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Topics: Leadership, Manhood, Men

Manhood Marred: Overcoming Passivity

April 16, 2014

By Lawrence Locklin 

“Since the many, being enslaved by their appetites, make it the business of their lives to pursue sensual pleasures, and to avoid bodily pains… what eloquence can persuade, what words can transform men thus brutified?”

– Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

Manhood, by God’s design, includes active, intentional work and leadership.  We see this at the beginning of the Biblical narrative, in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”  From the beginning, men were to be active (“work”) and responsible (“keep”) on behalf of what God had made.  As we will see, God calls all men to actively work and lead in the following spheres: ourselves, our families, our jobs, our church, and our society.  In fact, the astounding truth is that God has made men in such a way that the hard work of intentional leadership in these areas is ultimately the most satisfying way to live.

Today, however, movies and television often portray men as clueless, game-addicted couch potatoes rather than active, hard-working leaders.  Often the strong and sensible characters in movies and television are women.  When portrayed as strong, men often exaggeratedly suffer from an overdose of testosterone.  Of course, the blame cannot wholly be laid on our modern culture, since male passivity also began in Eden, when Adam failed to stand up to the serpent and protect his wife from its temptations.  As inheritors of Adam’s sinful nature, we all can fall into passivity, failing to work and lead as we should.

There are at least six ways men can become passive, and I have experienced all six.

  1. Laziness || When faced with the choice between relaxing or making the extra effort required to lead something, we often choose the easy way out.
  2. Busy-ness || We have so much on our plates that we think there is simply no time to take on additional responsibilities, or to pursue the ones we have with excellence.
  3. Entertainment || The constant access to entertainment and titillation which new technologies afford can prove addictive.  This can have an enervating effect, sapping us of the mental and moral vigor required to actively lead in the areas to which God calls us.
  4. Aimlessness || We do not lead because we have not prayed and thought through any specific goals to work toward.
  5. Unbelief || We may think we are not cut out for leadership.  But if God has called us to lead, it is sinful unbelief to deny that calling.
  6. Fear ||  We may be afraid of the reaction of others if we try to lead in some area, or we may simply be afraid we’ll fail.

How can we fight these six temptations toward passivity?  How can godly leadership be instilled in us, so that we fulfill our God given roles?  How shall we as Christians answer the question posed by Aristotle in the quote which opens this essay?

My approach to answering these questions can be summed up in the words of a hymn by Ora Rowan:

“What has stripped the seeming beauty

From the idols of the earth?

Not a sense of right or duty,

But the sight of peerless worth.”

The answer is not simply to say, “Men, you ought to do your duty!”  Rather, we must be convinced by the vision of a life of initiative and leadership so compelling and attractive, as described in God’s Word, that our affections are moved and we are motivated to lead in all the spheres in which God has placed us.  The life of active leadership and initiative that God intends is the most joyful and fulfilling life a man can live.

First, we find this joy and fulfillment when we lead ourselves, spiritually.  In submission to God, and by the mercy of God, a man “works out his own salvation with fear and trembling.”  (Philippians 2:12)  We should resolve, first and foremost, to “work and keep” the garden of our hearts.  The Bible makes it clear that the man who intentionally devotes himself to God and his Word will be “blessed.”  One of the best known of such encouragements is Psalm 1, which states , “Blessed is the man [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Second, we find this joy and fulfillment when we lead our family.  This pertains first to a Christian man’s duty to lead and sacrificially love his wife.  In this context Paul writes, “He who loves his wife loves himself.”  (Ephesians 5:28)  Every time we set our entertainment aside to listen to and engage our wife, every time we put time and energy and thought into how to please her, every time we seek her out to be first to confess and ask forgiveness, we are doing ourselves much good.  Our marriages will be happier, and we know that happiness in relationships is a large part of happiness in life.

This principle also applies when we intentionally lead our children.  The hard work of instructing our children in the things of God, day after day as they grow, will make us glad in the end, for “A wise son makes a glad father.” (Proverbs 10:1)  The hard work of disciplining our children consistently will also bring us joy.  “Discipline your son and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)

Third, we find this joy and fulfillment in taking initiative to serve in our church.  This applies even when we do not have a formal leadership position.  Acts 2:42-47 paints a picture of the early church full of activity and service, and all had “glad hearts.” (v. 46) Every church has its faults, but the Bible makes it clear that the house of God is a place of great joy and fulfillment. (Psalm 65:4) Both Paul and John served the churches they wrote to that their own joy might be complete.  (Philippians 2:2, 2 Corinthians 2:3, 1 John 1:4, 2 John 12)

Fourth, we find this joy and fulfillment in taking initiative in our job, even if we do not have a formal position of leadership.  “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)  It also brings joy in our job to know that hard work, for God, will bring a heavenly inheritance:  Colossians 3:23-24 reminds us to “Work heartily, as unto the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

Fifth, we find this joy and fulfillment when we take initiative to spread the gospel and work towards the betterment of society.  Jesus tells us that those who forsake their own good for the sake of the gospel will receive “a hundredfold” reward.  (Mark 10:28-30)  He tells us that peacemakers will be blessed. (Matthew 5:9)   God tells us in Isaiah 58 that he will bless those who do justice and serve the poor.  Our world is desperately sick and in need of the gospel and its effects in every area of life.  Men, as the active, intentional leaders God intends for us to be, should be taking initiative to spread the gospel locally, nationally and globally, and to shape our culture according to a Christian worldview.  To do so is our joy.

So let us be persuaded and transformed by these encouragements from Scripture.   We can overcome passivity in all its forms by taking God at his Word: true joy and fulfillment are to be found in the active, intentional leadership He calls us to in every area of our lives.

Lawrence is a small group leader at Grace Covenant Church in Jacksonville, FL.  He has served on the mission field, in non-profits, and in the business world.  He is married to his lovely wife Claudia, and they have three young children.  He blogs at, and you can find him on Twitter at @EngageEveryDay.

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