The Christian man who makes women and children and the church safe, is the man who makes demons and the wicked uneasy. A shepherd, his staff and rod comfort them. “Gentle,” “meek,” and “compassionate” actually mean something because he is not merely these. Like the warrior-hero of old, the Christian man “shares many characteristics with the monsters he conquers, as he must if he is to conquer them” (Leon Podles, The Church Impotent, 95). In other words, the Christian man must be strong.
The goddess of feminism shrieks at the mere citation: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). She does not like (and would threaten you not to like) men acting “like men.” If she cannot make men brutal, she would have their souls emasculated by pornography, disinterested in dominion, wasting their fleeting lives staring at a box in the corner of the room. Paul, by inspiration of God, would have you live for something, stand firm for something, die for something, rise from the grave to reign again — “quit you like men” in the old King James — be strong.
This command is no innovation. Paul, steeped in Old Testament Scriptures, grew up on tales of Abraham and Noah, Moses and Joshua, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Nehemiah, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When Paul says the entire church ought to “act like men,” he uses a word — andrizomai — already familiar to readers of the Greek translations of the Old Testament. The Israelite grew up with clear categories of what it meant to act like men, to stand firm in the faith, to be strong.
Men Demons Recognize
“Act like a man” was a common commission given to the generation about to enter the promised land. I can’t recount how many times my own retreating spirit has needed to drink from Joshua’s chalice. His Lord charged him,
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous [andrizomai]. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
Joshua, and indeed all of Israel, would need to “play the man” to conquer their own fears and enter the land swarming with enemies fierce and fortified (Deuteronomy 31:6). God had already executed the cowardly spirit of the spies by a forty-year march through the wilderness. Only the two soldierly spirits who trusted their God survived: Caleb and Joshua. Joshua is charged repeatedly — by Moses before all the people, by the Lord himself, and by the people themselves: Act like a man and be strong (Deuteronomy 31:6–8, 23; Joshua 1:1–9, 16–18).
Andrizomai connotes strength of soul. Men act, and act from a soldierly spirit, for those they protect, while trusting their God. All they do is to be governed by love (1 Corinthians 16:14), and that loving spirit doesn’t negate the strong, resilient soul; it focuses it on right ends. “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him” (G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, 1911). Such a soldier turns to a brother during warfare, attacked on both fronts and with his people on his heart, and says,
If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men [andrizomai] for our people, and for the cities of our God: and the Lord do that which seemeth him good. (2 Samuel 10:11–12 KJV)
Demons recognize this man. His wife respects him. His sons look up to him. His daughter is safe with him. His people trust him. He is a soldier of his King, a son of his Father, a Christian man.
Sin of Timidity
How is it, then, when you visit more than a few Christian quarters today, you might assume Paul instructed, “Stand firm in your feelings, take it easy, act like androgenous beings, embrace your unchanging (and unchangeable) weakness”?
The call to “gentleness,” in these cases, has not accented the Christian man’s strength but bludgeoned it. Love has not ordered the strong soul but trumpeted its retreat. King David could soothe with the harp and harm with the sling. The Lord himself bade the children come and yet was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house and drove the moneychangers out. Are we in their lineage? “Be more tender” cannot be the only message for a generation increasingly unschooled in being assertive, convictional, or heroic.
Charles Spurgeon bemoaned the soft and unmanly spirit of his times. In the May 1866 edition of The Sword and the Trowel, he diagnoses his generation, with uncomfortable relevance to our own:
Is not timidity a common vice among Christian workers? . . . Is it not a sin to educate God’s people into habits which unfit them for Christian warfare? Are not these such times as to demand a more manly bearing from believers than the most of them as yet exhibit? (The War Horse)
Timidity is a vice, but what of Christianity’s celebration of “softer” virtues like modesty? He continues,
You remind me that modesty is a great virtue; I believe it, but I also believe that there are other virtues equally necessary to a soldier. The modesty which keeps a soldier in the rear in the day of battle will earn him few laurels [honors]; and that retiring disposition which makes him retreat when the order is given to advance is called by another name by men of courage.
Spurgeon often dressed his sermons in soldier’s apparel. He had a masculine ministry, which resisted the sheepishness he witnessed in too many pulpits of his day:
A spice of this traitorous modesty flavors our ministry still, and some palates crave for more of it. We are expected to appear before our hearers with a sweet bashfulness which disclaims all dogmatism, and sues for a hearing as a beggar for an alms. God’s ambassadors, forsooth, are to lick the dust, and to deliver their Master’s message as though he borrowed leave to be.
In other words, as a pastor he borrowed from Shakespeare’s militant Coriolanus, “Why did you wish me milder? Would you have me false to my nature? Rather say I, play the man I am” (Coriolanus, 3.2.15). “A man of God is a manly man,” declared Spurgeon. “A true man does what he thinks to be right, whether the pigs grunt and the dogs howl” (“A Man of God Is a Manly Man,” Masculinity and Spirituality in Victorian Culture, 211).
But what is Spurgeon specifically getting at, and how do we apply it today? The false religion of modernity (alive in his day as well), would have us pay homage to the pantheon of the gods. A man must not “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). A man may have his private Jesus, but not the public Lord who possesses all authority over every nation and to whom each sinner must bow. This Lord, pluralism hates — though as Dagon before the ark, it shall soon fall, headless.
Our warfare, then, both at that time and today (and in the first century), has much to do with plain speech of the true Christ for the good of souls. We wield spiritual weapons, destroy strongholds, largely through speech, as we “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
If we were in the Old Testament religion, and geography defined the borders of God’s kingdom, if the dwelling place of God was behind the walls of Jerusalem and God’s ark dwelt within the temple, if we were the nation of Jesus Christ, then we could imagine the charge to men of God today being: “Pick up your sword, man, and fight for the church against her enemies!”
And while a normal man should be able to pick up a sword and do a pushup, we know that in Christ our warfare has been raised to a far higher hill. Or is it a smaller thing to war daily against untiring and unseen enemies, to be on guard against traitors as close as our own flesh, to contend with spirits who shoot flaming darts to sting the heart, to incense the dark and mighty jackal who holds immortal souls mercilessly within his jaws? Strong men, strong in the faith, strong in the Lord, stand firm and dare to defy the world, the flesh, the devil.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his day, “They that know have grown afraid to speak. That is why sorrows that used to purify now only fester” (The Great Divorce, 106). Will we summon the strength of soul, to tell the unbeliever living in Vanity Fair that his way leads to hell, his god is an idol, his hopes but drunken dreams?
Spurgeon roars, “Men are perishing, and if it be unpolite to tell them so, it can only be so where the devil is the master of the ceremonies. Out upon your soul-destroying politeness; the Lord give us a little honest love to souls, and this superficial gentility will soon vanish” (The War Horse). Will sorrows that once purified now fester because Christian men grow afraid to speak — or speaking, slash the force of what we say with mumbled apologies?
Sharpening of Brothers
Perhaps we have cut Samson’s hair because we have left men to be heroic alone, having lost the sharpening brotherhood. Perhaps Christian men don’t speak more courageously to their neighbor because they don’t speak more courageously to one another. Where they remain, men’s accountability too quickly devolves into secular therapy sessions where the listeners can only empathize and affirm the drowning man. We’ve forgotten how to spar, how to sharpen as iron, how to act like men among men.
Am I too harsh to observe that many operate by the unspoken rule that we can be as wobbling fauns forever taking first steps in discipleship? Is the frontline to move forward? Is it not becoming a pastime to huddle together as startled sheep baaing of how broken we all are without any desperate plea to God (and the brothers) to help us grow stronger? I hope not.
Remember Peter’s vision for the Christian life. His is one of divine power for the believer to make every effort and actually to increase in holiness, one with a calling to God’s own glory and excellence, one of progress and precious and very great promises, one of confirming our calling and election as we campaign our way with the saints to the celestial city (2 Peter 1:3–11). Setbacks? Certainly. Sin? Who could deny it? But growth? Absolutely. Onward Christian soldier is our inheritance. The church triumphant marches behind Christus Victor, and the battle begins in our own souls and processes into glory.
Act Like Christian Men
This brings us to the final point: God’s call to masculine strength is distinctly Christian. The Christian man does not rely on self or chariots. He does not strut around like Gaston, singing, “As a specimen, yes I’m intimidating!” The story of Joshua, a story the author of Hebrews calls us to appropriate (Hebrews 13:5–6), teaches us that the man of God is strong and courageous because he believes God’s promise, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Mighty men know that their strength is utter weakness apart from God. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).
Acting like a man, red-blooded and vigorous of soul, means acknowledging we are but men. As the adage goes, “The best of men are men at best.” If God does not go with us, down goes our strength. With God, we stand bold as a lion. Without him, we melt into a puddle.
But God has promised not to leave us. Away, then, with unmanliness disguised as virtue. Speak of Christ so as to be heard. Get a job. Find a wife. Raise children. Serve the church. Love your neighbor in the name of Jesus. Learn to sweat, develop your abilities, and use them. Walk humbly before your God and his word; stand tall before men. Lift holy hands and pray. Study. Sharpen one another. Stand firm. Let all you do be done in love. Be strong in the Lord. Act like Christian men.