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Masculine or Macho: Will the Real Men Stand Up!

To be male is by chance of biology;
To be a man is by decision

It is a common refrain for any boy growing up: ‘Be a man!’ From those who fish and hunt, to those who study and write ... it is an exhortation that can inspire or intimidate. It can also be confusing. What does it really mean to ‘be a man?’ Since there is an obvious crisis in manhood today, not to mention a ‘gender gap’ in churches, it is high time that we visit this foundational issue.

One of the salient features of the postmodern era is called ‘the age of redefinition.’ No longer can we assume that old models still inspire nor can we be sure that people know what we are talking about. In anything and in every way, especially in a issue as vital as this one, we need to define our key terms: what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be masculine? What does it mean to be macho?

Before defining manhood, the other two terms must considered:

Masculine: male, having qualities related to a ‘man,’ in appearance and character, often in the outward areas like voice, stature, and size. But a mature assessment puts the accent mark on the inward qualities of character.

Macho: aggressively proud of one’s masculinity. The term comes from Portuguese or (Mexican) Spanish, implying ‘vigorous masculinity.

Hollywood in days gone by portrayed manhood in very strong terms. Actors like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charlton Heston, portrayed macho-style characters. Even the ‘Marlborough Man’ has sent a message: do you want to be seen ‘as a man,’ then light-up! In an image-driven world, the 90 pound weakling is ‘transformed’ into instant manhood simply by smoking a Marlborough (what, then, does that say of women who light up?). But like so much of society, including the church, there has been a ‘feminisation’ process in Hollywood and men can come across as, to put it kindly, ‘domesticated.’ Furthermore, there is a lot of cultural baggage associated with machismo that leads to anything but true manhood.

We would do well to compare Macho verses Masculine:

Aggressive (for wrong things)
Assertive (for right things)
Weakness masquerading as Strength
Strength under control
Truly courageous
Bigoted or chauvinistic
Narcissist (vain, conceited, egotistical, selfish)
Grossly immoral
Truly Righteous
Barbarian: brutish, uncultured, violent
Gentleman: courteous, chivalrous, honourable

It should be obvious that our goal must not be machismo. While it might sell some movie tickets, machismo is really a distortion, even corruption, of what true manhood should be. Nothing positive can come out of this depraved mindset: at a minimum, it messages an embattled ego; at the maximum, it can be destructive, devilish, and hell-bound.

Masculinity, while vunerable to hijacking, does represent a more reasonable and desirable goal. Indeed, it is Biblical principle. The best way to describe ‘true masculinity’ and ‘true manhood,’ is to listen to the One who created men in the first place. Let’s hear from the Bible, God’s Holy Word.

"Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!" -- I Samuel 4:9 (NKJV)

Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.’ -- I Corinthians 16:13 (KJV)

In these two simple verses there is a wealth on insight of about ‘conducting yourselves like men.’ Look at the list:

1.   Be strong: strength means physical, but it is more than that. Physical strength is relative and varies, especially as men grow older. Physical strength can be cultivated, and is desirable, but it is not the most important type of strength. ‘Bodily exercise profits a little ...’ we are told in I Timothy 4:8. The greater strength is called ‘godliness,’ which means strength of heart and soul. When the man’s heart is strong ... he is strong, even if he is not at optimal physical strength.
2.   Free: men are called not to be in bondage. While slavery is no longer an issue in the western world (sadly, the developing world enslaves women and children and vulnerable men), many men are in bondage to sin and lust. Pornography is not, as some would proport, something that happens because ‘men will be men.’ Real men are  called to be free and pornography is bondage.
3.   Behaviour: in order to be ‘masculine’ and ‘a man,’ one’s behaviour must conform to the accepted pattern, Biblical, that is. Look at some other aspects of ‘behaviour’ in addition to strong and free.
4.   Watchful: real men are awake alert to all major aspects of life, including danger. They are not sleeping on their watch. And aspect of protectiveness is at work here, watching out for loved ones and people under their charge.
5.   Stand fast in the faith: Extremely important. A real man comes to faith, grows in the faith, and sticks with the faith ... no matter what. In this vital area of spiritual life, they are not limp like a damp lettuce leaf, wavering like a shaken reed, or spineless like a jelly fish. True manhood enters into the life of faith and stays there, no matter what.
6.   Courageous: Everyone can agree on this point--true masculinity is courageous. It is one of the top characteristics of a true leader, yet so little emphasized today, and even less exhibited. Courage means ability to face challenges or danger with strength and calm. As one wise person put it, ‘courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.’ Yes, courageous people can become afraid, just like the cowards. But they don’t stay that way -- they exercise true strength and enter into the vaunted role of ‘overcomer,’ a character quality highly commended by Jesus Christ Himself (Rev. 3:21).

Repeatedly, the Scripture commands men of God to be strong and of a ‘good courage’ (Numbers 13:20; Deuteronomy 31:6, 7, 23, Joshua 1:6,9,18; 10:25; II Samuel 10:12; 1 Chronciles 19:13; 22:13; 28:20; Ezra 10:4; Psalm 27:14; 31:24; Isaiah 41:6; Acts 28:15). Courage is not a matter of macho bravado; it is a decision in the face of challenge or loss. The good news is that God strengthens the heart of those men who choose courage.

Other aspects of true masculinity include finding a good wife, having children, and raising them (either natural or spiritual children, or both). To be a responsible and fulfilled husband and father does wonders for your masculinity!

It is without question that true masculinity is Biblical manhood while machismo is a worldly man, doing his ‘last tango in Paris’ on his way down. As a clarion call for all men, young and old: you have a choice. You can be a wimp or macho, yet it will all lead to the same place. Or you can choose to be a man of God and find your true manhood with divideneds.

I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. -- I John 2:14 (KJV)


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