What Does it Mean to be Masculine?

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Nathan Pickup

In my previous article, I began to examine Satan’s lies regarding human sexuality. Among those falsehoods is his lie about “masculinity,” which is particularly powerful since it permeates what we promote and look for in our male peers. Despite our culture’s movement towards a more nebulous view of gender, it nevertheless still presents very strong ideas about “manliness.” The problem is that these ideas are drastically different than God’s standard of masculinity. If our conception of manhood is based on the world’s standards of masculinity, then our search for fulfillment as men will be like searching for water in a desert. So what does God’s revelation say about what it means to be masculine? And how does that compare with our culture’s view?

If we want to know how God esteems masculinity, we have no better reference than Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the perfect image of everything God intended for humanity; but since he was male, he is also the perfect example of masculinity. So what traits, characteristics, and values does Jesus demonstrate that help us understand biblical masculinity?

  • A masculine man is a servant. I grew up on the action movies of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, where manliness was portrayed as being muscular and physically dominant. Our culture continues to foster a standard of masculinity measured by physical power and the exertion of authority. This is evident in the various superhero and action films Hollywood produces, as well as the image of athletes that captivate so many. In contrast, Jesus knew “that the Father had given all things into his hands,” and with all of that power he donned the role of a servant and washed the feet of his friends—including a man who would become his enemy (Jn. 13:1-17). Jesus shows us that manhood equals servanthood; that true power is exercised through servicing others. This was displayed on the cross, where Jesus exercised his might through the role of a servant giving his life for his enemies. Ironically, it was through this act of service that Jesus disarmed and triumphed over the rulers and authorities (Col. 2:15). Jesus’ masculinity was not measured by his muscles or ability to intimidate others, but rather through his ability and willingness to serve his fellow human beings. If you want to be truly masculine, be a servant (Phil. 2:7).
  • A masculine man is humble, even when being slandered. Our culture is full of athletes and action heroes who boast of their greatness and will lash out with force if their greatness is insulted. Jesus, by contrast, demonstrated godly masculinity by enduring slander and disrespect with humility. When Jesus was disrespected by the Sanhedrin and Roman soldiers, he didn’t get in their face and yell, “Nobody talks to me that way!” He humbly wore the crown of thorns and purple robe, knowing that their mockery of him didn’t change the truth of who he was (John 19:1-3). If you want to be truly masculine, humble yourself, especially when others challenge your worth (Phil. 2:8).
  • A masculine man can be vocal about his love for others. Jesus demonstrated perfect masculinity by vocalizing and expressing his love, even for his male friends. Jesus was not ashamed to say things like, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn. 13:34) or asking his friend “do you love me?” (Jn. 21:15-17). Our culture has developed customs regarding how males show affection, especially as it pertains to affection for other males. For a man
    to say “I love you” toanother man may invite mockery. But this is a product of our culture’s programming rather than an objective standard of masculinity. Those stigmas are hard to break, but we must strive to break through them so that we can experience close human relationships as God intended, and model true masculinity to the world. If you want to be masculine, be man enough to tell your friends and family that you love them…yes, even if they’re male.
  • A masculine man isn’t afraid to cry. At some point in our country’s history, we developed the notion that a man doesn’t cry; that crying is for women. Tom Hanks’ famous movie line to a female athlete “There’s no crying in baseball!” says it all. While exceptions certainly exist in our media, the idea that masculinity is devoid of crying is still perpetuated in film, music, and comic books. Jesus had no qualms about crying openly to express his emotions. When Lazarus died, Jesus’ tears were such that spectators said “See how he loved him!” (Jn. 11:35-36). Jesus did not view crying as antithetical to his masculinity. Our culture may have developed a stigma around men crying, but our culture is not the standard of true masculinity—Jesus is. And if Jesus was man enough to cry and show his God-given emotions, so can we. If you want to be truly masculine, don’t be afraid to cry when something moves you.

I should note in closing that the qualities we’ve discussed are not limited to men, but are qualities of godly human beings, whether male or female. However, these qualities were chosen because they reveal how Satan has attacked the idea of masculinity in our culture. If we buy into Satan’s lies about masculinity, then we’ll be constantly trying to mold ourselves to a false standard. Being masculine is not measured by your physique, your stature, your intelligence, your power, your girlfriend or wife, your stoicism, or any other false measure Satan has fed our culture. Your masculinity is measured solely in how you emulate Christ. If you’re a servant, if you’re humble, if you express love for others, and if you embrace your God-given emotions, then you are truly a masculine man.