Death bed scenes fascinate me. As one person faces the end of his earthly sojourn, he looks into the teary eyes of his loved ones and carefully chooses the words that will be his last. It’s the only moment when we get to speak from the perspective of a life completed and a journey finished. The words must be chosen carefully because they are indeed the dying person’s last.
We get such a scene in 1 Kings 2. King David is about to die, and he calls for his son Solomon who will inherit his throne. What does he emphasize in this moment of immense gravity? “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies.”
Show yourself a man. Interestingly, Paul ends his letter to the Corinthian church with a similar admonition: “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). The phrase, “act like men,” was an idiomatic phrase akin to “man up!” By using it, Paul assumed that the men reading his letter would understand what he was calling them to do. It was culturally understood that men are called to live a certain way. In both biblical occurrences, in fact, the call to manhood was effective precisely because those receiving the call recognized what it means to be a man.
Our age seems to lack such an agreed-upon definition of manhood. Progressivism tells us that gender is a cultural construct and that the individual is free to choose whether he or she wants to be a man or a woman or even some mixture of both. For decades now, feminism has sought to mute the differences between men and women by arguing that women should be able to do anything a man does, blurring the beautiful, God-created complementarity of males and females imaging God in uniquely different ways.
But all of this hit me harder a few weeks ago as I saw images and read stories of the horrors of Hamas terrorists targeting innocent Israeli civilians to brutally attack, rape, murder, mutilate, and kidnap. Then I saw rallies of American university students celebrating these cowardly acts and championing these evil terrorists as heroes.
These terrorists were overwhelmingly male. However, I would argue that none of them were men. Judging from the perverse reactions of many around the world, we may be losing the ability to recognize the difference.
What is a man? It’s a question that seems so basic it’s silly. Yet I wonder how many could come up with a satisfactory definition. We can’t strive to “show ourselves men” or “act like men” if we don’t know what a man is in the first place. We can’t hit a target we haven’t located. God created males to be men who image him in distinct ways. Yet, in our selfishness, we’re not very interested in pursuing that calling. Instead of using our unique male abilities to worship God, we too often seek to leverage our strength toward self-centered aims that often involves manipulating and hurting others. Habitually, instead of using our male-ness to protect people around us, we leverage it to prey upon them for personal pleasure and gain.
God knows our predicament. He understands our failures. He realizes that we’ve enslaved ourselves by our own selfishness. Therefore, he sent his eternal divine Son into history as a man to redeem us. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
Jesus is the model for manhood. He defines what it means to be a man for us. And what does Jesus fundamentally come to do? “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Instead of using his strength to lord over others on his way to the top, Jesus directs every ounce of it toward courageously and sacrificially serving the people around him, even his own enemies.
What is manhood? From Jesus, we can arrive at a definition: “Manhood is the joyful and courageous pursuit of sacrificial responsibility for the good of others.” We show ourselves to be men when we step into danger to save others. We act like men when we refuse to treat others as pawns to be used and instead direct our energy toward ensuring that they flourish. Manhood isn’t found in the reflective glow of iPhone screen; it’s found in imitation of the one who died to save us. Let’s show ourselves to be men.