Monday, April 18, 2011

Act Like Men

    Over the last three days, I've been doing some thinking related to the thoughts I penned in my last post, "Men Are Not Beautiful." In particular, I was reminded of a single verse, or rather, a single phrase from the final chapter of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians. The words had caught my eye while Pastor John Neufeld was reading the chapter, during his sermon on the Sunday in February that my friend Alison and I became official members of Willingdon Church (Joining The Body @ Willingdon!). It reads as follows:

    "Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13, ESV)

    "Act like men". That phrase has stayed in my mind over the last two months since that service. Act like men. "Be a man!" is a phrase I hear so many people utter, both women and men. The intended target is usually an individual of the male gender, who does not seem to be living up to some expectation of what a "real" man should look like. I must admit at this point that my own experience has caused me to personally and passionately detest this phrase, whether it happens to be uttered by men or women. It irritates me to no end when I hear it, because more often than not, I've heard it used in an incredibly flippant manner without much thought. But until I can articulate my thoughts on this matter with some clarity, I think I'll reserve it for future posts. One thing I do know is that in the case and context of 1 Corinthians 16:13, neither the phrase "act like men" or the Apostle Paul irritates me when I read it; I have confidence in the man and that he knows what he speaks of.

    But the phrase also reminded me of a little passage that I had read some years ago in the book "Every Man's Battle: Winning The War On Sexual Temptation, One Victory At A Time" by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. In the chapter "Just By Being Male", Arterburn and Stoeker began by pointing out that the damaging effects of the sin of Adam have touched all men that have followed him, particularly in four main tendencies related to the area of sexual purity. The opening subsection was titled "Men Are Rebellious By Nature", with some very interesting observations - namely, that "our maleness brings a natural, uniquely male form of rebelliousness. This natural tendency gives us the arrogance needed to stop short of God's standards. As men, we'll often choose sin simply because we like our own way". But then, they went on to quote a small paragraph from the book "Straight Talk To Men and Their Wives" by Dr. James Dobson:

    "The straight life of a working pulling your tired frame out of bed, five days a week, fifty weeks out of the year. It is earning a two-week vacation in August, and choosing a trip that will please the kids. The straight life is spending your money wisely when you'd rather indulge in a new whatever; it is taking your son bike riding on Saturday when you so badly want to watch the baseball game; it is cleaning out the garage on your day off after working sixty hours the previous week. The straight life is coping with head colds and engine tune-ups and crab grass and income tax forms; it is taking your family to church on Sunday when you have heard every idea the minister has to offer; it is giving a portion of your income to God's work when you already wonder how ends will meet."

    I will honestly admit that when I first read this, my first reaction was incredulity. I had never heard it put  this way before. And when I heard the phrase in Paul's letter to the Corinthians, my reaction was quite similar to when I first read the little excerpt above:

    That's awesome; I love the idea of the "straight life"! But why does it feel like rolling a big stone uphill? I wish someone would help me!

    See, I don't have a problem with anything that Paul, Arterburn or Dobson have written in their individual thoughts and exhortations towards men. If anything, I've been edified and encouraged by them, and other men like John Eldredge, who wrote "Wild At Heart". But I guess it's the frustration and hurt I sometimes feel when I hit obstacles. I'll confess that I've felt irritated at some of the thoughtless statements I've heard from both men and women, when I'm trying to take effort to grow and change - some of which come across as plain mockery and ridicule. On other occasions, I feel like I'm just faced with blank stares and have to roll a big stone uphill in order to get other people to understand what I'm trying to communicate. Or felt brushed aside like an annoying mosquito that people would rather hit with a fly swatter. Sometimes I've felt I'm being put on trial by those closest to me, who assume the role of the "prosecution" and cross-examine without mercy: "You're not being/doing/trying/living/sharing/caring/thinking/planning/leading/following/talking/etc. about such-and-such in so-and-so manner. What's wrong with you? Be a real man! You need to man up!"

    "Man up". That phrase has been so abused, that I have now come to loathe it with the kind of revulsion that one would reserve for lecherous lowlifes. And I'm pretty sure there are many other men who feel the same way. I don't think that people who roll it off their tongue with such fluency and frequency really know what they're talking about. I similarly doubt that if most were to be asked what a "real" man is, would know how to describe one. And I think that's the point:

    One cannot issue an order to be a "real" man, if there is cluelesness as to the specification of what a "real" man should be.

    Having said all this, I will be the first to admit that I am not anywhere near attaining the title of "Real Man." I am fully aware that I have an ever-growing list of flaws, some of which of which I have become aware of and written extensively about over the last five-odd months (e.g. The Story Of My Life). In short, I am male, and I am a sinner. But that's also why I can quietly listen to Paul the Apostle, and urge other men to do so, for he writes as one sinning man to other sinning men, indeed as "the chief of sinners" as he describes himself in 1 Timothy 1:12. Paul is credible in urging his recipients to "act like men" because as one who understands, he does not resort to verbal decimation for the sake of extracting "manly" behaviour. Instead, in all his writings, he consistently begins with a recognition of the person of Christ as the prototype for all men, Christ the Real Man. I once read in a commentary on the passage of Philippians 2:5-11, that Jesus was the only real human being who ever walked the face of the earth, for He demonstrated for us what true humanity was all about. And I believe this, not someone's demands to "man up!", is what gives motivation, purpose, hope and meaning to the struggle to act like men - because men are assured that "we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15, ESV).

    Someone once told me that "in the end, it will not be about how many times you fell, or how hard, or how far; what will eventually matter is whether you sought the grace of God through the cross of Christ, to get back up on your feet and keep running till the finish line." I believe they were merely echoing Paul, who at the end of his life wrote: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Hence forth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing."

    Acting like a man and living the "straight life" is predicated upon first being a man. And being a man is tough. But through Christ, for Christ and no one else, it is possible. And it is worth it. Time to go to bed; there's work to be done tomorrow and the "straight life" is calling :)
- The Wisdom Seeker