In the past few posts, we have focused our attention on I Cor. 16:13. To recap what we’ve uncovered for men in the arena, facing challenges that surround us:

  • Be on your guard— be vigilant; above all else guard your heart
  • Stand firm in the faith— be resolute; place your trust in the name of the Lord your God, not in chariots (technology) nor in horses (physical strength or power)
  • Be men of courage— take the next step into your arena, in the face of fear
  • Be strong— acknowledge your weakness; rely on God’s strength

All of these are powerful reminders to us of what it means to be manly. These directives stir our hearts as men. We may doubt our ability to effectively live them out, but we aspire to all of them.

But it’s the next verse, verse 14, that truly defines a godly man: “Do everything in love.” Your reaction might be: “Wait, what? Everything in love? What does love have to do with being a real man? I’m supposed to be the gladiator in the arena. Doesn’t this love language sound a little squishy?”

No. Actually, this phrase takes more courage, more strength, and more manliness than any of the others. Verse 14 says, do everything described in verse 13—guardianship, firmness, courage, and strength—in love. Put them all to work for the benefit of others.

The impact of self-centeredness always goes inward, for the benefit of self. The impact of love always goes outward, for the benefit of others.

American culture does a regrettably good job of creating, putting up with, and even rewarding, self-centered, entitled young males. I refuse to call them men, I prefer the term “not-yet-men.” They are convinced of the following life principles:

1.Life is a party. Rock on, dude.

2. I’m in control. I get what I want. Others are at my service.

3. I’m special. The rules that govern others don’t apply to me. I get a special pass.

4. I’m invincible. I’m forever young and everyone wishes they were like me. I’m invulnerable from the natural consequences of injury, bad decisions and aging.

5. In summary, It’s all about me. I, and my wants, are the center of the universe.

In 2008 Michael Kimmel wrote an extremely informative book entitled Guyland in which he defined an American sub-culture— males 16-26. In interviewing tens of thousands of males and females in this age group he identified a clear consensus of understanding of the rules of this sub-culture.

To quote Kimmel, this culture, Guyland, is populated by young males who “shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood, while the boys they still are struggle to prove that they are real men, despite all evidence to the contrary.” p. 4.

Kimmel was prophetic, but in identifying Guyland as consisting of males 16-26, he may have under-estimated the actual age range. His description too often applies to older males who still behave like immature not-yet-men.

One relatively recent example you may remember was of a self-absorbed young power-broker, Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanik, who ran into real consequences in the real world. At 40, he was well beyond Kimmel’s Guyland age range.

The New York Times reported (Feb. 22, 2017) that Kalanik built one of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories on a toxic workplace of uber-aggressive competition, sexual harassment toward women, drug abuse and a blind eye toward unethical behavior by top performers.

To their credit, Uber’s board fired Kalanik, and made a commitment to no longer hire, in the words of one board member, “brilliant jerks.” Seems like a fitting term.

As hard as it is to accept, a part of the maturing process that not-yet-men ignore, deny or were never introduced to, is based on a set of principles I heard at a men’s retreat two decades ago. They are accurate and supported by Scripture. In fact, I think they define the line between not-yet-men and real men:

1.Life is hard. Acts 14:22: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” We will encounter challenges, failure and loss. Better get used to the idea.

2. You’re not in control. I John 5:19: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Though God is without question sovereign and supreme, and will ultimately be victorious, in the current age he allows Satan, a fallen world, and broken people to have their way in life. Much of the harm they cause comes your direction despite your attempts to control it.

3. You’re not special. Romans 12:3: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” Phil. 2:3: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…” You’re absolutely unique, because of God’s creativity. There is no one else on earth exactly like you. He loves you specifically and infinitely. But you’re not special. The natural, physical and moral laws of the universe that apply to everyone else apply to you, too.

4. You’re going to die someday. I Cor. 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Your days will come to an end. Do you think about the story you’re writing? Do you give attention to the story God is writing through you?

5. Your life is not all about you. Your life is about others. John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” For most of us the most significant legacy we will grant to the world will not be property, possessions or finances. It will be the imprint of our life, for better or for worse, on those we love. Real men in the arena make daily decisions to live their lives for the benefit of others.

All of the statements in verse 13—be on guard, stand firm, be courageous, be strong—tell us how to act as men. Verse 14 tells us on whose behalf we should act. For others. That distinction makes all the difference.

The impact of self-centeredness goes inward. The impact of love always goes outward.

The self-absorbed, not-yet-man

  • Is on guard…but only for himself. He looks out solely for whatever is in his interest
  • Stands firm only for what benefits him. When he’s not sure, he wavers depending on where the wind is blowing, doing what will serve him most
  • Is courageous only for himself. His actions are actually based in fear. He stays safe through silence and passivity…or through intimidation and bluster
  • May be physically strong, but isn’t morally strong. He’s a bully. He covers up inner weakness with threats, bravado and posing. When facing someone with strength of character, he intimidates and powers up…or backs down and disappears.

The godly, noble man in the arena

  • Is on guard…on behalf of what might threaten others
  • Stands firm on what he believes in and who he loves
  • Acts courageously despite fear, in order to defend others
  • Is strong, in a firm yet humble way, for the protection of others
  • In summary, everything he does is an act of love, with the needs of others in mind.           

People these days fume about “toxic masculinity” or may even question the value of masculinity itself. You want to know what a real man is?

  • He’s vigilant
  • He’s resolute
  • He takes action
  • He relies on God
  • He lives for the benefit of others.

That’s a man. Because God created masculinity, he inserted those qualities into us; they are in our DNA. Tragically, we all were born into brokenness, and have suffered grievous wounds; some self-inflicted and some from others. As a result, we often fall short of the heroic man we long to be.

We are often tempted to simply live like not-yet-men. It’s far easier. And for a time, may bring more of the shallow, hollow, perishable pleasures of the world.

But God put genuinely noble qualities in men. The man who courageously and humbly lives out the descriptions of verse 13, and especially verse 14, is the man in the arena. Everything he does is for the benefit of others. The world desperately needs men like that.

Men, the sooner we resist and turn from the over-indulged, self-absorbed versions of not-yet-men so common in our culture, the sooner we will bring genuine, powerful, other-centered, masculine benefit and blessing to others.

Do everything in love.