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Manly Men - a Rare Sight
The first sin
Eve got a bad rap. Yes, she took of the forbidden fruit and, thereby, plunged humanity under the curse. But where was Adam? Just standing there. What was he thinking? Had not God created him to be his vice-regent over the rest of creation? Had he not received his orders from God before Eve had been created? (Genesis 2:15-17) The first opportunity comes for him to exercise his God-given responsibility. He fails miserably. The first sin was Adam's sin of omission.
So God comes calling and they both hide because they are ashamed of their nakedness. By the way, every stitch of clothing we wear betrays that we are a fallen race. Billion dollar clothing industries owe their existence to the fallenness of humankind. But I digress. God's ensuing curse affected not only Adam's ability to cultivate the land but his relationship with Eve. She is told "he shall rule over you." This describes the sin-induced distortion of the man's original responsibility to exercise loving headship over the woman. Under the curse women experience their men erring in one of two directions, both a reflection of the curse upon men.
Passivity and Aggression
Men will go to one or the other of these extremes in their interaction with women. Adam illustrates the first, passivity. Lamech shows us the second, aggression (Genesis 4:24). He boasts to his two wives, Adah and Zillah, that he has killed a man for hurting him. And it continues on generation after generation. Abraham lied about his wife Sarah, not once but twice. In so doing he put her at risk and brought upon himself not only God's disapproval but the rebuke of the heathen. Isaac did the same.
Oscillating between passivity and aggression
Yes, there are many men who seem to camp out on the extremes. My own experience is one of oscillation between the two. By "my own experience" I refer to my own struggles as well as my counseling encounters. We oscillate back and forth depending on our current degree of self-confidence; the audience before us or the circumstances. A man can have a reputation for assertiveness bordering on aggression at work, but come home to be a total patsy in handling family crises. On the other hand, he can throw his weight around with his wife and kids only to be milk-toast in public.
Men are to love; Women are to respect!
Who said that! Paul in Ephesians 5:33. So women need not bother to love and men don't need to respect? Of course, that's a ridiculous conclusion. But why does the Apostle use different terms to describe each gender's responsibility? Paul knows about the curse. Fallen men are most vulnerable to err in our responsibility to love our women as Christ loves the Church. Fallen women, on the other hand, are most vulnerable when it comes to respecting the role to which men have been called. Paul desires that, in Christ, each gender find it possible to reverse the curse to a significant degree. It won't be perfect, but it will be noticeable.
Manly men restored in Christ
How exactly does the Gospel transform a passive or aggressive man into the loving head of his home. The Gospel is powerful, but it doesn't work like a magic potion. God most often chooses to work gradually to renew a man's heart from the inside. There is wisdom here, because as the man changes, there will be adjustments called for in his wife and kids.
First, the man comes to really believe that Christ in the gospel has forgiven him and made him a child of God. That undercuts his fallen need to assert himself in ways that are harmful.
Secondly, he finds himself hankering to be more and more like his Savior. That's because Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has taken up residence within. Values, priorities and ambitions begin to change.
Thirdly, he begins to act courageously to address his wife's and family's needs. He finds himself listening with his heart, feeling their distress before offering solutions.
Fourthly, his newly found confidence in the Lord enables him to wait God's timing for change. He doesn't have to fix matters. Rather he speaks truth and acts love, leaving the change desired in God's hands.
Fifthly, since he knows that his fallen condition has earned him hell itself, in Christ he finds it utterly surprising that anything good comes his way. He knows he's not entitled to his wife's affection or his children's respect. When, by God's grace, he experiences them he's thankfully surprised. So he often and enthusiastically affirms the good he finds in them and thanks them from the heart.
My wife, Joy, and I are in our 50th year of marriage. How is the gospel working? Well, let's take our laptop crises. Joy sees a fried hard drive as certain proof that Windows 7, Hewlett Packard and Office Depot have conspired to make her life miserable. I, on the other hand, just see dollar signs going up in smoke! I stuff it and move on to something more likely to offer me the illusion of control, like doing a load of laundry, vacuuming or walking Dolly. Do you detect a conflict abrewing.
So what does a man still growing in godly manliness do with a wife feeling whipped by her laptop? He's figured out that the situation does not call for fixing but for faithfulness; not for solutions but for sensitivity. So I listen, we together call tech support, we both go back to Office Depot. See, I'm as technically challenged as she is, maybe more so. I just act it out differently.
I've come to see all marital crises as replays of the garden debacle. Will I, like Adam, abdicate my calling to loving headship or will I act as a manly man by the power of Christ in me. I think I'm growing in this regard. But Joy would be a better judge of that. So in another 50 years this man will be a little more of a manly man. And Joy will continue to be the patient loving wife she's been the first 50.
Postcript: When Joy read this, she announced, "In another 50 years I'll be perfect!" She's right. And I'll be a perfect manly man! Wonder if we'll know each other in heaven.