Today I want to talk about an essential quality of masculinity. It’s not a word that occurs in the Bible, but nevertheless, but where this quality is deficient, godly masculinity is defective. To understand this quality, let me tell you a story from one of my favorite subjects: the history of the British Royal Navy.
In Trafalgar square in London, there is a massive pillar. It’s 169 feet high, and it is called Nelson’s Column. On top of the pillar is Lord Horatio Nelson, an unparalleled hero of the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. He had a long and distinguished naval career, but the moment he rose to fame in the eye of the British public was at the Battle of St. Vincent. February 14, 1797, 22 British ships against 37 Spanish ships.
The definitive moment of the battle came about because of Horatio Nelson’s initiative. The battle began very slowly and the British fleet was maneuvering, trying to jockey for position and gain the advantage with the wind. Nelson was towards the back of the formation and realized that by the time the fleet got in the position they wanted and then engaged the Spaniards, he was unlikely to be able to catch up and make much of a difference in the battle at all. But he saw an opportunity to strike an unexpected blow. So he broke formation—very unorthodox—turned his ship, and sailed right at the Spanish line. Other captains didn’t want to miss out on glory, and they followed him. The battle was a rout that concluded in the capture of four major Spanish ships and more than 3000 Spanish sailors.
What made the difference in this battle? How did a much smaller Navy outgun, outmaneuver, and outfight a superior force? It was Nelson’s initiative that made the difference. This is but one example of many, many from history that highlight the importance of initiative.
How can I say that initiative is so important to godly masculinity if the word doesn’t even appear in the Bible? There are a number of important words that don’t show up in our Bibles, even if the concept is clearly present. Trinity is a good example. Like initiative, the concept of Trinity is undeniably embedded throughout Scripture, even if the word itself is not in the text
Once you start looking for it, I think you’ll find initiative in all kinds of places. One of my favorite examples is in 1 Chronicles 22. David is near the end of his life and he has worked hard to assemble the raw materials that his son Solomon would use to build the temple. He tells Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22:16, “Arise and work! The Lord be with you.” Yes, David is telling Solomon what to do, but he is telling him to take initiative and he is calling on God to bless the work.
Puritan Matthew Henry said of this verse,
“Hope of God’s presence must not slacken our endeavours. Though the Lord be with us, we must rise and be doing, and, if we do this, we have reason to believe he is and will be with us. Work out your salvation, and God will work in you.”
I’ll give you two other verses that I think are relevant. James writes,
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17).
This is put negatively, so let’s flip it to understand what we are called to do: “Whoever knows the thing he ought to do, and takes initiative to do it, that for him is obedience.” By condemning the lack of initiative, this verse calls us to take initiative.
Another good example is in Proverbs 6:6–8,
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”
That little part about, “without having any chief, officer, or ruler…” In other words, the ant doesn’t have to be told what to do. It sees the need and it does it.
That actually helps us understand what initiative is. I think a good way to think of initiative is that it is responsibility in action. What do you call it when someone feels the weight of responsibility for a thing and does something about it? That’s initiative. It is fundamentally active and alert. It leans forward rather than backward. Initiative is always evaluating, always weighing: what is needed here? What can I do about it. And then doing it, despite the obstacles or the challenges involved. Initiative is essential for godly masculinity because it is like Jesus Christ.
Consider how Paul says it in Philippians,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8).
That is responsibility in action. Jesus took responsibility: he took on his shoulders the weight and the burden of the sin of all those he came to save. Their sin was not his fault, but he was willing to bear the wrath of God in our place. And so he took action. Another name for that responsibility in action is initiative.
And so, Jesus emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, was born in the likeness of men, and humbled himself to the point of death. Seeing the need, and having the resources to meet the need, he dealt decisively with the problem.
I think this is why initiative is central to John Piper’s definition of spiritual leadership. He writes,
“[Spiritual leadership is] 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.” John Piper, The Marks of a Spiritual Leader.
We can learn to be spiritual leaders if we will learn to take initiative to love God and love our neighbors. Where does God want you to put responsibility in action?
- Take initiative to meet with God.
- A plan, a place, and a time.
- Get up at the same time every day. Get out of bed. This is the first and most basic step of becoming a man.
- I’ve spent a lot of years working with young people and as a parent, and I can tell you that one of the ways that I know that a young man is really growing in maturity is when an appetite for God’s word and for prayer is generated from within. That’s initiative.
- Take initiative to serve.
- Open your eyes and see what needs to be done. Then do it.
- Make your bed, put away your clothes.
- Cut the grass or rake the leaves.
- Don’t walk past that thing on the stairs that is there for you to take up.
- Take initiative to kill lust, to flee sexual immorality, and to stop looking at pornography.
- What I learned selling furniture: nothing gets better through inertia. Complacency kills. Run towards this fight.
- Take initiative by confessing to God and then confessing to a mature older man—your dad, your mentor, your pastor—and develop a plan for change.
- You have to take initiative in this or lust and porn will strangle your spiritual life and ruin your relationship with your wife, whether present or future.
Initiative will be one of the difference makers that turns weak, passive, lazy boys into godly, intentional, responsible men who know and serve God and make a difference in their families, in the church, and in the world.
It’s unlikely that the initiative that we take in our lives will result in any one of us being memorialized on a 169-foot column in the center of the nation’s capital. But when we take initiative, and like Jesus Christ we do things without being told, to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself, the Lord will see, prosper, remember, and reward those efforts. Remember 1 Chronicles 22:16, “Arise and work! The Lord be with you!”
- What is initiative? Can you think of a time when someone else took initiative in a way that served you or your family?
- What keeps people from taking initiative? What keeps you from taking initiative?
- Make a short list (3–4 areas) where you think the Lord wants you to grow in taking initiative? What simple, concrete next steps can you take to put responsibility in action? Who can you share this list with to make yourself accountable to do it?
This content is sponsored by Trinity College of Louisville. Trinity College equips students with character, conviction, and courage to live gospel-centered lives and build gospel-centered families and churches. Learn more at www.trinitycollegelou.com. Follow us on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. And it is not too late to join us for our next First Friday Preview day; register on our website. Until next time: “Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith. Act like men. Be strong. And let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).