In this series about Christian masculinity, we will identify the qualities in men that exemplify and define masculinity. As an introduction, we must first briefly outline secular masculinity and contrast it with Christian masculinity in an effort to bring to light what true masculinity is not. Following this, will be several other posts focusing on various men in Scripture who exhibited what we will now define as “Christian masculinity.”
As Christians living in a secular society, we are presented more than one definition of what masculinity is, i. e. the Christian and the secular. The secular and Christian definitions of masculinity are frequently at odds with one another, and this conflict continues to cause deep confusion for young men trying to live up to what they believe is their natural role in life. To remove this confusion, we must attempt to clearly define Christian and secular masculinity, which we will first do by looking further at the secular definition. Then, we will dig deeper into four main attributes of masculinity that the world has distorted, but can be correctly applied and practiced when understood more accurately through this lense of “Christina masculinity.”
Some general secular phrases associated with masculinity are being strong and proud, never failing, being physically fit, being of high social status, being emotionally in control (potentially lacking displays of emotion), sexually appealing, ambitious, daring, and potentially even aggressive. This is not to say that all men in secular society define masculinity this way, but it is the definition most frequently provided to us by the media or through societal pressures. Men that do not exhibit this type of masculinity are sometimes ostracized in secular society for their perceived lack of masculinity. On the surface, these traits may not all seem to be ones that deviate from what a Christian definition of masculinity would include. However, the real danger is that we as men today, as a result of the world frequently twisting these traits and popularizing them as acceptable and proper for men to have, are the ones who are slowly becoming misguided in our understanding of what is a proper and Christian definition of masculinity. To explore this further, we will take a few points about secular masculinity and contrast them with the Christian perspective of masculinity.
1) Never failing: When it comes to masculinity, there seems to be an intense, unspoken pressure, pushing men to never admit mistakes. Making a mistake or being wrong only shows weakness, which is largely believed to be the opposite of masculine. Any weakness negates masculine traits! This way of thinking is a bit shallow and rooted in pride, because it takes a great deal of strength, maybe even true courage to admit one’s faults and shortcomings. The lack of acceptance or patience toward human mistakes and the projection that real men can “do no wrong” or “cannot admit to mistakes,” is a large burden on anyone who is trying to live up to a worldly definition of masculinity. In fact, this thinking is toxic and brings with it many follies; it leads people to become deceptive or prideful. As we know, aside from Christ, no man is perfect. Furthermore, we are not expected to be perfect! As Proverbs says, “the righteous man falls seven times a day only to rise again” (Proverbs 24:16). The path to being a righteous man explicitly involves rising again after a fall, and one cannot rise again, without realizing that they were wrong and admitting their mistake.
2) Being emotionally in control: Strength and stability in the midst of hardship is a desirable masculine trait. As Christ (the perfect example of masculinity in the Christian definition) is our Rock, a man is often expected to be a rock supporting others. Unfortunately, the world distorts this desire and way of thinking into the idea that masculinity involves a lack of emotions or a lack of open emotional expression. Avoiding emotional displays to save face and appear strong and in control cannot be an attribute of true masculinity simply because Christ Himself wept openly at the death of Lazarus, and overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple (i.e. showed emotion).
3) Of high social status or highly successful by worldly standards: A general feeling is that a man must be successful at work and in life, always ambitiously elevating himself, and getting the next promotion, the better job and the higher pay. The secular definition of masculinity that is pushed on us is that the more successful a man is, then he is considered a better and more attractive man and one who is “in line” with this secular definition of masculinity. Once again, a Christian man looking at this should understand that while there is nothing inherently wrong with this type of success, and the pursuit of it, utilizing it as a definition of one’s masculinity is in fact misguided. The saints and monks gave up all that was in the world, barely owning a single article of clothing (sometimes not even that). Christ stated that, “The Son of man has no place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20). Despite having no outward appearance of success, the saints and monks have gained far more, and succeeded beyond what any job, promotion, title, or money could ever produce.
4) Sexuality: It is true that since we were called in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), that sexuality is not in and of itself evil or shameful. As already mentioned, the secular definition has become very disconnected from the Christian one. Of the things mentioned, this aspect of worldly masculinity is the most prevalent in society. In our society we cannot possibly “be a man” without sex appeal and unless we have dated and been with many partners. It is ingrained into the very fabric of our existences, by all the commercials and dating apps, not to mention how every website’s sidebar contains a plethora of pornographic websites present online. It is very clear that society has pushed this idea that men cannot be masculine and be chaste. Being chaste is almost a taboo, it is a weakness and a lack of the essence of man. But as Saint Paul says in indulging these passions, one sins against themselves (Ephesians 2:3). Truly it is deeply wounding men to live with this distorted understanding of sexuality and chastity (as if chastity is only reserved for monastics). The misuse of this aspect of masculinity was a stumbling block for king David and king Solomon, leading to their falling into sins, that the society around them popularized. Contrastingly, in the life of Joseph, we see that in order to escape this temptation, he ran out of Potiphar’s house naked! Thus, in this example, as in all things, we are called to exercise self-control, chastity, and participation in sexual activities in a God-ordained way, and at the appointed and proper time (i.e. marriage).
What appears to be true regarding the secular attributes of masculinity is that they are inherent to our nature as human beings; we hide our mistakes, desire to be strong, to be in control, and to fulfill our natural instincts. In contrast, a true example of Christian masculinity is a man who looks to do the right and moral thing rather than solely to fulfill what comes naturally to our fallen nature. These secular attributes when fully understood and broken down into this new understanding of Christian masculinity, as seen in Biblical examples such as Joseph, show us that these masculine attributes are more related to inner strength rather than outward appearances. Therefore, we as men of God must make difficult but moral choices in the face of great hardships. We must be willing to make decisions that make one seem outwardly weak but in fact take great inner strength. The nature of masculinity as defined by the world appears to some degree to be an imbalancing the Christian definition. It places its focus on outward appearances and passions. To more thoroughly define true Christian masculinity, we will continue to explore case studies of various figures in the Bible, and continue to understand the godly definition of masculinity, and attempt to pinpoint the qualities that define it.