At the center of the Bible’s teaching on manhood and womanhood is the conviction that men and women were created by God with equal dignity but distinct roles. For males, the distinguishing feature of our role is self-sacrificing leadership. To use the phrase of Jonathan Parnell, “masculinity is gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility.” The way this plays itself in daily life is varied, to say the least, but how we act as men in this world is always meant to fall under the overarching role of selfless, loving, sacrificial leadership. This is how God created man from the beginning.
God’s Purpose in Creation
From the opening chapters of the Bible, we see that God created male and female intentionally and with specific purposes. In fact, both Jesus (e.g., Matt 19:4-6) and the Apostle Paul (e.g., 1 Tim 2:11-14) rely on the first chapters of Genesis when discussing things like marriage and male-female relationships. These chapters are foundational to our understanding of what it means to be and act like men.
Genesis 1 shows God creating everything. At the pinnacle of His creation was humankind in two distinct genders: male and female. Both men and women were set apart from everything else in the world with the unparalleled dignity of bearing God’s own image, as His special representatives to enjoy His beauty, to display His glory, and to reflect His worth (Gen 1:27).
Let this truth sink in. God created you as either a male or female because this was how He, in His infinite wisdom and majesty, determined that you would best honor Him. God’s distinct creation of male and female was not incidental or unimportant. Rather, manhood and womanhood were created by the spectacular intelligence of the Father for the sake of glorifying Him. We each exist as we do in order to display His glory.
In the very next chapter of Genesis, prior to the Fall, we see that God placed Adam in a garden after creating him, specifically to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15). “To work” is the idea of laboring to make things grow; “to keep” is the idea of protecting, sustaining, and caring for. Man was given the distinct responsibility of cultivating the garden and ruling God’s creation as His designated servant-leader. This call included, first and foremost, the way Adam was to love his wife. He was to lead her by protecting, providing for, and by serving her. By doing so in obedience to God, Adam would glorify God as he was created to do. (Chapter 3 of Genesis shows us that Adam, of course, failed to do this faithfully!)
Just like Adam in the garden, God’s purpose for man is that he would glorify Him in this world by being a servant-leader; by being a provider and protector; by making good things grow and keeping precious things safe.
Act Like Men
But God’s word doesn’t simply tell us that we were created uniquely and intentionally as males; it shows us that there are implications for how we ought to live as a result. Among other places in the Bible, the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians shows that there are certain actions and expectations that align with being a man:
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor 16:13-14).
Paul’s direction to the men in Corinth implies that they should act in a way that is somehow different from a boy (in terms of maturity) and somehow different from a woman (in terms of gender). It also connects the idea of acting like men with keeping watch, standing firm in the faith, and being strong. Clearly in Paul’s mind there are actions that can and should accompany men who are following Christ. In addition, Paul’s instruction is directly connected to love-in-action. To act like a man - to exhibit masculinity - is inseparable from acting in love.
All of this is of course done under the umbrella of sacrificial leadership. Paul’s call to the men in Corinth is ultimately a call to lead the church by guarding her against the encroachment of worldliness and error; by exhibiting strong, enduring faith; by being spiritually and emotionally strong and dependable; and by always acting in love. These are a few hallmarks of self-sacrificing leadership, and Paul tells us that this, at least in part, is what it looks like to act like men.
There are numerous other attributes of Godly masculinity that the Bible presents. Though we don’t have the time or space to list them here, all of them are ultimately born out of God’s good intention in creation for men to lead by selflessly serving and sacrificing for the good of others. This in no way means to imply that women can’t or shouldn’t ever act in such a manner. Rather, men should feel the deepest responsibility to exhibit the outworkings of this calling in day-to-day life.
It should go without saying that practicing these things is not easy, and none of us will do them perfectly. Real manhood is hard and oftentimes uncomfortable. But the good news of the gospel tells us that God has not left us alone in these endeavors.
Looking to the Perfect Man
At the center of what we believe is that God Himself took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ so that we might be made righteous in Him. God became man, and He did so perfectly. For the Christian therefore, the definition of manhood comes not simply as a command from God that we are to adhere to; it comes as a perfect example lived out by God Himself. Jesus’ life on earth demonstrated perfect, God-honoring masculinity every step of the way, especially as He walked the hill to Calvary to give His life for His bride (see Eph 5:25).
Men, as you strive to “act like men” in a God-honoring way, look to Jesus in faith. He is the grounds of true masculinity, and He will not leave us or forsake us in our endeavors.