What is a man? It seems like a simple question, but many men don’t know the answer. Read the poem written by a young man to pastor and author Robert Lewis:
What is a man?
Is he someone who is strong and tall,
Or is taut and talented as he plays ball?
Is he someone who is hardened and rough,
Who smokes and drinks and swears enough?
Is he someone who chases women hard?
With a quest to conquer, but never dropping his guard?
Is he someone with a good business mind,
Who gets ahead of the others with his nose to the grind?
Or is he someone who tries his best,
Not really caring about any of the rest?
What is a man? Does anyone know?
Who is the prototype? To whom shall I go?
Society? Current culture can’t make up its mind about men. Society has spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine.
History? History has displayed a caricature of manhood from tyrants to pirates. Occasionally a great man, like Socrates, Plato, Luther, or Lincoln, will ride onto the screen of time, but they seem to be few and far between.
Television? According to my wife, since Tom Selleck left the airways, there hasn’t been a real man on the screen in sometime. Instead we see a proliferation of whiners, and self-promoting and self-reliant types in every reality series.
Corporate America? Have we not produced a whole generation of people who are clamoring and clawing for a pot of gold that does not exist? Many are greed-filled, immorality-justifying, family-absent, ethics-lacking. They are hardly the models we desire.
Athletics? The world of sport produces the fastest, the strongest, and the fiercest of competitors. Their massive biceps are equaled only by their massive egos. Many athletes will readily admit that they want the lime light but refuse to be role models.
Church? “Christianity,” according to John Eldredge in Wild at Heart, “as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men. When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe that God put them on earth to be a good boy. The problem with men, we are told, is that they don’t know how to keep their promises, be spiritual leaders, talk to their wives, or raise their children. But, if they will try real hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming . . . a nice guy.” What man wants to grow up to be a really nice guy? Eldredge invites us to walk into most churches and what we will find is that most Christian men are bored.
Remember the questions: What is a man? Who is the prototype? To whom shall I go?
The Path a Real Man Takes
The confusion about manhood is laid to rest in the person of Jesus Christ. Take a look at him. Jesus was tough and tender, compassionate and committed, beautiful and bold. He was a man’s man. He is the prototype—God’s model for manhood. Like any great man, we want to trace the path that led to his greatness. Christ’s path to being a model for manhood was not a typical one. He traveled from highest to the lowest and back to the highest again. He left heaven and came down into this world to return again—from top to bottom to top.
A Road Less Traveled
We live in a world of self-promotion, defending our own rights, taking care of ourselves first, winning by intimidation, pushing for first place, and a dozen other self-serving agendas. That attitude does more to squelch our joy and destroy our manhood than any other.
God’s model of manhood understands that humiliation comes before promotion. Humility is a radical concept in America manhood. Our culture is full of people who think they are better than everybody else. We have elevated selfishness to an art form. True humility is not thinking lowly of ourselves, but thinking accurately of ourselves. Humility is not self-hatred of lack of confidence. Neither does it imply that a person becomes the proverbial doormat. Humility is thinking true and realistic thoughts about God and ourselves. A real man sees himself as he is—flawed, sinful, and inadequate. And they see God as he really is—majestic, sovereign, omnipotent, and gracious.
Real men eventually follow the path that Jesus followed. We may begin our journey with pride, confident that we can do anything. We shout out like Jack Dawson in the movie Titanic, “I am the king of the world.” But eventually we get knocked down—either by an iceberg or the sheer reality of life. Every man may begin the life journey with pride and arrogance, but eventually we will be brought down. The low points define us and make us.
The Barrier to Greatness
When I was in the Rotary Club, often at our luncheons a junior or senior from the local high schools would come and tell about their dreams and aspirations. They would speak with such passion and conviction and confidence about college plans, major course of study, and how eventually they would become a success. Their desires were noble; their attitudes were repulsive. One day, as a young man was waxing arrogantly about his future exploits, an older Rotarian leaned over to me and said, “Give him a few years, let him have a little taste of life, a few failures, and some things not to go the way he planned, and let’s see if he will be so cocky.”
Pride gets in the way of real manhood: the thinking that we don’t need anyone. Self-made men are determined to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps even if they land on their backsides.
Not too long ago, there was a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who pulled into a service station to get gas. He went inside to pay, and when he came out he noticed his wife engaged in a deep discussion with the service station attendant. It turned out that she knew him. In fact, back in high school before she met her eventual husband, she used to date this man.
The CEO got in the car, and the two rode off in silence. He was feeling pretty good about himself when he finally spoke: “I bet I know what you are thinking. I bet you were thinking you’re glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service station attendant.”
“No, I was thinking if I’d married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you’d be a service station attendant.”
Eventually we learn through the message of others, and our own mistakes, failures, disappointments, and death that we aren’t kings, but lowly servants. We can’t make it alone; we need the hand of another to lift us up, gets us on our feet, so we can move in the right direction. And this is what God does for us. He reaches down once we realize that we need his help, and then he sets us on the upward path. When we realize that, then, maybe, just maybe, we will be men.
In Jesus we find answers to the questions: What is a man? Who is the prototype? To whom shall I go? Jesus is the prototypical man that willingly humbled himself forsaking his pride for the sake of others. If you want to find answers for what it means to be a man go to him. Jesus is the answer.