Biblical Masculinity #2: A Definition

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A few years ago I became intrigued when I saw John Eldridge's ridiculous statement about men, in the wildly popular Wild at Heart, that unlike Eve, Adam was created outside the Garden and so men are called to life in the wilderness.  The one benefit I gained from this classic abuse of the Bible was to reflect on the significance of what Genesis 2 really says about gender and creation.  It turns out that Gen. 2:15 not only defines Adam's labor as being in the Garden, but also provides the basic summary of what a man is called to do in this world: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."  God created men not to engage in Eldridge's "quest for authentic masculinity," but to fruitful, sacrificial labor.  "Work" and "Keep" -- avad and shamar -- define the male role in this life.

Another way to express these two descriptions is man's calling to nurture and protect.  These are the two main masculine contributions in this world.  The first of these is somewhat counter-cultural today.  We don't think of men as nurturers, but biblically, this is a vital masculine role.  While I certainly would not want to disparage the importance of motherly nurture, the man is really the primary nurturer.  The Hebrew word avad has a broad range of meaning depending on context.  In the temple, it was the word to describe the ministry of the priests.  In an agricultural context, it refers to cultivation.  The latter is the context of Genesis 2.  Placed in the Garden, Adam was to make things grow in healthy and beautiful ways. 

This, then, is a large part of what makes a real man.  A real man nurtures, cultivates, and labors for growth.  This is one reason why the father is so important to raising children.  Anyone who was raised by the "strong, silent type" can tell you what a void the lack of fatherly nurture left in their heart.  Fathers are to get their hands dirty in the soil of their children's lives.  A father is to plant, fertilize, water, and harvest the growth of character, godliness, ability, and joy.  The same is true with men as husbands.  This is why so many of the New Testament's teaching to husbands call for men to pay attention to their wives, to cherish them, to cleanse their wives with the Word and present them in splendor.  Men do this at work, too.  A man's work is to build -- whether it is buildings, organizations, spirituality, or market shares.

The second word to describe Adam's work in the garden is "keep."  The Hebrew verb shamar is one of the most beloved, for it is often used of God's protecting care.  "The Lord will keep your soul," says Psalm 121.  Men are guardians.  We keep our families safe and we shepherd the flock of God.  This is one reason for male leadership in the church, for the role of pastor and elder is far more than the mere use of one's gifts.  The shepherd is to watch over the flock, guarding against wolves and ruling the sheep.  "Keeping" is a job for which God made Adam. 

Nurture and protection go together.  We nurture to make strong, and we protect in order to nurture.  One thing I love about the shepherd metaphor is that a shepherd is a kind of leader who defines his success wholly in the safety and well-being of the sheep.  It is therefore an apt model for masculine ministry and love.  Therefore, husbands should ask if their wives are growing and if they feel safe.  They should if the man has embraced his biblical calling.  Are their children secure in their love, and are their hearts growing under their father's nurturing ministry?

Two observations are in order.  The first is a reminder that Jesus really is the perfect man; we can observe this by noting these two dimensions of nurture and protection throughout his ministry.  He died to protect us from sin, and he sends the Spirit to produce his harvest in our lives.  The second is that this understanding of masculinity is radically different from the prevailing ideas of masculinity in America.  A real man is not a self-serving adventurer, but one who makes things flourish in the safety of his care and under the cultivation of his loving hand.

There can be little doubt that a great deal of feminism in the last fifty years has resulted from feminine fatigue over a lack of real masculinity.  Women are sinners in their own right, so I don't want to brush aside their culpability in rejecting biblical femininity.  But, really, have women been able to trust men for the kind of ministry the Bible outlines?  What about the women in our lives -- especially our wives and daughters?  What a blessing it will be to them, and what an incentive for them to embrace the biblical femininity so greatly needed today, if instead of criticizing them for trying to wear the pants we men simply wore the pants that God gave us?  If men are called by God to be leaders, let's start by taking the lead in embracing God's mandate for our masculine role.

Posted January 30, 2007 @ 9:13 AM by Rick Phillips

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