By Scott Keith –
Over the past several years, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a man. I am not talking specifically about gender or what does or does not hang between one’s legs. I am discussing what the essence of man is, or said more simply, what makes a man what he is.
This task started for me when I was writing Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. In the chapter on masculinity, I sought to define a masculine man based on the image of the father we gain from the parable of the Prodigal Son. I think this has been helpful. Time after time, when I’m teaching on the subject matter of the book, I use the same model to describe a man as strong, powerful, and capable. Strong in his willingness to risk. Powerful, with his words of forgiveness and love. And capable because he knows who he is in Christ.
This is helpful, but I often wonder if it is the whole picture. Now, I think I would add that to be a man means to be free to be what God, in Christ, has already declared we are: His saved and redeemed men. So then, a man is free. We are free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Being free, a man is honored to work for his neighbor’s good. A man knows that his closest neighbors are those whom God has placed in his life closest to him: his family. A man needs the mutual consolation of the brethren or brotherhood. A man needs good friends. And just for fun, men often love good fellowship, good drink, and good smoke.
So, being a man looks like 1) Freedom, 2) Working for Neighbor, 3) Caring for Family, 4) having Good Friends, and for fun, enjoying Good Smoke, Good Drink, and Good Fellowship.
This may be more of a Jagged Manhood, but it is the type that I think best describes me, my friends, and the other men I respect. Admittedly, much of what I think is wrapped up in a particular theology. You see, I believe that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That means that ALL men are sinful and unclean. They sin in thought, word, and deed, and they need a redemption and a Redeemer that is outside of them. All men need Christ.
Thus, all men are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, and for the sake of Christ alone. Our salvation is, from beginning to end, to the glory of God alone. None of our works merit anything. All that we add is sin; Christ alone adds all the merit and in turn gets all the glory. We are saved. We are free. We are men standing in the mercy of God because of Christ alone.
Freely, we are privileged to serve our neighbor. When those who are in Christ serve, they, as far as they are new free men in Christ, serve in love and not from the perspective of fear. When those under the curse of the Law and burdened by death and the power of the devil serve others, they do so from fear. When we free men do so, we do so out of love. We desire to serve God, yet part of us knows He does not need our service, and part of us does not know how to serve Him. And then we see those God has called to our lives, and we free men see that in working for our neighbor’s good we thus are serving God. We have heard it said that when we stand before the throne, the King will say: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
It is sometimes difficult for us to realize that serving our neighbor often means nothing more than moving through the motions of our everyday life. We are called then to serve our families, those God has placed closest to us, even in our homes. When I am out teaching on Being Dad, I am often asked: “What do these (good works) look like in everyday life?” My answer is too simple for some. I say that I think it looks like the mornings when I stumble out of bed first and make the coffee before my wife wakes up. It furthermore looks like those all too rare occasions when I remember to pour her cup first, bring her that cup, and hand it to her with a kiss on the cheek as I tell her that I love her. It looks like men serving family in love.
Serving neighbor often means having good friends who serve us in return. I have written much on this, and I think Paul Koch has written even more. This maybe tells you something about how important it is to us that we have good, male friends. In many ways, the importance of friends in my life is ineffable; it goes beyond the words I can use to describe it. But I know that the philia love I feel towards my friends is a gift from God to men—a gift that many men unfortunately never find. Yet, I know that having good male friends is part of the vocation of being a man.
Lastly, men like to have fun. Their joy often comes in ways that are hard for women to understand. It often means hitting one another, making fun of each other, and calling each other horrible names. Free men are secure in who they are, confident enough to give and endure the type of fellowship which dances the line between comradery and insult. These “good times” are often aided by good drink and good smoke. I think that the great authors of the past knew this better than we do. How many scenes of male friendship in great literature are pictures of men surrounded by other men in bars or pubs, where all are enjoying a good pipe? Here I always think of Lord of the Rings. As trivial us such things might seem on the surface, they are not trivial at all. These are some of the most important times of life!
You see, when men know they are free in Christ, they also know they are free to be good neighbors, good husbands and fathers, good friends, and that they are free to have fun enjoying the mutual consolation of their brothers. These free men also know two things. First, they know that they will fail because they remain sinner-saints. Second, they know that when they fail, they are free to flee to the cross of Christ, who has already covered all their failures.
Be the men you were called to be. You are free men who are freely in service to neighbor, loving family, and enjoying God’s good gifts. Most of all remember, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)