Pointing Boys Toward Manhood
Good men do not appear by accident. With diligent prayer and careful discipleship, you can guide your son to manhood.
American educators are obsessed with gender. Search the ERIC database about any topic—oh, say, advanced placement courses—and the great majority of studies in the database will be on attaining gender and racial equity in the test results. But the interest of the secular educational community seems to be one-directional. Girls, as a disempowered minority, need all kinds of encouragement and preference and, most of all, expensive educational programs. Boys? They’ve got plenty. In fact, they’ve got too much. We need to bring them down a notch or two in sensitivity-training sessions.
But nobody grows up well in an environment of inattention or diminution. To become decent and successful adults, children need direction. And since God has chosen to create humans in two sexes, both in the image of God Himself (Gen. 1:27), children need direction at growing into positive adult examples of whatever sex God made them.
A number of organizations, both secular and religious, have noted our culture’s relative inattention to the importance of strong males in both home and society, almost certainly as the result of feminism’s increasing reach into the primary cultural institutions. Christian educators, including homeschooling parents, would do well to give attention to the effect they can have on their male students in directing them toward biblical manhood.
What is biblical manhood like? The Bible answers that question in two ways: by precept, or direct statement, and by example. Scripture is filled with examples of godly men, from Job to Moses to David to Paul (and of course to Jesus Himself, who though fully God is fully man as well). Careful study of the accounts of these men reinforces the precepts found throughout Scripture.
What are some of the main ideas? What characteristics do we want to nurture in the lives of young men? What follows is only a sample, but these are perhaps the most heavily emphasized in the Scripture.
Most people are not the king, of course; there can be only one king in a nation—because somebody has to pay the taxes. But God has ordained three institutions (home, state, church), and in two of them the Scripture directs that the leadership be male.The great majority of men, then, will be in some kind of leadership role, and we err if we do not prepare boys for that future role. What qualities does a good leader need?
- Humility. Biblical leaders recognize that they are under leaders as well (Eph. 6:9) and that they are prone to sinfulness and all the other characteristics of imperfection (Rom. 3:10). They make mistakes, and when they do, they correct them. David repented of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:13), but he did not fail to meet his kingly obligations when facing the consequences of his sin (v. 20).
- Responsibility/Diligence. Leaders recognize responsibility and meet it. Often, being in charge means doing things that are not fun, and in some cases, not even pleasant. Leaders do those things anyway (2 Cor. 7:8). They set out a vision and do what is necessary to accomplish it.
- Self-control. With authority comes power, and those in authority must not use that power carelessly. Herod spent his power on himself and paid a price for it. Fathers hold the power to injure their children for life with a careless word; they must not say it even though their children may make them legitimately angry.
- Love. This greatest of virtues is simply placing the needs of others ahead of your own. It’s why Boy Scouts help little old ladies across the street; it’s why mothers get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby. It’s the opposite of pride and self-centeredness. It’s necessary for all believers, of course (Matt.
22:36–40), but certainly so for leaders, whose influence is magnified, often exponentially.
- Attentiveness. Leaders need to know what’s going on in the area for which they are responsible. They need to pay attention. Everyone has had the experience of working for a boss who doesn’t have a clue. (I’m afraid that during my managerial days, many of those for whom I was responsible had that unpleasant experience as well.)
- Empathy. Good leaders have an understanding of how their actions affect others, and they adjust their actions to the needs of those with whom they interact. They recognize the needs of those for whom they are responsible, and they seek to meet them in appropriate ways.
- Courage. Sometimes leaders have to do hard things—and when those things are not popular. Doing the hard thing despite opposition, even from those you love, is the lot of the leader.
- Christ-likeness. Whether a man is a leader or not, he is to be like Christ (as are women as well, of course). Christ certainly exemplified all the characteristics of a leader mentioned above, but there are other qualities in Him that we should reflect.
- Obedience. Christ obeyed His Father (John 4:34), even though He is His Father’s equal (John 10:30; 14:9). We are even told that He “learned . . . obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
- Devotion to the Father. No one can read Christ’s great prayer in John 17 without being struck by the poignancy of His need for fellowship with His Father. For the years He ministered on earth, He missed His Father terribly, and He sought Him out in long nights of prayer. The lowest point of His life was when He cried out from the cross, decrying the separation from His Father’s fellowship brought on by His assumption of our sin. It is not unmanly to be dependent on intimate fellowship with God.
- Goodness. Christ could enjoy the company of sinners (Matt. 11:19) without compromising His perfect adherence to God’s Law (1 Pet. 2:22), His personal purity (Heb. 4:15), or the effectiveness of His ministry to those sinners (John 4).
- Knowledge. Understanding the combination of divine and human natures in Christ is beyond our ability, but the Bible clearly says that Christ developed as a boy in all the growth areas of the human condition: intellectual, physical, spiritual, and social (Luke 2:52). He learned to speak, apparently, three different languages fluently: Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. He observed carefully the nature of creation (Matt. 6:28) as well as human culture (Luke 7:32). If He could be both omniscient and thirsty for knowledge, how much more should we be lifelong students?
- Endurance. Christ is, of course, the ultimate example of seeing a responsibility through to completion (Heb. 12:2). As the perfect God, He must have found virtually everything about life in a fallen world deeply repulsive. He not only lived in what must have been to Him the equivalent of a garbage dump but also deigned to be made garbage Himself to accomplish our salvation: He “became sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21) and the object of the Father’s curse (Gal. 3:13).
How do we engender these qualities in our sons? Let me suggest a few broad principles to get us started.
- Responsibility. Give your boys carefully measured opportunities to be responsible, and reward them with greater responsibility—and freedom—when they do well. I have told my daughters (yep, they’re both girls) that life works very simply: as they grow older, I will keep giving them more and more freedom until they demonstrate that they cannot be responsible—and then I will clamp down on them like Herod the Great. So far, so good.
- Interaction. A key element of love—lack of self-centeredness—comes from working with other people. Group projects—working with siblings or other homeschooled children—where students have not only the opportunity but also the responsibility to work together and to help one another succeed, can be very effective at getting students out of their own self-absorption and pride.
- Challenge. It can be healthy, if done in an encouraging environment, to stretch your sons by giving them a little bit more to do than they think they are capable of. Don’t believe that? Coaches do it all the time; they work the athletes to the point of exhaustion and are rewarded with respect and loyalty when they know how to be tender and encouraging along the way—and when victory comes. Make it challenging but possible.
- Clear direction. All children need to know what the limits are so that they can demonstrate that they respect them. Overly vague assignments are wellsprings of frustration. Make it clear what is required and what else is optional. Good men do not appear by accident. They are the product of the work of the Holy Spirit, the study of Scripture, diligent prayer, and careful discipleship. In God’s providence, you have been placed in a discipleship role for your sons. Disciple on purpose.
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in Growing to Godly Manhood—a DVD series by Tony Miller.