Biblical Manhood Versus Traditional African Manhood

Editors’ note: 

This article was originally published at KUZA, a Kenyan online ministry that develops digital discipleship material for African youth and young adults.

In the African traditional culture, there are a lot of things that define manhood. For example, many a community will assert that a man has the final word in a family; he does not need to consult with his wife and is not controlled by her or else amekaliwa. Also, a man is the sole provider for his family; naturally, his wife stays home. He is to be hard-working, a protector of his family, tough on morals and stoic. In some communities, if a male doesn’t have a business or education, is missing teeth or is uncircumcised, then he’s not considered a man.

Being Christians, we must not let our cultural past or even present define who a man is.

In other regions of the African setting, a man cannot do roles such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, or even being seen in the kitchen, since these are considered female roles. Also, some African communities will say that a man shouldn’t just have one wife; in some more interesting cases, men can even share a wife/wives. When it comes to food, a man gets the choicest portions of meat and is served food first in the family. In matters of priority, the closest things to a man’s heart will be his cows and land, followed by his sons. His wife/wives come at a distant third, and his daughters come forth.

When one looks closely, there are good things in the definition of our traditional African man and some that are not good when placed under the scrutiny of scripture. Many reading this post might assume that things have changed and our African men are no longer like this. That may be true. However, we see remnants of the old-day traditional African man today. Being Christians, we must not let our cultural past or even present define who a man is. We must seek to abide by God’s original plan as outlined in the scriptures (note: the things outlined below may also apply to women, but the main focus of this post is men).

Jesus: The Model Man

According to the good news, that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is upon salvation that we’re conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and are able to grow to the measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). We’re also, as Christians, called to remove the old self and put on the new self that is being made into the likeness of Jesus (Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:22-24). We’re also to put our old sinful ways behind us and look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Indeed, Jesus is our example, not only of faith but even manhood. So, if Jesus is the ultimate man and we’re to be like him, what was Jesus like as a man?

Jesus knows what it is like to be a man in every way, except he was sinless and, as a result, is our perfect example.

Before moving too far, one important thing to understand is that Jesus was a human. Scripture says that he became flesh (John 1:14). As a human being, he was born (Matthew 1:16-18), grew (Luke 2:52), got tempted (Hebrews 4:15), became hungry (Matthew 4:2), thirsty (John 4:7), weary (John 4:6), sleepy (Matthew 8:24), felt emotion (John 11:33), and even died (John 19:30). Jesus’ humanity brings him closer to us than any other god across all religions. He knows what it is like to be a man in every way, except he was sinless and, as a result, is our perfect example and acceptable ransom for sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Men Are to Be Holy

Other aspects we see about Jesus are that he is holy (Luke 1:35; Revelation 3:7), and righteous (Isaiah 53:11). Men are, therefore, to be holy and righteous in conduct as Jesus was (1 Peter 1:13-16). To be holy and righteous translates into a life of obedience to God the Father as Jesus was (John 4:34; 15:10). Sadly, many men are not known for such qualities as holiness and righteousness, but for sinful choices and failures. For instance, men are known to have a hard time saying no to extramarital sex. Many will unashamedly confess to having girlfriends and other women on the side. Infidelity is an obvious sign of a lack of holiness.

Many men will unashamedly confess to having other women on the side. Infidelity is an obvious sign of a lack of holiness.

A biblical man should strive to be like Jesus Christ and follow his ways. Some of the ways that the holiness of Jesus was on display was in how he was self-denying (Matthew 8:20), patient (1 Timothy 1:16), and compassionate (Matthew 4:23-24). We could use these expressions of holiness as men, especially when dealing with sexual sin. We should be self-denying enough to flee from sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), patiently wait to have sex in a marriage set up, and have loving compassion for our wives enough to honour the marriage bed.

Men Are to Be Humble

Some ways in which Christ shows humility was when he said “come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29; Isaiah 53:7; Zechariah 9:9). Jesus, despite being the Creator of the world (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16), was humble enough to serve others (Luke 22:27). Jesus also humbly gave away his life for wicked sinners like us (Philippians 2:8). Therefore, from Christ’s example we learn that men are to be humble, serve others, and even be ready to die for the people we love.

Despite being the Creator of the world, Jesus was humble enough to serve others.

Fathers and other men often use their strength to exert fear on the ones they lead instead of giving them rest and serving them. If men were to lead their families the way Christ is leading his Church, they would humbly lead and love their wives and children (Ephesians 5:25).

When a man humbly loves his wife the way the Bible calls us to, it wouldn’t be much of a problem for them to, for instance, enter a kitchen and serve his wife or children. In addition, a godly man would prioritise loving his people and only seek to use things like a business, cows, and land to benefit his people.

Men Are to Be Zealous

Like Jesus, men need to be passionate about worshipping God properly and standing for truth.

Jesus, our model man, wanted the house of God to be pure so that people may properly worship God (John 2:13-17). Christ’s zeal for worshipping God the Father was evident from a very young age when he stayed behind in the temple after the Passover. While at the temple, he met with teachers of the Law listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:41-46). Everyone who heard young Jesus was amazed by his understanding (Luke 2:47). When his worried parents came searching, he reminded them: “I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49). Jesus also boldly told the Pharisees that he always does the things that are pleasing to God the Father (John 8:29).

The zeal for God should consume all Christian men. Like Jesus, we need to be passionate about worshipping God properly, standing for truth, and learning and teaching truth no matter what. Such zeal will lead our families and others we lead closer to what truly matters, a relationship with God.

In Christ, We Are Strong

Jesus was passionate about the kingdom of God. His humility didn’t translate into weakness. Consider how Jesus came to earth (John 1:14), and became human, living amongst people that loved darkness more than light (John 3:19). His closest friends and companions, the disciples, abandoned him in his hour of need (Matthew 26:31, 56). He was mocked (Luke 22:63), spat upon (Mark 14:65), whipped (Mark 15:15), had a spear put through his side (John 19:34). He had nails put into his hands and feet for our sake (John 20:25). This is zeal, passion, courage, and strength at its best. What stronger man can we follow, look up to, and admire if not Christ?

Our loving God will then empower us by his grace to be men that are pleasing in his eyes.

We could point to many other outstanding characteristics of Christ. But when we get these three right, all other things, such as courage, hard work, passion, and many more, will fall into place.

In Christ, We Can Never Fail

These marvellous qualities of our ‘model man,’ Jesus Christ, can feel unachievable to many a man. True to it, we cannot measure up. So, it will be fruitless to leave here with a “I need to be better” or “I need to pull myself up by my bootstraps” mentality. Instead, we should come to our merciful (Hebrews 2:17) and forgiving Saviour (Luke 2:11; 23:34), with honest humility, admitting our failure and sinfulness (Romans 3:23). Our loving God will then empower us by his grace to be men that are pleasing in his eyes (Titus 2:11-14).

May his voice speak loudest above all the cultural noises as we seek his face daily.

It is God who created us. Therefore, when our lives come to an end, we must reckon that obedience to God’s definition of manhood will matter, not that of our culture or the surrounding community. Hence, may his voice speak loudest above all the cultural noises as we seek his face daily in his excellent inerrant word.