On being a man

by Matthew C. Harrison

Years ago, when my sons were small, we had a delightful friend at church who also had young boys. He often repeated to his sons his own father’s refrain to him: “Be a man!” We had an uproariously great time at church picnics, gruffly repeating that phrase whenever a kid would come complaining about some infraction or injury or the alleged actions of another child. “Be a man!”

I must admit, I’ve written a lot about numerous subjects, but I’ve never really attempted to write about what it is to be a Christian man. I’ve experienced the joy and struggle of being a son to my parents, a brother to my brother and sister, a teammate, a dorm mate, a friend to other men, a husband to my lovely Christian wife, a father to boys and now young men, an honorable co-worker to men and women, a subordinate, a leader of men and women, a brother among brother pastors and many other things. My gender is anything but incidental to my being. It is a part of my concrete existence, the very expression of my being. Every cell of my body is coded male, and therefore there is no aspect of my existence that can be viewed apart from who I am and who God created me to be: a man.

Like every good gift of God, sin wreaks havoc on every aspect of masculinity. Every relationship, every aspect of maleness — from physical strength, to sexuality, to God-given instincts to provide for and protect family — is subject to distortion, manipulation and abuse. In extreme cases, the gift of maleness is abused when it is denied or used to inflict maximum pain and havoc on the world (whether through mayhem, rape, oppression, terrorism or murder). But those are rank distortions of the gift.

“Have you not read,” Jesus says of God creating Adam and Eve, “that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 9:4). Our gender, as either male or female, is God’s creative gift. Baptism is God’s re-creative gift to restore to us what was lost due to sin. The “old man” desires mayhem. The “new man,” by faith in Christ, desires to be a man who is and remains a child of God. In confession and absolution, the “old man” is daily drowned along with his sinful desires, so that the “new man” comes forth and arises. Only in repentance can we begin to get a glimpse of ourselves, and of who God intended us to be as male and female.

The Bible says quite a lot about maleness gone wrong through sin, and also about what actions and qualities God loves to see in men. Christ is, above all, our substitute: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sins” (1 John 1:7). Jesus is also our example. His example is for all of us, male and female, but He also demonstrates clearly God’s intention for men. He is respectful of His parents. From a young age, He is engaged in the Word of God. He stands for truth, whether believed or opposed — even to the point of personal danger. He knows suffering is purposeful and beneficial. He’s not afraid to do what is right. He has compassion on the weak. He speaks forgiveness. He prays. He rests from work. He respects and honors women (e.g., Peter’s mother, the woman with the flow of blood, Mary and Martha, His own mother at the cross). He curbs the violent outbursts of other men. He is chaste, kind, humble, faithful. He loves children. He honors marriage, even while enjoying a party and providing a large amount of wine for the celebration! Above all, He gives Himself for others.

The old “Red Green Show” concluded each week with the man’s motto: “I’m a man, but I can change … if I have to, I guess.” It’s humorous because it parodies the reality of a lot of pathetic male existence in a PC world that hasn’t a clue about gender in any respect. Yet God has made me to be a man. It’s a multifaceted gift. The God-man Christ has taken on my flesh to forgive me and all people. There is no way that I, as a poor miserable sinner, am going to live up to even a scintilla of Christ’s perfect example. Yet even so, I am born again by grace and can live this life — as a man — with great joy and gusto, come what may. Jesus Himself is proof of that wonderful fact.

— Pastor Harrison

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

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