Our culture is conflicted about masculinity.
On the one hand, it decries the type of toxic masculinity that results in abuse and violence towards women, but it also enables and encourages male promiscuity and infidelity through sex education and the entertainment industry.
When it comes to violence, it should be no surprise that the population in our prisons are 93% male1, especially when 97% of teenage boys play video games for over 2 hours a day2 and the majority of popular video games are graphically violent in nature.3
Many in our culture have even started promoting a fluid definition of what it means to be a man regardless of biological realities. Chivalry is dead; not because men lack virtue but because the culture has determined that certain courteous behavior towards women is actually demeaning, not honoring.
Our milieu is a mess.
I want to raise my five boys to be strong men. I want them to have tenacity and resilience, demonstrating unflinching courage in the face of danger.
But as I watch my boys wrestle on the trampoline or on the living room floor, I realize that boys are in need of another important virtue: gentleness.
The History of Gentlemen
In England, from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century, a gentleman was a warrior. He received training in arms and was prepared for combat, whether in battle or in tournaments. However, by the seventeenth century, gentlemanly behavior had more to do with conduct in a court than combat on a battlefield. Numerous etiquette manuals were produced, outlining proper social behavior.
This emphasis continued into the 18th and 19th centuries when books such as the “Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness” were produced. In his manual, Cecil Hartley describes a gentleman as one who: holds doors open for women, keeps appointments, offers his seat to others, shows tact, avoids profane language, restrains his anger, and uses kind words.
The social concept of a gentleman has significantly changed over the centuries, but the biblical definition and call for gentle men has remained unchanged.
A Biblical Case for a Gentle Man
When talking about a woman’s true beauty, Peter prioritizes a “gentle” spirit over jewelry and cute outfits (1 Peter 3:4). When Paul describes gentleness, he uses the illustration of a nursing mother who cares for her own children (1 Thess. 2:7). So, does the Bible expect men to be gentle or is this a primarily female virtue?
Perhaps the most direct answer to that question is found in the one place in the Bible where Jesus Christ explicitly describes himself.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29
Dane Ortlund comments on this verse in his wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly,
“Meek. Humble. Gentle. Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.” (Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, 19)
Gentleness is God’s plan for every believer (including men and boys) because gentleness is the very heart of Christ.
Furthermore, gentleness is God’s plan for me and my boys because it is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). Over and over, the Apostle Paul writes to remind believers that our posture towards others must be one of gentleness:
- Restore fallen brothers in a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1)
- Walk worthy of your calling by showing gentleness (Eph. 4:2)
- Let your gentleness be known to everyone (Phil 4:12)
- Put on gentleness as God’s chosen ones (Col. 3:12)
- Correct unbelievers with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:25)
In addition, if the pastoral character qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus are exemplary for all men, certainly we should strive to train our boys to become gentle men (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 3:2).
Raising Gentle Men
As a dad with enough boys to make a basketball team, some people have asked if it feels like we’re constantly hosting a multi-person MMA fight in our house. We might host a ton of testosterone, but that doesn’t mean our boys can’t learn self-control and grow up to be men of honor.
Here are some of the ways we are striving to raise our boys to be gentle men:
- We don’t tolerate any form of physical violence in the home. Jesus demonstrated the ability to be struck without returning a blow. (John 18:22; 19:3)
- We train our boys to show care for someone who is injured by asking them if they are okay.4 The gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus’ tender touch and personal care for people who were in pain or distress. (Matthew 8:3, 15; 9:25, 29)
- We encourage affection with lots of hugs. It’s a common occurrence for my wife to be overwhelmed with 5 boys and a husband that all want to be close to her at the same time.
- We strive by God’s grace to demonstrate gentleness with our children. It is never appropriate to violently correct or punish children out of anger.5
- We encourage gentleness in actions as well as in speech. (Proverbs 15:1) Because our tongue can be like a fire (James 3:6), we talk to our boys often about using their words as figurative firemen, not pyromaniacs.
Men without Chests
Our culture continues to foster confusion in young men by encouraging soft masculinity and condemning chivalry while also enabling violence and condoning promiscuity.
In his classic work, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis observed,
“…the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
I want to raise strong men, not weak boys. And yet, when Lewis mentions “men without chests,” he’s not referring to those who lack courage and bravery, but rather, those who lack virtue and heart. What we need is men of kindness and compassion. Our culture needs to return to a biblical understanding of gentle men. In order to accomplish that, we need fathers to step up and raise boys to be men.
Instead of the age-old adage, “Boys will be boys,” it should be, “Boys will be men, so let’s have men stop acting like boys and start training their boys to be men.” May God help us as growing fathers to exemplify the gentleness of Christ for our families and our churches by walking in the Spirit and committing ourselves to raise our boys to be gentle men.
We want our boys to show sympathy to others but this doesn’t mean we run to our boys whenever they get a scratch. We train them to be tough by tender. ↩︎
I do get angry when I witness bullying or violence to a younger sibling, but by God’s grace I try to send the offending child to a room or allow my wife to address the offense so I can calm myself. ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
John serves as an Associate Pastor at Grace Bible Church in Murrieta, California. He and his wife, Suzanne, have five growing boys—Josiah, Micah, Judah, Noah, and Elijah.View all posts by John