Walter on Being a Man

On Being a Man

March 6, 2005

Dear Paul,

Thanks for your short note regarding the effects of my last letter. Very interesting!

Now, a couple of weeks ago I promised to speak about Being a Man - and now I plan to deliver. This is a topic that is much easier for me to address in some ways - much harder in others. The easier part comes from biology - I am a man and just by that fact alone I know some things about manhood. The harder part comes from seeing what the Bible teaches about manhood in comparison to me. Would that I was half of what I knew!

When talking about women, we began by looking at Eve and I intend to follow a similar pattern here. Adam was the first man and the first human - created by God, in the image and likeness of God, out of the dust of earth God made and having life breathed into Him from the mouth of God. This man, Adam, was made to work. Although that must have been quite a garden there in Eden, it was one that still needed tending and that was the first occupation. He was also given one rule to follow - take of everything from the garden (all the bounty) only don't eat of this one particular tree's fruit. The man was also given the duty of naming all the creatures that God presented before him. Finally, he and his wife were crowned as the pinnacle of all creation and given dominion and over it all.

Like we noted last time, something went terribly wrong. Adam chose to disobey the one command given him by God and in response, God kept His promise and mankind died. To begin with, that death was invisible, although terribly felt. Adam and Eve suffered death or separation from God in their hearts near immediately, and their first instinct was to hide - first with fig leaves, then in the bushes. They knew shame and its cause was spiritual death - no longer could they be intimate with God. That spiritual death began to work its way out to their eventual physical death and man's life became one of living under the curse of God. The garden of abundance, the sign of God's pleasure with what He had made, was taken away forever and curse was levelled.

Now that curse of God struck right at the very core of what it meant for Adam to be a man.

Genesis 3:17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Something happened to his relationship with the source of temptation - the woman ("Because you have listened to the voice of your wife"). The one person a man was made to "be one" with - his wife - was now taken a step away, as it were. Man would still marry and give in marriage - but the unity of Eden would only be fleeting a fleeting cloud from now on. Man would spend the rest of his time on earth always aware that the total oneness he was built to enjoy with his wife was never quite there.

Something else happened with the item of his temptation - vegetation or fruit or the land - well, that was cursed by God on Adam's account ("cursed is the ground because of you"). It was almost as if God said, "If you're going to love plants more than Me, then I will curse the plants so they will never give you what you want - but I will also make your whole life dependent on them." In other words, the idol of Adam's heart would never deliver what his heart lusted after - but he would have to deal with that idol day after day after day.

I've heard about different kinds of torture. One type is where they put in front of you the thing you most long for (like water or food or freedom)... but never let you touch or taste it. The idea is to drive you crazy - either to get information out of you, or just to bother you a lot. Is that what the Lord was up to in this cursing business? Was He just seeking revenge on Adam and all his sons?

Well, that certainly doesn't sound like God, does it? No sir, I believe there is grace in this curse. First off, consider what this curse does to a man... He will spend his whole life trying to eek out a "living" from the tetra firma that surrounds him. He will feel greatly successful sometimes and totally frustrated at other times. No matter what he does, there will always be thorns in his garden and sweat and pain in the harvest. Whether its farming or fishing; horticulture or horse-breeding, nothing will be perfect. Even his marriage, as good as it may be, will never fully satisfy his heart. Not only that, no matter how well a man does at bringing in the sheaves, and trying to be happy with his bride... at the end of it all he will die and go right back to where he started - the dust.

That means some things.

1. Life is futile if all you live for is life.

If your only thought is the here and now, what good is it all? If all I found at the end of my life was death - why spend hours under the sun and in the barn? Everything is useless if this is all there is.

2. Life will never be perfect for anyone on earth.

Christian or not, perfection left this earth when the door to Eden closed. No matter how good we get it, it pales in comparison to what we were made for.

3. Security and success are a mirage and nothing worth living for.

God is sovereign and the fact is no amount of money or planning can bring total security. Safety and security and success are mirages along the desert of life. Why live for the sand when somewhere there is real water?

Those thoughts would drive a man to despair if it weren't for that first gospel in Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

The first gospel hinted at the full gospel revealed in Jesus. Another Adam would come, the second Adam, and He would live the perfect life the first Adam never did and also become the perfect substitute for all those who trust in Him from the first Adam on down.

Yet, even new birth in Christ doesn't end all the effects of the curse on earth. A man must still face those three scary thoughts:

1. Life is futile if all you live for is life.

2. Life will never be perfect for anyone on earth.

3. Security and success are a mirage and nothing worth living for.

Why they are scary has to do with what it is a man is to do and be. Every son of Adam is called on by God to be a leader in his home, a lover of his wife, a provider for his family, and a servant in his church. And each one of those God-ordained responsibilities puts him at risk. He must risk rejection, failure, a bad decision and its consequences, being taken advantage of, being ignored, being forgotten, letting down those closest to him, or just plain wrecking something good.

There's not a man walking on this earth's dirt who hasn't felt every one of those things at least 6 times. It seems to me, that's where the real issue begins. Let me back up and explain.

Besides Jesus, the most manly man in my Bible was Old King David. His life models so much of what I want to try and say. Here was a man who jumped right into life - "Bring on the giant!" - and did it just the right way:

1 Samuel 17:45 Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand."

Would that a man could keep that all in line in his head day after day on this earth. Here is true manliness - "taking leadership for the good of others, in total dependence on God for the ultimate glory of God."

I sometimes wonder if this wasn't what Paul had in mind when he wrote those Corinthian Christians:

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

Did you hear that? Paul said, "Act like men." Behave or conduct yourself like men. We would all be left to guessing what he meant by that if it weren't for all the phrases he surrounded that command with:

  • be watchful (on the alert - protectively looking out for trouble)
  • stand firm in the things of the Lord (don't waffle on Truth)
  • be strong (not wishy-washy or like a bull with a nose ring)
  • and do everything in love

"Taking leadership for the good of others, in total dependence on God for the ultimate glory of God."

But men get this all confused. Many of them figure that being a man is using the extra physical strength God has granted them for the bullying of all the women and children in their lives. No wonder Paul tells husbands to "love their wives" 4 times in 7 verses when he writes to the Ephesians. No wonder he tells Dads to never "provoke their children to anger." A man can be unkind to his wife and exasperate his kids for a good long time - just because he is bigger and stronger.

Other men (and I might add I think there are more of these today than the other) push the swing the other direction and try to act like womanly men. Water is a liquid and so is gasoline - but only one will make your car go! The sad truth is that men just don't work when they try to act like women. The most obvious clue to this is the confused fellows you sometimes see in downtown Toronto. But the less obvious ones are the throngs of men who think being a passive receiver is a virtue. These flim flams are like a castrated bull: they take up room, eat your feed and aren't even good for hamburger in the end.

Being a man is not about externals. Arnold Schwarzenegger look-a-likes may be the most unmanly of all. It is not about being terse, never helping in the kitchen, leaving the dirty diapers to your bride, knowing the players on your favourite team better than your kids or glorying in particular sounds and smells you can create much more effectively than your girlfriend.

Being a man is about venturing out and attempting great things for the Lord. It is about sowing your seed year after year, knowing that the Lord may deign to send a flood or a drought. It's about using your strength to prosper others. It's about making decisions and calling others to follow after you as you lead the way. It's about admitting you're wrong when you make a bad decision and not giving up trying to lead another way. It's about choosing to love even when that means missing a promotion or not having the "right" friends. It's about reading your Bible and knowing the manliest man ever and not being afraid to talk about Him to others and love Him more than others and worship Him in front of others and most of all - depend on Him (not yourself or others).

Being a man is about coming to church in order to lead by example - singing your head off, being the first to talk to new people, always picking up chairs and doing the un-fun jobs week after week. It's about spending time with younger men and encouraging them, and esteeming the ladies. It is about letting other men know you and being man enough to let them correct you and being man enough to correct them. It's about working at deep friendships with other men and spending time with other men. It's about choosing to do things that are manly and not do things that are not manly (have fun talking about that!).

It is about learning how to be fiercely dependent while always moving forward. Like Peter in the land of Narnia upon seeing his sister attacked by a ferocious wolf:

"Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do. He rushed straight up to the monster and aimed a slash of his sword at its side. The stroke never reached the Wolf. Quick as lightning it turned round, its eyes flaming, and its mouth wide open in a howl of anger. If it had not been so angry that it simply had to howl it would have got him by the throat at once. As it was - though all this happened to quickly for Peter to think at all - he had just time to duck down and plunge his sword, as hard as he could, between the brute's forelegs and its heart. Then came a horrible, confused moment like something in a nightmare. He was tugging and pulling and the Wolf seemed neither alive nor dead, and its bared teeth knocked against his forehead, and everything was blood and heat and hair. A moment later he found that the monster lay dead and he had drawn his sword out of it and was straightening his back and rubbing the sweat off his face and out of his eyes. He felt tired all over" (Lewis, 106).

Now for the application. I think it's as important as fertilizer in the spring that we church folk do things to help men be men and women be women. I suggested to the ladies that they get together and discuss things like Titus 2 and how they can begin a cycle of older women teaching younger women. The men could do the same kind of thing - taking the Bible and asking the Lord to show them what it means to be a man.

More than that, though... I think the men ought to start asking themselves what kind of manly things they can do. Men are by nature "doers," and, like birds starting to fly, they learn by the doing. You young boys... now pay attention to me. Just when do you suppose you are going to become men? I know some 48 year old boys! The time to work on your manliness is now. You boys ought to be looking for ways to serve your church now. You should be holding doors open for the girls and sitting on the floor instead of the girls when there are not enough chairs. You can even attempt great things for the Lord - important things! I knew a boy who went around his neighbourhood handing out gospel tracts to all the adults. Young Charles Spurgeon, when just a boy of 11 or so, marched into a bar and told a church member there to stop his sin of getting drunk and put his life in order - and that man listened! David was a boy when he ran out to meet Goliath. Christ was a boy when he taught the learned men of Israel. Boys can be men - if they act like it. I know an old poem that goes like this:

The Boy We Want

A boy that is truthful and honest And faithful and willing to work; But we have not a place that we care to disgrace With a boy that is ready to shirk.

Wanted--a boy you can tie to, A boy that is trusty and true, A boy that is good to old people, And kind to the little ones too.


A boy that is nice to the home folks, And pleasant to sister and brother, A boy who will try when things go awry To be helpful to father and mother.


These are the boys we depend on-- Our hope for the future, and then Grave problems of state and the world's work Such boys when the grow to be men.

From: The Book of Virtues, William J. Bennett Copyright 1993, Simon & Schuster, Page 196 Author Unknown

Older men can begin asking themselves the same kind of questions. How can I make my masculinity obvious in my actions and demeanor. You might charge me with being an old legalist, but I'd go so far as to say a man even ought to consider how he can dress and groom himself to make it clear in the context of his culture that he is a man and not a woman.

I realize much more could be said in this here letter, but I think the men in the crowd know what I'm getting at - like a piano that hums when the clarinet plays - something in these words resonates (be it ever so softly) in their hearts. So, my hope is to talk enough to turn that hum into a song - so that what comes out of the men at Grace Fellowship Church is true manliness, especially as modeled by the perfect man, Jesus Christ.

"Taking leadership for the good of others, in total dependence on God for the ultimate glory of God."

In the family, the church and the world.

God grant us some manly men!

One who is trying to be,

Walter

P.S. Reciting poems is very manly. May the Lord bless your discussion!

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