The Character of Mature Manhood: Courage and Love


From 2014-2016 the state of California endured a period of record drought. Some have said it was the worst drought in one hundred years. The lack of adequate rainfall devastated agriculture, decimated farms, impeded employment, and impacted the economy at local, state, and national levels. And despite recent rains, California remains, by and large, a parched land.

Though devastating, there’s a drought among us that is even more troubling than California’s lack of water. And the effects of this drought have crept into the church and are beginning to devastate individual churches and families. It’s a drought of manhood. In subtle and not so subtle ways, men in our society are being discouraged from exercising leadership. We are hearing messages from cultural pundits that suggest it is arrogant and oppressive for men to take the helm of leadership in the home, the church, and various work settings. There is even resistance to the idea of male chivalry and the notion that men should serve women in culturally appropriate ways.1

Satan has done a great work to confuse men and instill in them a suspicion that the desire to lead is a symptom of pride or a mere cultural hangover from a patriarchal era. For the sake of the church and the world, we need to talk about the character of mature manhood. 

Courageous Intentionality
There is a danger, however, in talking so much about manhood. I’ve succumbed to this danger in my own life, and I’ve seen good friends encounter and yield to this danger at some point in their struggle over what it means to pursue godly manhood. The more we talk about the various contours of biblical manhood, the more we will find that passivity lies at the very center of our problems as men.

The more we talk about the various contours of biblical manhood, the more we will find that passivity lies at the very center of our problems as men.

And it’s true: most of our troubles as men are due to our reluctance to embrace our God-given calling to lead. We saw this truth illustrated vividly in the last chapter. So, the danger doesn’t lie in the discovery that passivity is a deep and pervasive problem that will tempt us to forsake our calling as men. That’s actually a helpful insight. The danger lies in our response to this insight.

See, if you’re at all like me—and I suspect you are, even if we don’t have much else in common—you will hear this call to reject passivity and look immediately to activity as the solution. But the answer to passivity is not mere activity, but courageous intentionality.

The first step on the road to godly masculinity is to cultivate true courage. Adam crumbled in the face of an immediate threat. When he should have been fearlessly protecting his wife from the wiles of the crafty serpent, he stood by, watching. And much of the biblical storyline from the garden onward consists of one of two scenarios: triumph as the result of masculine courage or tragedy in the absence of it.

Ever since that fateful day in the garden, men have been faced with spiritual and physical enemies, difficult decisions, challenging circumstances, and the possibility of loss. Whereas courage enables a man to obey the Lord when confronted with these harsh realities of life, cowardice entices a man to take the path of least resistance for the sake of self-preservation. If we are going to fulfill God’s calling on our lives as men, brothers, the cultivation of courage must be of utmost concern.

Act Like Men
We see this call to masculine courage in 1 Corinthians 16:13 when Paul instructs the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” Paul’s vital admonition comes at the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church. This church had serious problems among its members, including rampant, unchecked sexual immorality, the misuse of spiritual gifts, selfishness, and a host of other serious issues that Paul addressed throughout his letter. But in his final comments, Paul offers several straightforward exhortations: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

Act like men? That seems like an odd way to address the Corinthian church. Weren’t there any women in this congregation? Yes, there were, and Paul had written directly to the women several times in this letter (see 1 Cor 7:4, 8, 10-16, 34, 39-40; 11:3-15; 14:34-35). So why end his letter with this kind of statement? Because Paul is drawing on a truth that we’ve already seen in the first three chapters of the Bible that is reaffirmed through the rest of the Old Testament: as the men go, so go the people of God. If Corinth is going to make any progress out of the morass that they’re in, their success will be dependent, in large measure, on the men acting like men. The same goes for your family and your church. 

The word translated “act like men” in the ESV and NASB is the Greek word ἀνδρίζεσθε (andrizesthe). This word is often used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and translated as “be strong and courageous” or simply “be courageous” (e.g., Josh 10:25; 2 Sam 13:28; 2 Chron 32:7). Universally in the Old Testament this word is used in reference to men, and it’s often used when people are being led out to battle.

With this background from the Septuagint, I take Paul’s use of the word in the context of his letter to a local congregation to indicate that the apostle is placing the responsibility to lead upon the men in Corinth. But not only is Paul placing the responsibility to lead upon the men, he is also using this particular word to signal that courage is at the heart of godly manhood. Courage is essential if these men are going to lead the Corinthian church out of the doctrinal and practical troubles in which they find themselves. Courage will be necessary if the men at Corinth are going to “be watchful” and “stand firm in the faith.” Courage is needed because our roles and our responsibilities as men will require us to make hard decisions, to take risks, and to lead others in true doctrine and practical godliness.

But the development of courage is not the result of marshaling our will power and grinding out obedience when confronted with trying circumstances. Such an approach to courage will often lead to one of two extremes: irremediable discouragement in the face of failure, or harsh, overbearing, sporadic attempts at leadership. Neither of these is the fruit of genuine courage, for courage does not flow from the strength of our own wills, but from faith in God’s promises. We see this connection between faith and courage illustrated in the book of Hebrews.

In Hebrews 11:1-40, we are given several examples of Old Testament saints who accomplished great things for God because they were empowered and emboldened by believing in God’s promises of future blessing and a spiritual inheritance. In several cases, courage was required to act in obedience to God’s call. In each of these instances, it was faith that provided the needed courage.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God….By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

Heb 11:8-10, 24-26

Notice that it was faith in a future reward that enabled Abraham and Moses to act in courageous obedience. If we are faced with temporal loss and difficulty, the only way we can give up what is valuable to us—possessions, comfort, reputation—is if we are certain that we will someday receive an inheritance that makes the troubles of this life pale in comparison to the glory we will experience (see also 2 Cor 4:17-18). When it comes to godly masculinity, it is faith, and faith alone, that unlocks the courage we need to carry out God’s call to lead in the home, the church, our place of employment, and in the public square. 

But courage must be guided in the right direction, so godly masculinity requires intentionality. We might heed the call to resist passivity and cultivate courage, but we will find ourselves soon discouraged and confused if we are not channeling our activity and boldness in a specific direction.

Scripture extols the virtue of intentionality in both the Old and New Testaments. Proverbs, for example, praises diligence, planning, thoughtfulness, and the pursuit of wisdom (Prov 4:7, 26; 12:24, 27; 20:18; 21:5). In the New Testament, we find Jesus exercising unwavering intentionality. He had divinely-mandated priorities to which He held, even when outside expectations didn’t match these priorities (see Luke 4:43; 9:51).

Paul expressed his intentionality often. “I make it my ambition,” Paul tells the Roman church, “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Rom 15:20). Whether at home or in the body, Paul’s aim was to please Christ (2 Cor 5:9). The goal of his teaching was love from a “pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). He confessed to the Corinthians that he did not run his Christian race aimlessly (1 Cor 9:26), and he instructed the Thessalonians to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thess 4:11). To the Ephesians Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:15-17). Over and over Scripture exhorts men not only to pursue courage, but to adorn and direct that courage with intentionality.

What does courageous intentionality look like? What is important to capture is that the exercise of godly leadership will be thoughtful, well-planned, grounded in biblical priorities, and mostly proactive rather than reactive.

Practically, men, this means we will need to spend time thinking over every area of responsibility with which we’ve been entrusted for the sake of making sound decisions and noting areas for improvement. You may not think of yourself as a self-reflective person and confess that such habits do not come naturally to you. Organization and long-term planning are a struggle for you and always have been. Nevertheless, intentionality in your leadership will require you to spend regular time reflecting on how you are stewarding your leadership. 

Leadership Characterized by Love
But there is one more element to godly masculinity that we must include before we move on. Immediately after Paul instructs the men in Corinth to be watchful, strong, and courageous, he gives a piece of instruction that is meant to motivate and flavor the godly man’s every activity. “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor 16:14). Just as there is the danger of jumping right into mere activity as the answer to passivity, so there is also the danger of mistaking male dominance for godly leadership. If our efforts to resist passivity and develop a heart of courage are not motivated by a love for those we are leading, then what is intended to be beneficial will turn beastly, and what is meant for good will lead to harm. We may say a lot of good things, but it will just be noise to our hearers (see 1 Cor 13:1-3). 

I cannot emphasize this point enough. Leadership is not a right to claim for the glory of our own reputations.2 Leadership is a burden we bear for the good of others. If we do not do all things in love as Paul instructs, we run the risk of dominating rather than leading those under our care. We also run the risk of mistaking unilateral decision-making for genuine leadership.

If we do not do all things in love as Paul instructs, we run the risk of dominating rather than leading those under our care.

Therefore, everything that we do as men must be done in love. It’s no coincidence that Paul would put love and courage together in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. Paul knows himself, and he knows what happens to guys when they’re told to “act like men!” The temptation is to respond to this exhortation with unreflective, thoughtless zeal. But love tempers all our actions with kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and a willingness to forbear the weaknesses of those we lead (see 1 Cor 13:4-8; see also 1 Thess 2:7-8).  

What is Love?
When I refer to the primacy of love in Scripture generally and in the area of mature manhood specifically, I am not referring merely to warm feelings we might have toward others. Rather, I am talking about genuine affection for the people under our care that expresses itself in concrete acts of service and life-giving leadership. While heart-felt affection is an essential quality of love (see 1 Peter 1:22), Scripture never detaches this affection from the truth. That is why Paul said, when describing the character of authentic love in his first letter to the Corinthians, “love does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). True love, therefore, is biblically-informed love.

But how do we define love? The simplest way to define love is to say that love seeks what is best for the other person. We can find this definition in Jesus’ own statement in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus’ death on the cross secured our deliverance from the wrath of God and provided us with peace with God, wholly apart from our works or inherent righteousness (see Rom 3:21-26; 4:5). Jesus’ love for us compelled Him to do what was best for us: rescue us from eternal wrath and bring us into fellowship with God. In the same way, Christ’s disciples are to “love one another,” by laying down their lives for the good of others.

But in order to do what is truly good for others, we must first know what is good for others. That is why Paul prays that our love would grow “with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil 1:9). Our spiritual senses must be continually honed by the Word of God so that we might recognize the will of God and truly labor for the good of others (see Rom 12:1-2; Eph 5:17). We might have affection for those we lead, but unless we are informed by Scripture as to what is most beneficial to them, we will not lead them in what is best.

For example, if you believe that what is best for your child is an Ivy League education, academic and athletic achievement, wide and varied life experiences, and a lucrative post-college career, then your love for them will guide you to make these attainments the priorities in his or her life. But is teaching our children to focus on these kinds achievements what is best for them? While success in each of these categories can be a blessing and may serve to make us more useful in God’s kingdom, none of these are the priorities of Christ’s disciples. What is most important—what is best—for those we lead is that they come to know and walk in faithfulness to Jesus Christ (see 1 John 2:3-6). It might be that faithfulness to Jesus leads us to pursue an education at Harvard or Yale. And faithfulness to Jesus will always require us to perform our work with excellence (Eph 6:5-9). But love for those whom we lead will dictate that we make their character our paramount concern, not the location of their college or the number of letters after their name.

Love Provides Wisdom
Love is essential to the task of leadership because love enables us to act with wisdom. This is because true, Spirit-endowed love enables us to perceive people, events, and situations from a proper perspective and to make decisions accordingly. Bitterness and resentment blur our vision; love gives us clarity. As one author has rightly noted, “It is love which sees straight, thinks clearly, and makes us balanced in our outlook, judgments and conduct.”3 Even the great Reformer John Calvin observed that love empowers the Christian to act with wisdom. “To sum up,” Calvin wrote centuries ago, “love will give every man the best counsel.”4 When one’s heart is full of love, they do not need a long list of rules or situation-specific principles in order to make God-honoring decisions that benefit others. As we are informed by Scripture and walk by the Spirit, God Himself teaches us how to love those we lead (see 1 Thess 4:9).

Practically, love enables us to deal with others tactfully. J. Oswald Sanders defines tact as “intuitive perception, especially a quick and fine perception of what is fit and proper and right.”5 Loving leadership is not unreasonable or forceful, but sensitive to the needs of people in a given set of circumstances. Sanders continues, “[Tact] alludes to ones ability to conduct delicate negotiations and personal matters in a way that recognizes mutual rights, and yet leads to a harmonious situation.”6 Paul says it this way: “Love…is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor 13:4-5). James says it like this: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18). Love provides us the wisdom with which we can navigate difficult situations with sensitivity and care.

Love Empowers Courage
As it turns out, it is love that actually enables us to act in courage. Paul makes this connection explicit in his first letter to Timothy when he reminds the young pastor that “God gave us not a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). We can understand the contrast between fear and power, but fear and love? What’s the connection? Paul juxtaposes fear and love because he knows that genuine affection for people enables us to labor for their benefit, even when confronted with difficulties. “Love is the only power greater than fear,” as one author has wisely observed. “When one truly loves God and his neighbor enough to give himself for them, fear is cast out.”7

Paul also knows that Spirit-empowered courage is not an obnoxious brashness or recklessness. Courage—if it is going to endure and be useful to others—must be fueled by love. We will often find that cowardice likes to wear the guise of impudence and forcefulness. This leads to inconsistent jolts of pushiness, not true leadership. Love, however, enables us to move gently yet steadily and decisively ahead with our plans to labor for the good of others.

Courage and intentionality are essential to the cultivation of mature manhood. But without love, all our efforts will come to nothing (see 1 Cor 13:1-3). Reflect much on God’s love to you (Rom 5:8) and ask Him to stir your heart to love those under your care.


1. What I have in mind here are the traditional ways, at least in Western culture, that men have honored women. Some examples would be a men holding doors open for women, men standing up at the table when a woman enters or leaves the room, men defending women from violent perpetrators, and so on.

2. See John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006): 39.

3. John Stott, The Letters of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1988), 99.

4. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. Maxwell, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1509.

5. J. Oswald Sanders, Dynamic Spiritual Leadership: Leading Like Paul (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1999), 51. 

6. Sanders, Dynamic Spiritual Leadership, 51.  

7. Jay Adams, Teaching to Observe: The Counselor as Teacher (Woodruff, SC: Timeless Texts, 1995), 124. 

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