What is a man?
Well, today’s question is “What is a man?” We’ve talked about the confusion in our culture. We’ve talked about the beauty of God’s design. We just sang about that. Today, we’re going to focus in on the simple question, “What is a man?”
And it seems like I should be able to answer that quite quickly, right? A man is a grown male. Let’s pray. You’re like, if only! If only! But it’s a little more complicated, not just because I’m a pastor who’s supposed to fill in some time. What is a grown male? What does “grown” mean? Are you talking about just old enough to make other males? Are you talking about the size of the truck he drives? What is a grown male?
The more I think about this question, the more I become convinced that in one sense a man – and hear me out here because I’m going to need to explain this – a man is a father. A man is a male who has assumed the responsibility of a father. Now, some of you are immediately going, “Whoa!” There are a lot of men who don’t get married and don’t have children. Yes, I get that. And there are a lot of males who have children that never become men. I get that, too. But what I’m talking about is something, and I have a bunch of boys of my own that have become, I would say, become men.
I’ve raised others, foster boys, and it is a beautiful thing to behold when the lights begin to go on, and a boy begins to realize that life is not about him and his preferences and desires and passions and selfishness. And he begins to realize that he has been called and gifted by God to seek the good of others, to invest in that lonely kid at the other side of the lunchroom. It starts very small, but assuming responsibility. And I know 15-year-olds who are men and 50-year-olds who are boys. So, it’s not an age thing as much as it is assuming that responsibility.
Look at Jesus Christ who never humanly on earth got married and had physical children. But look at his mindset, the way he cared for others, the way he gave himself. And when he left this earth he said, “I will not leave you as orphans.” That’s that fathering mindset. Look at the apostle Paul, who as far as we know was single and did not get married and have his own physical children. But look at the way he poured himself into others. “Timothy, my beloved son!” He assumed that fathering mindset. I’m not talking about fathering in the sense of taking control of everybody’s life, but assuming appropriate responsibility for the ones God has called into your life.
And the reason this is so complicated is because the path from childhood to fatherhood is littered with lies, and I believe the enemy is targeting boys and men today in very specific ways in order to paralyze and distract so that we are not stepping into what God has called us to. Jesus called Satan our enemy. He called him “the father of lies.” So, when Satan has children, they’re lies. And I believe some of his greatest lies surround fatherhood. So, I want to just mention a couple.
Lie number one: Fatherhood is insignificant. No,w most people in our country would not state this outright, but as a culture, we are preaching this constantly. A large percentage of children are growing up without dads in their homes. In the 1950s, it was around 6-8%, less than 1 in 10. Today, it’s almost 1 in 3 are growing up without a dad. And this shift, which a lot of it you might say is unintentional but a lot of it is intentional, has extensive social ramifications, especially for boys and men.
In a relatively new book that came out last year, The Boy Crisis by Farrell and Gray in a chapter entitled, “Why Are Dads So Important?” Specifically, they’re talking about for boys, and this is not a Christian book. He gives a number of reasons. They give a number of reasons. I can’t go through all of these statistics. You’ve seen many of these, so I’m just going to pick a few related to school. 71% of high school dropouts have minimal or no father involvement. 90% of runaway and homeless youths are from fatherless homes. This will take your breath away. Regarding violent crime, every 1% increase in fatherlessness in a neighborhood predicts a 3% increase in adolescent violence. If you care about the poor, you care about dads. Poverty and mobility: children who were born and raised by both married parents had an 80% chance of moving to the middle class or above. Conversely, children who were born into the middle class and raised without a married dad were almost four times as likely to end up considerably poorer. 85% of youths in prison grew up in a fatherless home.
Now here’s the irony. Many of you if you follow the news, you’ve noticed the APA, the American Psychological Association, came out with guidelines for boys and men (psychological practice guidelines). The APA is the preeminent professional gateway for research and accreditation for psychologists. It boasts almost 120,000 members, but their guidelines often read as far more ideological than based on science. And this is one of the reasons when they come out with guidelines, they’re often so controversial. Let me just give you one example of this. The APS, the Association of Psychological Science, was formed to try to regain integrity for psychologists. They have around 30,000 members. The former president said this,
“The vast majority of clinical psychologists are now trained in programs in which science plays only a minor role. In the epistemology, (that is how we know what is true or false) embraced by many of these programs, the primacy of scientific evidence is rejected, and students are trained to use methods of diagnosis, treatment and prevention that have little or no scientific support.”
And the report models this. Now I’ve read the report. I did skim parts of the middle that were kind of dull, but the report has some good stuff. It even acknowledges that the lack of father presence has been a problem, as well as describing what they call “adverse childhood experiences.” But then it places a large amount of blame for the male social pathologies, the brokenness in our culture that is male induced, on what they call “traditional masculine socialization.” Traditional masculine socialization.
Now, you have to be really smart to get it this wrong. Because what they’re basically arguing is that the reason we have so many male-produced social pathologies, like brokenness in our society is because of traditional masculine socialization. So, if that were true, reasonable people would think that if you could just get boys away from men and just raise them by women, then those boys would be the ones that would flourish the most, right?
But the data shows the opposite. It doesn’t solve the problem. It actually exacerbates it because the problem isn’t men are too manly, the problem is they’re not manly enough. Our understanding of masculinity is so warped by broken stereotypes and sinful perversions that it leaves us in worse shape with reports like this. So, what I want to call you to do is let’s learn from the elephants.
Twenty years ago, CBS 60 Minutes first broke this story. I think it’s a fascinating, modern parable of where we are today. So, what happened, it’s in South Africa. There was a park that was, because elephants were being preserved, they were overrunning the park. There were way too many of them. So, they could either kill them or move them. But the big male bull elephants were too hard to move. So, they came up with these big harnesses that they would wrap around the little elephants, and they would hook them up to helicopters. Wouldn’t that be fun? And they move the elephants to a different park via helicopter. And then they had to eliminate a lot of the big bull elephants because they were too big to move.
Fast forward. Years later in this new park, they have a problem. There is a consistent, they keep finding dead white rhinos. First, they think perhaps poachers are killing these rhinos, but the horns on the rhino are still there, and that’s the valuable part. So, if poachers were going to do it, they would take the horns. So, they had to actually go back to Krueger National Park and re-imagine what might have happened to try to solve this mystery. And it came down to the fact, as they tracked some of these male elephants that had been flown in as children that were now teenage male elephants – need I say more? And so, the teenage male elephants that had essentially raised themselves were taking out rhinos just for the fun of it. Thirty-nine had already been killed, many more and other damage done. And so how do you solve this problem?
You can either kill all the male teenage elephants before they kill all the rhinos and other animals, or they had another idea. They built a special truck, really big truck. They brought in some male bull elephants, and within no time at all, a new hierarchy had been established, and there were no rhino killings after that. So, be like an elephant!
No. It’s just a beautiful parable about the role, in this case of these older male elephants to, through force and example, they trained these teenage male elephants what it means to be an elephant and what it doesn’t mean to be an elephant. And it’s a picture of where we are in our society today. Lie number one is fathers are insignificant.
Lie number two, fatherhood is impossible, unattainable. I fear that there are many, especially young men and young dads, that live with a perpetual sense of guilt and shame and fear regarding fatherhood. You might look at your own upbringing and be able to see the failure of your dad as absent or passive or abusive, and you have a really hard time imagining what it would look like to do the opposite. And you can.
I know as a dad when my kids were young, I constantly read books about parenting and being a dad, and I would go to older men in our church and ask questions. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? And I tried to learn, but I always had this underlying sense of failure, like I haven’t found the silver bullet yet. I need to try this or this or this or this. And you can get, the enemy wants to tangle us up with 100 different things we should be doing rather than,
“Lord, I don’t need to worry about everything everyone’s doing. What are you calling me to do? What can I do at this time of my life and try to do it by your grace well?”
I think one of the lies of fatherhood is this paralysis that comes either for young men fearing it or those in it, when we see the failure around us, we know our own weakness, and we get to the place where we feel like it’s impossible.
Lie number three is “Fatherhood is irreparable.” For many who grow up in broken or abusive homes, it can feel hopeless, especially when a pastor stands up and reads stats about dadlessness. Is that not potentially super discouraging? Especially I think, for single moms who are trying to make up for an absent or irresponsible dad. And this is where we are so blessed to be in a place where God is calling us out of this solitary, figure-it-out-on-my-own and into a family. Look what God says in Psalm 68:5. He describes himself as “a father of the fatherless, protector of widows is God in His holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”
I remember some of the first times, we had taken in some teenage boys who had never really known their dad and were essentially living on the streets. And some of the first times they came to our church and were living in our home, and they began to look at husbands and wives that actually loved each other. They had never seen that before, what a family looks like. And you could see their eyes opening and a vision given them that was very different than what they had been brought up in. And no, we may not be able to find that utopian, perfect dad because he doesn’t exist on this earth. But we can, and God will bring us into life groups and relationships where we can learn one thing from him and another thing from him and model something from him.
And we put this together, and God brings us in to take us out of our solitary shame and hopelessness into a place of fruitfulness. And as he describes in Psalm 68, prosperity. And this promise that God makes in Psalm 68, “I’m going to be a Father to the fatherless,” is a promise that flows all the way from creation. So I want to take some time, as we wrestle with this idea what does it mean to be a man, as we kill the lies that distract us, and as we move toward a more biblical understanding of manhood and fatherhood to go all the way back to the basics in Genesis 2, to the beginning. In Genesis 2, last week we looked at Genesis 1, but in Genesis 2 God finished, rested, and blessed. And then he retells the story of creation to highlight the creation of man and the need for cultivation. And in doing that, he makes four big points about men.
Number one, men are created by God. Verse 7, God formed with skill and creativity, and notice the intentional design. You are not a mistake. And then he breathed into. God breathes into the nostrils of Adam, and he becomes a living being. Two big implications here. First of all, this is humbling. Look at our past. We come from dirt. Anytime you’re tempted to be proud, remember you’re orc-like. Your roots go back to the ground. In Hebrew, the name Adam – Adam is so close to “adama,” which is ground. The creation story literally grounds us, but it also exhilarates us.
It is humbling and exhilarating. Notice God gave his breath. God could have just found some elf-like angels to make a humanbot, but instead he gave of himself. He “so loved the world that he gave” his breath. He breathed into us. And I love to meditate on that. Lately, I’ve been doing it. When my brain gets going – Any of you guys struggle with that in the middle of the night if you wake up? – and I can’t go back to sleep. I’m not so much a worrier, but I’m writing sermons. I’m solving problems. I’m just basically fixing the world, and I’m trying to get my brain to shut down. And even quoting verses, which I do at the beginning but often they will shoot me off into more.
So lately, I’ve been just thinking about my breath and how bad it is. No, I’ve been thinking about my breath, like how nice it is to breathe. It’s a real gift and that God gave us that. And as you breathe out and breathe in – Don’t do this now. This is not the time for sleep – but it is so relaxing just to think that God didn’t just make us from a distance. He came close. He breathed in. He gave us his life as our life. And as long as we have that breath on this earth, we’re alive. And one day, he will take that breath back. But if you know Jesus, he takes you to himself. It shows the intimacy of his love and connection with creation. We are breathing in and breathing out of God’s very gift of life, and that is exhilarating! That’s who we are! We’re not robots. We are made by God from his very breath.
Number two, men are created by God, but also created to flourish. In verses 8 and 9, Adam was placed in a tabernacle, an incubator of delight. The name Eden, the Garden of Eden, means delight. Notice in verse 9, he describes it as beautiful, “pleasant to the sight,” and suitable, “good for food.” So, as we are currently living in a fallen world, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I work, things are kind of stacked against me. I don’t have enough capacity or resources. And some of that is always going to be in a fallen world, but it’s helpful to go back and see the heart of our Father before sin twisted things and see how much he delights in us delighting. He delights in us flourishing. He loves to see his children thriving.
Number three, men are created for service. In verses 10-15, he communicates this, and he does it a couple of different ways. First of all, in verses 10-14 that seem parenthetical because notice he goes off to describe rivers that flow beyond Eden, but then in verse 15, he comes back to the garden. So, the parentheses in verses 10 to 14 seems to be pointing out the resources, the rivers, the gold, the precious stones that ultimately are going to lead us towards civilization. But he’s giving us a glimpse of the raw materials that he has provided to get us there. But then in verse 15 he brings us back to the garden, and he explained what he had Adam to do. Two things: to work and to keep. To work and keep it.
Let’s talk about those two things for a second. Number one, to work. That word “navad” is a word that can mean, very generally, to cultivate, as in fertilize, grow, plant, grow, build. But it can also refer to serving. That word is used in Numbers 8 of serving God in the temple, or in Exodus 3:12 of serving God on Mount Sinai, or this very familiar psalm, Psalm 100. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! (navad the Lord with gladness) serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Revelation 22:3 says, “His servants will worship him,” and the word “worship” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word work/serve.
So, the Bible begins and ends with man (and I want to make up a new word) workshipping. It sounds like a dangerous word. You have to be careful how you pronounce that, but workshipping. And the reason I think this is such an important word is so many of us feel like, “Yeah, I worship God on Sunday, but then I’m a plumber, a doctor, an accountant, a teacher, a businessman during the week. And notice from this passage, no! From the very beginning, before sin twisted things, the very act of work was worship. You are workshipping God all week as you utilize the gifts and abilities, the creative abilities that God has given you. That word has to do, remember I mentioned, has to do with cultivating. So, think culturating, doing culture. To cultivate creation is to transform raw materials into finished products.
Every time you take a tree and make a house, or a field and make a garden, or a note and make music, or shapes and make graphic art, you are doing culture and you are workshipping the God who made you in his image to reflect his creativity.
God made Adam to work. Now, I know I need to pause before I lose half of you because many of you women may be wondering why you’re being left out. We’re going to talk about you next week, but I want to emphasize that even though in Genesis 2 he seems to be focusing on the man, if you go back to Genesis 1 where he calls both Adam and Eve to exercise dominion, he’s calling both together. In a sense, you can’t understand man without woman or woman without man because we’re both called to workship God together, and all of our work is incomplete without the other.
So, just a little side note that things are going to feel a little incomplete today and a little offside. So, God made Adam to work. He also made him to keep. Now, what does that mean? To guard, to protect, to care, to keep, to keep watch. That’s the word “shamar.” It carries the idea of being responsible for the care of others in the sense of a soldier guarding his country, shepherds watching their sheep, government officials caring for their citizens, or dads keeping his son’s head from being bashed in. Do you remember this picture?
It’s an amazing picture. What is most significant about this is that everybody is running for cover. I don’t know if you can see the baseball bat right in the middle. A hitter, I think on the Pirates team, had swung and released the bat accidentally. It went flying into the crowd and was heading right for that little boy’s head, and notice he was on his phone, so he’s apparently playing a game or texting or something. The bat is coming right for his head. People are jumping, hiding for cover. And the dad, who’s big left arm comes out and absorbs the whole blow. It was only a tiny part of the bat that hit the boy’s shoulder. But the boy looked up just in time. That could have gone poorly for him, but that to me, when I think of shamar, I just think of “Thank you, Lord for that boy’s sake.”
Men are created for service. Number four, men are given parameters. In verses 16 and 17, you see in the midst of these endless opportunities, one thing is forbidden. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat.” So, what is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? It is the path to personalized morality, personalized righteousness. It is self-defined virtue. I become my own standard of right and wrong, and I have no need of accountability or revelation.
My brain is my Bible. And God is warning us as men, of pretending that we are self-made. No need of others, no need of God, no need of a father. We’re going to pause here in the text. It’s about to go on to bring women into the scene. So again, we’ll leave things a little incomplete, but I want to give you a couple takeaways. If we’re going to understand what a man is, we have to replace the lies of fatherhood with truth. The difference between males who simply produce children and fathers is fathers kill lies.
What are some lies? The lies we talked about earlier, and the truth is that fatherhood is significant. It is a high and holy calling. We have been created to workship, which is much bigger than just having a career. It may include a career, but it’s bigger than that.
Secondly, fatherhood is possible. Our Father created us to flourish, and he provides us all we need Jesus Christ, regardless of our past.
And thirdly, fatherhood is repairable or reparable. And there is a stubborn faith that kicks in when we realize despite all the brokenness in my past, I refuse to live Psalm 68 in a parched land. God has a garden for me to cultivate and to live in. Secondly, we need to distinguish between cultural stereotypes and biblical calling. I’m speaking in particular, as far as gender roles, the Bible is amazingly flexible and rigid.
It is rigid in that there are male and female. It is flexible in that you can search the Bible from cover to cover and you will not find a list of men drive this, wear this, do this, and women never do it. Women drive this, wear this, and men never do it. You won’t find that list because the Bible is incredibly rigid and incredibly flexible. So, what is a man? Well, a man is father, who has assumed responsibility, whether he has physical children or not. You say, “Well, doesn’t a woman do that?” Yes, she does, but she does it as a woman, not as a man, and it’s very different. I know that’s heresy.
So, let me just give you an illustration of this that may help wrap it up with you. There are so many cultural assumptions, where in the mind of a young boy who might feel that he is completely different, it can be super confusing, this whole discussion of manhood. So, I want to tell a story to help us understand. It’s the story of Matt Moore. Listen to what he writes.
“My adolescence was a social nightmare. I grew up in the rural South but didn’t fit the mold of Southern masculinity in the slightest. Sports piqued no interest in me; roughhousing made me nervous; slaying innocent animals seemed cruel and gross.
Of course, I never expressed such blasphemies – I wasn’t stupid! But I was everything opposite of what my Duck Dynasty-like culture insisted I should be. I was sensitive, I liked to read. I liked to draw. I liked to journal. I wasn’t your mud-ridin’, hog-huntin’ kind of boy. The nightmare cranked up to a Freddie Krueger level of horror when I realized that I was attracted to the same sex. While my male peers were crushing on girls, I was crushing on them.”
Now Matt goes on to describe the horror in the community he lived in of labeling himself as gay at age 19, feeling completely (these are his words) “abnormal, unmanly, distorted, screwed up.” His internal life was one of terror.
“I really thought whatever god was responsible for creating me must have been a little drunk when he pieced me together. I never felt like a woman, nor did I want to be one, but I also didn’t feel like a man. I felt other, which made me feel inferior to other males and uncomfortable around them. I mean, sure, I had guy friends. But those friendships were forgery. Those guys didn’t know the person I really was inside; they only knew the fake Matt – the Matt who played football, partied, and dated girls just to be perceived as normal.”
So, the real Matt kept things secret, what was going on inside of him, but years later he was invited by a friend to church, and he heard the gospel, and he trusted Jesus. And he began to notice what he called a “Christian brotherhood that beautifully displayed what it meant to be a man.” He joined a small group with these men, and he even began to open up about his struggles. He thought they would mock and run, but instead they shared their struggles, while different, all in need of grace. And he began to see that while they were honest and listened and prayed for him, he could learn a lot from them, and they were learning from him.
Amazingly a few years after that, a group of them decided, felt very strongly that God was calling them to New Orleans to plant a church. So he, with this group of men and their wives and family all packed up and moved to New Orleans and planted a church. Do you see the shift going on? Where he’s going from being tortured about who I am and everything inside to being open and honest and receiving grace to help in time of need and now turning outward and beginning to invest in the lives of other people! That’s that growth into manhood.
While his story and struggles and his particular bent may be different from yours or may not be, it is the making of a man. Well, listen to what he said after helping to plant a church.
“As I observed the lives they led, the image I had in my mind of what it meant to be a man started to crumble. A man could be gentle and compassionate. A man could be thoughtful and sensitive. A man could be a better conversationalist than he is a sportsman. A man could talk about women with respect and integrity. A man could struggle with various weaknesses. If these men, even with their deep flaws, accurately represented what it means to be a man, then I also met the standard.”
The slaying of lies is a beautiful thing. How do we do that? Finally, keep our eyes on Jesus. Whatever it means to be a man, it is most clearly seen and experienced in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t just slap an impossible standard on us. He doesn’t just give us a cultural version of manhood, which can be very superficial, but he gives us his life. Let’s summarize this. Paul Tripp. Here it is, and then we’ll pray.
“Here’s the bottom line: as a man, I don’t just need to be rescued from the pressures, deficiencies, prejudices, and imbalances of the surrounding culture. No, I need to be rescued from my sin – from myself. It is humbling to note that the greatest danger to any man exists inside of him, not outside of him. Sin makes me willing to be less than the man God designed me to be, and for that, I need forgiveness and transforming grace.”
Father, thank you that you happen to be ready to give what we happen to most need: transforming grace. So, I really believe that right now and, in our time together, you are exposing and helping us turn from many lies, setting us free from bitterness, turning our eyes on Jesus, allowing us to live out who you’ve made us to be. So, send us out with the power of your Spirit and your peace in our hearts. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.