By Ricky Alcantar
We met for lunch because my friend was looking for counsel about how to react to the actions of a man in his extended family. This particular family member represents the essence of machismo, with a successful business, a nice car, and swagger. Lately he’d been making a halfhearted attempt to conceal an affair he was having with a younger woman. Then he decided to make his mistress permanent by renting her an apartment. Then another family member saw him shopping the baby aisleand his wife wasn’t pregnant. When confronted the man threatened his own family members, manipulated the situation, and intimidated everyone around him. My friend wanted to know how to deal with this man, but more than that, how to be a better man himself.
In Hispanic cultures, like the one in my city of El Paso, machismo is all too common. Machismo looks like the guy who won’t take anyone talking back to him, the guy with rolls of bills in his pocket, the guy gathering a crowd at the gym as he one-ups whatever anyone else can bench-press. But far from being thought silly, machismo is often revered by the other men in the community. The other guys at the workplace wink and nod when Mr. Machismo relates his latest sexual exploit, then shake their heads and laugh when he cusses someone out. But the truth is machismo leaves a trail of broken relationships and ends up a lonely man at the end of it.
But is this really a problem for us in the church? Haven’t we moved beyond this stuff?
The sad truth is that sometimes in our churches machismo is painfully obvious but never confronted. Or more commonly, the attitude lurks just below the surface in our communities, families, and churches. I want to point out three symptoms of machismo that may be closer than you thinkand then one core problem that underlies these symptoms.
Symptom: Machismo demeans women to seem strong
While it may get a laugh from “the guys” to have a scantily clad biker babe sticker on your rear windshield, God’s not laughing. Neither is God laughing when men bark at their wives for not looking pretty enough when they get home. Neither is he laughing at the men’s group at church, laughing at how clueless their wives are when it comes to money. Machismo men use their strength to demean the value of the women around them in an attempt to establish their own value.
But biblical masculinity uses strength in a completely different way. Biblical men use their strength to help the women around them flourish. When speaking to the differences between men and women Peter charges husbands: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life…” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV). Peter says men have a unique call to use their strength to honor their wives, not demean them.
Symptom: Machismo treats work as weapon to cut others down and seem strong
You’ve probably seen what happens when this attitude gets carried to work: men defend their territory in the company like pitbulls, undercut one another in front of supervisors, and then not-so-subtly hint at the size of their raise last year. But this same attitude can be present in a church small group where guys “prayer requests” are excuses to brag about how busy they are or how many “opportunities” are in front of them. Our work becomes a club we use to beat others around us, proving that there are definitely “losers” in the workplace and that we’re on the winning side.
Biblical masculinity means working hard, but it doesn’t find its identity in the size of its bonus, or its rank, or its title. We’re called to exercise strength at work for the good of those around us not to draw attention to ourselves but to serve others and to serve God. Paul encourages us: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24 ESV). Work is an opportunity to use our strength to serve our Lord and then imitate our Lord as we use strength to serve others.
Symptom: Machismo rejects emotion as weak to seem strong
“Real men” take a punch without flinching. “Real men” can down a six-pack whatever without batting an eye. “Real men” can pull an all-nighter and pound energy drinks through the next day. Machismo means the guy can do pretty much anything, but the one thing the guy won’t do is talk about how he’s feeling through it. Even in church sometimes the respected men are the men who never seem to feel anything because, the unspoken rule goes, getting emotional means you lose your “man card.”
But biblical masculinity in Scripture is very different. In Scripture those held out as models of masculinity weep over wrongdoing (Neh 1), dance before the Lord (2 Sam 6:14), flip over tables (Matt 21:12), and pour out their souls with intensely emotional language (Ps 73). Their strength isn’t found in being emotionless, but in lining up their emotions with what honors God.
So if those are some of the symptoms (you can likely name more), what’s the real sickness behind the symptoms?
Sickness: Machismo turns masculinity into an end in itself
The core problem of machismo is that it turns “being a man” into an idol. It turns the strength God has given us as men into an object of worship, instead of a means of worship. Men sacrifice relationships, and money, and their very lives to serve this god, which is no God at all. Is it wrong for men to want to be men? No, but sin quickly takes a good thing and makes it into an idol. This can even happen in our churches when we allow “being a real man” to become the thing we worship more than Christ himself.
But the gospel of Jesus frees us even from the idol of our own masculinity, and in doing this gives us the only way to pursue true masculinity. The gospel reminds us that we were created toworship God, not ourselves, our exploits, or our level of testosterone. But we chose the idol of self, rather than the worship of God, enslaving ourselves to a master that cannot satisfy and will only destroy.
In a very real sense, for many of us, machismo did kill us. But, Christ brought us back to life.
When we were still dead in our sins and idolatry Jesus came, and provided a way for our relationship with God to be restored, returning us to our original purpose of living our masculinity as God intended. In Christ, we see biblical masculinity as a means of worship, not the object of worship. And this changes the way we use our God-given strength––we’re men unafraid to help women around us flourish, to make our workplaces places of peace, and, yes, even show some emotion.
Machismo has killed too many marriages, families, and communities already. Leave it in Christ’s grave where it belongs and follow Him out into the sunlight.
Ricky Alcantar is a former Pharisee turned pastor. He loves his city of El Paso, his wife, and his unusually strong toddler. He is the Lead Pastor at Cross of Grace Church and serves on the Sovereign Grace Churches National Church Planting Group. Follow him on Twitter or watch him blog sporadically at GospelReligion.com.
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