A Man and His God Mt Hawthorn Baptist 22.5.17
Let me begin by saying that although I find myself mentoring men from all over the world I do not have a “men’s ministry” and am a little unsure even what that would mean.
When it comes to issues of gender I see confusion everywhere, but let’s start with secular culture where the neutralisation of maleness is a goal of powerful forces. A few years ago I was on a panel with a transgendered female to male person, a gay-queer activist and a feminist academic. Our topic was, “It’s the post-gender world of 2050. Through a combination of biotechnical and cultural changes, most people no longer identify with a single gender. So does that mean the battle of the sexes is over?” Through the Safe Schools programme which teaches gender fluidity, with some neuroscientists trying to prove there are not two types of human being, with men presented as the problem in domestic violence and with the hypercelebration of female achievement e.g. riding the Melbourne Cup winner, masculinity is under attack in a way that is unique in the history of civilisation. But when Christian author Col Stringer reacts by writing, “to every red-blooded man I challenge you to be like the eagle and spread your wings, ride that horse, (or motor bike), climb that mountain, hunt that buffalo, raft that river, bungy jump off that mountain, dive that ocean, catch that great white shark, hike the Kokoda Track, visit Gallipoli. Whatever it takes to fire you up – do it, take the plunge and rediscover your manhood!” he is fundamentally confused about maleness. For on his interpretation of maleness Jesus should have jumped off the pinnacle of the temple when tempted by the devil. But Jesus felt no need to prove his masculinity because he knew God was his Father and gloried in the fact that in the Father’s wisdom he was made a man (Matt 4:5). When ministries talk about valiant men, knighthood, warrior hearts, valour and so on this stress on man as conqueror looks like a form of triumphalistic idolatry that leaves no room for the glory of the cross (Gal 6:14). Jesus is the only indecx for the truth of maleness because he alone has perfectly embodied the truth expressed by an Early Church Father, “For the glory of God is a man fully alive; and the life of man consists in beholding God.” (The glory of God is a living man and the life of man is the vision of God.) (Irenaeus).
If the “strong man” image is a problem just as disturbing however is the feminisation in the Church; the shortage of men who lead in intercession and worship and the general passivity of men too afraid to initiate prayer with their wives, and so on. There is a battle which has to be fought against deeply ingrained prejudices about men but this must happen in a Christ-centred way. When I heard a female friend comment that “women are more sensitive than men” I gently took her aside and asked her a question about the gender of Jesus. (I am much more likely to cry when praying with my wife than she is.) Beyond the bounds of our normal thinking about gender Paul describes himself both as a spiritual father (1 Cor 4:15; 1 Thess 2:11-12) and testifies, “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” (1 Thess 2:7 cf. Galatians 4:19).
Whilst many Christian programmes helpfully trace the wounding in the hearts of men back to dysfunctional fathering, I want to ask what it means to be a man in terms of the image and glory of God. If the LORD himself who says, “bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”” (Isa 43:6-7), we must recognise that current crisis in masculinity is not primarily historical or social but a result of Satan’s goal to divide the glory of God in humanity.
In the Beginning
When Genesis 1:26-28 teaches us that the image of God is male and female it makes clear that this is God’s highest accomplishment in creation. Sex, not race or class or wealth etc; is the only basic difference within humanity. From the beginning being men and women has been blessed by God. In a single sexed world we could never see the creative breadth of the wisdom and glory of God. The original creation story is charged with joy, Proverbs 8:31 testifies of the Wisdom of God “delighting in the human race” and the inspired psalmist cannot contain his excitement about being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps 139:13-14). Is God still enraptured by making me a man? To answer this in a healthy way we must listen to Jesus.
Jesus was in no doubt about the fundamental goodness of God’s making man when he quoted from Genesis 2, ““Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5 ESV). If Genesis 1 places our manhood in the sphere of blessing it is Genesis 2 that elaborates on the distinction between male and female.
The standout feature in Genesis 2 is that the LORD speaks to the man before he makes woman (Gen 2:15ff.). God’s initiative in speaking directly to Adam makes him the initial recipient of revelation and thus the first bearer of the knowledge of God’s wisdom and goodness. To bear the burden of the Word of the Lord for the whole race was a tremendous privilege and an awesome responsibility gifted to the man (cf. Jer 23:35-36; Hab 1:1; Zech 9:1; 12:1; Mal 1:1). In God’s creative Word was all the supernatural insight Adam needed to understand his identity as a man in relation to woman. The excitement which Adam felt when he first saw Eve, ““This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”” witnesses to his inner understanding that the differentiation in glory he so wonderfully experienced through his partner was a result of the wisdom and power of God’s Word (Gen 2:23; 1 Cor 11:7 cf. 1 Cor 1:24).
Through hearing and receiving the Word the man had an ability to discern the glory of God in all things; this was itself a glorious gift (Rom 11:36; Rev 4:11). Adam knew that everything he and his descendants were called to, work, family and Church (Adam and Eve were the first Church) was derived from the action of the Word of God. This inner knowledge was his unique authority. God’s sovereign initiative in speaking and revealing himself first to Adam imparted to him the typically considered masculine attributes of leadership, protection and provision. God’s Word activated Adam in the Garden to “nourish and cherish”/“tend and protect” Eve. This was a capacity he possessed because he was the one who had already received God’s nurturing and protective Word concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:15, 17; Eph 5:29).
Masculinity is a response to the divine initiative; in New Testament terms, this is made possible through Adam being created as “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). The consciousness that Adam possessed in Eden of his own masculinity reflected the goodness of God (Gen 1:31; James 1:17). Without singender was understood as a good, beautiful and glorious gift for the beautifying of all creation; starting with Eve. Original maleness was essentially relational. What then went wrong?
The root causes of gender-related problems are found in an attempt to break free from the ordering of God. Scripture always names Adam as primarily responsible for the Fall in Eden because he was the foundational witness to the goodness and glory of the initiating Word of God (Rom 5:12ff; 1 Tim 2:13-14). Adam was present with Eve throughout the time of her temptation but passively allowing the serpent to tempt his wife without uttering a rebuke. This was a denial of the commission God had given him concerning the Garden and the wisdom the Lord had imparted to him concerning the tree of knowledge; his great sin was his failure to be a faithful bearer of God’s Word, this was a denial of his glory (Gen 2:17; 3:6). (Eve is not blameless; she could have called out for her husband to protect her from the deceiver.) The results of this transgression of God’s order in Eden immediately impacted the way the man and his wife saw each other. Having failed one other in their covenant before God Adam and Eve knew that they had lost the glory of God (Rom 3:23). They had lost insight into the holy mystery of gender-relatedness and marriage; from now on the opposite gender was no longer reckoned as trustworthy. In a climate of the shame of lost glory the spiritual authority to take initiative and to submit was destroyed (Rom 3:23; 1:21). Henceforth men would exert power over women and women would try to control men in a struggle for superiority (Gen 3:16). Only the coming of a man who would never deviate from the glory of receiving and transmitting the Word of God could restore the true glory of what it means to be male and female; Jesus is this “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45).
The Man Christ Jesus
When Romans 5:14 tells us that Adam “was a symbol of the one who was to come” it teaches that the full truth of masculinity can only be found in Jesus (Rom 5:14). He is the one who has been wholly faithful to God and to his Wife, the Church. The essential difference between Adam and Christ is not be found in analysing Jesus’ psychology, but in his naming God as his “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36). This expression of uniquely deep intimacy reveals that there was no shame separating Jesus from his Father and that Jesus knew himself to be completely accepted as God’s Son (Luke 3:22; 1 Pet 1:17). This is the awareness out of which Christ spoke with a unique authority into the lives of lost men and women, and particularly to Israel as God’s rebellious Bride (Jer 2:32; 3:20; Eze 16:32-34; Hos 1:2; 9:1 etc.). Jesus faithfulness in receiving and sharing the Word of God reversed the sin of Adam in Eden. As the one who always spoke what he heard from the Father Jesus is the presence of the fullness of the Word of God (John 1:14, 16; 8:28). Because his glory in his relationship with the Father was unlimited (John 8:54) Jesus unashamedly spoke of his inner life; “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29 cf. John 11:35), ““My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”” (Matt 26:38). These emotional states are not just properties of the humanity of Jesus but of the Word of God in whose image we were created.
It is the cross however where all our idolatrous images of masculinity (and femininity) are destroyed. The cry of dereliction, ““My God, my God…..why have you forsaken me”” reveals that in bearing our sin Jesus has been stripped of his self-conscious identity as Word and Son of God (Mark 15:34; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21). Under the wrath we deserve Christ is no longer able to discern that he is the glory of the Father, he no longer seems to be that living man with a pure heart who has a vision of God (Matt 5:6; Col 1:15; Irenaeus). Cut off from the initiative of the Father Christ can no longer discern the distinction between himself and Israel as the rebellious Bride of God. This loss of discernment is in itself a loss of glory meaning that Jesus can no longer witness to himself as the glorifier/beautifier of humanity (Isa 60). Bearing our sin Jesus is immersed in lost humanity’s absence of the authority and initiative that marks out true Man.
This testimony of love in the cross needs to be read in the light of the resurrection. Whilst physically Jesus died naked, his relationship with the Father never ceased to be one of faithful obedience, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”(Matt 27:35; Heb 12:2). The shame of lost sonship never belonged to Jesus for the Father was never ashamed of him as a Son (Heb 2:11). And so John’s Gospel testifies of the Word of God; “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,” (John 1:14).
The resurrection is the elevation of Jesus as the Son of God and the seal of his life as all pleasing to the Father (Acts 2:36; Rom 1:4). The gift of “all authority in heaven and earth” testifies that the Father completely identifies Jesus as his image and likeness; there is in Christ no residual “Father-wound” (Matt 28:18; Col 1:15). Abiding in the very depths of the Father’s heart (John 1:18) Jesus now sends forth the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33) to communicate his own authoritative humanity to his Church. Whilst the gift of the Spirit is unconditional it is conveyed in the same way that the Spirit glorified Jesus. Death-and- resurrection is the sole pattern for the restoration of the glory of manhood to the Church (Phil 3:10).
Adam never laid his life down for Eve; if he had this would have been his glory as her head and a glory for her as his wife. Jesus is the true man who laid down his life that his Bride the Church might be glorified through him (John 12:24-33; cf. Eph 3:12; 5:25-28). The resurrection restores to those who would follow Jesus an opportunity of glorifying others through sacrifice, as Paul says, “as Christ raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Let me apply this directly to manhood.
In “The Mask of Motherhood” feminist writer Susan Maushart speaks of; “the growth and discovery that comes from breaking the bounds of selfhood. The glimpses of the biblical truth that, in order to find life, you must lose it. That in ‘forgetting’ herself a woman may begin to discover at last who she is.” If men are to discover who they are they need to forget about looking at themselves in any other mirror than the Word of God (James 1:22-25). Those who strive to become something they already are in Jesus will lose their way become captive to images of masculinity that mirror one culture or another rather than mirroring Christ. In Jesus you are already a complete man (Col 2:9-10).
A man in Christ who knows God as Father through his Word will find an authority in Jesus to act, love, speak and behave unashamedly, in family, work and Church, as a man of God (1 Tim 6:11). Any hesitancy to appropriate this truth that we are men of God reveals resident shame. God the Father does not see the brothers of Jesus as substandard men of whom he is ashamed but as sons destined for glory (Heb 2:10-11). This is why Paul for instance can transcend all stereotypes of gender by openly speaking of his “fear” (1 Cor 2:3 cf. Acts 18:9), “weakness” and “anxieties” in the cause of the Lord (2 Cor 11:28; 12:9).).
A Christian man’s sharing in the powerlessness of the cross strips off all the false masks and idols of masculinity, whether the masks of macho man, the SNAG, the metrosexual, the need to get in touch with your feminine side or any other image invented by the deviousness of the human heart Our goal is not to become real men but “that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11). It is in dying to ourselves in order to give to others a share in the likeness of Christ that we grow through the Spirit’s power in being true men.
The glory of Christ takes us far beyond the original blessing imparted to male and female in the original creation (Gen 1:26-28). In Christ it is more wonderful to be a man than Adam ever knew (2 Cor 5:17). The distinctions in glory first revealed to Adam in Eden have been surpassed by the relationship between Jesus the heavenly Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church (Eph 3:20-21). In the face of the onslaught of dark powers against men in our time it is vital that we give thanks to God for creating us as men, not as a men instead of women (Orthodox Judaism teaches), but men in the likeness of Christ (Rom 1:20-21). If we struggle to give God thanks for our masculinity it must be that we are in the grip of lying incapacitating evil powers; we must resist them and fix our eyes more firmly on Jesus who has the power to release us from all shame (Heb 12:1-2; 1 Pet 5:8-9). His Spirit can help us confess our confusions and failures men, repent of all the ways we have looked down on our fathers and so on. In receiving a revelation through Christ of God as our own “Abba! Father!” we enter into the joy he has always had in making us his children (Rom 8:15). This is the Father of the Son who gave his life to reveal in us his glorious riches (Luke 10:21-23). “For the glory of God is a man fully alive; and the life of man consists in beholding God.” (The glory of God is a living man and the life of man is the vision of God) (Irenaeus).
 In this paper I use masculinity, maleness and sex in a generally identical way.