Brave Cowards (A Word to Men)
A brave man is often a coward with a reason to act. A brave coward.
It is a gross misunderstanding that a man of God should be some smiley-faced politician with a perfect resume. Look at the men God used in the Bible. They are a ragtag bunch of guys at best. David shacked up with Bathsheba, Paul was a professional persecutor, Abraham (then Abram) sold his wife out by saying she was his sister so he wouldn’t be killed by Pharaoh. In every instance that I can think of, when God worked through a man the man was a fallible instrument – like a glass hammer.
There is a tendency to look at the great men of the Bible as great men. They weren’t in many respects. Maybe that sounds like blasphemy but it isn’t unless you worship men of the Bible instead of God. This is why I have always found it curious that anyone would pray to dead saints. Wouldn’t it be better to just take things up the flag pole to God Himself? Isn’t that why Jesus came?
Now I must say there is no doubt that men like Abraham, Samson, Paul, and David (among others) are men to admire in certain ways. They did great things because of their great faith and obedience in God. But the greatness of these men did not belong to them because faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8). And the greatness attached to them should be attributed to God, for He is the one who made things happen.
Default Mode: Passive or Brutal
Left to our own devices, men become one of two things: passive or brutal. The passive man is a wimp, an invertebrate. He hides in the shadows for fear he’ll be exposed in the light. And he tends to stew in the shadows, his own passivity annoying him to no end. He hates that he won’t speak up, stand up, and take a stand in his life. He is self-loathing. On the opposite end we have the brutal man. The brutal man knows he is strong enough to impose his will and because he has more fear than compassion in his heart, he runs over other people. He is just as scared as the passive wimp, but he, like a wild animal in a corner, lashes out in abuse instead of hiding in the shadows.
Both types of men get nothing done of significance. The passive man stays silent and the brutal man tears down.
The key is not to will yourself to be proactive (not passive) and gentle (not brutal). That won’t work. But here is what will work: to repent and believe. Too simple? We like complicated answers, don’t we?
If we repent of our sinfulness and trust in Jesus we will be drawn into our true masculine essence. We will lead, serve, and take the right stands. And when we fail, we’ll head back to the trough of repentance and grace. It’s a good cycle. Add years of repenting and believing, mix with trials and life happenings, and a man – a true man – comes out the other end. A day at a time more like Jesus.
Should Men Cultivate Masculine Virtue?
There is a lot of instruction out there on how to be a man, both in the secular and spiritual spaces. Some of it is garbage and some of it is pretty helpful. Your dad may or may not have taught you some things, like how to bait a hook and how to tie a tie. Maybe he taught you how to drink yourself into a quiet rage.
If you want to be a great man you’ve already lost. If you want to be a man that shows God as great you have tapped into the stream of power from the One who made the universe.
So is it healthy to cultivate masculine virtues like creativity, work ethic, strength, and leadership? (These are not by a long shot exclusively masculine virtues but a godly man will embody these characteristics. Women often embody these characteristics too - often to a greater degree.) Should a man sharpen his leadership skills or does that make him a vain main bent on building his own kingdom? Should he work on his weaknesses and strengthen his strengths?
Absolutely, yes. A man should strive to be better and he should cultivate virtue. He should try and learn and do his part to make himself a better man. God provides the growth but we can plant seeds as best we can. The pivot point is the question of why. If you want to be a better instrument to serve people and image God beautifully, you’re all over it. Self-kingdom builders may try to cultivate virtue but their efforts tend to be clouded by their ego – so they can be easy to spot.
Cultivate Godly virtues as laid forth in Scripture. If you need a guiding light, meditate on this leviathan of a verse:
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
Strength Rightly Placed
I believe a man should be as strong as he can be physically, mentally, and spiritually. He should have a strong body, a sharp mind, and a deep abiding faith in Jesus. Here again we will have our weak points, but focus your attention on the latter if you must select one.
Strength properly used will often look like a man getting on his knees. Getting on his knees to wash someone’s feet, to tie his daughter’s shoe, to propose to a godly woman, getting on his knees to pray. Rare is the case where a man’s strength needs to be on display for show (get some sleeves, buddy).
Men, we are instruments in the hands of God. When Jesus came to earth, he was ruddy, hard-working, and focused on love. He was a doer and His doings were for the benefit of others.
Physical abuse of a woman or child is the ultimate example of strength wrongly placed. Here the strength of a man is used to tear down what he is meant to protect and cherish. Genesis 1 (subdue, have dominion, steward) becomes Genesis 3 (dominate, rob, and self-glorify). An abusive man lives out brutality. But a passive man also exhibits strength improperly used – or not used, as it were. A passive man is a man made in God’s image who won’t provide, won’t build, won’t protect, won’t risk.
If God has made you to be a man, He has called you to something. Many things, actually. And you probably already know what they are. All of these things flow from loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Think of your life as a funnel. If your mission is to love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself, everything in your life must fit through that funnel. So porn is sifted out because it harms people and robs God of His glory. That’s an easy one, though. What about something that seems innocent, like a hobby? Just put it through that funnel and be honest. If it doesn’t flow through, trash it. If that makes you look weird, that’s great – maybe someone will ask you the reason for the hope that is in you.
As men, we get to stand in the sun so others can be in the shade. And you know what’s cool – the sunshine feels pretty good sometimes.