This post was first written on the 9th February 2016. I had been reflecting on the concept of biblical manhood and what it really means to be a man, truly in the way God has designed us. This is the first of a series I never ended up finishing and now, once I have posted the first two I’ve already written, I intend to write some more on the topic.
The older I am getting (turned 23 in April), the more I am looking to understand this next phase of my life. The problem that we as men often have and especially as young adults in the church, is that we are never really taught what it means biblically to be a man. There’s never really any framework, no teaching, no guidance on how to navigate manhood in our 20’s and beyond.
The whole idea is that as a man, Jesus Himself is the most authentic and perfect image of manhood there could be. Obviously this is not something that we can attain ourselves in this life but we can still strive after Christlikeness in this way, as we all do in our everyday lives. My first post on this topic, then, is subtitled “Wild at Heart” and with it I want to have a look at two character traits in particular which Eldredge talks about in the second chapter of his book – these being “tenderness and ferocity”.
From a young age, we see boys playing with guns, play fighting, violent video games (hopefully not so young), climbing trees, playing as a knight in shining armour who rescues the damsel in distress, cowboys. I remember I used to run around with a lightsaber pretending I was a Jedi, beating up the droids and bad Jedi. We grow up and there is the yearning for adventure, camping, surfing. Action movies, war games. You never really get over the play fighting. There is a very obvious difference between the genders.
When it comes to Jesus however, the truth that we see in the bible is far more wide reaching then we as men would expect. What we see is this:
We see a man who reaches out to the diseased, disgraced and the poor, those who are without hope. We see a man who tenderly engages with children (Luke 18:16), has mercy on an adultererous woman (John 8) and heals the leprous. A man who cries out on the cross “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He is the God who created sunsets and music, is bringing His bride the church into everlasting covenantal relationship with Himself, who allowed the Song of Solomon of all things to be a part of the biblical canon. He is a God who wept alongside His friends when Lazarus died. He is the God who died on a cross out of love for sinners. He is the shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep. There is without a doubt a tender side to Jesus.
But here we also see a man with a fierce side. He is the Lion of Judah, the man who made a whip and cast the money changers from His temple. We see a man who opposed the religious leaders, calling them a brood of vipers, hypocrites, not holding back His anger against them. We see a God who brings plagues upon the Egyptians, cast out entire nations before Israel, flooded the entire population of earth and according to Revelation will one day return riding a white horse on the clouds of heaven to bring judgement, His robe dripping in the blood of His enemies (sorry if that’s not the image of Jesus you were expecting). We see a man who has made war against sin, crushed the head of Satan and defeated death itself. Jesus has a ferocity in His heart alongside His tenderness.
John Eldredge in “Wild at Heart” says of Jesus:
“Jesus is no ‘capon priest’, no white pale-faced altar boy with his hair parted in the middle, speaking softly, avoiding confrontation, who at last gets himself killed because he has no way out. He works with wood, commands the loyalty of dock workers. He is the Lord of Hosts, the captain of Angel armies. And when Christ returns, He will be the head of a dreadful company, mounted on a white horse with a double-edged sword, his robe dipped in the blood of His enemies (Revelation 19).” (Pg 31)
Humans are the image bearers of God. In the beginning God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). In every man (and woman), we have the qualities of the image of God in us – tenderness and ferocity (and so much more). Not only are we made in the image of God but we have this Christ living in us by His Holy Spirit. Changing us to be more like Him, growing His fruit in us.
There is a place for tenderness. While women’s hearts more obviously tend to have a much greater affinity to this, because we bear the exact same image of God, our hearts will also be attuned. When I’m leading in kids church, playing or talking with a small child, pursuing a relationship with a woman, tenderness is very much required. We shouldn’t be afraid to be labelled unmanly if we display tenderness. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strong character and even Christlikeness.
We have, after all, the greatest example of tenderness in front of us, the author and perfecter of our faith Himself; its a characteristic of our Christ. However, as men if our hearts are displaying only tenderness, we may have a problem. We may just be missing the righteously angry whip cracking Jesus who threw the money changers out of His Fathers house, who warred against spiritual evil and defeated the enemy.
Woman certainly will display this to some extent as we do tenderness, but there seems to be a greater deal more so with men. When your female friends are feeling threatened by other men, there is no need for tenderness. When you hear the noise in your house in the middle of the night and someone needs to go check it out, you had better not be sending your wife while you cower upstairs. When you are assaulting your sin, there is serious room for ferocity. When you are assaulting the gates of hell, spiritual strongholds, the dominions of darkness or Satan himself, there is no place for tenderness or passivity; there is reason to wage war.
Yes, Jesus is tender. He is loving. He is patient and kind and just. But He is also God and He has a ferocity in His heart that cannot be quelled. He is returning with the glory of His Father and all the angels of heaven on the clouds of heaven.
Oh that we would pray that God would make us dangerous. To be the kind of man that the gates of hell cannot prevail against. The kind of man who leads his family with strength and wisdom, fiercely protecting and interceding for them. Who stands in defence of his friends when they are feeling threatened. Who is not lacking in courage but ready to fight for the sake of the people in this world who don’t know Jesus. Who bears the image of the living God, living out both tenderness and ferocity in all of life. The kind of man who reflects the wildness in the heart of our Creator.
Men of God; we should all strive to be that kind of man.