Enjoying Being Made Different
God’s design of gender is fascinating to me. Beyond the obvious reason of reproduction, what is God’s purpose in making male and female? Personally, I enjoy aspects of both genders. Having a wife, two sons and two daughters, I have first-hand experience of the complexities and delights of relating to men and women in the context of a household. As a husband to a wife, I enjoy specific aspects of my wife’s femaleness that transcend every other relationship that I have with other women, including my daughters. As a dad to daughters, femaleness is seen, enjoyed and appreciated in ways that are not present in my sons. As a dad to sons, there is a unique way in which we relate as men that is deeply enjoyable and different than those experiences with either my wife or daughters. Some of these differences are owning to that each of these family members is a unique individual, with his or her own specific personality, likes and dislikes, quirks and peculiarities. On the other hand, there is something profound to be said about gender in making up the differences that I enjoy and appreciate in them all. Outside my family, I experience the uniqueness of gender in various contexts and relationships. As a counselor, I find that though the fundamental struggles of life are common to all people, being broken and living in a broken world, there are unique ways in which I experience men and women in the counseling room. Those differences are sometimes very difficult to explain, being woven into a complex array of the many things experienced in a counseling relationship. Suffice it to say, that God’s design of gender is good, as is all of His creation, and that His unique design of gender is to be enjoyed as He intended it. There is a sense of understanding gender in accordance with God’s intention of design that is prerequisite if we are to rightly enjoy and appreciate the distinction of the sexes. I’d like to use this blog to explore more about what it means to be a man in accord with God’s design.
Questions about Masculinity
While working out at the local gym and observing men grunting and pushing heavy weights over their heads, strutting about displaying what they believed were toned bodies, I was struck with the question of masculinity. Is this LA Fitness version of masculinity a display of God’s intention for men? Or is physical and mental toughness just a part of it, but more? Does gym-wrought fitness and toughness show masculinity? Or does it masquerade as it? Is it wholly something else? So, what is masculinity? Or said another way, what is it supposed to be? And assuming that our experience of masculinity is not consistent with what it is supposed to be, then why is this? These are important questions, for the answers will guide our thinking and behaving in regard to our relationship with God and with other people, especially those of the opposite sex.
The Essence of Masculinity
We appeal to scripture to gain our understanding of maleness. The essence of masculinity is first bound up in what it means to be human. Seeking a definition outside of scripture produces either a biological or a socio-cultural understanding, which is subject to change over time and, at best, is incomplete, and at worst, wholly inaccurate. We must be wary of any understanding of humanity and masculinity that is not informed by and conforming to scripture. With that said, we must first note the uniqueness of being humans as distinct from all other of God’s creation. This is a fact that has profound implications. This uniqueness has its roots in how people are created in God’s image. This means that understanding God’s image in man is necessary if we are to have a correct understanding what it means to be human, which is prerequisite for properly understanding the essence of masculinity.
Being made in the image of God means that we have been made “like” Him; we are made capable of expressing His glory. Glorifying God, simply understood, is to reflect His image in what we are, do, think, and say. When we love the Lord God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are, in essence, living in a way that relates to Him as He is and reflects His image to others. This is the essence of Christ-likeness, toward which we should all, as believers, strive. However, as sin has tarnished the image of God in us, our capacity to be truly human and, as men, to be truly masculine, is corrupted and becomes ineffective in its purpose of glorifying God.
Masculinity as Understood in the Creation of Mankind
We need look no further than Genesis 1 to get our first clear indication of what it means to be human—and male and female.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (vv. 26-28)
Here we see the creation of mankind—as male and female—made in God’s image, given a task to fulfill in their God-likeness. They were to rule as vice-regents of God over what he created—and were to do so as male and female—with distinctive roles in accordance with God’s design of their gender. Secondly, they were to be fruitful and multiply. They were made male and female in order to multiply and to have dominion. We see here that in order to fulfill His intentions to show His image through man, God made male and female, distinct in their gender and roles, and instituted marriage to display His glory in the union of two distinct genders.
God’s intentions are always toward the display of His glory. This includes the reason He made people as male and female. Why would He do this? How does male and female display the glory of God? I believe the answer to this lies in God’s triune nature. His essence is one, but He is three distinct persons. Likewise, in His creation of man, in which made man in His own image, we see one essence in two genders. Male and female are of the same essence—that is, man or human—but distinct in their genders. We see this is Genesis 2:21-24:
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Here we see woman being taken from the man, formed into a distinct gender, but coming from the same essence. This is in accordance with the creation of God’s image in man. Therefore, whatever masculinity is, it is in accordance with imaging God in accordance with his distinctive gender, bound up in the creative act of God in making him male.
Jesus refers to God’s creation of mankind as both male and female in his response to the Pharisees, who were questioning him about when it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife.
He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matthew 19:4-6)
Notice Jesus says “created them from the beginning . . . male and female” and links this to marriage (union of the distinct genders). The one flesh relationship of marriage, which is a covenant relationship established by God, is rooted in distinction of gender and intended to image God. God’s plan is that mankind, one in essence, expressed in two distinct genders, with each person within those distinct genders being a unique person, would display His image. The covenant of marriage, then, displays the image of God by showing His unique nature of one essence and yet distinct persons within that nature.
So, do we conclude that understanding masculinity is to be accomplished only in reference to marriage? Or that a man is only truly a man when he is married? I don’t think so. I believe that marriage showcases God in ways that are also seen in other relationships in which men are called to be masculine as God intended. And, furthermore, marriage accomplishes more in displaying God than that which has to do with gender. The most vivid picture that marriage displays is that of Christ and His church. But that is a topic for another blog.
So, what we learn about masculinity in the creation of man is that it provides a basis of understanding from which we can draw inferences that help us gain a broader and more comprehensive meaning of masculinity. From this broader and more comprehensive understanding of masculinity emerge a means to define and guide in the tasks and relationships that God has granted to men.
Jesus as a man
We need to take careful note that the greatest demonstration of masculinity is in the person of Jesus. He perfectly embodied what it means to be human, being without any distortion owing to sin. In His perfection, we see what God intended a man to be. Furthermore, we note that His demonstration of true masculinity was without a human context of marriage (though He is a groom to His bride, the church). Though Jesus was never married in earthly life, His interactions with women give us strong indications concerning masculinity as it relates to relationships with the opposite gender. Furthermore, all the characteristics that serve to define masculinity are seen in the person of Christ Jesus in His relationship to His church, His spiritual bride. As then Jesus is a perfect type of masculinity, we see characteristics emerging from His life that best show us God’s intentions in maleness.
Biblically Understood Aspects of Masculinity
Chapter one (“The Shape of Masculinity”) of Doug Wilson’s book, Future Men, is very helpful in its look at masculinity. It identifies several themes that emerge from scripture in regard to what it means to be male as God intended. Wilson quoting Douglas Jones describing masculinity as “the collection of all those characteristics which flow from delighting in and sacrificing bodily strength for goodness.” By this I do not think he means that we are to give up (“sacrifice”) bodily strength, but rather use it, with great delight, for the purpose of goodness.
Wilson continues in his quest for a description of masculinity as derived from the scriptures. We concludes that there are five roles men assume (whether married or not) that express masculinity. Young boys, then, are to be matured into these roles, in order that their maleness might be demonstrated in accordance with God’s design. All of these descriptions are perfectly manifested in our Lord Jesus and serve as a template for our sanctification as males.
Biblical Descriptions of Masculinity
Though this list is not exhaustive, it does give us high points and themes that the Bible seems to indicate in regard to roles men assume that give clarity to their masculinity.
Men as Lords
As discussed earlier, the idea of becoming lords is rooted in the God’s mandate that men to have dominion over the earth, to serve as God’s vice-regents over His earth.
It is important to note that this command to rule was not eradicated by the fall of man and is repeated after the flood (Genesis 9:1). Though sin has affected and does affect our ability to carry out this responsibility, it is nevertheless ours to carry out as a result of the grace of God. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is yet another form of the cultural mandate stated in the opening chapter of the Bible.
Wilson notes that as lords, men are to be adventurous and visionary. They are not to shrink back and allow things just to happen. Instead, they are to see what needs to be done, in cooperation with God’s redemptive intentions for creation and redemption, and set forward a quest toward those intentions with vision and bravery.
Beyond discovery and dominion of the world with intentions to rule for the sake of God’s intentions, men are to make their world flourish. Dominion, taken in isolation separated from commitment and loyalty, results in abuse and selfish ambition. Therefore, the indication here is that men are designed to settle down, to tend and keep their respective gardens (Genesis 2:15). Men, whether married or not, are to commit themselves to those adventures that lovingly benefit others. In being husbandmen, says Wilson, men are to be patient, careful, and hard-working. They seek to make better the garden given them. This is more than management; it is visionary, seeking to better things for the welfare of another and the glory of God.
Real men should have a deep desire to deliver, to rescue, to protect. The greatest example of this is our Lord Jesus. Real men hate evil and have a deep desire to fight it, both in themselves, but also in others and in the world. This idea does away with pacifism, but always makes the point that activity that is strong is to be redemptive. Men are protective of the weaker, especially of those closest to them. They do not stand by and let someone else do the fighting, be it physical, mental, or spiritual. But this is not necessarily the exercise of brute force, but oftentimes means setting aside their own interests, comforts, and pleasure, for the higher calling of the sake of another. Therefore, men are to be strong, sacrificial, courageous, and good.
The sage is a man full of wisdom. Real men fear the Lord, because they have come to understand that holy fear is the beginning of wisdom. God places a high premium on wisdom. Solomon, given the opportunity to gain from God anything he desired, requested wisdom. He then wrote an entire book of proverbs dedicated to giving wisdom. Paul’s exhortation to young, timid, Timothy in his first letter to him was given in the context of people turning away from the truth and seeking after deceitful spirits. He writes to young Timothy:
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:7-16)
This means that real men are those who learn, and have teachable spirits, who enjoy intellectual discussion. This requires discipline and hard study. However, afterwards, such activity yields peaceable fruit of a righteous life (see Hebrews 12:11 and James 3:15ff). Therefore, real men are teachable, studious, and thoughtful.
It is my experience that this is an area in which most men struggle. I am often told, almost proudly, by men in counseling sessions, that they do not read or that they are not readers. I have to restrain myself. “Really!” I think. “So, how do you make it through life? You must have someone do everything for you. Your ‘wisdom’ then is street knowledge which is invariably manipulative. You don’t live for others; you live for yourself.” I find it interesting that such men can often, in great detail, give the stats of their favorite athlete or interpret with great precious the state of their stock portfolio. The person unwilling to study, read, and learn, is certainly a person who cannot serve others well, for he is stunted in his knowledge of how God has made the world and how it is suppose to run. This is sad to me.
Men uniquely reflect the glory of God in their masculinity (see 1 Corinthians 11:3, 7; Ephesians 5:23-24). Real men should want to stand before God in worship of Him. Men resemble God, as men, in all the masculine roles that depict Him—as fathers, husbands, sons, workers, etc. Men, therefore, are to be representative, responsible, and holy.
Men who see worship as weak are actually very weak men. For we are all designed to worship; it is simply a matter of what or who we will worship. False masculinity worships strength of self and self-pleasure, seeing sacrifice for the sake of another as weak (unless, of course, we are talking about a heroic deed). Real men seek justice because it glorifies God, not because it satisfies their own sense of making the other guy pay. Properly aligned worship leads men to stand strong in the face of danger and also bow the knee in humility, recognizing their own moral and physical weakness. Pride—self-worship—is the antithesis of true masculinity. Our culture is drunk with this form of pseudo-masculinity. Real masculinity values relationships, especially with the opposite sex, because of God’s intentions, not their fleshly appetites. Men who brag of conquests with women, and men who stand on the sidelines playing it safe, are cut from the same cloth—they are weak men who live for themselves. Real mean enter relationships as God’s vice-regents, seeking to better the lives of others. They cultivate holiness, dispense godly leadership, and humbly, yet, at times, violently, seek to destroy the affects of sin through the means of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Real men are ever-learning, seeking to learn, eager to teach, always remembering that the mind and heart is the battle fields where victories are won. Real mean seek to emulate, glorify, savor and enjoy, and share the joy of their Savior. Real men know Jesus, trust Him, and love well, because they are learning to love Jesus well.
So, men, how are we doing? How does this land on you? When I consider these things for myself, I have to ask these questions, for they are revealing of what I truly believe about being a man: When I hit the gym later this afternoon, what will impress me? When I worship on Sunday what will impress me? Is there congruence? If not, why? O Lord, give us eyes to see and hears to hear what you say (and demonstrate) about being a man.