Last year, actor Charlie Sheen suffered an infamous, extremely public meltdown. Sheen took the media by storm; flaunting his sexual escapades, self-proclaimed superhuman ability to ingest massive quantities of drugs, and extreme hatred toward those who opposed him. One could barely turn on a television in early 2011 without seeing Sheen’s face on nearly every channel. True to form, Sheen’s antics only further solidified his long-standing image as a bad-boy icon. But during Sheen’s public tirade of self-destruction, a very intriguing thing happened. Rather than pitying, vilifying or rejecting Sheen, the American public fell in love with him. Hanging on his every word, Americans couldn’t seem to get enough. Sheen’s video live-streams garnered millions of views, and he set an all-time Twitter record by reaching one million followers in just over 24 hours. Quite telling how hedonism, addiction, anger and borderline insanity, all personified by Sheen, were both infatuating and captivating to so many.
More recently, another forty-something 80’s star has received quite a different reception from both Hollywood and the American public. Actor Kirk Cameron, best known for his role as Mike Seaver in the 80’s sitcom Growing Pains, remains in the public eye today but for quite different reasons than Sheen. Now a Christian evangelist, Cameron uses his public platform to share Christ with the world at every possible opportunity. Cameron was recently a guest on Piers Morgan Tonight, during which Morgan grilled him about his stance on homosexuality. Cameron took a stand and responded in accordance with biblical truth, clearly stating that homosexuality is a sin. A media firestorm ensued, in which Cameron has been vilified, ridiculed and ostracized as a narrow-minded religious fanatic.
To recap, we have, on the one hand, a drug-addicted, womanizing madman, spewing venom and hate, of whom America can’t seem to get enough. On the other hand, we have a Christian evangelist, who is a married father of six and an upstanding member of society, who America is prepared to crucify for merely refusing to compromise on a biblical truth. The problem here lies in our society’s definition and view of manhood. Sadly, the pervasive view today is that a real man behaves much more like Sheen than like Cameron. If a man can rack up endless sexual conquests, can consume large amounts of mind-altering substances without “being a lightweight,” and can use anger to control others and get what he wants, he is perceived as strong, tough and a force to be reckoned with. However, a man like Cameron-one who is humble, loves and serves his family, and believes in and stands for the Bible- is marginalized as boring and irrelevant at best, and vilified as weak and bigoted at worst. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Bible can see that the gap between the biblical truth about manhood and the backwards idea of a man portrayed by the modern media is already a Grand Canyon-sized chasm that only continues to widen.
When considering how God defines a “real man” we need look no further than God in human flesh – the man Jesus Christ. What were the attributes of Jesus when He walked this earth, according to what we read in the Bible? Let’s examine a few together.
In Matthew 26:39, Jesus, the night before he was crucified, said, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” As fully man yet fully God, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him in the next 24 hours; betrayal, shame, humiliation, savage beating, physical disfigurement and, ultimately, death. Yet He courageously and willingly embraced His mission with strength and resolve. Jesus lived His entire earthly life aware of the horrible death that awaited Him, yet He boldly pressed forward each day toward that death as the ultimate brave soldier.
Not to be confused with weakness, which is the absence of power, meekness has been well-defined as the presence of power under control. Again, we must remember that Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent man simultaneously. The same hands that created the universe, that unleashed the waters of Noah’s flood, and that caused the sun to stand still (see Joshua 10) are the hands we see tenderly touching the sick and sinful throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. In John 8, we read a particularly touching account of Jesus showing incredible compassion and grace to a woman caught in the act of adultery. In dealing with this sinful woman, as well as in dealing with her accusers, Jesus embodied meekness by restraining His power yet powerfully impacting everyone present by His presence.
Jesus unashamedly declared the truth at all times, despite the temperature of the listening audience or the potential consequences of His words. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus confronting the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and religiosity, calling them vipers, whitewashed tombs, blind guides and even sons of hell! These were the very men who had the power to, and ultimately did, see Him put to death. In all four Gospels, we read an account of Jesus literally flipping over the tables of the money-changers in the temple who were using God’s holy house as a venue to turn a profit. Jesus repeatedly displayed intense, unashamed boldness throughout His earthly ministry. He never backed down from the truth.
Jesus Himself said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In John Chapter 13, we read an account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet – the dirtiest of jobs reserved for the lowliest of slaves in that day. Jesus, the creator of the world and the ultimate leader, very intentionally and purposefully performed this humble task as an example of real servant-leadership. Jesus never commanded respect outright, but His humble actions demanded it from all of those whom He came in contact with.
In Jesus’ day, He was overlooked by His own people because He came not as a conquering warlord, full of pride and indignation, but as a humble teacher proclaiming a message of love and humility. That same danger, to miss Jesus, similarly exists today. If men like Sheen are those our society praises and obsesses over, it’s no wonder that Jesus’ true example of manhood is dismissed by the world. As for Cameron’s public persecution, Jesus Himself said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first” (John 15:18). Men today have a choice. They can choose to allow the world’s propaganda of a false and sinful masculinity to define who they become, or they can choose to follow and become like the ultimate real man, Jesus Christ.