Acting Like Men

By David Feddes

The world needs more men. Right now there’s a shortage. Oh, there are millions of male humans over age 18, but being an adult male human doesn’t make you a real man. Many adult male humans don’t act like men.

Some guys apparently think they were born bulls. They paw dirt, lock horns with others, smash and trash fences, and run around looking for heifers in heat. These raging bulls measure their masculinity by how dirty they can talk, by how many boundaries they can break, by how many people they can crush, by how many females they can conquer sexually.

I grew up on a ranch. I know what bulls are like, and I know that acting like a bone-headed bull doesn’t make you a man. I’ve seen bulls bellowing and pawing dirt in the air, and I know that filling the air with filthy language doesn’t make a man. I’ve seen bulls breaking fences and smashing property, and I know that breaking boundaries doesn’t make a man. I’ve seen rodeo bulls try to trample and gore people, and I know that being a hateful thug doesn’t make a man. I’ve seen bulls patrolling the range and breeding all the cows they can get, and I know that this is not what makes a man.

You shouldn’t be a bull, but does that mean you have to be a wimpy little poodle instead? Some parents and teachers seem to think so. They’re so afraid that boys will become raging bulls that they go to the opposite extreme and try to make boys into pleasant pets. Boys are treated like puppies whose destiny is to become pointy-nosed poodles. Boys trained for poodlehood must be neutered and house-trained. They must be fluffed and trimmed and prettified. These male poodles must be made to look and act like females. They must learn various tricks, such as “Sit!” and “Play dead!” If boys don’t learn the tricks of poodlehood, if they can’t be trained to sit for hours and aren’t dead-headed enough to spend all day in a desk, the boys need medication. Too much energy and enthusiasm is not good in pet poodles.

If poodle training succeeds, boys turn out to be dependent, compliant adults. In their work life, they sit and beg and roll over on command, and they depend on their master to care for them. If they ever get married, their wives keep them on a leash. These poor poodles may resent the leash they wear at home, and they may resent the tricks their masters make them do at work, but they are too timid to assert themselves. They don’t dare to bark or bite. That would not be polite for poodles. A puny pooch might be okay for a pet, but a man is meant to be more than a warm, tame, neutered lapdog. I don’t have anything against poodles, but a poodle is not much of a man.

The world needs fewer bulls on the rampage. The world needs fewer poodles on a leash. The world needs more men: adult male humans who act like men and who can show the upcoming generation of boys what it means to be a man. The world needs men who are brave without being bullies, wise without being wimps.

Wimps and Barbarians

Terrence Moore, a former Marine Corps lieutenant and college professor, is principal of a charter school. What I’ve pictured half-jokingly as pointy-nosed poodles and raging bulls, Moore describes in an article titled “Wimps and Barbarians.” He says that young women are “the natural judges of the male character,” and if asked whether boys are becoming responsible young men, most young women say an emphatic “No!” Moore says,

In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of “cute guys” around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of “acting like men,” or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.

The young men, for their part, are not a little embarrassed when they hear these charges but can’t wholly deny them. Indeed, when asked the simple question, “When have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?” they are typically speechless and somewhat ashamed.

Terrence Moore sees an urgent need for manliness. He says, “Manhood is not simply a matter of being male and reaching a certain age. These are acts of nature; manhood is a sustained act of character.”

While the barbarian is picking fights and starting wars, the wimp is ducking for cover and avoiding danger. While the barbarian is drinking beer and belching, the wimp worries about his hair and his fingernails. While the barbarian wants a woman for sexual conquest and physical pleasure, the wimp needs a woman to build his confidence. Terrence Moore says of the wimp,

Although sex is certainly one of his desires, more than sex he needs affirmation. He desperately needs a girlfriend to boost his self-confidence. Having someone else notice him will somehow show the world that he is not a total loser. The wimp also needs someone to hear his laments, to commiserate with him when he is feeling down, to discover his secret self… Initially, the wimp might seem amusing to an unsuspecting young lady and very different from the insensitive jocks and rowdies she has known. Ultimately, however, the wimp seeks to draw her into his web of melancholy and self-pity. The story always ends unhappily since romance cannot be based upon pity or the thin facade of personality. He might mope and whine his way into a woman’s bed but will find excuses to avoid “commitment.” The wimp will begin the relationship by saying, “You’re the only one who understands me” and end it by saying, “You don’t understand me at all.” The truth is that there is not much to understand.

The wimp is unmanly in other ways… Besides listening to music, how does the average wimp spend the most formative years of his life? Shopping.

No man should act like a barbarian bull or a wimpy poodle. But having been told what not to be, what should we be? The Bible says, “Act like men.” But what does that mean? To a barbarian, “act like men” might mean drinking lots of beer, joining a violent gang, watching macho movies, being crazy about sports, and treating sex just another sport. To a wimp, “act like men” might sound too primitive for our enlightened age, too masculine for our gender blender age, too strong for the sweet, sensitive poodle he’s become. Wimps think the ultimate command is, “Be nice.” But the Bible says, “Act like men.” Let’s find out what God means when he says that.

Strength and Love

The call to act like men is one in a series of five rapid-fire commands, like a commanding officer barking final orders before sending troops to their assignments: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). The first four commands—be on guard, stand fast, be manly, be strong—can’t be carried out by wimpy poodles. The final command—to act in love—can’t be carried out by barbarian bulls. Wimps may talk about love but lack manly courage. Barbarians may be bold but don’t have a clue about love. Real men have the courage to stand up for what they believe in and the love to sacrifice themselves for others instead of serving themselves.

Manliness is using your strength—strength of body, strength of intellect, strength of will—to drive back evil, to advance truth and goodness, to protect weaker loved ones from attack, and to provide for needy loved ones, no matter how dangerous or costly it may be to you.

A big part of being manly is being strong and overcoming obstacles to achieve a mission. I like the story of a young man who was hired as an assistant football coach. Part of his job was scouting out fresh talent and recruiting new players for his college team. Before his first recruiting trip, he asked the head coach, who had a tremendous record of success, “What kind of player do you want me to recruit?”

The head coach replied, “Son, I’ve been at this job a long time and over the years I have noticed that there are several different kinds of players. For example,” he said, “you will find some players who get knocked down and they stay down. That’s not the kind we want!” Then he said, “You will find some players who get knocked down and they will get right back up and get knocked down again and then they stay down. That’s not the kind we want!” Then the old coach said, “But you will also find some other players who get knocked down and knocked down and knocked down, and every time they get knocked down, they get right back up!”

At this point, the young coach got excited and he said, “Now, that’s the kind of player we want, isn’t it, Coach?”

“No!” said the old head coach. “We want the one doing all that knocking down!”

A football coach wants players to be strong, and God wants his men to be strong. The Bible doesn’t say, “Act like a poodle; be prissy.” It says, “Act like men, be strong!” The Bible doesn’t say, “God makes me wimpy.” Scripture says, “The Lord is my strength” (Exodus 15:2).

When David fought Goliath, he didn’t let Goliath scare him; he knocked the giant down for good, and he knocked down many other enemies. David said, “I love you, O Lord, my strength… It is God who arms me with strength” (Psalm 18:1,32). When King David was old and nearing death, he made his son Solomon king and told him, “Be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord requires: Walk in his ways… so that that you may prosper in all you do” (1 Kings 2:2-3).

When Jesus Christ, the ultimate man, was a boy, the Bible says of him, “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” (Luke 2:40). We don’t know if Jesus had muscles like Mr. Universe, but we do know that he grew strong. He could handle the tools and heavy work of a carpenter. He could also handle the mental challenge of discussing weighty matters with Israel’s top teachers. Jesus was not a geek who hated physical work and thought anyone muscular must be a moron. Jesus was not a jock who hated education and thought anyone smart must be a sissy. Jesus had strong muscles and powerful wisdom. When the ultimate challenge came, Jesus exercised the strong arm of God to knock down the most awful giants, Satan and death. Jesus’ love was great enough to sacrifice himself for his people’s sins, and his power was great enough to defeat his people’s enemies.

His strength can be ours. The Bible tells believers that Jesus “will keep you strong to the end” (1 Corinthians 1:8). “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). God doesn’t tell us to act like men in our own strength but in his strength: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).

Manly strength sometimes involves physical courage and effort. But a real man also knows the power of the mind and loves the truth. “A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength” (Proverbs 24:5).

Strength and vigor is especially splendid in young men. Scripture says, “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29). Scripture tells a young man, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” and compares his mission for Christ to the manly efforts of soldiers, athletes, and farmers. (2 Timothy 2:1-7). The Bible records a letter of the apostle John in which John says,  “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14).

Real manhood is a blend of strength and love. Manliness is using your strength—strength of body, strength of intellect, strength of will—to drive back evil, to advance truth and goodness, to protect weaker loved ones from attack and to provide for needy loved ones, no matter how dangerous or costly it may be to you.

Manhood In Action

The Bible says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). It’s important to listen to those words, but it’s also important to watch for real-life men of firm faith, brave manhood, enduring strength, and deep love, men who are worthy of admiration and imitation. I have been blessed in not having to look far to find such a man. I grew up in a family with such a man at the head of our table.

My father is one of my best models of manhood. As a young boy he grew up on a farm during the 1930s, the Great Depression. His parents—my grandparents—were hard-working immigrants who trusted Jesus and lived for God. My grandparents read the Bible and prayed together at home, and they took their kids to church from day one. My dad grew up rugged and strong. In his high school years, he worked hard on the farm. He played hard on the basketball court. When Dad was seventeen, his father died.

A few years later, Dad met a lovely girl. They were engaged, but before they could be married, Dad went off to serve in the army. He spent a few years overseas in Germany, while his fiancé waited for him to come back. At last the young soldier returned and they were married.

My dad and mom have now been married over fifty years. They brought up six children, read the Bible with us, took us to church, and paid for each of us to be educated at a Christian school. My dad has made his living farming and ranching. Over the years he has handled thousands of heavy hay bales and buckets of grain. He has controlled spirited horses and roped and haltered countless cattle. But along with strong arms, my dad has always had a loving heart. One of my favorite boyhood memories is of sitting in church. As the preacher spoke, my dad would sometimes put his big, strong arm around my shoulder, and I would just snuggle in and feel safe and happy.

I admire my dad’s combination of strength and love. The strong arm that could handle rowdy calves and heavy hay bales could also hug me and my brothers and sister. The stout heart that could handle soldiering could also love the same woman faithfully for over fifty years. The powerful drive that made this Montana cattleman a success in his work also reached out to people in need. I’ve seen my dad arrange help for victims of flooding. I’ve traveled with him to visit men in prison, something he has done on a regular basis for many years.

Even now that we live far apart, I count on him for love and strength. We spend hours on the phone together. (I have a great mother too, but since it’s Father’s Day, I won’t go into detail about Mom.) Talking with Dad and Mom strengthens my spirit, whether we’re talking cattle or sports or politics or family or—most importantly—God and his mission. My dad is not a wimp, and he’s not a barbarian. He is a man!

Dad doesn’t brag, so he’s probably embarrassed to hear me talking about him like this. I’m happy to honor him, but I’m not trying to inflate his ego or to bore my radio listeners with personal stories. I’m just trying to describe the model of manhood I know best. My father is not some impossibly wonderful person. He’s not perfect. He knows that better than anyone. He’s a sinner saved by God’s grace through faith.

With his faults and weaknesses, he stands firm in faith. He knows the Bible, takes God at his Word, and isn’t blown this way and that by religious fads. His faith in Jesus does not crumble in the face of problems; his faith can stand up even to the danger of death. When has he been strong? Not just when he served in the military or lifted heavy sprinkler pipe or led bulls around by the nose or did some other act of physical strength, but when he lay in a hospital facing surgery for a life-threatening problem. He spoke of confidence in Christ, not of terror in the face of death. I thank God for sparing Dad’s life and healing him. Meanwhile, my father has given me yet another lesson in what it means to stand firm in faith.

Seeking Manhood

Maybe you know somebody like that. If so, count yourself blessed. Such men seem to be rare these days.

The world needs more men of God. Some of you may have lived for too long as raging bulls, as selfish barbarians with strong hormones and a desire to get rich—but not much wisdom, not much love, not much honor, not much faithfulness. Others have become poodles, too wimpy to take the lead or overcome any great difficulty.

For many of you, the first step toward change may simply be remembering a father or grandfather, an uncle or family friend, who really did act like a man. For some reason you may have wandered far from the noble pattern of your dad or grandpa, but the pattern remains in your memory. Fan it into flame! Remember that man’s faith, his courage, his strength, his love, and take up his legacy as your own. Get to know the Lord Jesus who made him such a man.

If you grew up without any model of healthy manhood, you can still learn. Don’t give up. Giving up is for wimps. Act like a man! Listen to God’s call. Do whatever it takes to overcome your problems and become the man God calls you to be. If you didn’t grow up with healthy models of manhood, find some—and then become a model to others. Find a church led by godly men who encourage godly manhood. Don’t think church is only for women and kids. We men need the church, and the church needs us.

Men have a crucial role not just in business and national affairs but in church and family. Our families need godly, loving, strong husbands and fathers. Churches need men who know how to love and know how to lead. While some churches debate women’s leadership, the biggest problem in many churches is not a lack of women but a lack of men. Churches need to connect with men. Churches that connect with women may get women. Churches that connect with children may get children. But churches that connect with men will get men and women and children.

One survey found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is less than a 4 percent probability that everyone else in the household will follow.

If the mother is first, there is a 17 percent probability that everyone else in the household will follow. But if the father is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 93 percent probability that everyone else in the household will follow.

Men, your relation to God, or lack of one, doesn’t affect you alone. If you trust Jesus and stand firm in faith, you will bring huge blessings to those you love. Let’s thank the Lord for every godly man we know, and let’s ask the Lord to help us act like real men and inspire generations yet to come.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.