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Manliness: for the Home, the Church, and the World

Today’s text

I Corinthians 16:13 Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. 14 Your every action must be done with love.


Let me draw your attention to four words from this passage: “act like a man.” It should be of some concern to us that for four-thousand years of recorded history every culture in the world agreed on what those words meant. Paul certainly assumed his audience would know what he meant. And as we just heard from I Samuel 4, the Philistines assumed a mutual understanding of manhood. “Show some courage and be men,” they said. “Otherwise, you’ll serve the Hebrews just as they served you. Now be men and fight.” They didn’t have to explain themselves to one another. They knew that men should resist servitude and slavery with all their might. They knew that men give their lives in defence of their homes and loved ones.

Nowadays, hardly anyone knows what “act like a man” means, and strangely enough, large numbers of people are offended just by hearing it said out loud. These have become what the politically correct crowd calls trigger words. Apparently just hearing them makes some people feel unsafe. Yet here they are in the Bible.

Difficulties facing modern manhood

Headline: Older men cling to 1950s, ‘60s blueprint of masculinity (Oct. 19, 2016)

Headline: How the Christian masculinity movement is ruining men (Aug. 30, 2016)

Headline: America’s hidden crisis: men not at work (Oct. 18, 2016, by Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail)

Wente quotes economist Nicholas Eberstadt who calls these men “the unworking,” to distinguish them from people who want work but can’t find it. “America is now home to a vast army of jobless men who are no longer even looking for work,” he writes. “Roughly seven million of them age 25 to 54, the traditional prime of working life.”

Headline: How do you teach your boys not to rape, asks mom (June 8, 2016)

Headline: Bachelor nation: 70% of men aged 20-34 not married (Feb. 12, 2015)

Let me say quickly I’m not endorsing anything in any of these articles, I simply offer these headlines as examples of how confused the modern world is about manhood and masculinity, as well as womanhood and femininity.

So what is the goal for these messages on manhood and womanhood? Well, first let me say what the goal is not. I emphatically do not want to build a vision of masculinity or femininity based on worldly ideas, modern or ancient. Just as emphatically, I do not want to build a vision in reaction to worldly ideas. Reaction is always a bad basis for philosophy. If many men, including some Christian men, have behaved like beasts, that is still no reason to say, “All men are pigs.” Some are, but a lot aren’t, and none of them have to be. On the other hand, if some woman, somewhere—once—nagged a man—one time—well, that’s no excuse to say all women are shrews.

What I want for myself, for you, for our church, and for the glory of God, is to find out what our Creator had in mind when He said in His word, “He created them male and female.” (Gen. 1:27, HCSB) Then, God helping us, I pray we all stick to that, whatever winds of change may be blowing around us.

So, does our creator tell us what he meant by male and female, by man and woman? Yes! Yes, He does. But today we’ll focus on manhood, and to do that let’s turn to today’s text.

Exposition of I Cor. 16:13-14

  1. A.   Maybe it’s worth noting that the sentence in verse 13 is made up of four independent clauses, each of which could end with a period. These kind of short, pithy, summary expressions are often found at the end of a speech or a letter when the writer is trying to sum everything up in memorable phrases. This is the kind of unforgettable and inescapable language that ought to “hit us right between the eyes.”
  2. B.   This entire sentence is aimed at the men in the congregation at Corinth. How do I know? Well, in Paul’s day it would have been insulting to tell a woman to “act like a man” and he never would have done it.
  3. C.   The conclusion is that Paul is saying, “Men, be alert. Men, stand firm in the faith, Men, be strong, and finally, Men, act like men. Let’s break this down a little more.

a.  “Men, be alert.” The commentaries tell us that these admonitions are all couched in military language. Godly men are to be wary and on guard against everyone and anything that could tear down the faith of our fathers. We’re to watch for anything that would cause unbelief in our home or church, anything that would muddle people’s understanding of God’s commands and purposes. We’re to watch for opportunities to model Christian commitment before our families and the world. We’re to watch over our brothers in the faith to encourage them so that none fall out of the ranks in the midst of the battles of life

b.   “Stand firm in the faith.” “Firm” is literally “unmoveable.” In military terms we’re to stand so firmly that the enemy cannot get through our part of the line. We’re to self-consciously work to firmly hold our minds to the truth “that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). It is faith in the gospel that saves us (Mark 1:15), and the only saving faith is the kind that perseveres. That’s why Paul says back in I Cor. 9:27, “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

Doubt, and stand firm

  •     Ideally, no one should join a Baptist church without first believing the gospel. But to maintain that commitment requires thought and work. When doubts arise, Paul expects men to find answers to those doubts (and there are always answers), and then, when persistent doubts arise, to trace them back to their source, which is almost always some sort of repeated, unrepented sin
  •    Hear my heart. I know that life’s circumstances can sometimes drive a genuine believer to such distraction that for awhile his faith appears to fail. But for the genuine believer, doubt is never the end of the story. Think of Peter walking on the water (Mat. 14:22-33). He was doing well until he saw the strength of the wind. That scared him and he began to sink. But then he uttered a cry of faith, “Lord, save me!” Matthew’s gospel tells us that “immediately Jesus reached out his hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?
  •   Oh godly men, do not trouble yourselves too much over your doubt. Know that this same Jesus, who “immediately” caught hold of Peter, stands ready to catch you and restore your faith! But it requires a heartfelt “Lord, save me!” combined with a willingness to accept the means by which Jesus chooses to save
  •   One more thing about standing firm in the faith before we move on. Paul means our firm stand is to be visible to all, and comprehensible to all.
  •   I’m sick of hearing that old statement attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” Your children need to hear you use words as you explain the Scriptures to them. Your neighbour needs to hear you use words as you “give a defence (of your faith) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Peter 3:15). I’m with Adam Ford ( who rewrote St. Francis like this: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if you’re unable to communicate telepathically.”

c.   “Act like a man.” Literally, when you are attacked, don’t flinch, don’t run away. Instead of explaining this passage, how about if I tell you the story of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley? On October 16, 1555, both men were burned at the stake in Oxford, England.

  •     Their crime? They had been Anglican pastors during the time of Henry VIII, but when his Roman Catholic daughter Mary became Queen, she required that all the pastors renew their allegiance to the pope. Latimer and Ridley refused, along with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who was himself burned five months after them
  •    As they were being tied to the stake, Ridley prayed, “Oh, heavenly Father, I give unto thee most hearty thanks that thou hast called me to be a professor of thee, even unto death. I beseech thee, Lord God, have mercy on this realm of England, and deliver it from all her enemies.
  •   Later, as the fire burned slowly (either from green wood, or else wood stacked to tightly, versions differ) and Ridley in particular suffered horribly, Latimer shouted, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”
  •  Obviously, there is more to manliness than this. Both men were formerly known for their tender watch care over their respective church flocks. And Latimer was famous in his day for the amount of time he spent visiting the prisons.

d.   “Be Strong.” Literally, “be getting stronger.” That means let God train you, and exercise you so that you grow spiritually. None of us are as strong as we should be, but God is patient. He will make us stronger as we make our lives available to Him. Also, be a strength to your fellow soldiers when they are weak, and let them be your strength when your are weak and they are strong. Dress yourself in the full armour of God and fear not. (Truth like a belt, breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with readiness to preach the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:1-17)

e.   V. 14 Do everything with love! Of course, but be sure that your idea of love is nothing less than the sacrificial love mentioned in Eph. 5:25.

Bible passages on manliness

To understand Christian manliness better, let me share a few Biblical passages aimed at men. You will see that men are called of God to be fathers, and to teach their children by precept and example.

Manliness is dynastic

Gen. 18:17 Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham? 18 Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.

Manliness is education oriented

Ex. 12:21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them. . . . 26 When your children ask you, ‘What does this [Passover] mean to you?’ 27 you are to reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and spared our homes.’”

Deut. 4:9 “Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren.”

Eph. 6:4 Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Manliness is confrontational

Jos. 24:15 “But if it doesn’t please you to worship Yahweh, choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshipped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.”

Manliness means accepting responsibility

I Chr. 28:9 “As for you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands the intention of every thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever. 10 Realize now that the Lord has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong, and do it.” … 20 Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He won’t leave you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the Lord’s house is finished

Manliness is prayerful

I Chr. 29:19 “Give my son Solomon a whole heart to keep and to carry out all Your commands, Your decrees, and Your statutes, and to build the temple for which I have made provision.”

Manliness means discipline

Pro. 19:18 Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t be intent on killing him. (HCSB)

Pro. 19:18 Discipline your children while they are young enough to learn. If you don’t, you are helping them destroy themselves. (GNB)

Manliness is worshipful

Isa. 38:19 The living, only the living can thank You, as I do today; a father will make Your faithfulness known to children.


A word to men: There has never been a time in earth’s history less conducive to Christian manliness. So the question arises, will you go with the flow, or will you seek the narrow path, like Jesus, and embrace the manly task of being a man for the glory of God?

A word to the women: Will you help your sons grow up to be men by praising their husband’s manliness in front of them?