Manly saints (part 3)

Here’s the third installment. Alert readers will immediately notice my debt to Future Men.

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Defining Manliness

Let us ask ourselves: what does it mean to be a man? I do not intend what I am about to say facetiously: to be a man is, first of all, not to be a woman. Blindingly obvious as that may sound, we must, in the teeth of much modern thinking, persuade ourselves afresh that we cannot pursue the high calling of manhood in generic company with our fellow humans, the women of the world. Theirs is one calling, ours is another. It is certainly true that there is a general goal, or telos, toward which all human life is to move; it is certainly true that there are essentials of Christian piety in which both we and our sisters participate. But let us not delude ourselves that the scriptural injunction, “Quit ye like men,” is neatly interchangeable with another injunction, “Quit ye like humans.” Something else – something distinctively masculine – is in view.

Perhaps we might look at this another way. The process of growing toward mature humanness is what the Bible calls “discipleship.” Jesus Christ is the Last Adam, and by His grace and Spirit we are formed into a new humanity that, raised from the guilt and shame and lostness of our sin, once again images the glory of God. In this growth-process, in this discipleship, in this movement toward the goal of becoming the kind of people our Master calls us to be, there is, from one perspective, “neither male nor female”: all must take up their cross and follow Jesus. But then there are texts (Titus 2, for one) in which men are addressed as men, women as women, older men and older women as such, younger men and women as such – and this reflects the fact that “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female.”

So what might be some distinctives of manly discipleship? We need to ponder this, for if we don’t know what our Mastor would have us press toward as men, if we don’t know what mature manhood looks like, if we don’t know what we are called to be and do as men, we will be in no position to cultivate the character that befits our calling and enables us to fulfill it. We will, in short, fall short as manly disciples.

What I propose to do in the next very few minutes is to sketch out a portrait of manly sainthood, of mature manhood, using the rubric of prophets, priests, and kings. I will not pause here to defend the notion that God created humans to function in His world in these three offices; I am interested in how men are to take up these offices in a distinctly manly way. We’ll take them in the reverse of the usual order.

First, we are the Lord’s kings, which means we are called as men to be lords and laborers. We are called to stand before others as leaders (this is our lordly function), and we are called to stand over any number of spheres of responsibility – perhaps a home, a piece of real estate, a business, a school project, a bedroom, a car, or a relationship with a pet tarantula (this is our laborer function). We stand before others; we stand over spheres of responsibility.

If that is true, what kind of character befits our calling? What do we need to be cultivating in ourselves as kingly disciples? Well, if we are timid, we need to become adventurous (within sober limits, of course); if we’re short on ideas and imagination, we need to spend time with some visionaries; if we’re restless, we need to slow down and work on patience; if we’re sloppy, we need to become careful (one thinks here of tax records and balanced checkbooks); if we’re lazy, we need a swift kick in the pants. If we’re in a habit of offering excuses for our failings, let us resolve unflinchingly never to offer another as long as we live. You can’t lead or labor well without a very particular kind of character, any more than you can hike the Alps in Birkenstocks. You must outfit yourself to the task – or calling – at hand.

Second, we are the Lord’s priests, which means we are called as men to be saviors and saints. We’re called to stand between others and all manner of evils (this is our savior function), and we’re called to stand in a representative role between others and God (this is our saintly function: we are to be set apart to God, we are to be holy, in a way that enables us to lead others into holy worship of God and service to God).

What kind of character befits this calling? If we are going to be used of God to deliver others from evil, we had better be strong enough to resist evil in our own hearts (never thinking the bad stuff “out there” is any worse than the idols produced in our own hearts), and we had best be ready to take a lot of hard knocks. It may sound glamorous to be a deliverer, but in reality it looks like carrying groceries for a babushka at a crowded intersection; it looks like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and tending the wounded; it looks like burning the pornographic magazine because it exploits women; it looks like befriending the “loser” in class despite what it does to my popularity ratings; it looks like taking a wife and taking care of her till death; it looks like having kids despite the cost and training them in the fear of God rather than paying someone else to parent them. This stuff takes courage; it takes a willingness to sacrifice, to hurt, to lose. And then there’s the character of a saint: being the kind of person who actually wants to pray and can lead others in prayer; who owns a Bible, reads it, and can open it up to others; who shows up for worship every Sunday even when the preaching is mediocre. Priestly work is responsible work, and it’s not for the irresponsible. It’s not for the dude who just wants a good time. It’s not for the fence-sitter who can’t figure out whether he really wants to be God’s friend or to hang out with God’s enemies. Being a saint takes commitment, it takes passion, it takes purity, it takes love. Above all it requires that we understand who Jesus Christ is, what He’s done for His people, and what a grace it is that we’re with Him.

Third, we are the Lord’s prophets, which means we are called as men to be sages. We are called to be wise and of sound mind in every engagement of our lives – and not just after the age of thirty-five. What kind of character befits this calling? Teachability, for one. The understanding (so rare among men our age) that we don’t know everything, that perhaps we don’t even know much, and that we need to walk with wise men and shut up long enough to hear what they say. Also studiousness. Not all great men are bookworms, thank heaven, but all God’s men are to be able to study, eager to study, and thoughtful in the way they engage the world. Sages have critical filters on when they engage the culture outside the church, and the culture inside the church. They don’t embrace something just because it’s cool; in fact, they might reject something precisely because it’s cool. They are readers; they push the boundaries of their thought-world. They are swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to blow gaskets. They are men whose minds rule their passions, and from whom one day there will be a lot to learn, because they are investing in the fatness of their souls.

What am I saying in all this? I’m saying that, while we must not accept unbiblical stereotypes of manhood, we must certainly embrace biblical stereotypes. Godly men aren’t effeminate, mousy, weak, soft; think of David, who could collect a couple hundred foreskins if he had to. Neither are godly men chest-pounding, brash, macho brutes; think of Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah, the apostle John, or for that matter Jesus. Godly men – manly saints – are humble, kind, gentle, civil, obedient, vigorous, alive, imaginative, constructive, determined, learned, self-controlled, responsible, and ready to serve. They have a vision in their heads of what God has called them to, they know it isn’t womanhood, and they are busy cultivating the character that will enable them to reach the maturity to which their Master calls them.

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