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Biblical Manhood

Truth in Love 435

What is biblical masculinity, and why is it important for men?

Oct 10, 2023

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast I have with me, my friend, Dr. Greg Gifford. He’s an assistant professor of biblical counseling at The Master’s University. He earned his PhD in Biblical Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s University and a B.A. in Pastoral Ministry from Baptist Bible College. He has worked as both a full-time biblical counselor and associate pastor before joining the team at TMU, counseling in both nonprofit and local church settings. Greg also served as a captain in the United States Army from 2008 to 2012, after which he transitioned to counseling ministry. He has published two books, Heart and Habits and Helping Your Family through PTSD. He’s a certified fellow and counselor with ACBC, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and he’s an ordained pastor. When not teaching, Greg enjoys working on his Harley, wrestling with his three boys and eating good food with his wife. Greg, it’s great to have you again. 

Greg Gifford: Thank you for having me. 

Dale Johnson: It’s always fun. I love getting to hang out with you. Now we’re going to talk about this issue of biblical manhood, which I think is really critical in the day and time that we live in. For clarity’s sake and that we make sure that we’re tethered to the Bible as we think about these issues because certainly the Bible tells a different story than the cultural narrative that we see happening right now. And it’s really interesting where we’re going to start here. And you may think that this is an obvious answer when I ask this question but I think our culture dictates that we offer clarity on this particular subject. So what makes a man a man and not a woman? 

Greg Gifford: Well, it’s interesting because this has been a question that’s asked of a woman in recent years, and when Supreme Court nominees are scrapping for words to answer that question, it did indicate something had changed within our culture. And to answer the question, what does it a man and what is a woman? It does entail that you’re coming from a worldview and so we see a lot of worldviews exploited as being empty and shallow because you are at times scared of stepping on a political landmine by the way you would answer that question. So that worldview, if you remove some of the absolute truth, for instance, the absolute truth of Scripture, then you are waffling a little bit, you trying to figure out how to answer that. So, I find that the counterbalance of our culture right now is to be able to have clarity on what is a man and what is a woman. In my lane is more biblical masculinity. That’s where I counsel or pastor boys personally. And so femininity is not my lane so much, and so, as we’re thinking this through what makes a man, a man and not a woman. We’re at least thinking of two broad categories and that’s your biology, the way God has made you, and it is He who has made us, not we ourselves, and then, secondarily, it’s the biblical characteristics of a man.

So, I would say biology and Bible, Bible does inform masculinity and it provides helpful counterbalances to those that are perhaps more feminine and it also provides helpful counterbalances to those that I would say are an over macho-wised version of a man. So we’ll talk more about those. But big picture, what makes a man a man, and not a woman, it’s the way God has made you and the way the Bible describes you. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah. I like that. I think it helps us to understand biology says something about us there. Romans 1, there are natural things that God has made in the created world that tells us about who we are. But then roles and responsibilities that He’s given to us as men and to women specifically that I think are important. Now a lot of words are being spoken and inks spilt on this issue of masculinity and some of the ink that’s being spilled is talking about this issue of masculinity in terms of its toxicity. And I think it’s important that we sort of distinguish what we’re describing here about biblical masculinity. So, why does it matter that we talk about biblical masculinity?

Greg Gifford: Yeah because I think to a certain degree there have been toxic males, and you can’t watch the news without seeing men who have used their power to hurt others that are around them, both male and female. So, toxic masculinity, if you’re saying that a person is acting unmanly because they’re using the gifts God has given to them to take advantage of others. Yeah, I could agree with that, you know, exploitation is wrong and it’s unmanly. It’s unmanly because it actually contradicts who God has created you to be.

So when we talk about a biblical man, we have to begin to jettison some of our cultural expectations of manhood and adopt what the Bible is telling us because in so doing, we’ll recognize that sometimes their culture gets it right and says hey this is what a man should be doing and so that’s what we do our best to honor, but then other times, our culture gets it wrong. So, we uphold the authority of Scripture in understanding masculine men. And I don’t say that to be redundant, but seriously, it’s just say, we want to be men who honor the Lord and this matters now because in a certain way counseling helping men who have become unmanly and I don’t mean like something weird out of that, “He stopped watching football,” you know. All right, I just mean when you have a husband that’s not loving his wife like Christ loved the church. That’s something God has called him to do as a man. And so, he is acting unmanly by not loving her or by not being a godly spiritual leader in her life. So, for him to act unmanly has nothing to do with camouflage or driving a truck. It’s for him not to be a leader in his home. So counseling is policing that up to a certain degree, but if you were a godly man already, he wouldn’t need that prompt from a biblical counselor to say, “Hey, man, you need to step up your game in this area.”

Dale Johnson: Yeah. I like the way you’re distinguishing that and I think it’s really helpful when we talk about toxicity. There are ways in which we would say, yeah people are even using sort of biblical categories, but overstepping their bounds in what they’re responsible for to God. And then it becomes very toxic and we’re going to talk about this in a second I’m going to ask you about some of the character traits, but we see biblically, I like the way you qualified that, biblical masculinity, that is a distinction. That’s so important that we have to allow the Scriptures to drive what we’re talking about here in masculinity. One of the ways that I describe it is there are sort of two ditches when we think about masculinity, where we can, we can fall into, that’s different than what the Scripture calls us to.

First, tyranny. If a person is responding or using what they’ve been given to steward in a way that is tyrannical or they are domineering over people or simply using others for their own personal benefit, that is not a biblical view of masculinity. Yes, men have been called to lead but not in such a way that we’re abusing people or domineering or being tyrannical over them. That’s really important for us to distinguish. And then on the second side of that, the other side is people want to correct that sinful expression by swinging the pendulum sort of to the other side which is to make men passive when biblically that’s an untenable position. Man being passive to all sorts of devices and problems. I would argue that one of the root problems in Genesis chapter 3 was Adam being passive, and his wife Eve eats the fruit and gives it to her husband who was with her, right? He’s being passive so we can see problems when men don’t do what men are called to do on both sides of this issue. And so we need a correction here and biblically, we need to be unashamed to correct both sides of that.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about character traits. People have questions. You mentioned the whole camouflage bit; you mentioned football, trucks, Harley’s, He’s chewing tobacco, I’m stepping on your toes… Yeah we sort of have these traits that we think are masculine and we push those, you know, in a certain direction and that can be a faulty lane to run in and I think we need to correct that with some biblical traits. So, talk about some of those biblical character traits. 

Greg Gifford: I’m going to make one observation and then, answer the question directly, what was interesting about Mark Driscoll’s rise and fall is that it really did resonate with men who were looking for direction. But the problem is it became Mark Driscoll’s expectations of manhood, and so, it often entailed getting married, buying a house, and it’s like, well, I mean those are nice but you can be a man and rent or you can be a man and not be married. And so that was, you know, a year and a half ago and CT started publishing some of that. And it really did get me thinking through character traits, in addition, our men’s ministry at church asked us as elders. They said, hey, what is it that we would really hang our hats on and what a man should be and what’s kind of the vision of the good life for manhood? So, it got our Elder team talking about this as well. And so, some of the character traits that I would say are distinctive for men; they’re not absent in women, but if it’s missing from a man, then there’s a problem.

So for instance, to be courageous is a masculine character trait, and 1 Corinthians when Paul says act like men, it is to be bold, be courageous in that way. So, a man when he isn’t acting courageously is actually acting in a way that is unmanly, and we would never commend a man to be a coward. And that’s going to transcend any culture. Okay, purity is going to correspond and Paul tells Timothy to treat women with purity. You’re going to see that a calling of an elder is a one-woman man. So yes, you are called to be pure as a woman for sure, but some of the emphasis that’s places on the young men is to conduct themselves with purity. I would add acts in a way that is honorable to women and the differing roles of that woman, sometimes that’s protector, sometimes that’s provider, sometimes that’s helper, sometimes it’s amusing his gifts. In the Scripture, I think there is evidence where provisions are made on behalf of women and those provisions are expected of men. So, a man is acting in an unmanly way when he’s dishonorable to women, minimizing, uncaring, not nourishing, and cherishing his wife. Proactive, you mentioned this a second ago. A man who is proactive is a man who exercises the leadership God has entrusted to him. He is gentle and not harsh. Husbands called not to exasperate his wife and his kids, and then, hard-working. Men are called to be hard-working, and a man is unmanly when he’s lazy. So if you had those and you were to say, what are the distinctive of what it means to be a man and not a woman? Those are what the Bible expects of men in the way that they’re to conduct themselves in general. 

Dale Johnson: I think that brings a lot of clarity and as we would do with any type of issue within the church, I mean, we have to define and begin in a place that the Scripture describes something or defines something and then we work out from there and just as in all truths that the Scripture gives us their intended to be practical. Yeah, we want to think ideologically well about these things from a biblical perspective, but that’s never divorced or separated from how we do things in the practice of life. And this is important that as we’re sitting in the counseling room, for example, we have a measuring stick and it’s not a cultural one. It’s a biblical one on how we’re going to engage a man according to his roles and responsibilities that God has clearly given to him to accomplish and this is intended to be graceful. This is intended to be helpful in whether it be marital relations or or whatever. And so, as we think about counseling, how do these truths about biblical manhood really affect the counseling room? 

Greg Gifford: Well, think of it this way, imagine a young man that you’re meeting with that’s pretty mature and comes from a good home. Father was in that home that was a godly dude and he knows generally what it looks like to be a man. He saw his dad do it. He saw his dad loved his mom. He saw his dad say hey, go open the door for your mom. A man that’s missing that really is behind the power curve to a certain degree. So when we meet the man who has missed godly fathering and biblical fathering, and we meet him in the counseling room. He’s at a disadvantage to a certain degree. He doesn’t know what it’s like, and for a dad to be absent, passive, whatever it is. It really does injure young men. Because they’re missing out on that biblical modeling.

So I would say then, if we’re not careful, counseling is reparative, but it doesn’t actually give us what you should have been in the first place in discipleship, men’s ministries, just a common understanding of what a man is actually will police up some of the counseling problems that come passivity, lack of love, harshness, anger those things. So I always felt and sometimes I still feel this way. It’s like we challenged guys to step up their game, but we don’t identify what the game is they should step up to. So you’re like, hey man, step up your game, and they’re like, “to what?” To more stuff, of course, and they never had an understanding of what a biblical role of masculinity or the biblical role of a man was in the first place. So, by identifying these, I think it will help prevent counseling situations. And then, in counseling situations, we are seeing deviations from what God has called a man to be. He’s not working hard. He’s angry, he’s disrespectful to women, he’s not pure, he’s not courageous. So we’re policing that up, but it would be best if men’s ministries and churches all had a clear vision for what a man was according to the Scripture. So then counseling could say, hey, that’s what you’re supposed to be according to God’s word. We’re trying to help you get back there. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s so important because we miss this aspect where we become problem-focused, we just want to, yeah man, that feels like it’s wrong and we want to fix it in a certain way. And when we have a tendency to overcorrect, or we respond to the cultural narrative instead of like centering ourselves on the biblical ideal, that’s what I call it typically is the theological ideal, what is it that we were made for, and we’re supposed to be doing because then you can see, as you mention, you use the word deviation. You can see the departure from that much more clearly in the counseling room; you can see how it’s problematic and then you can learn to repair it. You know what you’re restoring when you have that clarity in mind.

One of the places, Greg, that I’ve seen this is if when I’ve counseled children where there are difficulties in the home. And you know, I’m engaging the child but I never engage the child without also engaging the parents and I want you to talk for a little bit about how this could be important when we think about parenting. And this could be from a preventive standpoint or remedial standpoint where we’re trying to help parents to think well about how to train their young men or, you know, their problems in the home and we’ve got to help them restore what’s broken here?

Greg Gifford: I mean, it is my personal perspective and you brought up, you know, the counseling children. If the home is in chaos and disorder, then meeting with that child is not very fruitful most of the time because the marriage has to get some things fixed first. And if you have a dad that is angry, unkind, volatile, then don’t be surprised if there’s a ten-year-old in the house that’s angry, unkind, volatile and they’re just replicating what they see; they are little image bearers and little imitators after all. So in that way, we are identifying as biblical counselors what’s kind of the root issue and what’s the priority and some of the triage in this. I honestly think if you start with the father and help him live a life that’s honoring to the Lord, that’s going to affect the marriage and it will affect then the parenting strategies within the home. But you and I have both been in situations where Dad just wasn’t involved. And when dad’s not involved, mom’s trying her best, she’s trying to help the child. She’s trying to give good parental discipline and structure but it honestly it still is a subpar alternative because dad’s not on board, dad’s not doing anything. So by focusing on Dad and getting him to be part of the process, you do see that that’s part of God’s design for a home and for a marriage. As you would have a godly man that is leading a marriage and leading in the home.

So for kids, I mean at times it stinks because it’s not that we wouldn’t counsel kids or wouldn’t disciple, encourage them that youth ministries are important. But if you have a dad that is just a really difficult person, then the reality is that you have kind of a roadblock and a hindrance to your own progression in that way. So you almost have to be cognizant of that. And then overcome that “Hey, I can’t be like dad on this or I can’t respond like dad on this.” But then think of it in a positive way like godly dads often create this environment of peace and their kid’s lives aren’t in chaos and they’re not in chaos, and their marriages aren’t in chaos. Why? Because God’s honoring and God is honoring his commitment to the Word, God’s honoring the dad’s commitment to being a biblical father and there are implications obviously for those that are single as well. But that just I think it continues to attest to the importance of biblical masculinity. 

Dale Johnson: I think what you’re doing is helping us to see the beauty of God’s design and when we see it flesh out well, you see the benefit of that to some degree. So, what are the ways biblical counselors can help parents when talking about this issue of biblical manhood?

Greg Gifford: Oh my goodness, I am so passionate about helping young men be comfortable and being men number one and there’s almost like a reverse discrimination for just being a man. And as a young man you need to be confident that God has made you the way he has made you and He has made you the gender He has made you, and as a parent, we need to help instill that confidence. We trust the Lord has made us and we are His and He has designed us in His infinite wisdom. So we want to be good at that and parents have to be comfortable and cultivating that within their sons and then secondarily helping instill in them what that actually looks like in North America. Most of our listeners will be here, I’m guessing, so in North America, what does it look like to be a man who is courageous, pure, respects women, is proactive?

There are even little things that I think are helpful for you to distinguish with your young boys. And I’m speaking of, like 13 and down. We’re talking about young boys. Help them identify what does it looks like to be a man in their context. How do you expect them to stand up to others that are being bullied? One of the things that we practice in my home is even things like social etiquette as a man, opening doors for women, helping carry bags for women, this may sound silly to you, I’d tell them a little bit about how I would expect you to greet other people and handshakes, eye contact, things of that nature. And so we’re helping disciple these young dudes to grow up so when they are college age, young marrieds that we’ve instilled or at least given a vision of what right looks like to these young men, but if we’re not giving them any direction and we’re just letting them kind of figure it out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get a lot of that information from YouTube, or from their friend group, which may not always be the best influence or some random social media account that they follow. So us, as parents, have to be very proactive in instilling biblical masculinity into these young men. And helping them see this is what God’s called you to be and you should be very comfortable and proud of that.

Dale Johnson: Greg, this has been really helpful and it’s something we need to continue to speak boldly about and be okay and comfortable with speaking about because the Bible is very clear on this. And I would say the beauty of what God has designed not just in manhood and womanhood but in the way those two things come together in the family unit, it’s the fabric of the social structure. And when we see right now, in part because we’ve abandoned some of these ideas. We see the fabric of the social structure deteriorating, and rapidly so, and we see a beauty of recovery when we speak, teach, practice these biblical principles, which really masculinity is self-sacrifice for the good of other people, and the protection of those who are around you. And that’s a part of what it means to be courageous. There is so much more that we could say. We’re going to, for time’s sake, have to close out here, brother. Thank you for tackling this topic and showing how this relates to the counseling room. 

Greg Gifford: Thank you, and for some of the listeners, you guys should know that Dale and I work on a TV show/project called Transformed. And I’d encourage you guys to check some of that out as well, as we even express this in the counseling room with folks. So, thanks for having me.

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