s a balance to be struck there.
In terms of authority, both husband and wife should agree on the principle that the husband’s decision should rightly hold sway if it does not involve sin, but this principle does not mean that a husband will often use the prerogative of “veto” over the wishes of his wife or family. I would even argue that if it’s a matter of mere preference (so not where a moral or spiritual issue is at stake), some of the other principles we’ve already discussed (Luke 22) suggest that a husband should seek to love and please his wife and family by not doggedly defending his preferences for their own sake. That’s not what his authority is for. Even where important issues are at stake, a husband’s awareness of his sin and imperfection should guard him from thinking that following Christ gives him the ability of Christ to know what’s best in all situations. All that said, the bottom line seems to be that in a well-ordered Biblical marriage both husband and wife acknowledge in principle that, if necessary in some disagreement, the husband should accept the burden of making the final choice.
This aspect of biblical masculinity transfers to other contexts of leadership outside of marriage as well. Whether in ministry or at work or wherever, a biblical leader understands that servant leadership means he does not jealously guard his own preferences where it’s not substantively necessary. To lead is to serve, and to serve is to encourage so far as that is possible. Responsibility to lead is one thing, desire to dominate is something else entirely.
5. Finally, biblical masculinity recognizes that the call to leadership is a call to repentance and humility and risk-taking.
Every man is a sinner, and masculinity and femininity have without question been distorted by our sin. Because of those truths, taking up the responsibility to lead must be a task of great care and humility. This principle transcends life context. Every man has ample cause for contrition at our passivity or our domination or our treatment of women generally. Some of us have neglected our wives by squandering way too much time in front of the TV or messing around on our own little projects or spending too much time away from home, whether for work or recreation.
Others of us have been too arrogant, harsh, domineering, or belittling, giving the impression through act and innuendo that our God-given position of leadership means we know everything and our wives owe us respect because of who we are and not because of who Christ is. Some of us as single men have acted selfishly toward our single sisters or for unbiblical reasons either refused or simply neglected to pursue marriage altogether. In all these things, we have essentially remained boys. Immature and unbiblical in our masculinity. Every man should humble himself before God for his past failures and for the remaining tendency either to shrink from his responsibilities or to overstep them for personal gain. The call to leadership is not a call to exalt ourselves over any woman. It is a call to humble ourselves and take the responsibility to be a servant-leader.
“. . . PROVIDE FOR . . .”
What it is: materially and spiritually taking care of women in appropriate ways
As we saw in 1 Timothy 5, the general sense of responsibility to provide that is part of biblical masculinity can play out in any number of ways. It might mean a son, brother, uncle, or grandfather stepping up and providing financially for female relatives who need help. It might mean providing financial or other types of help to an elderly widow within the church. It might mean taking the responsibility to pay for everything on a date – or on many dates. The notion is that where a man can be helpful materially in an appropriate way, he is sensitive to opportunities to do that and considers it a part of his masculinity to do so.
In marriage (where this aspect of masculinity most acutely applies), the point of saying that a husband should feel a responsibility to provide for his wife is not that the woman should not assist in maintaining support for the family or for society in general. Obviously Proverbs 31 pictures a wife with abilities that extend both within the sphere of the home and also in business and other affairs outside the home. What we’re getting at is this: when there is no bread on the table, it is the husband who should feel the main pressure to get it there. It does not mean his wife can’t ever help by taking a job outside the home. In fact, it is possible to imagine cases where she may have to do it all – like if the husband is sick or injured.
Still, a husband will (and probably should) feel his biblical masculinity compromised if he becomes unnecessarily dependent over the long term on his wife’s income, either through sloth or folly or lack of discipline, or even because he or his wife desires a standard of living that requires more money than he makes. Remember the responsibilities laid out in Genesis 2. The point of that text is not to define limits for what else the man and the woman might do. But it does suggest that significant role reversal at these basic levels of childcare and breadwinning labor will be contrary to the original intention of God, and contrary to the way he made us as male and female for our ordained roles. Supporting the family materially is primarily the responsibility of the husband. Caring for the children is primarily the responsibility of the wife.
“. . . PROTECT . . .”
What it is: the willingness to suffer for the safety of others, especially women and children
To take the principle a little further, let’s say a man and a woman (his wife, or sister or total stranger) are walking along the street and someone comes up and threatens them, what should the man do? Should he stand behind the woman? No. Biblical masculinity senses a natural, God-given responsibility to step forward and put himself between the threat and the woman. Why? Because men sacrificially serve women. A man would be willing to suffer for her safety. He has an awareness of his responsibility to protect her because he is a man and she is a woman.
The woman isn’t a coward because she is served by the man…its just the way God designed things to work. Let me read for you a quote by John Piper, “A man’s first thought is not that the woman at his side is weak, but simply that he is a man and she is a woman. Women and children are put into the lifeboats first, not because the men are necessarily better swimmers, but because of a deep sense of honorable fitness. It belongs to masculinity to accept danger to protect women.”
So whether it’s protecting a lady by laying down his life or just ensuring her safety by walking her to her car or home after church…men should always have on their minds how they should protect the ladies around them.
“. . . WOMEN . . .”
What it is: leading and loving women in ways that brings glory to God
Now, when we define biblical masculinity we could point out that manhood is seen in the call that God gave to work and keep the garden, to lead in the church, or many other realms that don’t directly relate to women…but we’ve chosen to focus on the way men relate to women because we think it helps you to grasp the bible’s primary thrust of what it means to be a man. Men are to lead and love women in ways that bring God glory.
So our definition includes the word “women.” Now, we didn’t use the word “wives” because a man does not become man by getting married. Masculinity and femininity are rooted in who we are by nature. Men have a basic sense in which they feel responsible to lead, provide and protect women in general, not just toward wives or even relatives. Now, the way he relates to his wife, with whom he shares his heart, will be different than the way he relates to a stranger he may hold the door for. This leads us to our last phrase.
“ . . . IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO A MAN’S DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS”
What it is: exercising biblical manhood in a discerning way towards women in a variety of relationships
Men and women have all types of relationships. These different relationships bring different kinds of responsibilities. The context of their relationships will help to determine the appropriate ways men and women relate to each other. So, a husband and wife will have different responsibilities to each other than two single church members of opposite sexes. An elder and a female church member will relate differently than a biological brother and sister would. There are differing responsibilities for the way men relate to women in in business, recreation, government, friendship, neighborhood, courtship, and engagement.
Trying to figure out exactly how to do this can be kind of confusing because we live in a culture that over-sexualizes everything and at the same time tries to erase the line between what it means to be a man or a woman. One thing that doesn’t change in any of those relationships is that men should always seek to have appropriate expressions of manhood. There will be different kinds of protection, defense, and readiness to serve. There is no specific science in this, so I encourage to prayerfully pay attention throughout this course and we can work out specifics as we go.
So that’s our working definition of biblical masculinity: A sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. As you can see, manhood is much more complex than one’s anatomy. True manhood expresses itself in the character, actions, and pursuits of a man.
Being a man isn’t easy. As Darrin Patrick says, “If you try to [be a true man with your own effort], you’re going to get frustrated and tired….Change is hard….We return again and again to what seems familiar to us because it’s known and comfortable, even if it’s destructive.” In order to escape this destructive cycle and redeem our manhood, there is only one solution: repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. He is the only one who can guide us into true manhood. Jesus perfectly displays biblical masculinity where Adam, no matter how much he could bench press, how sweet his beard was, or how much money he made, fell far short of the Bible’s portrait of masculinity. “True manhood doesn’t mean being perfect ourselves; it means trusting Christ’s perfection for us. True manhood doesn’t mean getting everything right; it means having the courage to say when we get things wrong and the confidence that comes from receiving our acceptance from God in Christ.” All of us have sinned and fallen short in our leadership and fulfillment of our masculine calling. This is why the Gospel is so essential: we are constantly in need of God’s grace.
Being a real man isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
**Lesson adapted from Lesson 3 of Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” Core Seminar**
RESOURCES AND FURTHER READING
The Dude’s Guide to Manhood: Finding True Manliness in a World of Counterfeits by Darrin Patrick (Lawson’s review)
Disciplines of a Godly Man by R. Kent Hughes
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood. Edited by Wayne Grudem.