I am late for International Men’s Day but felt compelled not to miss it.
So much of our public discourse now touches in some way on maleness and femaleness.
Toxic masculinity, Jordan Peterson, gender quotas, privilege, power…
It had to happen. The very nature of our postmodern culture is to divide groups into tribes, pit them against each other over power and privilege, and then use the ensuing culture war to deconstruct their very meaning.
Male and female is an especially easy truth to target because human nature is already pre-calibrated for the job.
The record of the fall gives a subtle nod in that direction. Among the elements of the man’s curse is the fact that he will rule over the woman. Among the elements of the woman’s curse is her desire to overrule. I don’t think either of those are meant in their positive sense, given that it is a “curse.”
My generation is reaping the fruit of the postmodern assault on gender. Relations between Millennial men and women are fraught at best.
For example, #MeToo. The error most fell into was an error our culture primes us for; It was to assume this is a one-way street. That men do wrong and women cannot.
Tell that to the writer of Proverbs. His discussion of the “forbidden woman” is recurring, and not flattering to either party to the tango.
Bloomberg today reports that the “Wall Street Rule” for the #MeToo era is to “avoid women at all costs.”
They interviewed more than 30 senior executives who report adopting the “Mike Pence Rule” and more. No business coffees or lunches with women, no close professional relationships, no female direct reports… the list goes on.
Why? One word from a woman – whether true or not – and man is utterly ruined. And yes, many women are more than capable of it. Hell hath no fury like a woman who's flirting is not reciprocated.
Perhaps it’s because sexual license is running rife, but it seems to me that men and women are behaving badly towards each other at an alarming rate. More so than has been the case for a long time.
As with almost all matters of controversy, the church has been somewhat timid about declaring the truth about man and woman with any real vigour.
And so, the solutions of our world seduce the Millennials who are facing this problem.
Men are invariably told to be “vulnerable” and more in touch with their emotional side. They are told they don’t have to be bold, strong, resilient, or carry heavy burdens, or shoulder responsibility.
Essentially if a man starts crying, shares his feelings, gets in touch with his feminine side, and does some housework, then he’s a veritable paragon of virtue in the face of the great evil of toxic masculinity.
But the Apostle Paul says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
Strength, conviction, readiness, and manliness… It seems they do go together.
Meanwhile, women are told to be “empowered” and more resilient, formidable, and strong. To quit doubting themselves, to muscle up to the task, and to conquer corporations and parliaments across the nation.
If a woman makes it to CEO whilst kicking goals in boardrooms and press conferences with formidable confidence and dominance, then she, too, will fight the great evil of toxic masculinity by putting the men in their place.
But the Apostle Peter speaks of “…the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.”
I am not going to step on that landmine by delving further, but there is clearly something about this quality and God’s view of femininity which runs somewhat counter to the culture narrative.
Warped as it is, however, this cultural narrative is trying in its own way to deal with a reality: men can be much stronger than women.
The problem we have is understanding what that strength is and how it ought to be used.
Is it even a good thing?
Rightly channelled, it is a wonderful thing.
My call to young men is to build that strength into strength of character.
This is not something that is easy, and many have been set back a great deal by wasted years on a consistent diet of Xbox, LAN parties, porn, Netflix binges, booze and often worse.
But it is the great masculine solution.
These are the men who are looked to as an example for others, who have the resilience and stamina to provide for others, who are sacrificial enough to protect others, who are wise enough to navigate this life effectively and are man enough to love others selflessly. These are great, godly leaders.
Sometimes I think the problem is this simple: we need more godly men.
One can look to the mighty strength of godly men in scripture and in history to see that the foundation of their manhood was exceptional character.
Joseph, Prime Minister of Egypt. A man of fabulous ability and, as I wrote two weeks ago, astonishing in his mercy. Daniel, third in the kingdom. A man of great wisdom, and matchless courage and conviction.
The character of both those men was proven when they were still young. At 17, Joseph resisted the sexual advances of a beautiful woman, declaring, “how can I do this great sin against my God?” Also a young man, Daniel resisted the decrees of a maniacal king, knowing his trust was in God.
For both men, these were the first days of the rest of their lives. They proved godly character, and God saw it, and He honoured them for life.
Space prevents me from proving the character of Moses, Abraham, David, and others. But the highest example I can think of is Jesus.
Concerning His life between the ages of 12 and 30, Luke’s Gospel only makes this very simple remark:
“Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.”
The word for “increased” is “prokoptō.” It means to beat forward, as in a pioneer, cutting down trees and pressing ahead. It also means to lengthen out by hammering, as a smith forges metal.
The sense of the word is to convey strenuous activity, discipline, and endurance, always yielding forward advancement.
This is a deceptively simple description of Jesus bringing His life under control. It’s not a picture of a young man dissipating His time and indulging Himself. There are no male tendencies of indolence and idleness here. Instead, as a perfect man, He is forging out His character through decided, disciplined, sustained effort.
It stands in stark contrast to the young male proclivity to be ill-disciplined, thoughtless, and a lover of pleasure. We almost champion this kind of life whilst a man is “still young.”
A young man who fits the mould of Christ’s youth is all too rare.
This discipline is channelled toward three things: wisdom, stature, and favour.
These are mental, physical and spiritual pursuits.
To increase in wisdom is to be fundamentally humble. A posture of listening, learning and seeking; a desire for knowledge and discernment. These all are pursuits of One who knows His need for development and change. It is the opposite of pride.
Again, the typical youth who is beset by pride and an anti-authoritarian spirit, whose desire to learn is well down the priority list, is all too common.
A wise, discerning man who has craved instruction in his youth is a rare thing.
To increase in stature may only be physical growth, but it may also include bodily discipline.
But the final affirmation is the greatest.
To increase in favour with God and man is not merely to say He enjoyed more of it with time. The Greek preposition here is “para” meaning “alongside.” It means He advanced in favour “by the side of” God and “by the side of” men.
Jesus lived through His years of development from boyhood to manhood in fellowship with God and in fellowship with men.
Note that these two things are so often in conflict for a youth.
Young men are plagued by a fear of the opinion of others. They crave to “fit in” and every action is so often measured out of an insecurity for what another may think.
Too many weak leaders are beset by the same folly, never having “increased” beyond it.
And yet, with Jesus, His grace and favour alongside men was not a product of His having stooped to their level. It was not people-pleasing, fear of peers, or a desire to belong.
Rather, it was His gigantic spiritual character as One who increased in grace, in fellowship with God.
This is a portrait, not of one who was dragged down by others and away from God. It is the portrait of one who was so godly that He drew others upward by virtue of His merely being among them.
For those of us who are men, may we be always on our knees, always searching scripture, “forging ahead” in fellowship with God. Let us be strong where it counts: in godly character.
Because the world is crying out for men.