Better Man (Part IV)

This is the final installment of a series of posts on a biblical understanding of a godly man.  You can read previous posts here:  Part 1Part 2,  Part 3.

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Men are to be proactive to serve others

proactiveGenesis 1, the satellite view of creation, emphasizes the innate equality and unity of men and women.  As we have seen, both men and women are created in God’s image.  Together they are given the mandate to populate the earth and steward the creation.  They are equal in essence and united in mission.

When we come to Genesis 2—the street view of the creation of Adam and Eve—we see details and differentiation.  We learn Adam was created first, from the dust of the ground.  We listen in as God gives Adam instructions to work and keep the garden.  We watch as Adam names the animals and comes to the sobering realization that nothing in creation qualifies as a fitting partner or true match for him.  After naming the animals, Adam is put to sleep.  God creates Eve, not from the dust but from his own flesh and bone. We see Adam’s delight as he sees Eve for the first time. “This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23).

As we come to Genesis 3, we learn how things quickly fall apart.  Eve, then Adam, disobey God’s instruction not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (3:6).  When God confronts Adam, he tries to shift the blame to Eve.  She follows his lead by passing the blame to the serpent (3:12-13). God pronounces judgment on the serpent and then on both the woman and man.  Even creation suffers as a result of human disobedience (3:17: compare Romans 8:19-22).   Suddenly and sadly, everything changes—including the relationship between Adam and Eve.

What are we to make of the events and dialogue recorded in Genesis 1-3?  How are we to understand the various details of the narrative?  Is there any significance to the fact that God created Adam first?  That God confronts Adam first?

If all we had was the text of Genesis, giving definite answers to these questions would prove difficult.  After all, the meaning of the events in the opening chapters of the Bible can be interpreted in different ways.  Thankfully, God gave us more than the Genesis account.  The rest of the Bible, especially the New Testament, gives divine insight into the meaning and application of the events recorded in Genesis 1-3.

Interpreting Genesis in light of Jesus and the New Testament

As we read the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament authors, we discover the ancient events recorded in Genesis have abiding significance for us today.  For example, Jesus affirms the reality and reliability of the creation account.  He references Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:24 to affirm a binary understanding of gender (“male and female”) and to highlight God’s desire for marriages to last (“What therefore God has joined together let not man separate”).

New Testament authors Paul and Peter affirm the essential equality of men and women.  We not only share a common humanity (1 Peter 3:7), but after we come to faith in Christ, we are equal members of God’s new humanity, the church (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:10-11).  Both men and women continue to bear God’s image—an image that has been defaced but not erased by sin.  Further, as followers of Christ, men and women are commissioned together to make sure the gospel message goes global (Matthew 28:20; Acts 1:8).

In addition to highlighting the innate, abiding equality of men and women, New Testament writers interpret Genesis 1-3 as revealing a divinely-designed order for the relationships between men and women in both the home and the church. From the fact God created Adam first, Paul concludes God intends husbands are to take primary leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-23) and that qualified men are to serve as elders for a local church (1 Timothy 2:12-13).  Husbands are assigned the position of “head” in the marriage (Eph 5:22-23); godly men who meet biblical qualifications are given the responsibility to be elders or overseers in local churches (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

Equality and Order

When you consider the various New Testament passages which reference Genesis 1-3 in order to give insight and instructions about the relationship between men and women in the home and in the church, you discover two consistent themes:  equality and order.  There is a foundational equality as well as a functional ordering in the way God wants men and women to relate in the home and in the church.  These themes (equality and order) must be held in tension.  Both are true; both must be taught.  Both must be lived out in spite of the fact this is often difficult to do well.

In light of the abuses perpetrated by men over the years, some have concluded the safest and best recourse is to deny or downplay any notion of functional ordering in the home or church.  While I understand this sentiment, I’m convinced this approach winds up downgrading Scriptural authority, damaging women and diminishing men.  A better way forward is to develop better men who understand the nature of biblical leadership in the home and church.   Better men are pro-active to serve others in sacrificial ways.

I am using the term “pro-active” to describe the kind of leadership responsibility given to husbands in the home and elders in the church.  I realize the concept of leadership carries a wide range of connotations and applications in our day.  It can easily be misused and abused.  However, the same was true in Jesus’ day.  Jesus knew the concept of leadership was normally framed in terms of position, prestige, power and perks.  He also realized his disciples were infected with a defective, self-serving view of leadership.  So, Jesus redefined leadership for his followers—then and now.

“And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them and those in authority overcome over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you.  Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the one who serves’” (Luke 22:25).

In Jesus’ understanding, leadership is about taking the lead (or being pro-active) to serve the needs of others. Jesus practiced the truth he preached: “But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).  Jesus exemplified taking the lead to serve others.  No wonder Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to Jesus as “the man for others.”[1]

servant leadershipA biblical view of leadership that emphasizes pro-active service for the good of others, protects against the all-to-common abuses of leadership.  It also combats the notion that those responsible to lead are intrinsically superior or more important. Further, it allows for and even encourages women to thrive using their gifts and abilities to serve Christ.  In fact, a test of whether men are leading in Jesus’ way is whether women (in the home and in the church) are flourishing.

But some will still push back, contending that a functional ordering in the home and church undermines the foundational equality between men and women.  My response would be that equality is not undercut when husbands and elders are seen as “first among equals” but also “first to serve.”

Here’s where a biblical precedent for equality and order can be helpful.  In the Old Testament, we learn that the Levites were given a special place of spiritual leadership among the twelve tribes of Israel.  They were not innately better or more important than others in Israel.  In fact, their original ancestor (Levi) was labeled a troublemaker by his father (Gen 48:5-7). However, God assigned the descendants of Levi a place of unique service and spiritual leadership.

In a similar way, men are assigned a role of providing pro-active, servant leadership for their families and the church family.  Sadly, because of the fall, men have all too often abused this position of leadership.  One of the direct consequences of Adam’s sin, stated by God in Genesis 3:16, would be the twisted tendency for men to serve themselves and “rule over” women.  Patriarchy (a word which literally means “father rule”) was not part of God’s original instruction but a result of God’s judgment when Adam and Eve sinned.

If we are to develop better men who do a better job of pro-actively serving others, we will need to disciple men to live and lead like Jesus.  What are the implications for discipling men in the area of being godly leaders for their homes and churches?  Let me highlight two.

First, boys and men must, like Jesus’ first disciples, be re-oriented to understand leadership biblically rather than culturally.  They must be discipled to see godly leadership as sacrificial service, following the model of Christ (John 13:13-15; Luke 22:24-27).  They must be divested of the common notion that leadership is about position, privilege, power, and perks.  Instead, they must come to see leadership as pro-actively loving others through sacrificially pursuing their best interests and spiritual good. When men are not challenged to proactively serve others, they easily turn inward and become passive and selfish.  It is in the struggle to fight off selfish impulses and to actively serve others that men grow up.  As in so many areas of life, only as we are forced to stretch and take on difficult challenges do we reach our true potential as people.

Second, boys and men should be trained to step into arenas of spiritual leadership that will stretch them in good ways.  Christian men who are married should be discipled to pro-actively serve the spiritual welfare of their wives, even if she is more naturally inclined towards spiritual leadership.  I remember reading a blog post by a Christian woman who said she was the more spiritually strong partner in their marriage.  Her husband felt awkward when trying to lead out in prayer of Bible reading. So she took the lead in these areas, wanting to free him from any expectations or pressure.  He served her in other ways—keeping the cars in good order, taking care of their home and yard.

I would agree that some Christian women are more gifted and inclined to provide spiritual leadership than their husbands.  Without wanting to limit a wife’s contribution to the spiritual health of the home, I’m convinced that allowing spiritual leadership to be only the wife’s domain can have an unintended, negative impact on a marriage.  When a Christian husband opts out of proactively providing spiritual care for his wife, he fails to grow up in all the ways God intends. He coasts spiritually.  He fails to develop fully.  There are many areas of life where maturity comes only as we step into arenas where we feel awkward or inept.

Fathers don’t get a pass when it comes to discipling their children in the instruction of the Lord just because they feel inept (Eph 6:4).  The same holds true for a husband’s responsibility to proactively serve the spiritual needs of his wife.  Young husbands can be taught to be proactive by praying for and with their wives.  By initiating reading of Scripture together.  By leading the family to be involved in a local church.  As a man learns to take responsibility for providing spiritual care for his family, a man grows up and becomes more like Christ.

Summing Up

As we reflect on how the New Testament draws theological truth and relational implications from Genesis 1-3, we discover God’s original intent and ongoing intentions for men and women in the home and the church.  There is both an equality and ordering in how we relate to one another.   We share an essential unity in creation and in Christ.  At the same time, this unity comes with a complimentary ordering in the family.

Men are designed and called to use their God-given strength to serve sacrificially through being productive, protective and pro-active.  While these qualities are not exclusively male (women can be productive, protective and pro-active), they are entrusted to men as a primary responsibility in both the home and the church.

better manSo, when a nine-year-old boy asks, “Dad, what does it mean to be a man and not a woman?”, his father can give an answer.   He can talk to his son about being productive, protective and pro-active in serving others.  As this nine-year-old boy is discipled to become a godly man, he will become the kind of “better man” our world desperately needs.

 

[1] See Experimental Theology, “Letters from Cell 92”, accessed October 9, 2019, http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/12/letters-from-cell-92-part-6-man-for.html/.

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Better Man (Part 3)

In two previous posts, I’ve highlighted the need for better men (Part 1) and sought to explain the first of three essential qualities of a better man (Part 2).  In this post, I focus on a second quality essential to a biblical vision of a better man. 

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Men are to be protective to safeguard others

titanicAs the Titanic began to sink on April 15, 1812, the ship’s captain gave the order to uncover and fill the lifeboats.  While there were 2,228 people on board, there was only enough space in the lifeboats for just over 1,100.  Rather than fill the lifeboats on an every-man-for-himself basis, the ship’s officers gave available seats to “women and children first.”  As a result, a staggering proportion of the 706 people rescued were women and children.  Or to put it another way, the men on board prioritized the protection of women and children.[1]

It’s possible to see the decision to rescue women and children first as simply a 19th-century version of chivalry.  However, the impulse to protect women (and children) can be traced much further back than the 19th century.  In fact, it goes all the way back to the garden of Eden and God’s design for the first man.

When God created Adam, He not only placed him in the garden to “work it” but also to “keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Imbedded in the command to “keep” the garden is a fascinating hint of God’s original intent for men. The Hebrew word translated “keep” (somra) can carry the nuance of watching over, protecting or guarding.  For example, when God questions Cain about his brother Able, Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper (somra)?”  Cain resists the idea that he should be watching over or protecting his younger brother.

snakeThe very fact that Adam is commanded to protect the garden, clues us into something important.  Evidently, from the very beginning, there was some kind of threat Adam was to guard against. The word “keep” implies things were not as innocent and idyllic as they seemed. In Genesis 3, we learn the nature of the threat and why Adam needed to stay on guard.  A sinister, crafty presence inhabited the garden: the serpent. There was a snake in the grass from the first days of creation. There still is.

So how did Adam do in keeping watch, in staying on guard?  Not so well.  The serpent—the embodiment of the Ancient Serpent, the devil (Revelation 12:9)—snakes its way towards Eve.  It entices her to doubt God’s goodness and disobey His word by eating from the one tree in the garden God said was off-limits.

And where was Adam when all this was happening?  Genesis 3:6 tells us Adam was right alongside Eve when the serpent tempted her.  Instead of opening his mouth to challenge the serpent, Adam opened it to join Eve in eating the forbidden fruit.  He wasn’t his wife’s keeper; he didn’t guard her or the garden.

It’s interesting and instructive to note that, while Eve disobeyed the Creator’s instructions first, God confronts Adam first (Genesis 3:10). God seems to place primary responsibility for what happened on the man.  Adam had failed to fulfill his role as a keeper.  In the New Testament, the apostle Paul spotlights Adam’s culpability for sin’s entrance into the human race when he writes, “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12).

Tragically, Adam went passive and stayed silent as the serpent hissed his deceptive lies. By being passive, Adam played an active part in the Fall.  Larry Crabb’s book, The Silence of Adam, develops the idea that Adam’s passivity has often been passed down to his sons!  Rather than being protectors who safeguard women, men have often been passive or become perpetrators.  No wonder many women have serious trust issues with men.

everafterIn the 1998 movie Ever After (a modern retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale) we see an interesting twist in the movie’s climax.  Henry, the handsome prince, finally sets off to save Danielle, who has been sold into slavery.  However, his heroic efforts prove too little, too late—and ultimately unnecessary.  Danielle is no helpless damsel in distress; she shows her expert swordsmanship and rescues herself from the evil master who had taken her captive.  Henry arrives only in time to offer a rather lame apology and a marriage proposal.  The movie has a happily-ever-after ending, but it also sends the message that women can’t count on and don’t need men to be their protectors.  They can take care of themselves just fine, thank you.  To paraphrase a famous statement by Irina Dunn, when it comes to making it through life’s challenges, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”[2]

In the biblical narrative, the first man was entrusted with the high calling of standing guard and keeping watch, protecting what God made and entrusted to his care.  Again, this is not to say women are not called to be protectors as well.  The Bible faithfully records the impressive protective exploits of Deborah (Judges 4:1-16), Jael (Judges 4:17-22), Esther, and a host of other women.  Without denigrating the important protective role of women, the opening chapters of Genesis point to a primary responsibility in guarding and watching over given to men.  Something inside a good-hearted man will understand and accept this responsibility on a deep level.  The privilege and duty to provide protection calls forth the best part of us as men.

passiveThe implications for a discipling ministry to men include helping men understand their responsibility to safeguard others.  While some men intuitively acknowledge and embrace this aspect of manhood, others will need biblical instruction and fatherly mentoring in order to grow into their calling as godly protectors.  Selfish and fearful passivity must be recognized and rejected in favour of appropriate efforts to safeguard the well-being of others.

One aspect of mentoring men to be protectors will involve teaching them to use their strength in a godly way.  God created men with physical strength that, like many things, can be used well or badly abused.  The opening chapters of the Bible give us an account of how Adam and Eve’s first son brutally murdered his younger brother (Genesis 4:8).  In just a few generations, we meet Lamech, who boasts of killing a young man for wounding him (Genesis 4:23).  This pattern of masculine strength gone rogue becomes a tragic but familiar part of human history.  The vast majority of violent crimes are still committed by men.[3] Men will use their strength—the question is whether or not they will use it to serve themselves or safeguard others.

In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul had a clear vision of where Titus was to focus his energies when it came to discipling young men.  After giving Titus a list of qualities to seek to instill in older men, older women and younger women, Paul instructs Titus to focus on one main thing with young men:  self-control.  “Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6).  It’s almost as if Paul is saying, if you can help men in this one area, it will affect all the other areas of their lives.  Until a man learns to control his strength by living under the Spirit’s control (Gal 5:23), he remains much more likely to misuse it. For this reason, boys and young men must be taught how to bring their strength under God’s control so that it is used to defend, not damage, others.  I am grateful for a father who made it clear to me I must never hit or abuse a woman (starting with my sisters and mother).

In addition to doing no harm, Christian boys and men must be instructed and mentored to actively look for ways to look out for the good of others. Christian men should be taught to actively seek the physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of those around them.  This vision of using strength to safeguard others helps a man grow into a better man, someone women can respect and rely on.

TO BE CONTINUED

[1] See Titanic:  “The Truth Behind Men and Women First”, accessed August 16, 2019,  http://www.premierexhibitions.com/exhibitions/3/3/titanic-artifact-exhibition/blog/truth-behind-women-and-children-first.

[2] See The Phrase Finder:  “A Woman Needs A Man Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle”, accessed October 9, 2019, https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/414150.html/.

[3]See PubMed: “Men, women, and murder: gender-specific differences in rates of fatal violence and victimization”, accessed November 7, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1635092.

 

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Praise and Prayer Update (November 22, 2019)

christmas dinnerIt’s a crisp, cold day here in Cambridge.  We are gearing up for our annual Christmas Dinner tonight.  It’s a wonderful evening for all our students, faculty and staff.  After a wonderful meal (prepared by friends from Hespeler Baptist Church), we will enjoy musical selections and Scripture readings done by students.  I praise the Lord for the strong sense of community we enjoy at Heritage.

Here are a few prayer requests for the coming week:

This Sunday I will be speaking at Faithway Baptist Church in Woodstock.  One of our student worship teams will be joining me to lead the congregation in musical worship.  Please pray we would serve the Lord well through music and the preaching of God’s Word.

Our Christmas newsletter is being prepared to be mailed out soon.  Pray that people will be encouraged as they read what God has been doing at Heritage this year.  Pray as well for many to support the school through their prayers and donations as we come to the end of this calendar year.

Next week, Linda and I plan to travel to the States to enjoy US Thanksgiving with our sons and their wives.  Please pray for safe travels and a rich family time together.  We treasure these times together.

Thanks for praying!

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Better Men (Part 2)

better manIn a previous post, I presented the opening section of an article that seeks to present a biblical understanding of godly manhood.  In this section, I lay out the first of three essential qualities that combine to help men become “better men.”

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Men are to be productive to support others

Genesis 1 reveals that when God created the first man and woman, He gave them an assignment: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28). From the beginning, God intended men and women to partner together to fill and oversee His creation.

When we get to Genesis 2, we find a more detailed account of how God’s creation of the first man and woman played out.  Here we learn God created them, not simultaneously, but in succession.  Adam is created first and given a job to do.   “And the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (2:15).

work menThe Hebrew term for work (obda) is often used of agricultural labor (Gen. 3:23; 4:2, 12); however, the term is flexible enough to refer to other kinds of work (for example, shepherding in Gen. 29:30; weaving in Isaiah 19:9).

Contrary to much current thinking, paradise was never meant to be work-free.  Adam was not created to enjoy an endless vacation but was given a meaningful vocation.  It’s important to notice that Adam was given work to do before sin entered the equation.  Work wasn’t part of God’s judgment on sin.  Work is part of God’s good plan for humans. In fact, even in the New Creation, we will be given meaningful ways to serve God (Revelation 22:3).  Sin didn’t give us work to do; God did.  Sin just made work a lot harder than it was originally designed to be: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain, you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).

As we move through the rest of the Bible, we see both men and women working hard—in the home, church and society.  For example, in his closing greetings in to the church in Rome, Paul commends a number of men and women for working hard in ministry (Romans 16:1-16).  Once again, when it comes to productive work, the two circles of the Venn diagram overlap. At the same time, starting in the opening chapters of Genesis, it seems God assigns men a primary role in working to providing for themselves and others.

In the New Testament, Paul echoes this expectation for men in 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  While there will be circumstances that prevent a man from productively working (illness, disability), God’s expectation for a man to be a provider hasn’t changed from the opening days of creation.

This is not an argument that women cannot be productively engaged in work outside the home—Priscilla and Aquilla seemed to be have been small-business partners.  Rather, it is a reminder that God designed men to carry the primary responsibility of working to provide for others—starting with their families (1 Timothy 5:8).

productiveWhen it comes to discipling men, we must instill in boys and young men a sense of responsibility to live productive lives.  In a day when many young men are reticent to pursue gainful employment,[1] the biblical expectation for men to work needs to be taught.  Here’s where older, mature men can mentor young men, helping them step into a vocation and find ways to be productive.

On the flip side, some young men will need biblical guidance and practical strategies for keeping work in proper balance.  Men who are driven to produce must be discipled to give attention and energy to other important areas of life:  physical health, relational depth, and spiritual growth.  A helpful tool for training young men in being productive to support others is Matt Perman’s excellent book, What’s Best Next. [2] I’ve taken a number of young men through the concepts in Perman’s book as it provides a biblical vision and a workable approach to God-centered productivity.

Discipling men will also involve helping them understand that productivity is not simply a means for self-support or selfish gain.  Instead, working hard gives men a way to provide for their own families (1 Tim 5:8). Beyond this, a productive life allows them to “have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).  Once again, mature men can help younger men learn to manage money well, avoiding the downward pull of consumer debt and developing healthy habits of generous giving to kingdom causes.

TO BE CONTINUED
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[1] See Investor’s Business Daily, “Men without Work: Why Younger Males are Disappearing from the Workforce”, accessed October 14, 2019,    https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/caution-men-not-at-work/.

[2] Matt Perman, What’s Best Next, (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Press, 2014).

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Praise and Prayer Update (November 15, 2019)

heritage snow

Winter arrived this past week as snow now covers our campus.  While it’s been cold outside, the spiritual temperature inside remains warm and inviting.  I continue to be encouraged at the way the Lord is working in the lives of our students, staff, and faculty.

Here are three specific requests I would ask you to join me in praying about this week.

  1.  Several of our Heritage staff and faculty (including Linda Reed) are in Oakville this week for the Gospel Coalition Canada Women’s Conference.  Pray that the women who attend would be spiritually strengthened.  Also, pray that those looking for further biblical and ministry training might stop by Heritage table and explore some of the programs and courses we offer.
  2. On Saturday, Linda teaches and leads an all-day course at Heritage in our Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry.  Please pray for stamina for Linda as she teaches.  Also, pray for spiritual impact in the lives of the women taking this course.
  3. Next Monday and Tuesday, Heritage is hosting a Student Sampler for 27 High School students considering coming to Heritage.  Pray that God would guide these young men and women (and their parents) as they gain a better sense of the courses and community life at Heritage.
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Better Men (Part 1)

“Men behaving badly”.  Sadly, that sentence could be the tagline for many stories that make the news in our day.  From physical abuse to dismissive attitudes, many women have been deeply wounded and damaged by men behaving badly.  And many men have become confused about what they are to be and do as men.  Last year, I had a group of young men at Heritage College ask me to meet with them to help them gain a biblical understanding of what a godly man looks like. 

I’ve written down some of the material I presented to these young men in an article entitled, “Better Men”.  Over the next four weeks, I’ll post sections of this article.  I’m grateful for the strong desire on the part of so many young men at Heritage to grow into “men behaving godly.”

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better manAt the 2018 Grammy Awards, the country group Little Big Town won an award for their song, Better Man.[1]   The song, written by Taylor Swift, tells the story of a woman who literally ran away from a toxic relationship with a volatile, self-centered man.  But even after she leaves, she finds herself missing him, wishing things had turned out differently.  The catchy tag line, repeated multiple times, captures her sadness: “And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man.”

One of the reasons Better Man received so much attention and airplay has to do with its timeless and timely theme.  It’s timeless as it speaks to a situation women have lived through or are currently living in.  How many women have found themselves disappointed in marriage and disillusioned by a husband who they wish would grow up and become a better man, a man who does more than serve himself?  It seems that, almost daily, we hear another media report of some well-known, (formerly) highly respected man caught behaving badly towards women.

One thing is clear:  our world desperately needs better men.

But just what does a better man look like?  At this point, things get cloudy.  That’s because western society is no longer clear on what we mean by a “man.”  In a day when gender is seen as a personal choice, it’s daunting to define manhood in a meaningful way.

rhodes

Cecil Rhodes

There was a day when describing what it means to be a better man was not controversial in Western culture.  When South African businessman, Cecil Rhodes established a fund in 1904 to bring male students from the United States, United Kingdom or Germany to study at Oxford, he had a clear vision of the kind of student he wanted to scholarship:  men who demonstrated “qualities of manhood, truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for, and protection of, the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship. . . moral force of character and instincts.”  As he put it, these would be the best men for the world’s fight.[2]

In our cultural moment, Rhodes’ words read like sepia-toned, antiquated relics from another era.  They ascribe qualities to manhood that are certainly not unique to males.  Women often excel men when it comes to courage, devotion to duty, protection of the weak (think “mother bear”) and the rest of the virtues on Rhodes’ list.

All this makes it challenging to define manhood in a way that is not simply a reflection of current societal sensibilities—past or present.  In contemporary Western culture, where the notion of gender has become increasingly fluid and flexible, some advocate abandoning all attempts to identify what is uniquely male.

As a result, many men—even in the Church—find themselves confused about what it means to be a man. If their nine-year-old son asked, “Dad, what does it mean to be a man and not a woman?”[3], many men would struggle to give a biblically-based answer.

The difficulty many Christian men face in articulating what it means to be a man is partly due to the common humanity men and women share.  God created both men and women in His image (Genesis 1:27-28).  Not surprisingly, we have much in common; in fact, we are more similar than dissimilar.  Further, the New Testament calls both men and women to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Colossians 3:10) and to evidence the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Christ-like character and Spirit-empowered characteristics are not exclusively male or female.

venn

similar but not identical

If you picture manhood and womanhood as two circles in a Venn diagram, the Scriptures teach there will be a substantial overlap.  At the same time, from a biblical perspective, the two circles will not be completely superimposed on top of each other.  Scripture indicates God intentionally made men and women similar but not identical.  Biologically and physiologically, this is difficult to miss:  men and women differ in muscle mass, bone mass, body fat, cardiovascular function, blood pressure rates and a host of other ways.  But the differences are more than physiological.  The Bible teaches God meant something specific when he made a man and meant something specific when He created a woman. As men and women, we reflect something specific about His image.

So how are we, as men, to discover what God meant us to be as men?  What does it mean to be a man and not a woman?

To answer that question, we need to go back to the beginning.  We need to carefully look at the creation account, discovering clues regarding God’s original intent for men and women.  Then, we need to examine the rest of Scripture to see how later writers of inspired Scripture understand and interpret the Genesis account.

While the findings of the social sciences should not be ignored, we must give prior consideration and primary weight to God’s Word.  He, as Creator, is the only one who can truly tell us what He made us to be—as human beings, as men and women.  He holds the patent on humanity.

GenesisAs you read through the opening chapters of Genesis, you won’t find a one-sentence definition of what it means to be a man or a woman.  However, you will discover clues and pointers brought out by the emphasis of the narrative.  Clues, by their very nature, are subject to being misinterpreted.  That’s why we must look to the rest of Scripture for how biblical authors interpret these clues.  Since all Scripture is inspired by God, we can expect it to speak with a consistent voice.

By examining the clues in Genesis and listening to how New Testament writers interpret these clues, we can begin to formulate a biblical vision for men and women. Our focus in this article is on men, so let me highlight three key insights that will enable us to cut through the cultural confusion and get a clearer view of God’s intention for manhood.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

[1] See Billboard, “Watch Little Big Town Perform ‘Better Man’ at 2018 Grammys”, accessed November 2, 2019, https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/grammys/8096725/grammys-2018-little-big-town-better-man

[2] Robert Rotberg.  The Founder:  Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power, (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1990), 665.

[3] See Desiring God, “Ask Pastor John, March 16, 2018”,  accessed Oct 9, 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/sex-abuse-allegations-and-the-egalitarian-myth/.

 

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Praise Update (November 8, 2019)

prayerIt’s a joy to be able to report how the Lord answered the requests I asked you to pray about last Friday and this past Tuesday.

Our President’s Cabinet had a very beneficial prayer and planning day.  We sensed the Lord’s leading as we clarified four major, strategic goals for the coming two/three years.  These faith goals will be the focus of our prayers and efforts going forward.

Our Residence Assistance had a refreshing break on their retreat last weekend.  These men and women carry a full load of classes as they serve the students in the residence halls.  I was delighted they could have time away for rest and renewal.

hopeI also experienced God’s strengthening grace as I preached last Sunday at Hope Church Mississauga.  What a vibrant church!  You can listen to my sermon (God’s Strength in Our Struggle) here.

The Local Outreach week at Heritage was a fruitful time of instruction and implementation.  I joined a group of students who were doing door-to-door outreach.  The students had numerous opportunities to pray for people and share the hope of the gospel.  We saw God open hearts as we presented the good news about Jesus.

Join me in giving thanks to God for answering prayer.  Please continue to pray for spiritual protection and progress for the ministry of Heritage College and Seminary.

 

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