It is increasingly hard to find a good man. Recently a woman who had been abused and abandoned by her husband asked me if I knew the difference between a man and a battery. The answer to that question was that a battery has a positive side. Knowing her circumstances, I had to sympathize with her analysis of the male species.
As a pastor, I am appalled at the number of men I am currently observing who pursue their own selfish interests at the expense of their wives and children. Personal fulfillment is their only goal, and their willingness to sacrifice significant relationships on the altar of their hedonistic self-interest defies imagination. They don’t always walk away from their marriages and families, but most often it’s a relief when they do. The lies, the deceit, the broken promises, the lack of sensitivity and concern, the emotional and physical abuse, the neglect, the tension and hurt—it’s a slow and deliberate torture that mangles the soul. It’s a horror that rivals Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. I’ve seen it before, but now I’m seeing it more.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “In the last days, perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim. 3:2). For many women and children, we are living in the last days—the peril is great and male self-lovers are the cause. I am beginning to understand the female passion for liberation, but I am also convinced that the answer is not for women to become men; it is for men to become men. It’s not that there are no men of personal integrity with a desire for godliness—there are. And it’s not that women are without fault—God knows the contribution they have made to our declining culture. The point that I am making and the concern that I have, is that there is an increasing number of men who are caught in the vice of their own selfishness with a diminished sense of personal discipline, sacrificial perseverance, and moral responsibility. They are weak in character and pathetic in spirit. They indulge themselves and blame others. They’re never wrong and always critical. It’s a crying shame— literally.
Now a lot of this kind of behavior can be blamed on substance abuse and other obsessive-compulsive behaviors that weaken the spirit and feed the flesh—drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, even an obsessive indulgence in sports, etc. Our American society is plagued with this type of destructive influence, and it is undermining the stability of our men. Yet, the problem is even more pervasive than that. There is a spirit of “selfism” that defines the prevailing philosophy of life in America, an existential preoccupation with self, and even good men are succumbing to its influence. They are not as thoughtful and caring as they used to be. They have lost the ability to give sacrificially of themselves for the welfare of their spouse and children. It’s not that they are necessarily bad—it’s just that they’ve ceased being good.
This is certainly true of the secular man in the world, but the real tragedy is that it is increasingly characteristic of the man in the pew. He goes to church, but he doesn’t walk with God. Therefore, any meaningful distinction between the man in the church and the man in the street is substantially cosmetic—the man in the church is wearing a suit on Sunday.
So, what is happening? Why are we seeing so many men with a decreasing sense of integrity and honor? Why is selfishness becoming the male norm? Why are so many men so weak in spirit?
Why Are Men So Weak?
Our contemporary view of strength tends to reflect our obsession with physical fitness, athletics, and Hollywood tough guys. Unfortunately our modern heroes of muscle are also, more often than not, classic illustrations of personal weakness. A championship fighter steps into the ring and demolishes one of the toughest men in the world in less time than it takes to sing the national anthem. He then goes home and finds himself powerless to hold his marriage together, while the media exposes his personal life as a shamble of emotional instability. Is this what it really means to be strong?
Our idea of strength in the spiritual realm is often equally anemic. We may be able to deliver a knock-out punch when it comes to singing a solo or preaching a sermon, but at home we are as impotent as a shorn Samson to overcome the impulses of the flesh. Our interpersonal relationships seem to fare no better than our hero of the boxing ring and our indulgences in the pleasures of life are as flagrant as his (or would be if we had his money). What is our problem? Where have we gone wrong?
God exhorts His people to be “strong in the Lord” in order to withstand the “wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-11). Obviously we need to understand something of what that means. Jeremiah gives us a clue when he says, “Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches, but let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me…” (Jer. 9:23-24, emphasis mine). It appears that God is more interested in developing a healthy respect for godliness than a personal infatuation with manliness. God is exhorting us to inner strength—not the strength of muscle, but the strength of character that comes from a personal fellowship with the Lord.
Our real problem seems to be that we have been seriously (perhaps even fatally) influenced by a subtle philosophy which has steadily pervaded the thinking of the western world. This philosophy has caused us to view personal fulfillment as the goal of life. More than anything else, it has led us into the trap of expecting that God should give us whatever we want. So self-indulgence has become the rule of the day. The slogan of the existential culture is “If it feels good, do it.” This has been reinterpreted by twentieth century Christianity to say, “If it feels good, God owes it to us.” The problem with this philosophy, however, is that it is very man-centered and reduces God to a mere celestial bellhop—we ring the bell, and God is supposed to hop. Instead of living life to the glory of God, we live our lives in order to find fulfillment for ourselves.
It is my observation that this erroneous view of life is killing us. We are experiencing a serious breakdown in the realm of personal character which, in turn, is making it increasingly difficult for us to sustain meaningful interpersonal relationships. The selfish pursuit of personal fulfillment appears to be the biggest culprit in the ruining of our marriages, families, and churches.
Let me explain to you what appears to be happening. When men become “fulfillment” oriented, they tend to adopt the idea that hardship is evil and pleasure (in the sense of what pleases them) is the only good. Consequently, they prefer to reject the rigors of spiritual discipline and self-denial taught by God in His Word and engage themselves, rather, in a vigorous pursuit of personal enjoyment. The fact that this philosophy doesn’t reflect a realistic view of life seems to be beside the point. They prefer to think that it ought to—perhaps because they have been led to believe that they are worth it (as the Loreal ad tells them), or at least because as “the children of the King,” they feel that they deserve it. So they manipulate circumstances to obtain those things that please them and to reject those things that cause them pain as a means of assisting God in the task of making their lives more personally meaningful.
One of the major problems with this, however, is that too much pleasure, like too much candy, tends to weaken them, while hardships and struggles are the elements of life that strengthen them. So increasingly, there are more and more men who are weak in character and who consequently find it difficult to cope with challenging circumstances. They are more likely to break a relationship when there are problems than to give themselves sacrificially to a healing process. They are not strong anymore—they prefer the fulfillment of their pleasure to the discipline of their faith.
Is There Any Hope?
So what’s the remedy? How do we reverse the process and encourage men to put away their selfishness for the purpose of pursuing a life of godliness? Well, let’s go back to 2 Timothy 3 and observe what Paul said to Timothy about his response to these perilous days and selfish men.
The first nine verses are Paul’s analysis of the last days culture. It describes our twenty-first century American culture to a tee—loss of character (v. 2-5), gender conflict (v. 6-7), and religious confusion (v. 8-9). Then verse 10 begins with the words “But you.” In other words, after describing the deplorable condition of the perilous times, Paul then tells Timothy what he ought to do about it. In essence, he says that there are two specific things that Timothy ought to do: (1) recognize the value of godly living over carnal living (v. 10-13), and (2) go to the Word of God to correct his behavior (v. 14-17).
1. Follow Paul’s Example (v. 10-13)
Living a life of godliness in a crazy, ungodly world is not an impossible task. Paul did it. And he told Timothy to do it by observing how Paul did it. The point is that every man ought to line up behind Timothy and observe Paul’s life as the example of godly living. Here is a flesh-and-blood situation that every man can understand as to how God wants him to live.
The qualities of life mentioned in verses 10 & 11 are certainly challenging for any man, but they are also the kind of things that make for a strong and stable life. Paul’s “purpose” in life was to glorify Christ in all that he did (Phil. 1:21). That was what he taught and that is how he lived. He was a man of faith who was patient and loving. Furthermore, he knew how to persevere under the hardships of life, and he didn’t let persecutions and sufferings deter him from doing what was right. This is the example he set for all men who would live their lives in a manner pleasing to God.
So there it is! If a man is willing to look at Paul, and the above qualities of life reflected in verses 10-13, he can know the kind of life he ought to live and he can be confident that God is in the business of enabling men to live that way. “I can’t” is never an excuse. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
2. Read the Word of God (v. 14-17)
Paul encouraged Timothy to go to the Word of God for his instructions concerning life. For most men, the heroes of life are those who are successful at what they do, and make a lot of money. Achieving the good life is the message that catches their ear. Having enough money and sufficient freedom to indulge their passions is all they want. Knowing the ways of God does not interest them. Yet the wise man knows that it is the counsel of God that leads to life (v. 15). The Scriptures are “profitable” for teaching him how to live. They point out his shortcomings, correct his behavior, and train him in the right way to live (v. 16). The wise man values that counsel and humbly submits himself to its influence. He knows it will “equip” him for every aspect of his life (v. 17).
How Shall We Then Live?
In the estimation of God, self-centered individuals are not men, they are male sycophants. They sponge off of others to fulfill their selfish desires. God’s kind of man, on the other hand, is sacrificial in spirit, sensitive to the needs of others, and godly in character. He seeks to live his life to the glory of Christ. So—where are all the men? ■