“Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you had to pick one movie character to be the ultimate man, who would it be? Rocky, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Captain America, Iron Man, Rambo? Who comes to mind?
Each of these characters are strong, masculine, and are confident as they trod down their path with their heads held high. And in the cinema seats, men sit there craving to be that kind of man. It seems like every man’s heart beats to that classic song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” “We must be swift as the coursing river/With all the force of a great typhoon/Mysterious as the dark side of the moon.” These lyrics have become a mantra for what a man should be.
So what do we, as men, do? We stick out our chest, take hold of courage, and become this bold man. Yet, as we begin to walk down the path God has called us to, we begin to look around. The trees seem to be getting thicker, the path twists, and we feel alone.
Is that what God has intended for men? Are we to be Rambo single-handedly slaying the enemy for our wives and kids to look up to us?
The Lone Wolf Myth
Doesn’t it seem like there are more women’s ministries than men’s ministries? Is it because women are more emotionally fragile and need all the help they can get? No! Is it because women have figured out something, and the church has embraced a myth of the man?
Our culture sculpts the man to be the alpha lion and the lone wolf. We don’t need anyone else. We are independent. Those who rely on others are weak. We see this in gyms, clothing ads, and anything else dedicated to men. We have our “buds,” but we can handle life on our own. We are men, right? So we strike down our path of life as the lone wolf. We can handle the Christian life as the lone wolf we are created to be.
What does Scripture say? I Corinthians 12:12-24 states that we are individuals walking our Christian life, and we need to counsel ourselves, pull ourselves up, and be the lone wolf. NO!! That is not biblical. God never intended for men to be lone wolves (he never intended anyone to be). The church is a body. We all work together. Just because you can bench press so many pounds, own an armory, and have a successful career does not mean you can do life alone.
The lone wolf mentality is not from God. It is a myth. Men cannot do life alone. Look through Scripture – Elijah and Elisha, David and Jonathan, Moses and Aaron, Jesus and the Disciples, Paul and Timothy/Titus, Daniel and his friends, David’s mighty men. The list could go on and on. Some were single and some were married, but the thing that connects them is they had men in their lives. They were not lone wolves.
More Than an Accountability Partner
When we think of men’s ministry, we think of guys getting together and sharing if they have been faithful in reading God’s Word and abstaining from pornography, then they pray, and eat. Are Christian men only accountability partners with each other?
Scripture tells us differently. Titus 2:2-7 teaches us that men are to be in close relationship with each other. The older are to teach the younger. In verse 6, we see that Paul is connecting it back to verse 2. Just as the women are to do, so are the men. These relationships are more than about staying away from porn. It is learning how to live life in all aspects.
Men are to be more than accountability partners. In order to learn how to do life, men are to walk with each other through life. There is only so much you can learn from a book.
More Than a Bromance
When we look at men and their relationships with each other in our culture, we hear the term, “bromance.” A bromance is a close relationship between two men. But, what is it like? Can anyone actually give a full description of what a bromance is? Is it two guys chest bumping and sitting around drinking beer, watching football together each weekend? Is it that group of guys that go hunting with each other? What exactly is it?
Scripture actually does tell us, and it gives us a clue on what relationships are to be like between men. The classic verse used in every men’s group (and its so overdone, but so powerful) is Proverbs 27:17 – iron sharpening iron.
This passage reveals what Christian men are to be like. We have this great image of two iron blades sharpening each other. Usually, it only is said, “We need men in our lives to keep us accountable to God.” But, as we just saw men are more than accountability partners.
If a blade needs to be sharpened, it has to physically touch the other one. It must get close enough to be sharpened. Men need to let other men in their lives. Men are to be close to each other. A sword is not going be sharp if it hangs around other swords. It must be close and rubbing against another sword to become sharp. It is the same with men in the church. We need to be so close that we sharpen each other.
This means we need male intimacy in the church.
Clarifying the Forbidden Word
What comes to mind when we hear that? Sex. We think of passionate sex. That’s one way the word can be used. Intimacy actually means a close familiarity or friendship; a closeness.
There are different types of intimacy. There is sexual intimacy. But what about emotional and spiritual intimacy? That is the act of being open with each other and knowing deeply the struggles, victories, and lives of others beyond the social media image. There is physical intimacy. This is being physically close to another. It is more than a handshake. It is a hug, a hold, a kiss.
Now, how does this apply to men?
Before the 1960’s we see men quite close and intimate in a non-sexual way with each other. Think about the photographs of World War II of men in the buff jumping off of submarines during R & R. Think about the movie Tolkien (watch the trailer here). J.R.R. Tolkien was apart of a brotherhood. They were a close group of men who did not go hunting, or paintballing. They wanted to change the world through art and language. They hugged each other and held each other. They went through war with each other.
Where has this idea gone? Has it gone with the wind?
Men today have forgotten the rich history of brotherhood. Think about David and Jonathan. I Samuel 18:1, I Samuel 19:1, I Samuel 20:41, I Samuel 23:16 all talk about this intimate relationship between these two men. They were both married. Yet, they were intimate with each other – emotionally, spiritually, physically.
II Samuel 1:26 is a curious verse, “I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother. You were such a friend to me. Your love for me was more wondrous than the love of women.” Is it implying they were having sex with each other? I don’t believe so, because in I Samuel 23:16 Jonathan encourages David in their faith with God. God’s law in Leviticus says that sex between men is wrong. But, these two men were so intimate with each other on all the other levels that it was more wondrous then the love of women.
Men today are so worried about their image that we have forgotten the power of brotherhood. We have forgotten the power of physical touch, of emotional vulnerability, and spiritual openness. Even in the New Testament, four times Paul tells Christians to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; I Thessalonians 5:26). We might push back against that idea, but what is it communicating? It is communicating intimacy. God’s church is to be intimate like a family and like a body working together. Is there a difference between a kiss and making out? Yes. But, how are we as men showing this kind of intimacy in the church?
What are We Men Known For?
So let’s go back to the beginning question: If you had to pick one movie character to be the ultimate man, who would it be?
There may be good characteristics about the character you chose, but what is that character showing? Is it how to be the lone wolf? Is it how to be independent and strong on your own? If we look at the men in Scripture, we hardly see a man without another man beside him. Now, we don’t go against what God’s word says. But, why would he show us these examples of men in Scripture if they were not for our own lives today (Romans 15:4)?
What are we as Christian men known for? What characterizes our lives? Forget the image culture is pushing on us. Is it wrong to workout, go hunting, like sports? No. But it’s also not wrong to like the arts, languages, and aesthetics. Being Christian men is more than a song from Mulan. It is about being together, walking life together, being intimate with each other as we pursue the path God has given us.
We are more than Rambo or Captain America. We have been called by God out darkness into light in order to love each other, because that is how the world notices Christ in us. I Corinthians 13 is more than a passage to be read at weddings. It is the mantra for the church, and it is the mantra for men in the Church following Jesus who was the ultimate example of this.
Are we as men following a cultural image of manhood or a reaction to men in our culture? Or are we following Jesus’ example and being the men he called us to be?
One thought on “Forgetting Rambo Embracing Brotherhood”
‘In-to-me-see’ is very important. Personally, I’ve had trouble finding a healthy version of this between men in church environments. It’s been a real challenge. But, as believers, we must take resources from whatever source we can find them. If we find this outside the church, that’s okay too and often necessary. I think of the characteristics of manhood and there are qualities of steadfastness and strength, as seen in the Word of God, but all our view of gender expectations should be filtered through the Word. God would have us adopt a balanced view of all life matters, including this one.