Out of a heart of courageous love, mature manhood senses and assumes a God-given responsibility to lead, protect, and provide for those under his care, for their temporal and eternal benefit.
I’ve chosen these words very carefully. I say that mature manhood “senses and assumes” the responsibility to lead, protect, and provide because there may be times when a man is unable to fully assume one or more of these responsibilities. For example, it could be the case that a man has been injured either in his mind or his body and is therefore unable to work and to provide financially for his family. But just because he is unable to assume the responsibility, does not mean that the mature man does not sense the calling to do so. Although he may be unable to provide for his family at this particular time, the mature man would love to do it. He desires to provide for his family and for those around him, but due to his physical condition, he is unable to for this particular season.
The Blessing of Godly Male Leadership
The idea of male leadership seems to be under significant attack in our society. Sadly, the rejection of male leadership is the rejection of God’s blessing because God intends that good leaders be a source of prosperity for His people. We see this in the life of David. Note David’s words from 2 Samuel 23:3-4:
The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
Despite his sin, the kingdom had flourished under David’s wise, humble, God-centered leadership. David’s rule was characterized by justice and in the fear of God, and as a result, Israel enjoyed spiritual and material prosperity. Godly male leadership was like warm sun and pleasant, life-giving rain. We do well to keep this truth at the center of our thinking about male leadership. Men are tasked with leadership to bless those under their care and to labor for their good.
Godly Male Leadership Takes the Initiative
But how do men lead others for their blessing? In order to truly lead, a man must take the initiative. And he must not take the initiative only once or twice, but continually throughout his life. Why? Because leadership, by definition, is antithetical to passivity. Adam, among other things, waited for someone else to fulfill his responsibility to guard his wife from the serpent. Because he didn’t take the initiative at a crucial moment, we are today experiencing the tragic fallout from his failure to step out in bold leadership. But in what ways are men expected to take the initiative? We will look at six specific areas.
To Set the Example
First, men are called to take the initiative to set the example. A man deficient in character, integrity, or a personal walk with Jesus Christ is not able to lead effectively in any area of his life. We must be able to say to those under our care and within our sphere of influence, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (see 1 Cor 11:1). This does not suggest that we must be perfect or sinless before we can start leading. Perfection is impossible in this life and we will always be troubled by some measure of sin and weakness on this side of heaven.2 Nevertheless, genuine leadership demands that we make progress in personal holiness and spiritual growth so that we demonstrate authenticity in our leadership. We cannot lead others spiritually to a place where we have not already been, nor will we win the confidence of those under our care if we preach but do not practice (see Matt 23:3).
To Cast a Biblical Vision
Second, men are called to lead by casting a biblical vision for those under their care and within their sphere of influence. One might think that this notion of casting a vision derives mainly from contemporary leadership theory rather than Scripture. But the responsibility to cast a vision is not the exclusive prerogative of corporate CEOs. Casting a vision is vital because it enables obedience to God’s Word and motivates our followers to continue following us. “A real leader’s aim,” one author observes, “is to make everyone around him better. He makes them stronger, more effective, and more motivated.”3 People are strengthened, made more effective, and motivated when they are captured by a biblical vision. That is why we find regular examples throughout the Scripture of men casting a vision for their people.
We find Moses casting vision as he tells Israel to follow him into the wilderness. He reminds them of God’s goodness and tells them of future reward so they are able to hope in God through their troubles (see Deut 8:1-9:5). We see Samuel encouraging Israel to repent of their sin of asking for a king on the basis of God’s goodness and kindness (see 1 Sam 12:20-23). We see the prophets reminding disobedient Israel of God’s intention for his people and His plan to restore them in the future (Jeremiah 29:11-13; 33:11; Zeph 2:7).
But best of all we see Jesus casting vision as He gathered His disciples for ministry. In a brief, concise sentence, Jesus shows us how to cast vision for those whom God has entrusted to our care.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.Matt 4:17-20
Notice how Jesus calls His disciples. He first says, “Follow me.” He could have stopped here if He chose to. Jesus was the self-authenticating God-man, and His very presence and the words “Follow me” could have induced obedience on their own. But Jesus does more than just call for immediate obedience. He provides these men with compelling motivation. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Follow Me, and you will be part of something bigger than yourself. Follow Me, and I will transform you into the men you were created to be. Follow Me, and you will experience the joy of living for the eternal benefit of other people. That’s vision, and it creates happy followers.
Men, there are plenty of opportunities to cast vision in your respective spheres of influence. In your local church, for example, you can cast vision in order to draw a few other men around you to begin a weekly prayer and Bible study meeting. Explain to your brothers why regular fellowship, prayer, and corporate reflection on the Scripture are vital disciplines in their walk with Christ. If you’ve been entrusted with a ministry at your church, take the initiative to cast a compelling biblical vision for the servants in that ministry.
Husbands, take some time to craft a vision for your family. Write down spiritual goals, hopes, and dreams for your family, and set that document in a place where you will be regularly reminded toward what you, your wife, and children should be striving. If you’ve been invested with leadership responsibility at work, think of ways to develop a culture of integrity, respect, and diligence among your colleagues. If you are a single man in a dating relationship, take the initiative to cast a vision for your girlfriend about how you desire the relationship to proceed, how you plan to protect her emotional and physical purity, and what you believe a godly romantic relationship entails.
To Plan for the Good of Others
Third, men must take the initiative in planning for the good of others. After we take the initiative to establish a biblical vision for those within our sphere of influence, we must apply that vision with concrete strategies for implementation. Again, we are drawn to the example of Jesus as he proactively planned for the good of His disciples during the Passover immediately preceding his death on the cross.
But before we study this particular example of Jesus planning for the good of His disciples, we must step back into a time before history to grasp the theological foundations for this idea. Specifically, we must consider what God the Father and God the Son were doing before the very foundation of the world.
Prior to creation, God the Father was making specific, detailed, well-ordered plans with his Son for the good of His people. Note carefully the language of planning in Ephesians 1:3-10:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (emphasis added).
Before the foundation of the world, God the Father was making plans with His Son to save His people. The method, the means, and the final goal of salvation were all charted before God said, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). And when the Son came into the world, He continued in this pattern of planning for the good of His people.
On the feast of Unleavened Bread, very near the time Jesus was to be executed on the cross, His disciples approached him and asked, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover” (Matt 26:17)? Despite the fact that Jesus was facing imminent betrayal and death, his response to this question was void of panic or frustration.
He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.Matt 26:18-20
Jesus’ response is noteworthy because we often, when confronted with a question about future plans, become offended when such inquires appear to be questioning our initiative. At the very least, we typically find ourselves caught off guard because the question is about something we have not yet considered. “I don’t know! I’m too busy,” we might reply. “I don’t really want to think about these things right now. I’d rather be doing something else.” Jesus, however, was not offended by the question or caught off guard by it. Why? For the simple reason that He had already made plans for the Passover supper with His disciples. Jesus planned for the benefit of others. We see similar preparation by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:13-14, for example, where he indicates to the church at Rome that he planned to visit the church in order to bless them spiritually through the preaching of the gospel.
What this means, brothers, is that we are called by God to plan for the good of others. If you are in a romantic relationship, the burden lies upon you to direct the relationship in a Christ-honoring direction, whether it is planning dates or time together, or charting how you will discuss future plans, marriage, and other important issues. Certainly, your girlfriend will have a part in the direction of the relationship and will suggest and make plans as well. But we should feel the weight of failure and that our masculinity has been compromised if our girlfriends are handling the majority of the planning and leadership in our discussions.
Whenever I ask a Christian young man about the direction of his relationship with his girlfriend, I am often met with pious sounding language that centers around God’s will. “Well, if God wills, then I would like us to get married someday.” Or, “You know, we can’t know the future, but if the Lord wills I could see myself marrying her.” While this may appear as spiritual maturity, it is actually a pious-sounding guise for indecision and an unwillingness to make a commitment. While it is wise to humbly submit to God’s sovereign will of decree and recognize that he ultimately in control of our futures (James 4:13-16), it is equally foolish to neglect God’s revealed will of desire which makes it clear that the direction of the relationship and whether or not we get married is primarily up to us men.4
Similarly, if you are a husband or daddy, this means that you cannot leave all the family planning—how your family will conduct devotional time, handle discipline, spend money, go on vacations, etc.—to your wife. This does not mean that a wife cannot make plans for the family in these areas. Indeed, one of the joys of managing a home is overseeing the daily and monthly family schedules.
For example, my wife excels at planning and organization, and she is regularly planning fun outings for our family, creative ideas to weave Scripture memory and theology into the lives of our two boys, and time for us to spend alone together. But I have failed in my leadership if I become passive in the area of planning and leave it all to my wife. If I am going to fulfill my renewed Christian manhood, then I must courageously make plans for my family and take an active interest in what my wife is planning.
To Reconcile Broken Relationships
Fourth, men are responsible to take the initiative by reconciling broken relationships. We find the theological basis for this responsibility in the gospel, for it was Christ who sought reconciliation with His bride while she was still in rebellion against Him (see Rom 5:6-11). Christ made the first move toward healing the breach in our relationship with Him and provided everything required for true reconciliation. We did nothing but respond to his gracious call of reconciliation. Husbands are now called to model Christ in this way by loving their wives and laying their lives down for them (Eph 5:25). Christ laid down his life to reconcile His bride, and we must be willing to lay down our life—usually our pride and bruised ego—for the sake of reconciliation with our bride.
Practically, this means that husbands must lead in pursuing reconciliation in the relationship any time there is a breach of relationship. A mature man will feel the weight of this responsibility whenever there’s relational trouble in the home, especially when he is to blame. But he will feel this weight even if the fault for the marital rupture belongs primarily to the wife. It is possible for a wife sin against her husband in a way that leaves him innocent of wrong. But even in such cases the Scripture places the obligation upon the man to, like Christ, make the first move of reconciliation. Again, this does not mean that the wife cannot and should not initiate forgiveness and restoration when there is a problem in the relationship with her husband. If she is a Christian, she is obligated by Scripture to pursue peace and reconciliation with her husband (see Matt 5:23-25; 18:15; Luke 17:3). But a man will compromise his masculinity if this direction of initiating reconciliation becomes a pattern and he is no longer taking an active role in healing the breach in his relationship with his wife.
For single men, I believe the responsibility to reconcile relationships with your sisters in Christ still resides upon you. Although marriage provides clear parameters within which to understand the dynamic of male and female relationships as they pertain to leadership, the creation order itself draws us to conclude that men generally bear the unique responsibility to take the initiative to solve relational problems. That is, there will be a strain upon the created order when men—at church, with their sisters and mothers, at work with female colleagues—passively allow women to be the primary initiators in healing broken relationships between themselves and other men.
To Make Decisions that Benefit Others
Mature manhood also takes the initiative to make decisions that benefit others. Many of us, however, are often indecisive on important issues because making a decision requires that we live with the consequences of that decision and risk the possibility of disagreement with others. Thankfully, Jesus gives us both the grace and the example to help us cultivate godly decisiveness. We see such an example as Jesus ministers to His disciples just prior to his death on the cross.
In John 13 we find the stirring narrative of Jesus humbly serving His disciples by washing their feet. The practice of washing feet, however, was typically reserved for the lowliest servants. Surely, Jesus would not stoop to such a level to wash the smelly, dirty feet of His disciples. Yet, stunningly, Jesus removes his outer garments, girds himself with the towel, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5).
Peter, however, aware of the socially unacceptable event about to take place, rejects Jesus’ initial attempt to wash his feet. “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’” (John 13:6). But Jesus does not circumvent or ignore Peter’s objection. Rather, our wise and winsome Lord explained to Peter the reason for His actions in order to win his doubting disciple to His position. But Peter continues to object: “Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet’” (John 13:7-8).
Yet, such resistance did not impede Jesus from following through with His decision to wash Peter’s feet. Our Lord knew that it was good for Peter to receive his Master’s foot-washing ministry, despite the social awkwardness of such a practice. What we see here is essential to our understanding of godly masculinity: Jesus was willing to make an unpopular decision for the good of those to whom He had been entrusted. But Jesus did not merely ram the decision through without first explaining to His disciples the purpose for actions. There were specific and very important purposes in Jesus’ act of washing of the disciples’ feet.
First, Jesus was providing His disciples with an earthy illustration of a spiritual reality. It was required of the disciples, if they were to truly have fellowship with Jesus, that they submit themselves to Jesus’ cleansing of their hearts from sin. The washing of their feet symbolized their need to yield to Jesus’ ministry to them before they rendered service to Him (John 13:8). Secondly, Jesus was supplying them with an example of how they were called to serve one another.
Once Jesus explained the reason behind His actions, Peter happily yielded to His plans. There is much wisdom here. Not only does this story imply that leaders must be willing to, at times, make unpopular decisions, it also teaches us that it is possible and preferable to win those with whom we’ve been entrusted to our side. If we are always making unpopular decisions or if we are constantly unable to win those under our care to embrace our decisions, then we are poor leaders who need to re-examine our source of wisdom and approach to leadership.
We also see in this episode that making decisions for the good of others often requires self-sacrifice. Indeed, the entire plan of salvation that God initiated in eternity past was a self-sacrificial plan. God would give up His Son to death, and the Son would bear the punishment for sins He did not commit for the eternal benefit of His people. In the upper room, Jesus girds Himself like a lowly servant in order to serve those who had been entrusted to his leadership. Sometimes our decisions will be unpopular because we fail to adequately win others to our position. But sometimes our decisions will be unpopular because they are self-serving decisions that mainly benefit us. Christ shows us a better way. Men, if we are going to exercise godly masculinity, then the overall flavor of our decisions should be one of self-sacrifice where we lay down our own lives for the sake of those we are leading.
Making decisions that benefit others also requires men to cultivate a sober mind (see Titus 2:2; 1 Pet 1:13; 4:7; 5:8). When we hear the phrase, “sober mind,” we might think that Scripture is calling us give up fun and creativity and embrace a life of dull seriousness. Far from it. The Old and New Testament make it clear that godly manhood rarely, if ever, ends in dullness. Rather, sober-mindedness in relation to decision-making is vital because it enables us to think clearly about potential decisions and weigh our options without being tossed to and fro by the whims of emotion or circumstance.
Though not an evangelical Christian, George Washington exemplified this characteristic of sober-mindedness particularly well. In his book 1776, David McCullough describes Washington’s unique ability to set aside the vision-blurring effects of wishful thinking. Had we not known the outcome of the Revolutionary War, most of McCullough’s historical narrative would have us wondering how the fledging American colonies could possibly overcome the English military. Washington had endured multiple defeats on important battlefronts, and the possibility of American victory seemed to decrease with every passing winter month. Important decisions had to be made if victory was to be even a faint possibility, and these decisions needed the clear-eyed judgment of a man who drew on reality as it was, not what hoped it would be. “Seeing things as they were, not as he would wish they were,” McCullough explains, “was known to be one of Washington’s salient strengths.”5
This descriptive sentence from McCullough illustrates well the character quality of sober-mindedness when it comes to making decisions. When confronted with trying circumstances, mature manhood makes decisions based on life as it really is and the appropriate biblical principles, not on wishful thinking or hope for a different situation.
To Draw on the Strengths of Others
Finally, mature manhood senses and assumes responsibility to lead by taking initiative to draw on the strengths of others. One of the burdens of godly leadership is the responsibility for making decisions. That means, practically, that the husband bears the weight of making significant family decisions and living with the consequences of those decisions. What this does not mean, however, is that good leadership should be equated with unilateral decision-making.
For the first few years of our marriage, I held to the false notion that good leadership was gauged by how little input or advice a man received from his wife when making large-scale family decisions. As you would expect, this often led to conflict in our marriage, not because my wife craved my role as leader, but because I ended up making poor, ill-thought decisions! I believed, wrongly, that it was a threat to my leadership if I sought out wisdom from those around me, including those I was called to lead. How glad I was—and how happy my wife was—when I started to realize, from Scripture, that a feature of excellent leadership is its ability to exercise wisdom in drawing on the strengths of others. “A wise man listens to advice,” Solomon reminds us (Prov 12:15).
As a woman, my wife has insights into life and church and relationships that I simply do not have. She has strengths that I do not possess. It is foolish in the extreme, therefore, to not consult these insights and access these strengths when making decisions. There are times when my wife has better ideas or better solutions than I do in certain circumstances. It is not weak leadership to utilize these ideas and solutions. On the contrary, it is a sign of strong, wise leadership when a man can listen to his wife’s wisdom and incorporate her good ideas into the planning and decision-making process. Masculine immaturity breeds an unwillingness to listen to a woman’s wisdom and insight. Mature masculinity gladly receives such insight and uses it for the benefit of those under his care.
And this principle applies to married and single men. Men should never feel threatened by the advice of another woman or be unwilling to seek it. That bit of insight she offers may be God’s gift to you so that you can implement a plan superior to the one you were going to implement.
Implied in this call to make profitable use of the wisdom of other women is the responsibility of men to exalt the female gender. Godly men should be the first to praise the godly women in their midst and thank God for the blessing of femininity. What a glorious gift women are to our families, to our church, and to the world! Men should take their cues from the biblical authors at this point.
For example, although Scripture places the burden of leadership squarely upon the man, it is also careful to extol the beauty and goodness of the woman as she fulfills her role. Proverbs 31:10-31, while maintaining the woman’s role as the one who nurtures new life and cares for the home, also tells us that the God-fearing woman is trustworthy (v. 11-12), hard-working (v. 13-15, 19), competent in finances (v. 16, 18, 24), physically strong (v. 17), generous to the poor (v. 20), devoted to the needs of her family (v. 21), sensible to aesthetic beauty (v. 22), and full of wisdom and kindness (v. 25). Her character endows her inestimable worth (v. 10) and a well-deserved reputation (v. 23).
Luke extolls the godliness and faith of women regularly in his Gospel (Luke 1:26-38; 39-45; 46-56; 57-66; 2:36-38; 8:1-3), while the apostle Paul spoke highly of women as he labored alongside them (Rom 16:3). Peter wrote of women whose character was precious to God (1 Peter 3:4) and who exercised courage in the face of frightening circumstances (1 Peter 3:6). Of course, our model is Jesus who treated women with respect and dignity even when such treatment was unpopular or socially unwarranted (see Luke 7:36-50; 13:10-17).
So godly masculinity takes the initiative to lead by setting the example, casting a biblical vision, planning for the good of others, reconciling broken relationships, making decisions that benefit those under his care, and by drawing strengths of others. This is a weighty burden that cannot be borne alone. We need God to supply us with strength and wisdom to carry out our task. Happily, He has given us his Holy Spirit to enable us to fulfill our role as men (see John 14:16-17).
1. I am indebted to John Piper’s work in his article, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible” for helping me craft this definition of mature masculinity. See Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 31-59.
2. In the past and even today some Christian teachers argue that it is possible to achieve a kind of perfection in this life where willful (as opposed to inadvertent) sin is no longer a problem for the mature believer. This teaching is not only contrary to Scripture; it can cause significant problems for the Christian, including intense discouragement and depression, spiritual pride, and self-deception. The Scriptures tell us that although Christians have a new nature, they will fight and struggle with sin—even a temptation to commit willful sin—until they reach heaven (see Rom 7:14-23; Col 3:1-7).
3. John MacArthur, The Book on Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 37.
4. For a concise yet very helpful discussion of discerning God’s will, I recommend Kevin DeYoung’s, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Chicago: Moody, 2014).
5. David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 161.