In the traditions of nearly every ancient culture (and some modern tribal cultures), a rite of passage marked a young male’s transition from boyhood to manhood. It was a public event that declared to everyone, especially the young male, that he had become a man and would enjoy the privileges and bear the responsibilities of manhood.
I never had a moment in my life when I was declared a man. Because I didn’t, I felt I had to prove my manhood in whatever way our selfish, “if it feels good do it” culture told me. When my son was born, I determined that he was going to have a different experience. But to do that effectively, I had to be able to articulate exactly what he was being called into—what did it mean to be a man?
One day, as I was reading 1 Corinthians 16, verses 13 and 14 jumped out at me. The English Standard Version reads: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” When I did a mental survey of the men in my life I aspired (and aspire) to be like, I realized every single one of them exhibited these five marks:
1. Be watchful. I began to see that men have a vision.
2. Stand firm. Men aren’t afraid to stand against the tide when they are resolved in what they believe.
3. Act like men. This command is written in the plural. Manhood isn’t just an individual journey. Men are team players.
4. Be strong. Men understand that they are wired to produce value. This means men work.
5. Let all that you do be done in love. Things done in love are done for the sake of others. This means that men are protectors.
These five marks form a code that defines what it means to be a man. A fifteen-year-old who exhibits the marks regularly is more of a man than a forty-five-year-old who doesn’t.
It’s time to set a new standard for what manhood should be or, actually, to live up to the ancient standard that has been lost. No matter where you are in your life, no matter what you’ve done, you can choose today to be a man.
What cultural expressions of manhood do you find confusing or frustrating? What would you change?