Several weeks ago, we began a series of study on the human family. Some of the subjects we’ve covered so far were, “Man in God’s Image,” “Man in Dominion,” and “God’s Purposes for Marriage.” The basis for our discussion of these subjects was the opening chapters of Genesis.
In our study today, we’ll begin to examine the topic, “Biblical Manhood.” In both the wider culture and in the church, there is a serious shortage of real men. I’m not talking about the “real men never cry,” macho persona. I’m talking about men who search out and understand God’s design for their lives and then diligently strive to live out that design.
Many books have been written and even organizations started to address this issue of biblical manhood. It would hardly be possible to list all the books (there are so many). I have yet to see lasting impact on men in general and especially the evangelical church. That’s not a put-down, just an observation.
So where do we go to find out what God really had in mind when He created men? Since our topic is “Biblical Manhood” there’s only one place to go: the Bible. That doesn’t mean that the writings of men have nothing to offer. It simply means that for their writings to be of value, they need to be securely grounded in Scripture, not human philosophy, or psychology. One of the resources I’ve come to appreciate is the website of “The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” Their name explains the purpose for their existence.
As I mentioned earlier, our series of study on the human family has largely been centered on the opening chapters of Genesis. Our basic understanding of biblical manhood will also be found here, particularly in Genesis chapter two and verse fifteen. It is helpful for us to see God’s original design for Adam BEFORE sin entered the human family. That gives us an ideal to work toward in our understanding of “Biblical Manhood.”
Read Genesis 2:7, 15-17
In this text, and especially verse 15, we discover two primary RESPONSIBILITIES delegated to men that will greatly enhance our understanding of “Biblical Manhood.”
The First RESPONSIBILITY is,
Some people think that work was a result of the fall, a result of the curse of sin. But that’s not true. In the perfect environment God created, Adam was given meaningful work to do. The Hebrew word here is avad. It’s a very common word in the Old Testament and appears both as a verb and a noun. When used as a verb, it most often means work, serve, labor, cultivate, or perform acts of worship. When used as a noun, it usually refers to a servant, an officer, or a worshiper.
As I’ve said before, it’s important for us to understand the context in which this responsibility to work is delegated. Adam is living in the Garden of Eden so we must consider how the term applies in an agricultural setting. Adam is commanded to cultivate or till the ground, probably with the view to making it more productive. How that’s possible in a perfect environment, I don’t know. But the command does agree with God’s earlier command for Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it…”
Most of us have had a least a little bit of exposure to working in the soil. We know that a farmer or gardener tends their crops. They work the soil, breaking it up to receive the seed. After the planted seeds sprout and push through the soil, they are carefully tended. They may need to be thinned, or fertilized, or supported in some way. The work of the gardener makes the plants strong, beautiful, and productive. He can see the results of his work.
When I was a boy, our family had a large garden. I confess I didn’t enjoy the work of gardening very much. That was primarily because of one tendency of my sinful nature – laziness. But our family depended on the garden for our survival. So, my parents faithfully went with us into the garden to do the necessary work. And wonder of wonders, somewhere along the line, I began to enjoy gardening. There is something satisfying about cooperating with God in the process of growing things.
According to our text, this kind of work describes one of the two main responsibilities God has given to men. Not that all of us can be tillers of the soil, but every one of us is called to work whatever field God has given to us. Remember, God designed us in His image, and we are called to be creators. Not in the same sense as God was and is, but we are to take what He’s given us and make something out of it. As planters, builders, and growers we should invest our lives in producing things that benefit others.
You understand, of course, that our field or garden includes not merely things, but people as well. As men, our calling to work and cultivate is important in our relationships. Our families, the people who work for us, and those we teach, and mentor should all benefit from our cultivation of relationships. Our hands should be accustomed to working in the soil of human hearts, and if we’re married, especially the hearts of our wives and children. This kind of cultivation is most valuable and will bring the greatest, most rewarding harvest in our lives. The man who succeeds financially but fails in relationships is a man whose work is, according to Psalm 127, in vain.
Today our families and our society are crying out for men who know how to build relationships! God’s command for men to cultivate and tend runs contrary to a popular misconception about gender roles. We’ve been taught that the primary responsibility of nurturing belongs to women, while men are supposed to be “strong and silent.” Yet the Scriptures call us men to be cultivators and that includes a significant emphasis on the need to tend the hearts of those under our care. Jesus is our example of a real man.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians commands us as men to cherish and nurture our wives; to grow our relationship with them. He instructs us not to exasperate our children but to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Men, if God has blessed you with children, you are commanded to be intentional about cultivating your relationships with them. So many of the spiritual, emotional, and physical dysfunctions of our day can be traced back to a child’s lack of a loving, nurturing, involved father! The rise in criminal and destructive behaviors is tied directly to the breakdown of the family, especially the absence of an involved father.
Sadly, too many men who profess to follow Christ are taking their cues from the world. They have bought into the world’s definition of success and their families are suffering greatly. There’s a great need among Christian fathers to understand the mandate they’ve been given and begin fulfilling their responsibility to work according to God’s standards of success. The closing words of the Old Testament, given to us by the prophet Malachi, are a sobering reminder of this truth. “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
The Second RESPONSIBILITY is,
This is the second verb relating to man’s responsibility as given to us in verse 15. Adam was placed in the garden to “keep it.” The basic meaning of shamar, is to guard or protect. But it also has various shades of meaning. It means “to exercise great care over” something or someone, to “pay attention to or reverence God or others.” It includes the idea of paying careful attention to the obligations of covenants, laws, and statutes. It speaks of guarding something or someone from injury or loss. It is also used in the context of “preserving or storing up” resources.
I found it interesting that this same word, keep, is used in Genesis 3:24, after sin entered the human family. After Adam and Eve sinned, God placed cherubim with flaming swords at the entrance to the garden “to keep the way of the tree of life.” Those angelic beings were given the responsibility to guard the path that gave access to the tree of life. In His mercy, God decreed that Adam, and his descendants would not be permitted to eat of that tree and live forever in their sin.
Some other English words that are used in translating the Hebrew word, shamar, are: watch, guard, protect, preserve, take under custody, or exercise care. It is used in the context of soldiers, shepherds, priests, custodians, and government officials. In fact, God uses this word in reference to Himself! In Psalm 121 the word is used 6 times in 8 short verses. Three times it is translated as keep, and three times it is translated as preserve; all in the context of God’s care and protection for His people. This is a beautiful description of God’s care and reminds us that most of the help God gives us is in the form of keeping.
God, the Heavenly Father is our perfect example, and His calling to us as followers of Christ is to guard and protect all that he has placed in our care. Abraham, who is called the father of the faithful, understood the importance of this command well. In fact, God said of him, “…I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall KEEP (shamar) the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him.”
Men, what kind of care are you exercising over the things God has entrusted to you? Most men I know don’t have much trouble protecting the things God has given them. That seems to come quite naturally. But when it comes to protecting the people under their care and the relationships they have, that’s more of a struggle. Unfortunately, many of us men were not taught by our fathers how to protect and guard those precious relationships. That’s why I’m so glad for God’s Word and for His grace. By these we can understand our responsibilities and begin to implement them in our lives.
Just as God watches over us, as we noted in Psalm 121, we men are to carefully guard those He has entrusted to our care. I know, we’re not able to do it like God does; but we’re called to be diligent in guarding our relationships to the best of our ability as empowered by God’s grace.
Recall with me how God protected the patriarch, Job. Because Job was a child of God and therefore under God’s protection, Satan had to get permission from God before he could do anything to Job. As men, we are God’s deputies on earth. Our spiritual vitality and the strength of our relationship to God provides, as it were, a protective hedge around, and an umbrella above, those in our care. If there are gaps in the hedge or holes in the umbrella due to our spiritual negligence, those whom God has assigned to our protection will become more vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.
This concept of the umbrella of protection is seen in the Scripture as God provided the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night for the nation of Israel wandering in the wilderness. It is seen in Psalm 91:1 as “…the shadow of the Almighty.” And Jesus used it in his words to the people of his day, “…how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37–38).
I said earlier that I’m glad God’s Word and His grace can help us understand what He requires of us in guarding those we love. Today, our world is filled with greed, violence, and immorality. Many of our churches are filled with people who live in constant moral defeat, gripped in the bondage of sin. Error is openly proclaimed from many pulpits and sin is overlooked as an “alternative lifestyle.”
Our public education system mandates that children be indoctrinated with the teaching that they are only animals; and many behave as though they believe it. Children are encouraged to reject the values and morals of their parents. *Many fathers have no idea what their children are being taught behind their back. As men, it’s part of our guard duty to know what our children are being taught. There is no way I would permit my children to be indoctrinated in such a system.
Now I know, someone listening will react to that statement by saying, “But there are Christian teachers in our school.” That’s fine for them, but their ability to be a positive influence for the Lord is severely limited by federal and state mandates. Even so, I wouldn’t negate the value of it. However, to put your child in such a setting is a totally different story! It’s like putting a newborn lamb among the wolves. There is no way it could be considered protecting them.
And what about the exposure of our children to all kinds of media? As a father, do you know what your children are reading, watching, and listening to? That’s really a challenge with today’s technology. It’s one reason why we didn’t allow our children to have cell phones until they had a need for one and could pay the monthly cost out of their own earnings.
Knowing those things is part of God’s command for you to guard those under your care. There are many dads who, if the 17-year-old sloth who lives next door would show up and ask to spend time with their daughter, would brush him off immediately. But they may not be aware that she’s already establishing a relationship with him on social media!
Men, our role as keepers, guardians, and protectors, was never more needed than it is today! It’s time for us to recommit ourselves to this honorable task. Is it too big for us? Absolutely, if we try to do it alone. But with the grace of God and the wisdom of the Scriptures, with the help of our godly wives and the cooperation of our children, we can fulfill our responsibility to protect the greatest blessing God has given us, our families. If you and I want to be the men God has called us to be – men who are admired and respected by those we love, men who faithfully fulfill our duty before God – then we will need to take this as our motto: biblical manhood means I must work and I must keep.