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Topics: Leadership, Manhood, Men

Manhood & Theology | Grace

October 22, 2014

By Ethan A. Smith

My friend, Matt, told me the story of how he was officiating the wedding of a friend, and the bride had been crying throughout the ceremony and reception. So Matt asked the groom’s brother, “What about your brother? Have you ever seen him cry like that?” To which the brother replied, “No! That’s dumb!” Matt asked, “Why is that dumb?” The brother said, “I cried once when I was 11-years-old. I then asked myself, ‘Why are you crying? This is dumb! Be a man.’” Matt’s wife, who had heard this conversation take place, leaned over and said, “That’s really sad.”

Why is crying dumb? In our macho, masculine culture in America, crying is “what little girls do,” and crying means we are allowing our emotions to take control of us. For men, there’s no crying in weddings, and there’s certainly no crying in baseball.1 Why is that? Why do we think less of those who tend to wear their emotions on their sleeve?

The answer is weakness. As a man, crying is perceived as weakness. It is failing to “man up.” Men are supposed to be strong, both physically and emotionally, so crying undermines the very identity and definition of what it means to be a man. According to our current culture, weakness is “dumb.” What does the Bible say about weakness?

I don’t think very many would claim the Apostle Paul was weak in character or toughness. Paul was instrumental in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, and he and others did so “utterly burdened beyond [their] strength that [they] despaired of life itself. Indeed, [they] felt that [they] had received the sentence of death” (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9a). Paul recounts the labors, beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, and other dangers he went through for the sake of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. He then concludes, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30).

Boasting in My Weakness

What a counter-cultural statement! What man would dare boast in his weakness and not his strength? The Lord continued to show Paul how much he must rely upon the Lord for strength and not boast in his own works. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

But what does a man gain by being weak? The advantage is experiencing the grace of God more fully. Look at 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Consider Gideon, who had been called by God to judge Israel. Gideon’s 300 men defeated an army which was “like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance” (Judges 7:12). Israel did not win the battle because their 300 men were superior warriors. They won because God favored them; his grace was upon them. God could have taken Gideon’s army of 32,000 and gained the same victory, but, with just 300 men, the Lord proved more clearly that the battle belongs to the Lord and not to man. When we understand that we are weak and God is strong, we experience this same grace.

Christ himself is our example. Though he has power and authority beyond our comprehension, he emptied himself and became flesh and blood to save mankind. In a shameful death upon a cross, he became weak on our behalf. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:4, “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.”

For men, weakness is not only an emotional response like crying. It is seen when we reveal our fears and doubts. Like crying, having fear and doubt means that we do not have control over every aspect of our life. We lack courage or knowledge, and this leads to shame because we are afraid we will not be loved or accepted due to this weakness. So we tend to cover ourselves, as Adam did in the garden, instead of seeking the One who is in control and who has perfect knowledge of all our situations—who has grace.

Real People for Real Jesus

My church’s vision is to be a community of “real people looking to the real Jesus for real change.” A real person is someone who does not pretend they are someone else, including pretending they are strong when they are weak. A real man does not need to cover himself. Our wives and children need to see us for who we really are—weak sinners in need of a Savior. It is in those moments of weakness that we experience the grace of Jesus, who came not for the healthy but for the sick.

Have you ever admitted you were wrong to your 4-year-old daughter and asked for forgiveness?   How about your wife? It’s one of the most difficult things to do. Dad is supposed to have it all together. He has all the answers. He leads our home. He is our spiritual shepherd. If Dad asks for forgiveness, he is admitting he is wrong and, therefore, weak. But when we seek forgiveness and admit our failure, we are inviting our children and spouse to experience the same grace we have been shown in Christ. Why? Because in showing them our weakness, we also show them our dependence upon Christ. As Rose Marie Miller so aptly puts it, “True weakness is born out of a deep sense of inadequacy and need, which drives us to Christ and unleashes all the redeeming energy of God’s grace in our lives.”2

Weakness is not dumb. It goes hand-in-hand with true, biblical manhood. So sanctification is not pulling up our bootstraps or covering our sin, but asking Jesus to heal and strengthen us, to give us more and more of his grace. This is why it is so important for us to participate in the God-ordained means of grace given to us in Acts 2:42. As we read the Scriptures, pray to the Lord, participate in the sacraments, and engage in community with other believers, we are continually reminded of who we are and who God is. We are weak, and he is strong. We need grace.

1. As seen in the famous scene from A League of Their Own, where Coach Jimmy Dugan causes one of his players to cry. Dugan exclaims, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

2. Rose Marie Miller, Nothing is Impossible with God: Reflections on Weakness, Faith, and Power (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012) 210.


BIO: Ethan A. Smith is a thirty-something seminary student trying to juggle work, study, husband, and father duties, while also finding his identity as an adopted son of God. He blogs at Overwhelmed Again and you can follow him on Twitter @EthanASmith

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