What is mature, Christlike manhood? This is an important question for the church. It is important for each man who calls himself a Christian. It is important for every father of boys, every father of girls. It is important for church leaders. It is important for those who want to support and pray for their leaders. It's important for those who are concerned about the next generation of church leaders, and how to raise them up.
Ever since the Fall, the saddle that is manhood has been greased by our sinful nature. Men consequently slide off naturally into the ditch of passive abdication on the one hand, or the ditch of aggressive domination on the other. Or they slip and slide like a passive-aggressive pendulum. But Christlike manhood is not passive or aggressive. Christlike manhood is courageous and meek. It learns to ride on the saddle by grace. It is proactive, not passive. It is humble, not full of hubris. It has backbone of spiritual steel, and heart of Spirit-wrought sensitivity.
We must keep our eyes on Jesus, the perfect Man, who was perfectly tough and perfectly tender. He was the man who wound a whip of cords and upended tables. He was the man who tenderly tended to and blessed the children. He was the man who looked the religious establishment in the eye and called them hypocrites and snakes. He was the man who lovingly lifted the shame-heavy heads of repentant prostitutes and told them to go - forgiven and clean - in peace. He is the white-hot holy King of Kings whose eyes are a flame of fire (Rev. 1:15), who will break the rebel nations with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:9). And a bruised reed he did not break, and a smoldering wick he did not quench (Isa. 42:3; Mt. 12:20).
Last summer, on vacation, I read C.S. Lewis' brief journalistic essay, "The Necessity of Chivalry." [Here I am this summer, on vacation, posting this!] In it, Lewis looks to the Middle Ages and Sir Thomas Malory to find a succinct description of chivalry. He quotes Sir Ector's words to the dead Launcelot.
"Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest."Then he goes on to say,
The important thing about this ideal is, of course, the double demand it makes on human nature. The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth.
The medieval ideal brought together two things which have no natural tendency to gravitate towards one another. It brought them together for that very reason. It taught humility and forbearance to the great warrior because everyone knew by experience how much he usually needed that lesson. It demanded valour of the urbane and modest man because everyone knew that he was as likely as not to be a milksop.
If we cannot produce Launcelots, humanity falls into two sections - those who can deal in blood and iron but cannot be "meek in hall", and those who are "meek in hall" but useless in battle.... When this dissociation of the two halves of Launcelot occurs, history becomes a horribly simple affair. The ancient history of the Near East is like that. Hardy barbarians swarm own from their highlands and obliterate a civilization. Then they become civilized themselves and go soft. Then a new wave of barbarians comes down and obliterates them. Then the cycle begins over again. ...nothing much else can happen if the "stern" and the "meek" fall into two mutually exclusive classes. And never forget that this is their natural condition. The man who combines both characters--the knight--is a work not of nature but of art; of that art which has human beings, instead of canvas or marble, for its medium. ...the maintenance of that life depends, in part, on knowing that the knightly character is art not nature - something that needs to be achieved, not something that can be relied upon to happen.Chivalry need not be dead. I, for one, labor to revive it. Society at large is in such dire need of a swelling wave of such men. But greater than the revival of chivalry in society is the revival of Christlike manhood in the church. It is rare these days. I lament the fact. We most certainly cannot sit idly by and expect it to just "happen."
But there is hope! Not in a recovery of "medieval ideals." Not by learning the "art" of knight-making. But in a generation of fathers (and mothers) who fix their eyes on Jesus. Fathers (and mothers) who, by the power of the gospel, learn and live Christlike tenderness and Christlike toughness. Fathers (and mothers) who image-forth that Christlikeness for their sons (and daughters) to see. Fathers (and mothers) who authentically and intentionally point their sons (and daughters) to the true manhood that is found in Christ. Fathers (and mothers) who wisely and intentionally point out perversions and caricatures of manhood (and womanhood) portrayed all around us in the culture. Fathers (and mothers) who learn to stay, by grace, on the greasy saddle -- not falling off into the ditch of passivity and abdication or the ditch of aggression and domination.
This kind of revival seems like a tall order. And it is. But we have the Triune God on our side.
God the Father is able and eager to form the character of his Son in his sons.
God the Son, our example, leading the way, for us. His blood-bought grace is the power to pursue him.
God the Holy Spirit loves to open our eyes to see Jesus in all of his tough and tender glory, that we will become like what we admire (2 Cor. 3:18).
Chivalry need not be dead. Let's be part of resurrecting it. And, infinitely more important, Christlike manhood need not be rare in our church, in The Church. Jesus died and rose again to give it birth. Let's be part of raising generational wave upon generational wave that will flood marriages and families and churches and society with the tough and tender blessing of Jesus.