What, for Jesus, was the primary marker of manhood? And based on that marker, what does Jesus teach Christian men about money, sex, and power?
Ask a man how he defines success in life, and chances are his answer will include variations on three themes: money, sex, and power. If a man has a job, a woman, and a skill that makes him stand out from the crowd, people consider him successful.
Oh sure, he may go for a short time without one of these things — or two, or all three — but this lack will not affect his self-esteem. If he goes without them for a lengthy period of time, however, he will begin to question his manhood. It is not enough to be a man; one must be manly. It is not enough to be male; one must be masculine.
The money-sex-power markers of manhood hold true for Christian men too, with qualifications. The job must be honest, the sex must be marital, and the skill must be used to God’s glory. For the Christian man, moreover, money, sex, and power are secondary measures of success. The true measure of success is a man’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
But here Christian men face a conundrum: Jesus was poor (Matthew 8:20), unmarried (Matthew 19:12), and a servant (Matthew 20:28). If money, sex, and power are markers of manhood, even in a secondary sense, we must conclude that Jesus failed to be masculine in important ways.
Such a conclusion is untenable, obviously. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, the Son of God, the Second Adam, the Lord of heaven and earth. If our markers of manhood find Jesus to be less than masculine, then our standard of measurement is wrong, not His.
So what, for Jesus, was the primary marker of manhood? And based on that marker, what does Jesus teach Christian men about money, sex, and power?
A NECESSARY CLARIFICATION
By focusing on what Jesus teaches Christian men about manhood, I do not mean to imply that Jesus’ teaching applies only to men. Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” is given to all people, regardless of gender (Mark 8:34; cf. Luke 8:1–3; 23:49).
Nor do I mean to imply that Jesus doesn’t have something to teach Christian women about womanhood. He does (e.g., Luke 10:38–42). For the purposes of this article, I am simply looking at what Jesus’ masculinity teaches Christian men about theirs when it comes to the topic of money, sex, and power.
THE PRIMARY MARKER
With that necessary clarification in mind, I return to the first question: What, for Jesus, was the primary marker of manhood?
At the outset of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed, “The time has come …. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
I would suggest that, in Jesus’ eyes, the measure of success in life is whether a person — male or female — accepts God’s dominion over his or her life. True success depends on faith in Christ, who embodies the Kingdom in His person and works (Matthew 7:21–23).
From that perspective, a man who has money, sex, and power, but not the Kingdom, has failed to be the kind of man God wants men to be. His masculinity is worldly, not godly, and thus of no eternal significance. By the same token, a man who has the Kingdom, but not money, sex, or power, has succeeded in being God’s man, because his life has eternal significance.
As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel” — remember, the gospel is the proclamation of the kingdom of God — “will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:34–37).
If the primary marker of true manhood is acceptance of the Kingdom, how does a Kingdom man use money, sex, and power? To answer this question, consider the following episodes from the Gospels.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL (LUKE 12:13–21)
The first episode begins when a man tried to leverage Jesus’ influence for financial gain: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus’ first response denied that He had any human-appointed legal authority to do so: “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
Jesus’ second response made a larger point about the outsized influence of money on our thinking: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Both responses demonstrate the human tendency to misuse religion to justify greed.)
Jesus illustrated this second response with a parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.” (Notice how Jesus attributed the harvest to the ground, not to the man’s skill. This is a humbling reminder to men that success in any endeavor often depends on forces outside our control.)
Because the harvest exceeded the storage capacity of his barns, the man tore down the old ones and built newer, bigger ones. Then he said to himself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
God’s perspective on the matter was quite different than the man’s: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Jesus concluded the parable by stating its moral: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
In Jesus’ way of thinking — the Kingdom-man perspective — being rich toward God meant being generous to the poor. He portrayed generosity to the poor as a donation to heaven’s treasury, an investment that will pay dividends in the life to come.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” Jesus said. “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33).
To be a man when it comes to money, then — at least as Jesus sees it — has less to do with how much money one gets than with how much money one gives, less to do with upward mobility than with downward generosity. A Christian man may earn as much money as his God-given skills and opportunities allow, but he must use this money for the benefit of others — his family first, and then the poor (1 Timothy 5:8; 6:17–19). The generous use of money, then, not the mere possession of it, is the marker of true manhood.
TEACHING REGARDING DIVORCE (MATTHEW 19:3–12)
The second episode begins when some Pharisees “test” Jesus by asking Him about divorce: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
To understand Jesus’ answer, we need to remember the two schools of thought about divorce that prevailed among Jews in His day. The school of Hillel argued for a liberal understanding of divorce. It interpreted the Hebrew grammar of Deuteronomy 24:1 as allowing a man two grounds for divorce: “[anything] displeasing” and “something indecent.” By contrast, the school of Shammai argued for a conservative understanding. It interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 as allowing a man one ground: “[anything] displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her.”
Rather than grounding His answer in the vagaries of Hebrew grammar, Jesus grounded His answer in the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2. “ ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ [Genesis 1:27] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus’ argument from creation positioned Him on the same side of the divorce question as Shammai: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
This reply astonished His own disciples: “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Too often we fail to notice how male-centered and self-absorbed a view of marriage and divorce Jesus’ disciples held. They were saying, in effect, “If a man can’t divorce his wife for any and every reason, it is better not to marry.”
They treated wives as possessions they could discard at will. By contrast, Jesus extended dignity and respect to women as God’s image-bearers. And He expected His disciples to treat women as He did: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.”
As Jesus’ disciples, we receive this Word and treat women accordingly.
The equal dignity Jesus accorded to women as God’s image-bearers explains the remarkable freedom Jesus exercised in relationship to women, especially women with questionable sexual reputations (e.g., Matthew 21:31,32; Luke 7:36–50; John 4:1–42; 7:53–8:11). When a man does not view women as means to self-centered ends, as objects to fulfill his sexual desires, he is able to treat them as equals, as friends and co-laborers. That is how Jesus treated women. For example, on the one hand, He disabused Martha of the notion that, as a woman, she was stuck in the kitchen while the men talked about God. On the other hand, He discipled Mary as a woman among men, affirming that she had “chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41).
With regard to sex, then, Jesus wants His male disciples to see and to treat women as He did. Jesus did not expect all His disciples to be celibate as He was (cf. Mark 1:30; 1 Corinthians 9:5). He did expect His married disciples to be faithful to their spouses, however. And He expected all His disciples to avoid sexual immorality, whether married or not. But more than that, He expected His disciples — male and female — to cultivate a purity of heart that makes sexual immorality (and other sins) increasingly impossible (Mark 7:20–23).
This purity of heart in relationship to the opposite sex is the mark of true manhood.
THE WOMAN WHO HAD BEEN SUBJECT TO BLEEDING (MARK 5:21–43)
The third episode begins when a synagogue ruler named Jairus asked Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter.
“[A] woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’”
There are two remarkable features to this story. First is the reversal of this woman’s fortunes. According to Leviticus 15:25–33, this woman was ritually unclean as well as physically ill. This ritual uncleanness rendered her unfit for participation in temple worship, as well as literally untouchable, lest those who touched her — especially men — also be rendered ritually unclean. Her ill fortune was thus physical, spiritual, and social in nature. Jesus’ healing touch restored her in body, spirit, and relationship.
The second remarkable feature is the closing of the power distance between a powerful Jesus and the powerless woman. Normally, power distances the powerful from the powerless. Jesus’ power, on the other hand, drew Him closer to the bleeding woman. Though touched on every side by the pressing crowd, Jesus felt His power go out only to her.
Drawing on this story, I would suggest that a mark of true manhood is the use of power to reverse fortunes and close power distances. In every society, men are powerful, especially vis-Ã -vis women and children. Sociologists refer to this as “male privilege” — the unearned advantages men have because of their gender. We can use our power to carve our male privilege in stone, or we can use it to build homes, churches, and societies that extend those advantages to all. The former is the way of the world, the latter that of the Son of Man, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The use of power in service to others is the mark of true manhood.
Ask a Christian man how he defines success in life, and he should say, “By repentance and faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the kingdom of God.”
As a Kingdom man, he will spend money generously, cultivate purity of heart sexually, and use his power in service to others. The great need of the present hour — in which we see so many men abusing money, sex, and power — is for Christian men to be Kingdom men and show the world a better way.
And thus we sing,
“Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.”