Below is email I wrote last fall to a group of men at Cities Church who had registered for our men’s retreat. The topic of the retreat was “watchfulness,” but with particular application to men. You could call it “manly watchfulness.” That’s a real thing, but it only makes sense if you know that manliness is a real thing. That’s what I try to explain here.
This weekend we’re going to a men’s retreat, which means this will be an event for men, with special application for men. And so I want to be loud and clear about something from the start. This is a conviction behind this retreat, and I want you to hear it from me: It’s that men still matter.
It matters that you are a man.
And you probably know that — I think most people know that — but our society at large doesn’t want to believe it. And when it comes for those of us who know that men matter and believe it, the current mood in our society would at least want us to feel bad about that.
That’s because our society says that to be a man is a privilege, and “privilege” has become a bad thing in recent years. Privilege is considered unjust because the opposite of privilege is to be marginal, and it’s assumed that the marginalized exist because of the privileged. It wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid I always associated the word “privilege” with responsibility and stewardship. Privilege meant living up to something. It was connected to Jesus’s words in Luke 12:48 that to whom much is given, much is required.
But now privilege is in the same ballpark as malicious and criminal. The cultural tide has shifted in way that almost views the privilege of manhood as something to apologize for. Privilege is used as an insult, not as a call to stewardship.
For example, last week read an article on the concept of manhood, and the whole thing was incredibly despairing. It was written by a professor at the University of Michigan, and he basically said that the whole idea of “being a man” is a social construct. It’s all made-up, he says.
Viewed through the lens of feminism, [a man] is a sick joke—he looks like a person, but the crime stats make you wonder. If we take a more conservative view, a man looks sillier than ever: Here he is, the First Sex, the un-relative being, Adam with all his ribs, playing video games and picking his nose. (Phil Christman, “What Is It Like to Be a Man?”, The Hedgehog Review, 71)
So here are the options he leaves us:
we either pretend that men don’t really matter, that it’s all a joke and that being a man doesn’t have any meaning;
OR, if being a man does mean something, we’re all just a big letdown. Manhood is an ideal that every man falls short of, and we should feel bad about it.
That is our society’s message to us. It’s:
“You’re a man—who cares?”
OR, “You’re a man—you should be ashamed of yourself.”
And I want you to know that both are lies.
I want you to know that …
You are a man because God made you a man, and God cares that you’re man.
Your wife and children care that you’re a man.
Your church cares that you’re a man.
Your community cares that you’re man, and that’s true whether they realize or not.
It matters that you are a man.
And second, you should not be ashamed of it. You should not feel bad about it. You should accept the calling to be a man gratefully, which is neither Pharisaical nor misogynistic, but humble. Being a man doesn’t make you better than anyone else, but it is a calling to be taken seriously.
And this is where the Bible is so important — having a God-centered understanding of the world is so important. Without the Bible, we have absolutely no true anchor when it comes to this issue (nature says a lot, but it’s not enough for our darkened minds). And that means we will either drift with the cultural tides, or we will object to the culture just for the sake of being contrary — and neither please God.
But with the Bible, we see God’s design. We see his purpose and goodness in how he made us, and that becomes our compass in this very confused world. That’s how we form our definition of manhood, which will leads into our understanding of watchfulness Friday night.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13–14, Pauls says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
The phrase here “act like men” is one word in the Greek, and it has the meaning of being courageous. It’s the idea of maintaining your convictions even when it costs you. Each of the commands in these two verses are getting at the same idea, which means that “acting like a man” is connected to being watchful and firm and strong and loving.
Putting it all together, the best definition of manhood I’ve seen goes like this:
Manhood means gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility.
That’s the calling handed to us in God’s design — that’s what it means to be a man. And it’s the gospel that shows us what it means to be a watchful man.