David was on his death bed and he spoke his final words to his son Solomon. They were deeply important words from a father to the one who would inherit his throne, “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man” (1 Kings 2:2). David then defined what manhood looks like: “Keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgements, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” (v. 3). Unfortunately, Solomon soon went the way of all flesh and failed to prove himself a man. He may have ended up a good man but he failed to be good at being a man. Sadly, the kingdom of God has suffered such failure time and again. It’s time for that to change.
Recently, I had a discussion with a young man about this very issue. He asked me to write about the difference between being a good man and being good at being a man. Apparently, the idea came about in the context of Batman. Yes, the Caped Crusader is a case in point. Think about it.
In his costume Batman is a man’s man: brave, principled, just, courageous, tough. In character, he gives those around him security. He proves himself a man time and again. He proves himself to be a good man and is also good at being a man. But when he has hung up his cape, Bruce Wayne resembles something much less than this: He proves to be a ladies’ man. And that is not a compliment. Once the mask has been dropped, Bruce Wayne represents so much of what is wrong with the world: arrogance, self-indulgence, even hedonism. Yet even in those scenes there is goodness that seeps through. He continues to be just and to be compassionate. He remains likeable. In fact, Bruce Wayne often resembles Solomon. Like Solomon, we might say that Bruce Wayne is a good man but not very good at being a man. He is like a lot of Christian men: conflicted and inconsistent; men whom we would describe as “good” but not very good at being men—at least in biblical terms.
A good man is a good thing. How different society would be if all men were kind, decent, respectable and respectful. I know a lot of men in my community who are good men. They are a delight to be around. The world would be a far more decent place if all men were considerate, peaceable and compassionate. Having a good man as a neighbour sure beats having a bad man living next door.
The same is true in the church. A local church filled with good men (as described above) is a blessing. And obviously it is a wonderful blessing to have a good man as one’s husband or father. Yet how much better if he is good at being a man! What do I mean? I mean the kind of man who embraces biblical masculinity.
Biblical masculinity can be defined as accepting and fulfilling God-given responsibility. We might use the word “mastery,” in the sense of one who fulfils his God-given responsibility to exercise dominion over what God has entrusted to him. This is precisely what David was telling Solomon to do (both on his deathbed and in some of the Proverbs). David was telling Solomon to obey God’s Word wholeheartedly. By doing so, he would prove himself a man.
What is the connection? To answer that consider in 1 Corinthians 16:13 the Greek corollary to the Hebrew term translated here as “prove … a man.” It occurs only here in the New Testament. The KJV translates it as, “Quit you like men,” and in the NKJV it appears as, “Be brave.” The Greek term andrizomi carries the idea of “making a man of” or “making brave.” It means “to show oneself a man,” “to be brave.”
Someone has written that bravery requires observation, watchfulness and discernment. I agree. This is what I mean when I argue that we must not only be good men but also good at being men. We must be good at being watchful and discerning precisely because we are brave. We are brave to keep the charge of the Lord our God.
In the context, David was exhorting his son to faithfully carry out his divine investiture as king of Israel. To do so, he would need to faithfully know and do God’s Word (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). He would need to be brave to behave in accordance with what the Lord had prescribed for him in his role and responsibility as king. He would need to be watchful and to be discerning as he faced difficult situations. He was expected to carry out the will of God as revealed in His Word. This is what it means to be good at being a man. Leaping from one building to another to save a damsel in distress and racing the Batmobile through the dangerous streets of Gotham may be cool and awe-inspiring, but what will Bruce Wayne do when tempted by some sensual beauty later that evening? Will he prove himself a man by obeying God’s Word, or will he prove himself a weak and very common, self-indulgent Solomon?
What our families and churches so desperately need are men, not like Solomon who proved himself a fool, but rather like Noah who truly proved himself a man by believing and obeying God’s Word in a godless society. Solomon divided a kingdom while Noah saved his household. I don’t doubt that Solomon in many ways was a good man—and at times a very good man (see 1 Kings 3). But he was not good at being a man. The consequences were catastrophic, and apart from the grace of God they could have been eternally catastrophic. Thankfully, God was merciful and Solomon, it would appear from Ecclesiastes, repented of his sinful ways—but too late for many that he led.
Men, we need to be brave, to be strong through learning and doing God’s Word—all of it. We must, depending on God’s grace, work hard at obeying God’s Word when it comes to financial integrity and when it comes to standing up for righteousness in the workplace—even in the face of economic threat. We must prove ourselves men as we lead our families to worship the one and only triune God of Scripture. We must be good at telling our families no in matters in which God prohibits certain attitudes and behaviours. We must work hard at being good at saying yes when God calls us and our families to certain actions. Fathers need to be good at being men in discerning potential friends and spouses for their children. We must be good at being men by loving our wives sacrificially—including leading them spiritually as we bravely, courageously and tenderly wash them with the water of the Word. If we do this, then one day our daughters will look, not merely for good men, but also for men who are good at being men. That is, they will look for someone who looks like their dad, the one who proved himself a man. Likewise your sons need to be raised in such a way that they are good at being men. Raise them to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with their God. That way, when they are called upon to fight the evil invading their fair city, they will not need to put on a mask, for you will have taught them to consistently be a good man while at the same time being good at being a man.