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How can men strive to “do better” in a world that seems increasingly confused about what a man is supposed to do?
Not long ago, I attended my daughter’s college commencement. It was an exciting day for students who had worked very hard to finish their studies, and it was gratifying to think about the hard work and determination it took for each of those graduates just to be there.
The valedictory address was given by a young man who told a remarkable story of challenges and obstacles he had overcome. It was quite touching. He was there with his wife and his young daughter, and I couldn’t help but feel admiration for this man and what he was already making of his life.
Toward the end of his talk, he spoke of the women in his life—his mother, his daughter, his wife—and how important they were to him. But then his speech took a perplexing turn. Addressing the men in the audience, he said, “Really, the best thing we can do for the women in our lives is just get out of the way.”
I thought to myself, Wow, what a shocking statement! Of any advice he could give to a generation of young men, is that the best he could offer? I thought of the thousands of men in the audience, and I asked myself, Is this going to inspire them to dream great dreams, to be builders of society, and to strive to serve and give of themselves to their families?
I walked away from that address shaking my head. Not because I’m against men learning to honor, respect, and admire the women in their lives, and to give them the support and the room to be their very best—no, quite the contrary. Rather, I was disappointed that the opportunity had been missed to show both men and women that they can help each other. A marriage partnership takes teamwork and sacrifice from both the husband and the wife.
So, what is the best a man can do? The answer can be found by understanding a man’s real purpose—and that purpose is revealed in the Bible.
God made men to be men. He made women to be women. He put us in families and—for many of us—in marriages. And He gave men instructions on how to make their relationships work. So, what’s the best a man can do to achieve his God-given potential? In this brief article, we’ll consider three vital points.
“Every married man knows that he should do that,” you might say. But stop and think for a moment. When we look around and see so many unhappy marriages and so many divorces, maybe such love isn’t as commonly sought after as some might assume. And maybe we don’t properly understand what it means to love and honor our wives. This is an important subject for married men, as well as for those who aren’t yet married, who want to have the happiest marriage possible sometime in the future.
Just look at the statistics. In the United States, marriages made in the 1950s had a 25-percent likelihood of ending in divorce within 25 years; marriages begun in the 1970s had a 50-percent probability of ending in divorce within that same length of time. That’s an American tragedy.
But it’s not just in the United States where so many marriages are failing. A similar trend is occurring in many other nations. For example, in England and Wales, 35 percent of all marriages that began in the year 2000 failed by 2017. This is not just an American problem, nor is it just in the British Isles. Indeed, Psychology Today reported in 2019 that between 1970 and 2008, the divorce rate around the world more than doubled. Their article was titled, “Divorce Rates Around the World: A Love Story,” but it is the story of broken love, a painful and heartrending disaster.
So, what is wrong with marriages today? Maybe men don’t know what “love your wife” really means. Many have overlooked the fact that the Bible gives practical and direct advice to men about love and marriage. Notice what the Apostle Paul wrote: “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Ephesians 5:28–29).
Paul is saying that if you’re married, you need to treat your wife as you would treat yourself. Talk with her. Be aware of her needs. Be patient and thoughtful even when she’s down or upset. That’s what love is. It’s not just a passing feeling or romantic notion; it’s a commitment to care for another human being as you’d care for yourself, in good times or bad, and is echoed in the Apostle Peter’s similar instruction: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
Some might take issue with Peter for saying that women are the weaker vessel, but it’s really not hard to understand. Last year, the world of competitive swimming acknowledged this simple fact in response to a man who’d begun to swim in college events as a transgender “female,” and had in the process gone from a mediocre male competitor to a record-breaker in women’s events. Setting its policy that transgender “women” should not compete against female swimmers, the World Swimming Coaches Association stated what should be obvious: “The average differences in strength, stamina, and physique between the sexes is significant” (“Position Statement on Transgender Swimming,” WSCACoach.org). There are exceptions, of course, but by and large, this is true.
So why did God create men to be bigger and stronger? To dominate women? To crush them, physically or emotionally? No. Rather, it was God’s intention that a man learn to care for, nourish, and protect the woman to whom he has committed his life.
Such commitment was once taken for granted in Western civilization. “Women and children first!” became the unwritten-but-firm rule in disasters at sea. This policy came to be called the “Birkenhead Drill” after its famous application in the 1852 sinking and evacuation of the Royal Navy ship HMS Birkenhead, where the ship’s captain had insisted that places on the lifeboats be given first to the women and children aboard.
Similarly, when the RMS Titanic sank, many men gave up their places on lifeboats to their wives and children—and went on to die in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. It is easy to wonder whether we as a society have reached the point where today’s men would feel no sense of responsibility to protect women in an emergency such as that. Is that who we are?
Indeed, where should men find the values that teach them to make sacrifices—like giving up a spot in a lifeboat—as well as to stay engaged and committed when their wives need comfort and care? The answer is found in a second challenge for men to be their best.
About 3,000 years ago, there lived a very wise king. In fact, his reputation for wisdom spread far and wide. We have many of his teachings preserved in the Bible. His name was Solomon, and he gave this plain and powerful advice: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
“Man” here means “mankind”—both men and women, all of humanity. But let’s for a moment ask what would happen if every man were doing this today. How would their actions change the world for women?
First of all, if all men feared God, there would be no crime. There would be no domestic abuse. Women could walk down a dark and abandoned alley without fear of violence.
We should understand that by “fear God,” God isn’t expecting us to feel frightened or terrified of Him—He simply wants us to acknowledge His awe-inspiring power and wisdom and give Him the obedience not only that He deserves, but that will keep us safe and secure. We should understand that, as our Creator, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need and what will really make us happy in the long run.
And the “commandments” He asks us to keep? Those are the Ten Commandments, as found in the Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Though they often get a “bad rap” today, mischaracterized as harsh, demanding dictates from an unloving and uncaring God, the truth is that they teach us how to love. Consider the simplicity of the Seventh Commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
“Adultery” is a word we don’t often hear in today’s society, though its practice is widespread. It simply means having sexual relations with someone to whom you are not married. If men took this simple command as seriously as it deserves to be taken, women would be safe in the knowledge that their marriages would be secure.
And there is a further step, as taught by Jesus Christ, who explained that in addition to physical adultery there is also adultery of the heart: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27).
Pornography is a curse in our Western nations. And it’s not just a curse for men—women get hooked, too. Sociologists at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in 2016 startled their colleagues with research documenting that while men who started watching pornography doubled their chances of divorce, women watching pornography saw their divorce rate tripled (“Divorce rates double when people start watching porn,” Science.org, 2016). This finding calls to mind the findings of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who at a 2002 meeting found that an “‘obsessive interest in Internet pornography’ was a significant factor in 56 percent of their divorce cases the prior year” (“National Review: Getting Serious On Pornography,” NPR.org, 2010).
So, stop and think this through. What if men were taught, from a young age, that it’s not only wrong to commit fornication and adultery, but it’s wrong even to harbor lustful thoughts toward a woman? What if our culture would support parents’ efforts to protect their children from inappropriate images in the media, in movies, and on the Internet? What a different world this would be.
Men, as you are reading this, think about your relationships. If you have a porn problem, get help. You can and must overcome it. Porn is sin—and sin destroys trust. Sin tears apart marriages. Yes, God does forgive, and He will forgive—if we repent. But we first must admit that we’ve sinned, and we must have a deep desire to overcome it with God’s help.
As men, let’s aspire to do more than just “get out of the way” of the women in our lives. How about giving our lives to God? How about committing to keep His laws, so that our wives and our families will be blessed? If we do this, our relationships will grow. The women in our lives will gain greater trust in us. We’ll be happier and they’ll be happier. As men learn to become their best, women will reap the rewards just as much as their men.
Several years ago, a well-known men’s skin-care products company set off a firestorm with an advertising campaign titled, “The Best a Man Can Be.” The narrative was that most men are bullies who need to become softer. But, as we’ve seen, what’s really needed is that men become stronger in the values that truly sustain their relationships with women—not that they become bullies or caricatures, but that they embody the best of what God wants us to be. And this brings us to a third vital key to being our best as men.
Two thousand years ago, there was a man named Jesus who walked this earth and was called the Christ. Many in our secular, humanistic culture of today don’t want to hear about Him, but He was the ultimate man. He was the standard. In fact, He was God in the flesh. He had been at the throne of the Father for all eternity past, and He emptied Himself of His divinity. Paul writes of Jesus Christ, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8, Modern English Version).
He had been at the throne of God, with the Father. He gave that up for us—to become flesh and blood, to walk with us. He humbled Himself.
But He wasn’t a weakling. There is a common misconception of Jesus Christ as being a sort of effeminate individual who was soft and weak. Perhaps it’s because many pictures portray Him that way. But think about it: He was a carpenter. He was a builder. And back then, there were no power tools. His hands were strong and accustomed to work.
Again, the fact that Jesus Christ genuinely cared for the interests of others did not make Him weak. In fact, here’s an example of the type of man He was: “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (Matthew 21:12).
Jesus Christ wasn’t a bully—but He also wasn’t afraid of taking strong action when it was required. The temple was the house of God. When He found crooks there taking advantage of and cheating the people, He stopped them and threw them out. Notice what Paul wrote to the brethren in Ephesus: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
If you’re a man who cares about your family and your wife, commit to becoming like Christ. If you want to make a difference in your world and build something worthwhile, become like Christ. If you want to set a strong and solid example for others to follow, become like Christ. He is our standard. He is the measure. He sets the pace. That’s what this world needs more of, and that’s what women need: men like Christ.
One of the most touching and powerful passages in the Bible is found at the end of Christ’s life:
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home (John 19:25–27).
Jesus loved the whole world—every human being. That’s why He gave His life. That’s why He allowed men to kill Him: so you and I could have a way out of sin.
But even as He was hanging there, in His last moments, He did not forget the woman who had given birth to Him and reared Him. He ensured that His mother would be cared for, just before He died—a last act of a dynamic, powerful, caring man.
Don’t give in to the cynical view of today—the idea that the Bible puts down women and tells men to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible holds men accountable for treating women well, and it challenges them to do so with God’s help. If you are a man, think about your life. Think about how you treat others. Think about how you interact with women—especially your wife, if you are married. Are you living up to the standard of Jesus Christ? If you’re a father of young boys, it’s your responsibility to teach each one of them how to be a real man—not just a macho reflection of a movie hero, but a real man, like Jesus Christ. We must teach our boys to honor and respect women, not just “get out of their way.”
What if you’re a woman? What about the men in your life? If you have a husband, respect him. Value him. Appreciate what he does for you. Tell him you are thankful for how he sacrifices for you. And raise your boys to be valiant and faithful men themselves, who respect women and value their own masculinity.
We are living in difficult times. But God is looking for men—and women—who can rise to the challenge. We read that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Men, getting out of the way isn’t the answer. Rather, it obscures the fundamental point: We must stop living Satan’s way and live by Christ’s example—and, in doing so, become what God wants us to be, for the sake of the women in our lives.