The qualifications for being a husband are simple but not easy. A man has to be a man, not just physically but in the full sense of the word. And a man has to be godly.
In their book The Silence of Adam, Larry Crabb, Don Hudson, and Al Andrews point to the interconnectedness between godliness and masculinity. “The only way to be manly,” they write, “is first to be godly. In our day, men are looking for their manhood more than they are seeking God. Too many men make the mistake of studying masculinity and trying to practice what they learn without paying enough attention to their relationship with God.”
Understanding the unique way in which you were created doesn’t make you fully a man. Getting married and having a family doesn’t make you a man. Success in the marketplace, great wealth and power, the honor and praise of the culture—these are not the measure of real masculinity. To be fully a man, you must commit yourself to the pursuit of godliness.
It’s almost a paradox, the idea of a godly man. Not because a man is incapable of godliness, but because of what is at the root of the idea of godliness in the Scriptures—we are called to live out our masculinity with courage and in fear.
The fear of God
There is a difference, however, between fearing God and being afraid. In fact, Moses, after receiving the Ten Commandments from God, appeared before the Israelites, who were filled with fear. “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:20).
“There is a fear that is slavish,” writes John Piper, “that drives us away from God, and there is a fear that is sweet and draws us to God … . God means for His power and holiness to kindle fear in us, not to drive us from Him, but to drive us to Him. His anger is against those who forsake Him and love other things more.”
In his book One Home At a Time, Dennis Rainey says, “God is not feared today. In fact, He is mocked by our immorality, our treatment of unborn human life, our broken commitments, and the selfish, ‘me-first’ attitude that characterizes so much of what we do. Even in the Christian community, we are strangely silent about the fear of God. There is little teaching on judgment for sin, and the place of eternal torment called hell. We haven’t rejected God. But we have conveniently recreated Him in our image. We have reduced the Almighty to our level.”
Today there is such an emphasis on God’s great love for us that we have forgotten what it means to fear him. We don’t see him as a consuming fire, but as a kindly grandfather who chides us when we are mischievous, but always with a twinkle in his eye and only a faint sternness in his voice. Don McCullough writes, “We prefer to imagine a deity who happily lets bygones be bygones, who winks at failures and pats us on the back to build our self-esteem. But according to Scripture, ‘God is love.’ And love devoid of judgment is only watered down kindness.”4
“Act like men”
Paradoxically, that fear of God ought to be the basis of great courage in us. As men who fear God, we learn that we are not to fear other men. “Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul,” Jesus taught, “but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Our fear of God should produce boldness in the face of opposition from men.
Tucked away at the end of his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul gives a solemn charge to those men who are leaders of the church. “Be on the alert,” he writes, “stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). In those five simple statements, he calls the men who lead God’s church to a foundational quality of masculine godliness. He calls them to be men of courage.
In fact, some translations of the Bible take the clause “act like men” in 1 Corinthians 16:33 (andrizesthe in Greek) and translate it “be courageous.” Earlier, Paul had chastised the Corinthians for acting like babies. “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food,” he wrote, “for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able” (1 Corinthians 3:2). By the end of his epistle, Paul exhorts his readers to act like men. The expression “act like men” is a call to maturity, to conviction, and to courage.
In our hearts, we know we ought to fear God, but our sin nature keeps us from doing so. In the same way as men, we know instinctively that we ought to be courageous, but again, we are caught in the conflict between flesh and spirit—between what we know we ought to do and what we often choose to do. Instead of acting with courage, men today too often choose not to act at all.
In the face of danger, in the face of adversity, a man is to respond in courage. If a husband is going to fulfill his calling to love and lead his wife, he is going to need to draw on his courage and his convictions. He will have to stay alert to spiritual and physical danger. He will have to stand firm in the faith and to lovingly lead his wife to stand firm with him. He will have to be courageous and act like a man.
Frederica Matthewes-Green talked about men and courage in an essay aired on National Public Radio. “It’s part of the guy job description,” she said. “Whenever there’s danger, any man is expected to protect any woman at any cost. This is true no matter who she is; it’s not an honor awarded only to his wife or daughter.”
“We hear plenty of persistent, and sometimes justified, complaining that women get a raw deal in life, that men get all the breaks. But we forget one thing guys do for us, without thinking, over and over again. It’s something we expect from them; we may even take it for granted. We expect them to risk their lives.”
While we may have the courage to protect our wives from imminent danger, are we men enough to step out on the courage of our convictions and to protect our wives from spiritual danger? Are we alert enough as men to even know when spiritual danger is present?
Today men may still act instinctively to protect a woman from harm. What is lacking, however, is the moral courage needed to lead and protect a wife from those things that would lead her into temptation—“the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Too often we lack that kind of courage and leadership because we are vulnerable to the same temptations. Taking a courageous stand in the face of moral temptation requires that we first be willing to deal with our own sinful tendencies in those areas.
When the Word of God calls us to courage, it anticipates the likelihood that we will abuse that call. So Paul writes, “Let all that you do be done in love.”