Jim Daly, the president and CEO of Focus on the Family, has written an excellent book titled Marriage Done Right. It contains many good messages, but one statement hit me particularly hard as I was reading: “Marriages often fail because of confusion about true manhood.”
According to popular wisdom, men fit into a specific and limited mold: Real men are tough, highly competitive and obsessed with sex and sports. They won’t admit when they’re wrong (or lost) and are relationally dim-witted buffoons.
While there might be some truth in those statements, they are ultimately just culturally perpetuated stereotypes about men. They don’t tell even half the story. So what does Scripture teach about true masculinity?
Scripture taught me to be a man
For me, Scripture paints a much brighter picture of manhood. This is best summed up in the apostle Paul’s exhortation found in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love” (NIV).
Let’s consider how this verse applies to a man’s role in marriage:
Be on your guard. The United States Oath of Allegiance is a promise that must be made by all immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens. One of my favorite lines reads, “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Husbands could learn a lot from this.
My wife, Erin, needs to feel protected from outside attacks. That means “I’ve got her back” against anyone or anything threatening or hurting her. It would include bugs, rodents, intruders, angry family members or disrespectful teenagers —all threats, “both foreign and domestic.” It also means shielding her from spiritual attack whenever possible.
Stand firm in the faith. In a Christian marriage, a “real man” puts Christ first. A strong relationship with Christ is the foundation for a great marriage. Otherwise, marriage becomes an idol. This happens when we place unrealistic expectations on our wife — expecting her to be the source of fulfillment that will perfectly meet all of our needs. But Philippians 4:19 says, “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (NIV).
The greatest commandment says that we are to wholeheartedly love God first (Mark 12:28-31). When God is our top relationship priority, He abundantly provides a supply of love. We are only able to love our wife because Christ first loved us.
Be courageous. Courage isn’t just searching the house for an intruder after your wife hears a noise at 2 a.m. More often, courage is displayed on a day-to-day basis when a man provides for his family. I have a good friend who recently confessed that he hates his job. But I’ve watched this man faithfully work to the best of his ability. He is living out Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (NIV). That’s courage. Another friend was laid off and instead of waiting for the “perfect” management job, he started working at a hardware store so that his family could eat and have a roof over their heads. That’s courage.
Courage also encompasses telling your wife about your failings and mistakes, and being willing to suspend harmony temporarily to initiate conversations about the hard subjects with your wife. Courage means not waiting for your wife to bring up an uncomfortable topic; instead, you lead by refusing to sweep problems under the rug.
Be strong. Your wife wants to experience your physical strength, conviction, stability, humble confidence and leadership. She wants a man she can depend on. This isn’t strength like that of a Navy SEAL or UFC fighter. Instead, the word gentleman comes to mind. Your wife wants strength without ever feeling endangered. She wants a man who is both strong and tender.
You show strength when you change a lightbulb hanging high up in the air, carry that heavy box, take the family to church after an exhausting week, stand up to a disrespectful family member.
Do everything in love. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV). Sacrifice is the true evidence that we love our wife. Sacrifice is giving up something that we possess and that we value (time, money, comfort, sleep, expectations, desires, preferences, hobbies) for someone we consider more valuable. It’s one thing to serve our wife — to help out or assist — but serving her has deeper meaning when it costs us something.
Scripture has also taught me the importance of loving my wife through sacrifice. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16, NIV).
Jim Daly is right. Many marriages today are floundering because men are confused about their masculinity. Thankfully, we don’t have to take our cues in this arena from movies, TV shows or cultural trends. Scripture offers a wealth of guidance on how to live as a godly husband. Learning to do so will benefit our wives and our marriages.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author of several books, including Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage.