Defining Manliness: Living Under Authority

by admin

When he (Jesus) had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

(Matthew 8:5-13 ESV)

I just got home from one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  Our family vacation this year was one of great reflection and also seeing life from a profoundly different perspective.  I am still digesting everything we did and learned.  I know the kids had a good time but I don’t think they realize what a watershed this trip was.

While I was travelling I was thinking a lot about the hand that God has dealt us.  In some ways it is nontraditional.  In some ways it is very traditional.  At least, it could be.  And that is what I am unpacking.

Being the father of 6 boys, I have been wrestling for year with how to teach them what it means to be a man – but not just a man, a mature man, a man who is everything that God wants Him to be.  In many ways I have let them down in modelling this for them, but I am trying very hard to change.

The picture of manliness offered by the world is a picture of independence.  It is a picture of freedom, to do what you want, when you want.  It is a picture that really, at its core holds up selfishness and self-centeredness as its idol, supreme goal, and ultimate end.  I have found that a lot of people speaking truth about manliness and masculinity still fall into this trap, though there are a few that realize there is something more.  This something more I think is obvious when you are a follower of God but I think it is still clear from basic human nature that manliness – true masculinity involves voluntary submission, and living under another authority.

The story I relate above is a story of faith.  It recounts the centurion, a commander in an centurionarmy, caring for one of those under his authority.  The picture of the Roman Centurion, a legionnaire, has been a picture of masculinity for millenia now.  It is recognized and not debated.  Yet, this Centurion in the story is not just a tough man.  Not just a man capable of sending men to their deaths for a cause, for controlling and orchestrating death, for guarding and protecting.  He is also a man who cares, who sees value in the people in his care.  He has a sick servant, and he is willing to take time out of his day to personally seek out the only one who could possibly help – a strange holy man who seems to have a reputation for bringing about healing where no healing should come.  A man who claims to be sent from God.  The Son of God Himself.

The encounter the Centurion has with Jesus has most often been used with its most obvious intent – to encourage us to have faith like the Centurion – a faith Jesus had not witnessed even amongst the supposed people of God.  But the message for me, and for men seeking to understand manhood I think is clear.  This manly man, this Centurion, was a man under authority.  He didn’t resent it.  He didn’t rebell against it.  He didn’t seek a workaround.  It was a fact of his masculine being that he was a man living under authority. 

This authority gave him freedom.  This authority set limits to what was required of him, and gave him more power to do what was his job.  It freed him from worry about things beyond his control.  It empowered him to focus on the most important things.   It did not diminish him.  It made him greater.

On my trip, I was struck by these truths.  And they kept on floating in my head the whole way back.  I have been in rebellion against my authorities.  I thought I wasn’t but I was.  In my laziness, in my attempts to circumvent what my responsibilities have been, I have been in rebellion.  I have not been living under authority as a man and thus I have been severely limited in my ability to empower the boys in my life to become men.  But if I can truly submit to the authorities in my life, I believe I will find freedom.  I believe my own masculinity will be unleashed.  And I believe I will be the man I want to be – that God wants me to be.

Who are those authorities?  Well, God is first and foremost.  He is the one to whom I am most responsible and accountable for the things that have been entrusted to me – this earthly life, this body, my wife, my sons.

Second are those I have chosen to voluntarily submit to – Bart, my pastor, Philip, my mentor, Lorne, another strong mentor in my life.   These men are for me, care about me, and speak truth to me as few others can.  I am not diminished by being under their authority.  I am freed by them.

David's Mighty MenAs I was reading through 1 Samuel this morning, I was reminded that though David was anointed King, he sought out authorities to live under, and never shirked those authorities.  He remained submitted to Saul’s authority though Saul wanted to kill him.  He remained submitted to Samuel’s authority and sought him out regularly.  Even when he could not live in Israel, he submitted to the authorities of the kings of other nations, and honoured God and himself in that.  He was no less a great warrior and leader for submitting.  In contrast, Saul did not submit to God’s leading.  Not only that, he had no earthly authorities he submitted to – he had the priests killed, he refused to listen to Samuel, he sought no advice until he was desperate, and then he sought the wrong people – like the witch of Endor – but not to tell him the truth, only to tell him what he wanted to hear.  There was nobody who stood above him, and he suffered for it, his people suffered for it, and those whom he loved suffered for it.

How is this changing me and my life?  Well, it has given me even more enthusiasm for the season I am in, where it seems I have less authority than I once did – I am not the lead pastor at our church now.  But yet this is freeing to me – to focus on those areas that I need to focus on.  It frees me from thinking I have to have all the answers, that I have to do more than I should.  And I am grateful for this.

It is giving me more focus on preparing my family for what comes next.  What that is isn’t clear yet, but I have time.  And I am grateful for that.  It also is giving me joy.  I don’t know why but it is.  So there you go.  I am sure I’ll think of more to say later but in the meantime I am enjoying this new perspective on manliness.

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