Of Razors, Corporate Responsibility, Virtue Signaling, And “Toxic Masculinity” (2)

In the first part of this essay I critiqued the new Gillette ad mainly from nature (creation). There are certain inalienable, natural truths built into the nature of things. One of those is that males are biologically, sexually, psychologically, and socially different from females. One need not be Aristotle or Solomon to observe these things. I argued that this is not an excuse for brutish, boorish, or abusive behavior. There is evidently a crisis in our culture over the nature of masculinity. Christians, who are the recipients of grace and special revelation (Scripture alone) and extensive Christian reflection upon Scripture should not be so confused. As I suggested earlier, Christians should not find their paradigm for masculinity in popular culture, whether it is John Wayne or the Pajama Boy of the Obama Administration, but in Scripture.

Our Lord Jesus is God the Son incarnate. He is true man and true God. This is the teaching of holy Scripture as confessed by the Christian church in all times and places as summarized in the ecumenical creeds and in the Reformation by the Reformed churches in their confessions. There is a risk, of course, in appealing to Jesus as anything other than our Savior. There is a long history in Christianity of re-making Jesus into our own image. Hence the widespread depiction of Jesus as a pale Caucasian or (less well-known) as Hawaiian or as African. These are all obvious cases in which Jesus has been re-made in the image of the artist. This is essentially a violation of the second commandment (as the Reformed number them). As I have argued before, we must imitate Jesus but we must also recognize the limits of that imitation. E.g., we do not speak of Jesus’ faith and our faith as if they were the same nor do we speak of Jesus as though he were a Christian. To speak this way is essentially Pelagian. This was one of the great errors of Norman Shepherd.

Our Lord himself did describe some of his actions as an “example:”

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example (ὑπόδειγμα), that you also should do just as I have done to you (John 13:14–15; ESV)

So, we observe that our Lord’s deliberate example or pattern for his disciples, for Christians, is that we should also adopt a posture of humility toward one another. Whatever masculinity is, it is not domineering nor is it lording it over others. This is the antithesis of the ethos of “Patriarchalism.” Nevertheless, without falling into the error of the “muscular Christianity” of the early 20th century, it seems clear from Scripture that Jesus was capable of being both tough (Matt 21:12–17) when cleansing the temple and tender (Luke 19:41) as he wept over Jerusalem. Remarkably, Luke places these two episodes one after the other.

Scripture presents us with many episodes of self-sacrificial masculine heroism (e.g., the “mighty men” in Joshua 6:2; 8:3; 10:7; 2 Sam 10:7). Last time we thought about David but we might also consider Samson (Judges 16:23–31), who, albeit extraordinary even by biblical standards, is ultimately both physically strong and self-sacrificial.

We see these same virtues (strength, humility, self-sacrifice) in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5. We may begin with verses 7–10 where he summarizes the difference between the life that the pagans lead with the lives that ought to characterize Christians:

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:7–10; ESV).

He also juxtaposes the differences between pagans and Christians in terms of wisdom: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15–16; ESV). What does it mean for husbands to walk as “children of light” relative to their families, as men? What does it mean to be “wise” in this respect and not foolish (like the pagans)? It means being filled with the Holy Spirit rather than with wine (5:18). Rather than singing bawdy bar songs, it means singing of God’s great redemptive acts by singing different parts of the Psalter to one another (v. 19). It means giving thanks (rather than cursing; v. 20) and it means mutual submission (v. 21). This last part of the picture of the Christian life is in stark contrast to the way the pagans see the world. It would help here to know something about the ancient world in which Paul wrote these words but we need only look out our window to see what he saw. Daily our post-Christian culture looks more like the world in which Paul wrote than it did the day before. Increasingly it seems as though we live in a Nietzschean, Darwinian world of the will to power and survival of the fittest. As I write this the legislature in the State of New York has just approved a law permitting abortions up to the point of delivery and removing sanctions upon the murder of aborted infants who somehow survived the attempt. Bill Clinton’s “safe, rare, and legal” has become Andrew Cuomo’s “anytime, for any reason, by anyone.”

The pagans construe everything in terms of power politics, domination, and control. Christians do not look at other human beings as opportunities to exercise power. We look at other humans as fallen image bearers, as fellow sinners in need of the free favor of Christ. As Christians we recognize that there is a creational order but order is not domination. Within that order is mutual submission. The pagans have no place in their ethos or interpretation of the world for both order and mutual submission. When Christians choose one of these (order or mutual submission) over the other, they are reflecting the influence of the culture more than the teaching of Scripture. We see this both in Patriarchalism and in egalitarianism. Neither accounts for the biblical picture of the world, for the pattern set by Jesus, nor for Paul’s instruction.

When Paul says (in v. 22) “wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” he is establishing an order within the Christian family in the context of mutual submission. His ground for this order is Christ: “because the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is her Savior” (v. 23). The church submits to Christ her head because Christ is the Savior of the church. We are not submitting to an evil overlord but to the Savior who suffered for us, who redeemed us from sin and death, who gave himself for us. We do that willingly because no one loves us more than Jesus. No one sacrificed more for us than Jesus. No one will keep us safer than Jesus will. Paul continues the analogy: wives are to submit to their self-sacrificing husbands just as the church submits to Christ, who loved the church and gave himself for her (v.24). It is Christ who is sanctifying his bride, by baptism and the Word, who shall present the church spotless and blameless to himself. He is our righteousness by imputation and he is graciously, gradually working that righteousness within us (vv. 25–27).

Under creation there is order: male and female. Under grace there is also order and mutual submission, love, and self-sacrifice. Paul writes: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v.25). The first aspect of the love with which Christian husbands ought to love their wives is self-sacrifice. Again, this is in sharp contrast to paganism, which sees all relationships as transactional: “what can I get for myself from this relationship?” The Christian man asks, “What can I give in this relationship?”  Taking is weak. Giving is strong. Thieves are fundamentally weak and lazy. They steal because they are too weak and lazy to work so that they can give to others. Christians work so that we can share with our brothers and sisters who are in need (Eph 4:28). Husbands are strong when they love their wives as they love their own bodies. The Greeks prized the male form. Some of them prized boys as the highest expression of the male form. There is a natural regard for our well being but Christians, by the grace of the Spirit, have regard for their wives as they have regard for themselves because, in marriage, husband and wife are now one. To love one’s wife is to love one’s self (vv. 28–29). Paul’s ground for this pattern of order and mutual love takes us back to where we started, creation: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). He quotes and interprets Genesis 2:24 to signal a “great” (μέγα) mystery. Genesis 2:24 ultimately refers to Christ and his church. We, who believe, are corporately one flesh with Christ. We have been united to him by the Holy Spirit, through the instrument of faith (vv. 29–32). In light of that union, as participants in that union, Christian husbands love their sisters in Christ as he loved the church and wives show appropriate regard (φοβῆται) to their brothers in Christ to whom they are married (v. 33).

However much our pagan, post-Christian culture seeks to obscure them, the natural, creational differences between men and women remain. As Christians respect those differences we will become increasingly unusual in our culture. Let us also, however, be considered unusual for the way we observe the redemptive order of self-sacrificial love and reciprocal submission pictured in creation, modeled by Jesus, and taught by Paul. Real, godly masculinity is not toxic nor is it domineering. It is strong, it is gracious, it is patient, it is humble, it regards others before it regards itself. It is Christ-like.

Special thanks to Le Ann Trees for her editorial help with this essay.

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