The Measure of a Man
- Carolyn McCulley Author & Contributing Writer
- 2005 31 Oct
I’m Safety Sister – the woman every single guy feels safe to talk to. It’s a development I didn’t expect as a result of a book I wrote for single women. Now I’m a repository of advice for single men everywhere who want to figure out what to do with a woman they are interested in.
My counsel always boils down to the same three words: Talk. To. Her. Yes, it’s a risk to communicate whatever level of interest you have and ask her if she’s interested in exploring anything further. Yes, you might get rejected. Yes, you should have to answer for your behavior toward her to her pastor, father, or friends. But that’s what masculinity is all about: risk and reward. And we ladies want to encourage the men around us to be men and take risks. That’s how you express trust in God. We express trust in God by waiting on you.
So, gentlemen, that’s the extent of my counsel to you. Now I turn my attention to the ladies … so that we can talk about you. Here’s a question I recently received from a young woman in her early 20s:
Last night my sister and I were jokingly talking about things guys do that are so cute. And they were little things, like when their hair is messed up, etc. But then we started talking about how attractive it is when a guy actually pays attention to you when you're talking, when he asks you questions, or actually works hard to get to know you. I had to stop at that point because I was wondering if our expectations of men are too low. Maybe it’s because my sisters and I have been watching "Pride & Prejudice" that I have started thinking that these “amazing” guys who actually listen to a woman, open a door for her, or treat her with chivalry shouldn't be considered the cream of the crop –- but merely normal gentlemen. Do you think I’m being idealistic?
(One more aside to the guys: Note the "Pride & Prejudice" reference. This is important. Seriously. If you want to understand most women, connect with Jane Austen.)
The Man at the Gates
Where should our expectations be? Last month’s column addressed a particular challenge to women when it comes to guarding our hearts as we hope for certain relationships. I called it “dating in your mind.” And I promised that this month we’d explore how to wisely evaluate any man we’re interested in. So let’s look at what the Bible says about the husband of a woman of noble character, the Proverbs 31 woman.
Proverbs 31:23 (ESV) says, “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” To say someone “sits at the gates” was shorthand for saying he was a man of influence, a community leader who was worthy of respect. This phrase was derived from the architecture of Israelite cities because city gates were the focal point for social and commercial activity, including legal and business matters. For Christians today, the men at the gates are those whom God has given to lead the church -- pastors and elders. Because Scripture lists character requirements for those leaders, which are required of all believers, those requirements can be trustworthy standards by which we can evaluate the men in our lives today. 1 Timothy 3:1-10 (ESV, emphasis added) says:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.
Are the men you are interested in seeking to pursue and grow in these character traits? We shouldn’t expect perfection, but we should look at the trajectory of their lives. Where are they directing their time and efforts? Are they seeking to grow? Are they cultivating self-control? Are they aiming to be respectable? Are they trying to be hospitable? (I don’t mean that they throw ten-course dinner parties. I mean, do they make people feel welcome – are they observant of the needs of those around them?) And so on, right until the last point: Have they been tested? Testing doesn’t mean that these men have performed flawlessly on each and every character trait listed above, but that they have allowed examination and have gained the approval of others around them for their commitment to spiritual growth.
Ladies, this is where we can find protection in our local churches. Watching a man’s commitment to the Bride of Christ is going to help us discern how he will interact with an earthly bride. We can evaluate many things about a man’s character through serving together in church before we invest any of our emotions into a relationship with him. We really want to marry men who love one person more than they love us – Jesus. And if they love Jesus, they are going to love His bride. Does the Bride of Christ get consistent attention and time from this man? Does the Bride of Christ receive his financial support? Does the Bride of Christ benefit from a consistent relationship, or does this man only show up in church sporadically? Does he want to sacrifice his leisure time to serve the Bride of Christ through participating in her ministries? Does he love the Body of Christ by caring for a wide variety of her members – or is he only interested in meeting the more attractive, eligible members? Is he faithful to the Bride of Christ or does he hop from church to church and meeting to meeting? (And can the same be said of us?)
We should also note how a man treats his family, even when he is no longer living at home. Does he honor his parents in the way he speaks about them? Does he make an effort to serve them or visit them?
The Noble Man
Once when I was praying about a man I liked, the Lord brought to mind the Scripture address of Isaiah 32:8. I looked it up eagerly, and read: “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands” (NIV). I had no idea how to apply this Scripture to my prayers, so I waited and watched. Over the course of time, I came to see that this man was not being purposeful in our friendship, that noble plans were not being made and the deeds I observed were careless, not intentional. However, as I later studied this passage, I saw several ways to evaluate whether a man would be commended by the Lord as a noble man. This verse concludes a passage about the kingdom of righteousness that reads:
“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The mind of the rash will know and understand, and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear. No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected. For the fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil: He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the LORD; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water. The scoundrel's methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” (Isaiah 32:1-8 NIV)
I realize this is a prophetic passage about the Messiah, and not anyone’s husband. But because here in Scripture we find the characteristics of a noble, godly man contrasted with those of a scoundrel, this is a useful passage for women to study to understand what God calls godly.
A noble man The scoundrel
Is a shelter from the wind Speaks folly
Is a refuge from the storm Mind is busy with evil
Is streams of water in the desert Practices ungodliness
The shadow of a great rock Spreads error concerning the Lord
in a thirsty land Makes up evil schemes
Makes noble plans Does nothing for the hungry, thirsty
Does noble deeds
A noble man is a hiding place from the rough elements of life, a man who offers protection and shelter. He does not leave you exposed – either to ridicule or to harm. He is refreshment in a dry place, bringing much encouragement. He flows with streams of living water because he is a man of the Word. He is shade in weariness – reflecting the strength of the Rock, Christ. When a man is making noble plans toward you, he wants to offer you covering. He will offer to serve you, help carry your burdens, and pour the Word into your dry soul. His deeds will be noble, not common. He will show evidences of cherishing you, protecting your boundaries and standards. He won’t touch you like a common object, and he will exert himself to care for you and to notice your needs.
Most importantly, a noble man is a submitted man himself. He serves his King wholeheartedly and makes himself accountable to other men. In my opinion, this should be one of the first characteristics we look for in any man who pursues us. In the happiest marriages I’ve seen, the husbands have other men in their lives who observe them, offer correction, and ask them how they are doing serving their wives and children. Without that community of accountability and authority, a couple has no one outside themselves to appeal to for help in unresolved conflict. Author and pastor Andrew Farmer writes:
“A woman should evaluate a man’s respect for authority. In our society, the godly man is most distinct from the worldly man in the way he has put away prideful independence and pursued humble submissiveness. A man who is independent in his faith and does not seek the counsel and oversight of pastors and other mature men, will be a failure as a leader (and therefore as a husband) as defined by Scripture. See the story of Abigail and Nabal for a sad example of an arrogant man not worthy of his virtuous wife (1 Samuel 25).”
The Intentional Man
If you are fortunate, you know a few tested, noble men. What remains is whether or not they are being intentional toward you. The “problem” with godly men is that they are so markedly different – gentlemanly, kind, attentive – from most men in our culture that it’s hard not to receive it personally. I see that over and over again in my church as new women join. Inevitably, one of the guys will offer to walk a woman to her car after a meeting. These women usually have one of two reactions. Either they will refuse the offer because they think the guy is interested, or they will light up like Times Square because they think he is interested. What they don’t know is that there is a third option: he’s not interested, he’s just extending gentlemanly care. Because they don’t know the culture, it’s easy to be confused.
The point is, an intentional man makes his purposes known. He tells you what he’s doing, and where he’s leading. He is clear about where he wants the relationship to go. When he’s not clear, when he’s not saying anything, when he’s enjoying the friendship but not moving forward – he’s not being intentional. Period. You don’t see noble deeds because he’s not making those noble plans. You may have the greatest friendship in the world, but he’s just hanging out in it. In fact, one man called this half-hearted testing of the water “the buddy approach.”
I know how tempting it is to hang out in these undefined friendships, where the best you can get is a blurry, part-time boyfriend. At least some attention is better than none, right? Nope, sorry, I’m no longer convinced of that. For one, I find it challenging to guard my heart and keep my peace before God in these “hopeful friendships.” I’m always in danger of closing my fist-of-demand over the friendship, instead of leaving this friendship in open hands before the Lord. Second, it tempts the men to passivity, in my humble observation. It provides them with the out of “Oh, maybe you misunderstood me, we’re just friends.” If we women would be better about guarding the amount of time and attention invested in these close friendships, we might see our reserve rewarded with pursuit instead of passivity. After all, we don’t want to manipulate the situation and then live under one of the three things the Bible says makes the earth tremble: “an unloved woman when she gets a husband” (Proverbs 30:23).
When is a man interested? When he says so, and his actions back up his words. Anything less is at best merely friendly, and possibly even uncertain or inconsiderate. If he’s a noble man who’s made noble plans, one of his noble deeds is letting you know about it!
(A shout out to the guys still reading this column. See? It really does come down to those three little words: Talk. To. Her. I also hope you are not discouraged by the points above. It’s worth stating again: Perfection is not the standard. We only want to see you taking biblical standards seriously and attempting to apply them in your lives. I often receive letters from guys saying there’s not much material out there for cultivating godliness as a single man. Yes, it does seem that most materials are for single women. Though I do not presume to fill that void – it’s better that you are equipped and discipled by other godly men – I do hope that by eavesdropping here you’ve derived some benefit and have some points to discuss with the guys. We women are praying for you!)
Carolyn McCulley handles church and ministry relations for Sovereign Grace Ministries and is a member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.
This column is adapted from her book, "Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred." (Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.gnpcb.org). Carolyn welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit her website (www.carolynmcculley.com) or blog (solofemininity.blogs.com).