Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.
If you were to do a survey of current writings on the biggest problems in the Christian faith today, you would find that most of the articles and books and blogs and speeches point back to one thing: men today are often weak in faith and godliness. Let’s face it, even secular sources acknowledge that modern men are notorious for failing in their commitments to being fathers and leaders in and outside their homes. The so-called “sexual revolution” of the previous generation has led to fractured homes, fatherless children, and more single-parent homes than ever–and we see America’s leadership in education, technology, and even our economy slipping at the same time. We see crime on the rise–especially violent crime in places that hardly saw any crime a generation ago–and surveys suggest that the vast majority of men and women who commit these crimes come from single-parent homes. In our society of serial monogamy, marriage and subsequent divorce has become so much the norm that many younger people are opting not to get married at all. In short, people enter into relationships with no true intention of staying, and yet many of those same couples bear children. And then the relationship “fails”–quite often due to abuse, but also just as often because of plain dissatisfaction–and then children are left to be raised by one parent who now has to work two jobs to provide for his or her family.
But this situation of weak bonds in the family was not always so, and masculinity was not always equated with a man simply standing up for his own self-perceived “rights” and doing whatever he pleases. The fact is that, once upon a time, the idea of masculinity was once intimately connected with valor, virtue, respect, and commitment to family.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
In today’s well-known verse from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, the great apostle says to them that they should meditate on all sorts of great things, including things in which there is any “virtue.” Now, that is an interesting word. In the English Standard Bible, the translators used the word “excellence,” and in Young’s Literal Translation we see it written as “worthiness.” But the Greek word has a more interesting connotation. In Greek, the word is ἀρετὴ (“aretē”). Most often, in the New Testament that word is indeed translated as “valor” or “virtue,” and in one place it is written as “praise”–as in “praiseworthy.” But the roots of the word suggest a different idea, one that is quite literally lost in translation: “manliness.” “Aretē” comes from a root that pertains to masculine strength, the ability to lift things up.
Think about that for a moment. When we think of valor and virtue, what do we usually see? Being a bit of a medieval history buff, I usually think of the Knights of the Round Table and tales of valiant soldiers going into battle against incredible odds. In short, I think about men standing up for what’s right–and even women standing up and doing what is traditionally a man’s job in defending their homes and families against evil. In the days when Paul was writing his letters, his readers knew that word “aretē,” and they knew it pertained to tales of heroes who were virtuous, men (and a few women) who had the weight of right and truth on their side as they held fast and triumphed over mythological beasts and villainous men. “Aretē” is that word which Paul used to sum up the things he had just told them to think about.
Look at these things Paul wrote to them:
• “whatever things are true”: “true” also means “unconcealed”–i.e. openness and integrity
• “whatever things are noble”: also “venerable” or “honorable”
• “whatever things are just”: “equitable” or even “holy”
• “whatever things are pure”: “right” or “clean” or “chaste”
• “whatever things are lovely”: literally “worthy of friendship”
• “whatever things are of good report”: having a good reputation
Are these not the qualities of a man or woman of virtue, someone who is praiseworthy?
Paul wrote to his protegé Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
If we are looking for how to guide men today, to equip them for every good work which the Lord has prepared for them to do, then we need look no further than the Word of God.
2 Samuel 23:2-3
2 “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.
3 “The God of Israel said,
The Rock of Israel spoke to me:
‘He who rules over men must be just,
Ruling in the fear of God.'”
King David wrote those words, and then went on to acknowledge his own failure to live by them:
2 Samuel 23:5
“Although my house is not so with God,
Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant,
Ordered in all things and secure.
For this is all my salvation and all my desire;
Will He not make it increase?”
He who rules must rule “in the fear of God.” He must guide his household as if God Himself is always watching, always weighing, always judging–which, of course, He is, “including every secret thing.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) But the crux of the matter is that we now have Jesus Christ to guide us in an everlasting covenant in His own blood. Jesus is a Savior who was and IS true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. (The gospel is not called the “Good News” for nothing!)
If we are to have just one masculine role model, it must be Christ. Just as He cares for and shepherds His church, so, too, must men today shepherd their families. Jesus was the very exemplar of virtue and masculinity–not in a “macho” soldier kind of way but in a righteous hero kind of way. We men must stand up as men and reclaim Virtue as our just epithet, as the equivalent of what it truly means to be masculine. How can we complain that there is no commitment in our society when we ourselves are so weak in commitment ourselves?!? We must no longer allow weakness to define us–the weakness of lacking commitment to family and to Christ, the weakness of failing to stand up for the fatherless and the weak, the weakness of neglecting our parents, the weakness of sundering our families in the quest to follow our lusts, the weakness of allowing addictions to worldly things take precedence over God and family. If we are to be counted as true men of virtue, as true men worthy of praise, then we ourselves must be true and noble and just and pure and lovely and of good report. We ourselves must model the things which we wish to see in our society. We must be strong enough to submit to the rulership of the One who is all that we wish to be, so that we can become all that God wishes us to be.
Virtue is a trait that is indeed sorely lacking today. We have become so accustomed to getting our worldly ways that we fail to grasp that those are not God’s ways. We are so proud that we hate submitting to anyone’s rulership other than our own–and yet that is exactly what Jesus told us we must do if we are truly to be His disciples. (Matthew 10:38-39 et al.) To model the virtue of our loving Shepherd, we must yield to His reign in our lives. To become men and women worthy of praise, we must fill our hearts and minds and our very lives with things and ways that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. That is what real virtue is all about.
Heavenly Father, like your friend David, I know that I have not always been with You, that I have fallen short of Your measure. I praise You that Your mercy and Your grace stand in my stead to prop me up and make me more than I could ever be on my own. It is only by Your virtue that I understand virtue at all. Therefore, Lord God, I humbly ask that You guide me to those things which Paul exhorted us to pursue. Help me find those things which will make me the virtuous child You desire me to be. And, Father, may all I do, in word or deed, not just be acceptable in Your sight but be glorifying to Your holy name. Amen.