What Does It Mean to Be Masculine?

Man in suit

Photo credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

I recently posted on Man Up & Take Me! Alpha Male or Beta Hubby? and a conversation flared in the comments section about whether the term “alpha male” was appropriate for Christian husbands and whether masculinity includes taking charge in some way. After all, wasn’t Jesus the ultimate man and he was humble, meek, and sacrificial as he gave his life for us on the cross?

Without getting much into my use of the term “alpha male” — which I intended in the more colloquial usage than the scientific definition — the post made me think more about what we wives want our men to be. We want them to be masculine, right? But what traits are masculine traits?

I’m hardly the only one asking these questions. Bestselling books like Iron John: A Book about Men by Robert Bly, Wild at Heart by John Eldridge, and the recent The Book of Man by Bill Bennett indicate that people are reevaluating what a “real man” should look like. Stu and Lisa Gray of Stupendous Marriage mentioned another book, Point Man by Steve Farrar, in their podcast just last week. I also recently discovered a blog called The Art of Manliness, which covers topics as wide as writing love letters to your wife, waxing your car, and understanding retirement accounts; its motto is “reviving the lost art of manliness.” But what is manliness, or masculinity, anyway?

Dictionary.com defines masculine as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness” and manly as “having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength or bravery.” Surely, though, strength, boldness, and bravery are not merely male qualities. I can think of numerous women who possess them — women who are not manly in the least.

So what is this elusive set of traits? What does it mean to be masculine?

Jesus is indeed the ultimate example.

Sculpture of David

By jimmyweee (Jerusalem Uploaded by russavia) via Wikimedia Commons

For this post, however, I want to look at the person about whom the Bible says: “God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do'” (Acts 17:22). Don’t we want our husbands to be men after God’s heart?

So what was David like? Here’s what I see from the life of David.

He was a protector. David was raised to be a shepherd, protecting his father’s flock. He watched over the sheep and, if they were taken by a lion or bear, he rescued the sheep from its mouth. In the same way, David protected Saul’s life twice when he had the opportunity to take it, but he waited instead on God’s timing and protected the king God had put on Israel’s throne.

He was a warrior. David fought the giant Goliath; he delivered the foreskins of 100 Philistines to secure marriage to Saul’s daughter Michal; he forced the Philistines out of Israel; he defeated Moabites, the Edomites, the Ammonites and the Arameans. About him, the Israelite women sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

He was a lover. David had eight wives and pursued each of them. He liked women and how they looked. That’s how he ended up committing a huge sin with Bathsheba. Yet, it wasn’t his desire for a woman but the wrong context that was condemned.

He was a leader. Before becoming king, David was given command of 1,000 men and led troops in their campaigns. When King Saul pursued David, four hundred men gathered around David and “he became their leader.” He garnered the loyalty of his men such that three of them risked their lives merely to bring David water when he thirsted.

He was an artist. David played the harp and was so good that he worked in the king’s palace playing for him. He wrote over 70 psalms and collected more. His prayers and songs express heartfelt emotions and honesty before God that have touched generation after generation. David danced before the Lord with freedom and passion.

He was a friend. The story of Jonathan and David is one of an incredibly close bond between friends. Later, the Bible tells of another friend, Hushai the Arkite, who infiltrated Absalom’s camp on David’s behalf and warned David to save him from an attack.

He was a provider. David spread his kingdom and attained wealth that he shared with family, friends, and citizens throughout his reign. But one of my favorite stories of David is how he sought out Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, and gave him a seat the king’s table to provide for him. After Absalom defiled David’s concubines, David kept them in the palace and provided for them without sexual relations; he didn’t have to do that, but he did.

Certainly, these characteristics can be found in women as well, but I think that the way David made them a priority and how he carried them out demonstrates something about true masculinity. Make no mistake, however: David wept; David grieved; David showed his emotions. At no time did he lose his manliness by wearing his heart on his sleeve.

I think David’s life can teach us a lot about manliness. The one time he is rebuked harshly in the Bible for his actions is when he became selfish and allowed his manly desires to get out of control. The prophet Nathan then brings him to task for taking what was not his to have. In that moment, David was not a protector, a provider, a friend, a leader… When he sinned with Bathsheba, he was a man, but not a manly man. And he humbled himself and was contrite before God for using his masculinity for self-gain.

All of these roles I see in the life of David (and in Ephesians 5) suggest a balance. Indeed, those things that typically make a man (higher levels of testosterone, greater body strength, competitiveness, etc.) are all traits that can be focused into being a man after God’s own heart or being twisted by Satan to become heartless.

Leadership can be twisted to become subjugation.
Strength can be twisted to become violence.
Protection can be twisted to become control.
Sexual love can be twisted to become forbidden lust.
Even self-sacrifice can even be twisted to become someone’s lapdog or doormat– not God’s intention at all.

So what is masculine? I can’t exactly define it. I know it when I see it. I see it in the life of David, Jesus, and — thank you, Lord — my husband.

I know when my husband is being a leader — in a man’s way, not in my way; a provider — in a man’s way, not in my way; a lover — in a man’s way . . . you get the point.

Also, he kills the bugs. I do not (not, not) like cockroaches, but he doesn’t bat an eye as he slays those exoskeletal dragon-like creatures for me. I don’t know if that’s technically masculine, but I like it. It makes me want to say, “Oh yeah, that’s my man!”

Your turn. I’m opening this up for you to tell me what you think masculinity is or looks like. I consider this an ongoing conversation, so let’s see what you all come up with. What makes a male a man? A godly man? A godly husband?

Sources: Jewish Virtual Library, Devotions for Growing Christians, Bible Gateway

28 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to Be Masculine?

  1. Ian Hunter

    I think you did a GREAT job with your list of attributes (protector, warrior, lover, leader, artist, friend, provider). I hate to pile yet another book on your list, but there’s a guy with a slightly less “sit around by the fire with men / Wild-At-Heart meets Iron John” kind of take named Stu Weber. Steve Farrar actually wrote the forward to his book, “Tender Warrior,” in which he breaks it down this way: there are four “pillars” of manhood, “King, Warrior, Mentor, Friend.” It’s a really really good read, I got more out of it than Wild at Heart and Point Man.

    1. J

      Ian, I appreciate another recommendation. Not being a guy, I haven’t read much in this arena. Now you’ve got my interest (and probably others’) piqued! Thanks.

  2. Brittney

    I think its dangerous to even use words like feminine or masculine. While you make great points about leader, protector, artist, etc. there are such cultural connotations surroudning these words. I have female friends who are very caring, nurturing, and strong (things I consider Biblically feminine) however they aren’t part of society’s standard of femininity. They are not soft, “pretty” they have short hair and never wear dresses or makeup. Often (even in our church) they are told to “be more feminine” and it hurts them. They are being who the Lord created them to be, but feel pressure to fit in a mold. I think the same goes for men.

    I think we should discard “masculinity” and “femininity” and instead ask what characteristics the Lord requires of all of us. Aren’t the things you mentioned good for a women as well? Shouldn’t we protect our family? Provide for them (the Proverbs 31 Woman did!) I want to lead our children someday (no kids yet). I want to be all the things you called out…but will that make me “masculine?”

    Enough with the gender roles. Let’s just search for the virtues Christ laid out and seek them, no matter if we are male or female.

    1. J

      Brittney, I agree that the “characteristics the Lord requires of all of us” are more important than our gender roles. But I don’t think we can discard discussion of what it is to be a man vs. a woman because “masculine” and “feminine” have been misunderstood, misused, and even abused by the world.

      In the creation story, the Bible says, “In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). God Himself made a distinction early on, and I think that distinction (difficult as it may be to fully define) is one of the reasons that a man and a woman in marriage can both complement and challenge one another.

      By the way, one of my favorite biblical women was Jael (Judges 4) who used her (for lack of a better word) “femininity” to draw the enemy into her tent and then WHAM! killed him with a tent peg. She obviously had a bit of the warrior in her too, but she seems so (still can’t think of a better word!) “feminine” in how she does it.

      Thanks so much for your input. I was hoping to get some good conversation from this post!

  3. Sara with an H

    I think this describes a man’s man perfectly! I too hate cockroaches, and my husband kills them without batting an eye. I consider that protecting 🙂

    He also helps me when I start to worry and panic a little. He always reminds me that God is in our corner and He won’t let us fall.

    When I need a hug, he snuggles with me. When I need to cry, he lets me. When I need to be angry, he lets me storm about until I calm down. And when I need HIM, he’s there for me. Every time. Without question. When I want to watch a chick flick, but don’t want to go alone, he comes with me. I don’t think it makes him any less manly. In fact, I think it makes him MORE manly. I love the fact that he’s able to put away his “manliness” for a couple of hours to keep me company through a cheesy Rom Com.

    I could go on and on, but I feel like my husband is a manly man, and I try to remind him of that every day 🙂

    1. J

      Thanks for sharing this, Sara. How wonderful! I have noticed that when I feel really awful, there is something about my husband embracing me that makes me feel loved and secure. And it feels quite different from being hugged by a close female friend.

  4. Jason@SongSix3

    Ha! Lovin’ the cockroach killer story!

    I get huge kudos and a big ol’ smackeroo on the kisser whenever I take down another one of the big nasty snakes that loves to stalk our chickens.

    Excellent examples of David’s life here, J… and Jesus was certainly manly when the situation called for it. Overturning tables (ALONE!) in the temple against an angry crowd took guts. He stared down an entire village while the woman caught in adultery cowered in fear. (Has ANYONE ever figured out where that adulterous man escaped to??) He showed NO fear to the men standing there with large rocks in their hands, but then turned and showed ultimate love and compassion to the woman, as he forgave her sin.

    To me, manliness is using all these things that God gave us guys (physical strength, brains, logical thinking, courage, bravery, prowess in the bedroom, etc…) to LOVE and PROTECT our wives – and NEVER using these things to get “our own way” or to hurt an innocent. I’m sure there are more things I could think up given time. But I’ll stop there.

    Thanks for this post J! Excellent, as always!

    1. J

      How interesting. I don’t think I would balk at a snake — not that I wouldn’t let hubby deal with it if he volunteered!

      I have a friend who tells her sons that they must use the strength God gave them to protect others, not to overpower them. I love that approach. As I look at your list of manly traits, it seems that Satan distorts all of those things at times and makes it a challenge for men to know what a Real Man looks like. Yet all of those traits, used in godly ways, make for better relationships and a better world. Jesus definitely showed the way for that!

      Thanks, Jason!

  5. Scott

    J~ Great job! I especially like your description of how manly traits can get twisted into something God never intended. You reply to Brittany was great too. I think we need to understand what the Bible means when it says he created us as male and female, because I think he did it on purpose for a reason. After all, he could have set things up any way he wanted to, but he chose male and female, or should I say masculine and feminine.

    1. J

      Thanks, Scott. I agree that God could have set this up any way He wanted, but for some reason He chose male and female. Since I really like my man’s manliness, I’m quite happy with the arrangement! Hubby seems to like my lady-ness too. 🙂

  6. Anonymous

    I agree with Brittany. There are the same CHARACTER traits but manifested differently because of the male/female distinciton in biology, physiology, pshychology etc and roles given by God.

    As for the quoted books, especially Eldridge’s – at one sound thological analysis you will find the heresies. Do you assign to God characteristics of humans, as feminine and masculine characteristics? Or do you see God as He reveals Himself – and He does so not by comparing with us but by giving some metaphors (could a mother forget the child she is nursing? but even is she would, I wil not forsake you).

    So as far as I am concerned, this “”biblical masculinity and femininity” is just another movement and “fashion”in “christianity”in SUA and Canada. For centuries, christians have lived their roles and lives whithout all these disturbing arguments and endless definitions.

    As for David, it is interesting WHY he was called a man after God’s heart? Because he was an artist? a pursuer of his 8 wives? not to mention the rest of the list…COME ON!!!! Get serious!

    E

    1. J

      E – I am serious in offering this up for discussion. I think it’s reasonable for Christians to ask WHY God made us male and female and what that looks like. What I don’t particularly understand is the “COME ON!!!! Get serious!” I think we can have this conversation respectfully. You and I are obviously both concerned about what God desires for His people. Also, I did indeed say that these traits exist in women and are manifested differently, so I agree with your statement to that effect.

      (And of course God isn’t in favor of the 8-wives plan, but David lived in a polygamistic society. I actually think he would have been an even better king had he pursued only one wife and kept himself only unto her since that was God’s original design.)

      I’d like to hear more about what you think these “roles given by God” are for men. How would you define them? I genuinely do want to hear from others not just where they have issues with my take, but what their own take is.

    2. Anonymous

      The COME ON and Get serious is because of the reasons you gave for David being a man after God’s own heart. He was after God’s own heart not because of what he did, but because of precisely HIS HEART: that loved God above everything else, that would obey Him no matter what, that would love (Jonathan and even Saul), in a word because of his relationship with God.

      Do you see the difference between being after God’s heart because of your actions and being so because of your heart, love, character, relationship with Him?

      Amen, Greg. THANK YOU for clarity and expressing these things. That is a difference from what was written here, and certainly it is true. Thank you.

      E

    3. Anonymous

      As for the roles, study the Bible – Ephesians 5, 1 Peter, 1 Corinthians etc, Prov 31 – you will get a principial picture of what the specific gender roles are.

      Here is not the place for this advanced Bible study.

      Get to the heart of the Word, not misconceptions and strange ideas from different patriarchal or egalitarian or whatever Christians, and you will genuinely find God’s answers.

      E

    4. J

      E – I have long been a student of the Bible and have researched gender roles through all of these passages. Essentially, I have done the “advanced Bible study.” I know what the Bible says about this subject and what my own take-away is. I was wondering what yours was.

      I like Greg’s equation as well.

  7. Greg

    I think the problem comes when we (as men and women) try to create our own rules of what masculinity and femininity should look like; because ultimately, both are defined by the attributes God looks for–not man: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

    I’m not saying men and women aren’t different–they most certainly are in a number of key ways, and we need to embrace and celebrate those differences–but God has also given us different personalities and the combination of all these things show up in different ways that our descriptions will never define or match (there are always going to be people who are exceptions to those rules–take Phyllis Diller as an example). 🙂

    IMO, it looks something like this:

    Godly character + God-given personality + male -> true masculinity
    Godly character + God-given personality + female -> true femininity

    I think the biggest problems come when we take God out of the picture, and try to pretend that men and women are identical and see things the same way–and try to force that view on society. When men and women live in obedience to Christ and His design for sex, marriage, and family, you automatically get the best of masculinity and femininity.

    1. J

      I love that equation, Greg. I definitely believe that being male or female adds something distinct to who we are, but character is most important and personality certainly plays a big role. Thanks for this!

  8. JB

    Awesome post. I believe the “church” is partly responsible for men becoming less manly and the resources you mentioned are all wonderful guides or reminders of what we men were created to be and do. I would throw “Anchor Man” into that book list.. Great for leading a family.
    I am curious about what women consider “being pursued.”. I read that quite a bit and it seems kind of vague. Any thoughts?

  9. Kristi

    I think this post is spot on and some of the comments regarding “masculine” or “feminine” are outside the context that the discussion seems to fall under. In my opinion, J is specifically discussing how we define masculinity. I think it’s a valid question. I know some very godly men who embody less than masculine traits and they would not appeal to me, even if I wasn’t married. Period. They have chosen to display meekness as an external quality and not an internal one. No thanks.

    I also think that when some (not all) Christians envision Christ, they immediately associate meekness and humbleness with less than masculine qualities. I disagree. He was a carpenter…without that nice electric screwdriver. Jesus had muscles! Meekness resides in the heart, not the body. (a bit off topic, but I think there’s relevance there)

    Second to that, God most certainly DOES define very definitive roles for men (masculine) and women (feminine). These roles are specifically designated by God, so to suggest that only character traits are relevant to God seems to be somewhat misleading. The character traits of God’s children are certainly internal and are about the hidden things within the heart, but to suggest that God gives no specific instruction on what is “masculine” is wrong. He does. He clearly separates men from women, and not only in matters of the heart, but in their duties and responsibilities. There’s just some things my fella can do that I can’t, and don’t want, to do! This is by design, not merely internal character traits. God designed men differently than women because it matters.

    I think the post is great and I believe to analyze and discuss this post outside of its context doesn’t give it the care it deserves. We have a crisis of young men who are being raised in a way that does NOT lend to being heads of their households as they grow and mature. This is a discussion we should be having in the context of the heart…AND in the context of masculine vs feminine. And yes, there IS a difference and both are relevant! God said so.

    Finally, someone said this:

    Do you see the difference between being after God’s heart because of your actions and being so because of your heart, love, character, relationship with Him?

    I don’t think that J was in any way detracting from the Biblical stance of morality within the heart or that we are to love God fully. However, to suggest that someone’s actions do not reflect the state of the heart is wrong. To also suggest that God doesn’t designate masculine (men) traits and feminine (female) traits, is also wrong. Otherwise, he’d just have made Specimen A and Specimen B…with no differences between them. He very clearly didn’t do that.

    1. Anonymous

      You missed the point. Kindly ask you to read again, more carrefully.

      Yes actions reflect the heart. But God looks at the heart for sometimes action is departed from heart: like Paul, I want to do good but evil sets close to me – the good I want to do I don’t do etc…..

      And I have stated, just like Greg, what are the specific roles that God assignes to men and women.

      E

    2. J

      I doubt the issue here is not reading the comments carefully so much as a genuine disagreement. However, it’s worthwhile to explain our positions because we may find points of agreement along the way or at least understand where the other person is coming from better. Even in marriage, there are times when my husband and I are disagreeing, but by talking it out, we find we’re far more on the same page than we originally realized. I’m happy to see readers thinking about these issues and discussing them–especially in the context of biblical teaching.

      By the way, God looks at the heart, but I don’t think I’m going to get much credit for good intentions. God doesn’t let David or Paul stay there with good heartedness; He demands that they step out and act like godly people. I tend to see the heart leading and the actions following, and the departure only being a matter of time and God’s refining. Anyway, that’s my two cents, for whatever it’s worth (two cents?).

      Blessings to you both, Kristi & E!

  10. Greg

    “I know some very godly men who embody less than masculine traits and they would not appeal to me, even if I wasn’t married. Period. They have chosen to display meekness as an external quality and not an internal one. No thanks.”

    Kristi, I’m interested then in what your list of approved masculine attributes looks like? What’s “in” and what’s “not”?

    1. Kristi

      Hi Greg,

      I included some of the answer in the part of my post that you quoted: “They have chosen to display meekness as an external quality and not an interal one.” To me, and I believe that indirectly the Bible backs me up here, godly meekness is an internal quality and one that is very attractive to a woman who loves the Lord. However, when men try to portray this quality by speaking in overly soft tones, standing slightly bowed, and barely making eye contact, I find that to not only feel disingenuous, but also extremely non-masculine.

      I also find snide comments to be less than attractive, as well. It’s not about what’s “in” or “out”. It’s about a man being a man of the Lord, and not attempting to “portray” himself in any way other than how the Lord created him and not putting on a show to appear to be something other than what he is.

      I think women need to KNOW that their man, like Christ, can stand up fully for what’s right, but does so with kindness and humility. I’m sorry, but some godly men seem to believe that includes being wimps. It doesn’t.

  11. becominghiseve

    This was such a creative way to express what masculinity really is. I’m so grateful to be married to a husband who takes many of these traits seriously and acts on them.

    I do think that people need to reevaluate what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, especially with how twisted societal media has portrayed them. Manliness is not about growing big and handling yourself in a fight and taking a woman just as femininity is not about how many clothes you have or if you wear make up or not or if you know how to flirt and please a man sexually (and I’m afraid, this is much of what the media is teaching men and women, old and young, married and single).Godly womanhood and godly manhood is about taking your God-given sexuality and personality and growing closer to God and deeper into who the Lord wants you to be as an individual man or woman. It is about embracing who God has created you to be, who He has intended you to be, and living joyfully for Him and serving Him and others (and one day, your spouse)willingly in the roles He has prepared for you.

    Christ does exemplify all of these characteristics – protector, warrior, lover of our souls, leader, artist, friend, and provider, but I liked how you expressed this via a human man. Sometimes when we look at Christ, the perfect God-Man, it’s hard to live up to the example. Looking at King David, he was a sinful man and he battled many of the same temptations and struggles that men (and women) battle today but he was still called a man after God’s own heart. When I hear that, I think, “Wow, God still loved an incredibly sinful fallen man such as David and used him for His glory and for His kingdom’s purposes…and God used Bathsheba, a fallen woman, to influence and support David and advance God’s kingdom also. He can use me too.”

  12. Pingback: What Does It Mean to Be Feminine? | Hot, Holy & Humorous

Comments are closed.