Single Men: Carry the Colors
- Monday, December 15, 2003
I am a history buff with an intense interest in the Civil War. I particularly enjoy visiting the battlefield parks of major engagements of the war. Although not a fan of war itself, I find myself deeply moved when standing in the midst of a battlefield and realizing this is where men gave their lives for something greater than themselves. I can spend all day reading monuments and plaques. A life goal is to read all 5000 monuments at Gettysburg; I have about 3000 left.
One of the most beautifully preserved battlefields is Antietam, site of the bloodiest day of fighting of the Civil War. The Antietam visitor's center holds an amazing painting of a group of soldiers battling around a regimental flag. Regimental flags were the individual banners or "colors" of a regiment that distinguished that group of soldiers from all others. The ultimate colors of the army were the national flags-the Stars and Stripes of the Union, and the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy. The picture in the visitor's center so fascinated me that I did some study on the purpose and use of flags and banners throughout history.
Banners and flags provide identity and direction to large groups of people who need to move in a coordinated way. In the Old Testament, the people were counted and organized by tribe and family under banners (Nu 2:1-2, 34). As the Israelites wandered in the desert, each evening the banners were planted around the tabernacle in precise array, enabling the people to transform themselves from a mob into a community of faith. Under these banners the nation traveled and arrayed in battle. The banners identified one's place of belonging in times of peace, and provided a rallying point in times of war. In Exodus 17, Moses himself became a human regimental flag: the Israelites were able to defeat the Amalekites only when Moses' hands were held aloft. But Moses, realizing it was not his power that won the day, dedicated an altar named "The Lord is My Banner." For Israel, a banner was a sign of God's sovereign control, intervention, and identification with his people.
How does all this apply to single men? Let's face it, the sexual revolution has done a number on guys. The traditional ideas of masculinity are under siege from every side. Men are told that to reclaim their identity they need to do everything from primal screaming in the woods to exploring their feminine side as if it were some recently discovered treasure island. Not surprisingly, this confusion has filtered into the church.
But I believe there is a clear call to masculinity for the Christian single man. The biblical call for single men can be expressed in the opportunity to "carry the colors" in the church. But what does this mean? Sacrifice.
Throughout history, the great honor of being selected to carry the colors of the army has gone to that soldier who was both totally trustworthy and extremely brave-for he who carries the colors has no hand free to carry a gun. Maleness in our day, by contrast, is all about attitude and image. I see it in the locker room of the gym I frequently (well, occasionally) attend: guys preening in front of mirrors, talking trash about women, complaining about their bosses. Rebellious attitudes, slackerism, fatalism, rowdyism, materialism, and the like all speak of a lack of sustaining vision or mission for our maleness. While still at the top of the social power structure, men are taking hits on all sides, and are deserting their positions of influence in the culture wars. We have become fans of everything, but participants in little that ultimately matters.
Contrast this with the vision of single man Paul, as expressed in these excerpts from his letter to a persecuted church in Philippi:
Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the Word of God more courageously and fearlessly....For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain....But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you....Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ....I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings....Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal (Php 1:14, 21; 2:17; 3:7, 10, 13-14).
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