What does Western society value in a man? Athletes, actors, and musicians make the answer fairly clear. Let’s take a quick look at the defining characteristics of the most successful men in their industry.
Athlete: Tom Brady. Tom Brady is one of the most successful quarterbacks of this era, if not NFL history. Not only has he reached the peak of football success, but he has been featured on the cover of many men’s (and women’s) magazines, also modeling in a plethora of advertisements and endorsement deals. If that weren’t enough, he married one of the highest-profile Brazilian supermodels in the world after having had a child with a differently incredibly attractive actress.
Actor: Matt Damon. He’s tough. He’s brilliant. He’s funny. He’s a Harvard graduate. He wrote the scripts to one of the best movies ever (IMO), and was awarded People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2007. Enough said.
Musician: Shawn Carter, aka Jay-Z. Arguably one of the best lyricists to grab a mic since Tupac, Jay-Z also married one of the most attractive female pop artists in the industry, and has earned more than $200 Million in the last 4 years. His label currently has signed a few of the hottest artists on the market (Rihanna and Kanye West.)
The common thread between these three men is fairly consistently woven; these celebrities are admired and emulated because 1) they are at the very top of their profession enjoying the power and influence that such a position affords , 2) are abnormally attractive (or in Jay-Z’s case they have abnormally attractive women), and 3) they possess obscene amounts of money.
While there are very few Jay-Zs and Tom Bradys in the world, these 3 criteria by which the world judges successful manhood are still important in smaller ways to smaller people.. but it happens everywhere, even in Christianity. All men are drawn to these things, and it isn’t a new problem. The apostle in 1 John 2:16 sums up worldliness in 3 ways that I believe my list of 3 things is compatible with. There are 1) the desires of the flesh (recognition/success), 2) the desires of the eyes (women and sex), and 3) the boastful pride of life (power/money). Especially as younger men, we value and hold up these celebrities as paragons of masculinity because they’ve achieved what the average Joe cannot. In a smaller context, we value the BMOC (big man on campus) because he gets recognized for being the stud athlete that gets the hottest girls. The irony is that most often, the BMOC is often one of the most miserable, because he can never have enough.
While we as young men as pulled in so many different direction by our fleshly desires, God does give true marks of manliness for which we can strive and pray to have strength enough to attain.
In Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 4, Paul gives the following instructions:
1) Be self-controlled (6)
2) In all respects, be a model of good works (7)
3) In teaching, show yourself to have integrity and honor (7)
4) Exhibit sound speech that cannot be condemned (8)
5) Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly stories or falsehoods (7)
6) Train yourself for godliness (7)
These are just a few of the many characteristics of a man that God values; and unlike the BMOC, they are characteristics that will enlarge our capacity for joy and also serve others in the process.
Like I mentioned, the BMOC is often incredibly miserable. I have never been the BMOC, but one of my best friends in high school was to a “t”. He dated the most attractive girls, got invited to the best parties, was respected by the smart kids for hardly studying and getting incredible grades, was respected by the athletes as the captain of the soccer team.. I could go on. Here’s the point. It’s been a few years since graduation, and he is miserable. He realized that not having real friendships doesn’t last forever and the girls he’s actually interested in marrying aren’t interested in him at all. He had everything, now he has almost nothing.
What is the solution? I’ll tell you what the solution isn’t. The solution isn’t to do more, try harder, and work as hard as you can to define your life by the six things that Paul says. If you do, you will have merely replaced one set of legalistic standards (if I can attain power I will have joy) for another set of legalistic standards (if I can attain this biblical criteria I will have joy).
We can never have joy by accomplishing thing “x” by the merits of our own willpower to be better people or better Christians; if that were true, then it would mean that joy is able to be manufactured inside ourselves; and if that were true, then we would have no need for God; and if that were true, we are wasting our lives.
As is always the solution, if you see that the 6 things that should characterize real men are not true of you, then the only real solution is to fall on your knees and ask that God put you through situations to soften your heart and make you a real man who desires to serve and love selflessly in a way that only a Spirit-filled God-saturated man can.
Don’t forget to check out www.joyinrelationships.com to read more of this author’s great work!