Manskool. M-A-N-S-K-O-O-L. Yes, I know how to spell “skool,” but work with me here.
What is Manskool? My dad went to the Naval Academy and he likes to joke that they took 18 year old men and turned them into 22 year old boys. Dad is actually appreciative in many ways of what he learned at the Academy. There he learned a lot of math and naval history, but more importantly, self-discipline, camaraderie, and leadership.
At Trinity College, we believe that the power of the gospel turns boys into men. The self-conscious mission of Trinity College is to shape young men and women for Christ and for the church.
I got the name Manskool from something I did as a youth pastor in Virginia. For a number of years, I hosted meetings on Saturday mornings for middle school and high school aged boys and their dads.
The idea was: let’s learn to be men. We didn’t study everything you need to be a man: we didn’t learn how to change the oil in your car, or how to tie different kinds of knots in a necktie, or how to clear a jammed disposal. Instead, we focused on how to grow up into godly manhood.
Godly masculinity is not automatic. Godly manhood is not guaranteed. Plenty of males never attain to manhood, let alone godly manhood. In other words, it is possible that you could grow older without growing up, and there are lots of people saying this today. Many people who study the trajectory of cultures are very concerned by the failure of many young males to launch into adult manhood.
So what IS godly manhood?
In some ways, it is easier to describe than define. I’ve read lots of definitions and there isn’t a single one I’ve come across yet that says everything I would want to say. And we’ll be exploring this together over the coming weeks, so we have time to fill it in a bit. But here is a starter list.
- One pastor I read describes it as “the glad-hearted acceptance of sacrificial responsibility.” I like how this definition focuses on responsibility and highlights the joy and the sacrifice necessary for leadership.
- John Piper writes, “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.” This definition is sometimes criticized because it defines masculinity relative to femininity, so it can’t really answer the question about what it looks like for masculinity to function independently or around other men. But, at the same time, in Genesis 1:27, God created man in the image of God, male and female he created them. So while it is important that we have an understanding of masculinity that is broad enough to describe what masculinity looks like when a man is alone, or in relation to other men, we should also acknowledge that there is a very deep and abiding reference point here related to women.
- Josh Blount, our anthropology professor, defines it like this: “To be a man is to be a person with the potential for relationship in three dimensions: a potential son of God, a potential husband of a wife, and a potential father of children.” I like this definition, too, because of how it anchors masculinity in differing roles in differing relationships.
John Piper also describes spiritual leadership more broadly: “knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power.”
However we define it, it is important to know that no one drifts into this. Boys become men through deliberate discipleship. I want to suggest to you that two essential ingredients here are strength and courage. Scripture speaks to this in many ways.
- When David is about to die, tells Solomon: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man,” (1 Kings 2:2). “Be strong, and show yourself a man.” David tells Solomon to do these two things. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament uses the same word pair to describe Moses’s charge to all Israel and to Joshua:
- “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 31:6–7).
- “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6).
- “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7).
- “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).
- “Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:18).
- And the idea occurs again in 1 Corinthians 16:13–14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).
- Those verses put it in a different order: act like men, be strong, but it is the same idea. But wait, I thought you said the essential ingredients were strength and courage.
YES! The verb here for “show yourself a man” is andrizō. You might recognize that our English word for a man-shaped robot, android, is a derivative of this word.
Many English translations translate this word as “be courageous” and it is the same Greek word used to translate the Hebrew instructions to Joshua to be strong and courageous. The idea of courage and manhood are so closely related that the word was virtually interchangeable. So what will it mean for godly masculinity to be cloaked in strength and courage?
For some, it might mean supplementing spiritual strength and courage with physical strength and courage by going to the gym or getting involved in some kind of challenging physical activity like a Tough Mudder or a triathalon. But most of all, these are calls to spiritual strength and courage.
I want to convince you that strength and courage are at the heart of godly masculinity. Strength of spirit and courage of soul. I hope you’re seeing that already in the Scriptures I’ve listed above. The gospel calls you to something you know you want: strength and courage in the service of God.
What do these two words mean? Let’s start with strength. I think the strength that is in view here is related to gospel-motivated obedience, and I’ll tell you why. This is a rare word in the NT, only used 4 times. It is used twice in Luke’s gospel, once of John the Baptist and once of Jesus, how both of them had to grow up in maturity, obedience, and spiritual strength.
John: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” (Luke 1:80).
Jesus: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40).
So to be strong is to be steadfast and immovable in faithful obedience to God. It means learning to be strong in the face of difficulty and complexity, trial and suffering, disappointment and frustration.
Yes, all that and more.
What about courage? My Bible dictionary: “conduct oneself in a courageous way.” Interesting. In the ancient world, the measure of manhood was traceable to courage.
John Wayne had a famous definition of courage: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” I like that because it points to the way that courage is about overcoming our reluctance or hesitation or unwillingness to do things or face circumstances that are hard or fearsome.
It reminds me of something Vince Lombardi once said about his role as a football coach: he said that his job was to make full-grown men do what they don’t want to do in order to become what they’ve always wanted to be.
Courage is learning to apply that self-discipline to ourselves rather than having to have it imposed by a coach.
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. ” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 104.
Courage is what happens when any virtue in you is tested and found true. Strength and courage for God and the gospel can take many different forms, but every expression of godly masculinity like this will have this in common: Jesus said,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24).
To young men who have grown up in the church, the call to follow Jesus can sound like one of the least strong, least courageous things to do.
“The follower of Jesus must deny himself (not just his sins, himself; he cannot be self-centred). There is nothing self-indulgent about being a Christian. The disciples had probably seen a man take up his cross, and they knew what it meant. When a man from one of their villages took up a cross and went off with a little band of Roman soldiers, he was on a one-way journey. He would not be back. Taking up the cross meant the utmost in self-denial. This is Luke’s first use of the word cross and it comes with striking effect. Christ’s follower has died to a whole way of life (cf. 14:27). Luke tells us that this is not something that can be finished and got out of the way: it must be done daily (cf. 1 Cor. 15:31). So, says Jesus, will he follow me.” Leon Morris, Luke, 186.
I have no doubt that you would pass the test if there were some sort of dramatic uprising, and some godless rebels put a gun to your head and said, renounce Jesus Christ or I will pull the trigger.
I’m sure that you would be willing to lose your life for the Lord in that moment. But there are even more dramatic opportunities to lose your life for the Lord. What could be more dramatic that someone trying to force you away from the faith at gunpoint?
Well, lots of things are more dramatic. I don’t know if there is anything more amazing than a young man, who God made with powerful impulses and emotions and desires—all of which are good when channeled in the right direction—bringing those impulses into submission to Jesus Christ.
The most dramatic display of strength and courage in the life of a young man is self-denial. What does it mean to deny yourself?
I suspect that because you have the Holy Spirit in you, you have some idea of some specific application of what this means for you already. There is some step of obedience that you know the Lord wants from you.
- Let’s start with purity. Paul tells Timothy to treat younger women as sisters in “absolute purity.” “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1).
- Honoring your parents. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” (Ephesians 6:1–3).
“Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.” Jonathan Edwards, Resolution 46.
- Your attitude toward your school work. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23–24).
- Curbing your craving for rest and relaxation. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16).
- Meeting with God and praying on a daily basis. “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!” (Psalm 57:7–8).
- Learn to be willing to lead others into godly action. Lead others into spiritual conversations, whether at work, at church, at school, or wherever. Lead others into God-glorifying entertainment. “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12).
It will take strength and courage to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus Christ.
If it sounds challenging to deny yourself, to take up your cross and follow him, to live with strength and courage, then we need Manskool. What we’re going to do in Manskool is grow together, as it says in 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” On some level, every man wants to do this. I believe it is baked in the heart of men to want to lead, provide, protect, to serve.
If that’s true, then David’s dying words to Solomon to “show yourself a man,” become words of life to men. So we’re going to learn to do this together; that’s what Manskool will be about.