The Meaning of Manhood


The Meaning of Manhood

One of my favorite things to do while cleaning the kitchen or doing other chores around the house is to call my mom. It’s become a pattern, so much so that when I call, she’ll jokingly say, “You must be cleaning the kitchen.”

In a recent conversation, I confessed how I’ve struggled as a husband. I explained how I’d failed to fully grasp what true manhood looked liked. For most of my life, I’d assumed that if I was taking care of myself — working, paying my bills, buying my food, and finding adequate shelter — I was fulfilling God’s calling in manhood.

As I grew in my understanding of biblical manhood, I discovered that true manhood demanded more of me. As a single man, I had failed to put into practice what I knew marriage would require. I secretly thought that marriage would miraculously change me and make me a better man. I didn’t drink from the fountain of true manhood as a single guy, so I’m now drinking from a fire hose as a new husband. Now I’m learning the hard way about the high and hard calling of manhood.

Jesus’s Selflessness and Sacrifice

Jesus’s life embodied true masculinity. How could it not? No doubt, we could produce a long list of characteristics that Jesus embodied that made him a real man, but two noteworthy traits are his selflessness and sacrifice.

Jesus’s life embodied true masculinity.

Jesus’s teaching in the Gospels are soaked in these themes. When asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responds,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36–40)

Furthermore, Jesus taught us to not only love our neighbor, but to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). It’s easier to sacrifice and act selflessly towards those we feel are worthy of our affection, love, and resources, but true manhood is displayed when we freely and selflessly sacrifice for the unworthy.

Alongside his teaching, Jesus added an unsurpassed testament to his selflessness and sacrifice: the increasing lowliness of his life, even to death. Throughout his ministry, he selflessly gave up his time, energy, and resources for the sake of others. Paul writes that Christ “made himself nothing” and took on “the very nature of a servant.” Paul admonishes us to embrace this mentality: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5–8). Christ’s lifestyle is a model not only for the married, but also for how unmarried men (and women) should live.

Jesus best displayed his selflessness and sacrifice when he freely went to the cross for the good of his bride, from obedience to his Father, and for the joy set before him. Our perfect Savior died for a bride that had unassailably proven herself unworthy of such a sacrifice. Which presents a beautiful picture of how sinful husbands should love and cherish their wives.

Real Men Freely Give

For many, there is a huge disconnect between what we say and do. But as we can see, Jesus’s life embodied his teaching completely and perfectly. Unlike us, Jesus understood the implications of his teaching better than anyone and never cut corners for the sake of personal comfort and convenience.

We learn from Jesus that true manhood isn’t simply about keeping our noses clean and our own ducks in a row. True manhood means getting beyond ourselves to love our neighbors — and our neighbor is anyone we meet that is in need. Real men freely give their time, resources, attention, energy, and emotional support to those that need it without regard to what they can give in return.

Masculine leadership isn’t an opportunity to be served, but a calling to serve sacrificially.

For the unmarried Christian man, this means freely giving your time and resources by being hospitable, volunteering at church, providing for the needy, visiting the sick, and helping the elderly. It has implications for how you steward your money. Could you give more to the cause of Christ since your present expenses are fewer? How can you honor your parents in this season? You might check in more regularly to see if they have any needs that you could meet.

For the married man, your closest neighbors are your wife and children. Manhood means leaning into your marriage and family. It means providing for them physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. It means humbly loving your wife even in the moments when you feel she’s especially unworthy of that love and loving your children when they seem least deserving. And real men honor their father and mother, and are eager to “to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God” (1 Timothy 5:4).

The High Calling of Manhood

The first time I called my mom while washing dishes, she was shocked because she knew that acts like this didn’t come natural. I’ve always been quick to think of myself and slow to think of others. But her reaction to me cleaning the kitchen, which was amusing in the moment, encourages me today. It reminds me that though the journey to manhood has been slow and difficult, I’d grown — even if the growth feels insignificant. Her shock reminds me that God is at work.

Real manhood is a hard and uncomfortable calling, whether you’re single or married. The role of leadership God has given men isn’t an opportunity to be served, but a calling to serve sacrificially. In a world that offers immediate gratification — financially, emotionally, and sexually — Christian manhood may seem unattractive and even pointless at times. Why live selflessly and sacrificially when I can do the opposite and enjoy instant pleasure? When society tells us that leadership amounts to privilege, why hold fast to the biblical vision of leadership as sacrifice?

If you’re not serving others like Jesus, you’re not fully walking in biblical manhood.

Real men deny themselves carnal pleasures for true joy in Jesus. Whether you’re married or single, if you’re not serving your neighbors selflessly and sacrificially, you’re not fully walking in biblical manhood. Boys say, “I’m responsible for myself.” Men say, “I’m responsible for my neighbors.” Boys are forced to give, but men give freely because they’ve been freely given. Boys expect their wife or mom to do the dishes, but men are quick to grab the sponge and soap. Ultimately, manhood means serving others as much and more than you serve yourself.

While the temporal rewards are not always immediate, the eternal rewards will be well worth the wait. God the Father demonstrates that he will indeed reward the obedient and faithful, just as he did with his selfless and sacrificial Son:

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)


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Thumb author phillip holmes

Phillip Holmes is a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He’s married to Jasmine and they’re expecting their first child, Walter Wynn, this June.