One of the most difficult questions for our culture to answer is also one of the most fundamental: What does it mean to be a man as opposed to a woman?
I’m not talking about biological differences here. I’m talking about how we conduct ourselves. What qualities uniquely characterize men?
The Bible has much to say about this, but today I just want to focus on two verses:
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
What does it mean to “Act Like Men”? Let’s work our way through three of the implications of biblical masculinity contained within these two verses.
Paul’s exhortation begins with these two simple words: “Be Watchful”. It means “be alert”, “stay awake”, “be vigilant”. It makes us think of watchmen on the walls of a city who are on the lookout for approaching enemies. If they do their jobs right, they’ll protect the city and avoid disaster. But if they don’t, the enemy is going to sneak into the city and destroy it.
The command to be watchful is quite common in Scripture (e.g. Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Peter 5:8; 2 John 1:8). It’s clear that the Bible calls us to be watchful, but for what? For the things that would threaten to wound our souls and undermine our trust and delight in Christ.
We need to lookout for the things that would tempt us to sin, for the devil’s lies that would undermine our faith in God. We need to lookout for the ways in which the world is drawing us to become more like it and less like Christ.
The problem is that we’d rather watch our screens than ourselves. We’d rather look at someone else’s life than our own. We’d rather be watchful for the fictional enemies that exist in our videogames than be watchful for the real enemies that wage war against our souls.
But make no mistake. Strong men take sin seriously.
Stand Firm in the Faith
Second, we are to “stand firm in the faith”. We know what it means to “stand firm”, because we are stubborn by nature. We dislike getting proven wrong, and we don’t like it when someone tells us to do something we don’t want to do.
But Christ calls men to stand firm in specific things. In fact, we are called to give ground in many different areas, especially when it comes to personal offence. We are to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and forgive those who wrong us. Christian men give ground often.
But when it comes to the truths of Scripture, we must not give ground. We are to “stand firm in the faith” by holding fast to what the Bible teaches, whether it be about gender and sexuality or about the death and resurrection of Christ.
If the command to “be watchful” applies before temptation comes, the command to “stand firm in the faith” applies when temptation has already arrived. We are to “stand firm in the faith” by wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, because it is both what we defend and how we defend.
Let all that you do be done in love
Third, “let all that you do be done in love”. This is what makes biblical masculinity distinctly Christian. The main characteristic of masculine strength isn’t big muscles, or strong opinions, or loud voices, or forceful personalities. It’s love. Love is the distinguishing mark of the mature, godly man. It seeks the good of others before your own. It humbly serves without desire for recognition or reward. Love overflows even for one’s enemies.
How do we know? Because that’s what Jesus was like. The strongest man who ever lived was a man of love: love for God, love for neighbour, even love for his enemies. Yes, Jesus showed his strength in his miracles. Yes, he showed it in the power of his teaching. But the ultimate expression of his strength was on the cross.
We serve a Lord of love, a great man with a great heart. And if he loved us so, how much more should we love others? How much more should we do everything in love? Love isn’t confined to the home or to the church. It should colour all that we do, from the way that we treat others, to the words that come out of our mouths, to the kindness that we show to the person who has no friends, to the way that we forgive your enemies.
Love isn’t soft and mushy. It’s hard, and it’s difficult, but it’s so worth it, because it makes us understand the fullness of the love that Christ has for us.
What does it mean to act like men? It means acting like the greatest man who gave his life to make us like himself.