From The Atlantic to Newsweek, popular American magazines have been focusing on the definition of manhood this summer. It's a subject worthy of consideration, especially for parents of boys.
What is a man?
Maleness is determined at conception. When the egg and sperm cells combine, the mother contributes an X chromosome; the father contributes either an X or a Y chromosome. If the father contributes an X chromosome, the baby is female. If the father contributes a Y chromosome, the baby is male. Nothing changes after conception. A person with X and Y chromosomes is a male for his entire life.
Of course, a male may or may not develop into a man. It takes more (but not less) than X and Y chromosomes to become a man.
A man accepts responsibility. He accepts responsibility for himself and those under his care. He will take care of his family. "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). He will do his work so that he can provide for his family and for those in need in his community. "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need" (Ephesians 4:28). He will love his wife. "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself..." (Ephesians 5:33). He will discipline and teach his children. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
A man takes initiative. When he sees a problem, he works toward a solution. He does not merely complain. He is not passive. He tries to help. When Boaz discovered that the widowed Ruth and her mother-in-law were in need, he took the initiative to make sure that they would have enough to eat and that his employees would not abuse a vulnerable widow (Ruth 2). Ultimately, Boaz married Ruth.
A man shows courage. When the giant Philistine Goliath challenged the army of Israel, the young shepherd David stepped up to the responsibility to repel the threat to his people. He took initiative. He saw Goliath as both a physical threat and a theological threat to the people of God. With faith in the Lord and courage in his heart, he attacked Goliath (1 Samuel 17). A man will show courage when the people whom he loves are threatened. It may be by killing a snake in the backyard; or it may be by challenging a religious leader who is telling the church that the Bible cannot be trusted, that faith in Christ is unnecessary, or that God does not know the future. Whether the threat is physical or theological, a man will do what he can to protect the people he loves.
Men are different from each other. Some men play football; some men play the piano. Some men are boisterous; some men are quiet. Some men enjoy physical challenges; some men enjoy intellectual challenges. But those attributes are unrelated to manhood. At the core, a boy needs to develop a sense of responsibility, initiative, and courage in order to become a man.
"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).