Outside of my role as a vocational minister of the Word, I’ve enjoyed contributing to my community through coaching cross-country for middle school and high school students. To say that I enjoy it does not mean that it’s fun—at least, not for the students. I am not a “fun” coach. Actually, some of the kids have jokingly nick-named me “Pharaoh” because of how hard I push them. And I’m particularly tough on the boys—all the way down to our youngest 6th graders. We have good relationships off the field, but they know my expectations on it. During practice, especially during our long runs, there is no walking, no whining, and no whimpering. Part of my coaching philosophy is that we want to train our boys to be tough. Not rough, but tough. It’s because we hope for them to grow into tough men. Why?
Because the church needs tough men.
Again, I did not say the church needs rough men. Yes, Scripture calls men in the church to be humble, meek, and tender-hearted, and to do all things in love. And I did not say that the church needs men to show tough love as the world understands it. The church doesn’t need tough love; it needs tough men—men who refuse to fold in the face of hardship, and men who refuse to surrender in the face of opposition. Through such men, God desires to carry out his great redemptive work.
I don’t intend to circulate the false teaching of macho-masculinity. The world doesn’t need rough men, and neither does it need stupid men—knuckleheads whose biceps are bigger than their brains. The last thing we need are more churches trying to get men to join their membership by marketing their latest Cross-fit ministry or MMA gathering. (For the record, I have nothing against Cross-fit or MMA as such, or Christians engaging in either. But these two activities are not a mandatory aspect of Christian discipleship.)
We need more Christ-like men, not Rambo-like men. What is the portrait, then, of biblically tough men? Well, it has little to do with a man’s physical or athletic prowess. There are a lot of large, strong, athletic guys who are spiritual wimps. The biblical portrait of a tough man is described by Jesus when he spoke of John the Baptist. Jesus commended John for being the greatest man born of a woman, prior to Christ’s coming (Luke 7:28). John was Christ’s forerunner—the most significant role that a man could have played in redemptive history up to that point. To fulfill that role, he needed to be tough. How did Jesus describe John’s toughness to the people? He did so by describing what the people did not see when they saw John.
But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!Luke 7:25
In John they Did not see a Fragile Man
Jesus said that John was not a “reed shaken by the wind.” Reeds get shaken by the wind, but rocks don’t. John was a rock, not a reed. He was a man who was not easily unnerved. He didn’t have a quick panic button, nor did he constantly talk about how tired or burnt out he was. He wasn’t a man who continually demand personal time off whenever he had a headache or a stomach pain. Nor was he a man who who talked about quitting. The church needs men who aren’t fragile reeds that break at the slightest wind currents.
The ministry of the gospel is carried out by men who can handle hardship, who have a high work capacity and a high tolerance for pain, who continually bounce back from disappointment, who find solutions to problems rather than whine about them, and who maintain their position for the sake of the gospel in the face of the stiffest and most threatening opposition.
In John they Did Not See a Feminine Man
Jesus said that John was not a “man dressed in soft clothing.” The Greek word for “soft” here describes an effeminate man—a man who purposefully acts like a woman. The world may have its silly debate about gender, gender choice, and gender fluidity—whatever people today mean with those terms. That means nothing to the Christian, for God’s Word is clear that men ought to act like men in character, clothing, and conduct. There’s nothing wrong with being feminine. Indeed, biblical femininity brings glory to God every bit as much as masculinity does (see Gen 1:27). But let femininity be exhibited by women, and masculinity by men. The church needs men who are committed to behaving like men.
In John they Did Not See a High-Maintenance Man
Jesus said that John was not one who was “splendidly clothed and lived in luxury” like the men who are “found in royal places.” On the contrary, John lived in the wilderness, eating locusts and wild honey while dressing himself in camel’s hair. Not exactly your Calvin Klein model who needs a spacious home with HD TVs in every room, a personal study, and a Tesla-only transportation policy. Today, unfortunately, there are way too many men who may have a sincere heart to do God’s work but are simply too high-maintenance in the standard of living they insist upon to carry out their ministry. It’s the honest reason why I believe we don’t have more missionaries. Men simply require too much, and love money too much. John the Baptist wasn’t like this. Neither were any of Jesus’ apostles. Neither was Paul. And most importantly, neither was Jesus. In the same way that I can’t work with cross-country runners who demand a sip of their smart water every 30 seconds of running, the church can’t use men who insist on having the world’s luxuries in order to invest in the work of God.
Spiritual toughness doesn’t save men—only Christ saves through his gospel. But in a world that is hostile to Christ and persecutes his followers, the furtherance of the gospel in a dark and decaying world is a ministry that requires men to be tough.
So men: be tough. The salvation of people is at stake.