The True Strength of Man

Strength of ManWhat is the strength of man?

That just sounds like a manly question. When one thinks of a “man’s man,” the idea of strength most likely comes to mind. But given the general misunderstanding of what it means to be a man, there is undoubtedly confusion concerning what it means to be strong as well.

I would imagine the first thing we think of when we hear “strength” is physical strength. In fact, physical strength is the first category given in a basic search on “strength” in Wikipedia. Surely, any guy who has had the pleasure of experiencing middle school can attest to the perceived importance and value of physical strength for any boy desiring to become a man. And even as adults, we can still succumb to the notion that manhood is marked by great displays of physical strength, especially in the all-influencing arena of sports. (Maybe the allure of praise for one’s physical strength is what has driven many athletes to use physical enhancements in order to perform at a higher level. We should beware.)

As a Christian, I affirm the value of the physical body God created, so I do not want to diminish the value of a man’s physical strength. I simply want to put it in the right place. What I mean is this. There are many times in the Bible where God commanded men to be strong. We see this most memorably in the book of Joshua, where Joshua was commanded three times in the first chapter to be strong before taking Israel into the Promised Land to face enemies (described as “giants”) (Josh. 1:6,7,9). It would be an odd thing if God were simply encouraging Joshua to hone his ability to lift heavy objects. Rather, in most (if not every) occurrence in Scripture where there is a command to be strong, there seems to be a deeper and infinitely more potent strength required by God for the man or men in question.

Perhaps a better alternative to measuring strength by one’s physical abilities is measuring it by one’s ability to endure. This type of strength is often referred to as “courage.” Courage is a much better indicator of a man’s strength than mere physical strength. The concept of courage involves not only the ability to endure in the face of trials and tribulations, but also the ability to be virtuous and moral regardless of the situation. God does not only call Joshua to be strong those three times in that first chapter, but also to be courageous. There is no doubt that this call is for every man—courage is one of the defining attributes of what it means to live as a man. But there is an even deeper well of strength into which a man can and must tap and by which both his physical ability and his courage are fueled.

In 2 Timothy 2:1, Paul encourages Timothy by pointing him to the greatest source of strength known to man: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Now, I know you are probably tempted to roll your eyes at the seemingly “Sunday School answer” of “Jesus” to the question of where our strength comes from, but let’s put aside our cynicism and skepticism momentarily in order to appropriately dwell on this concept. Sometimes the Sunday School answer is the one we desperately need to be true.

Let’s first consider the strength of God. God is infinite in his power, might, and strength. By his mere breath he created the heavens and the Earth. There is none like him, for he is God. When we can slow down long enough to meditate on who God is, what he has done, and what he is capable of doing, even the greatest imaginable display of human strength fades into the shadow of God’s immeasurable strength. In light of this, we simply stand (or kneel, rather) in awe, humbled that we would ever attribute the word “strength” to man.

When we understand that this all-powerful God also gives grace, we can begin to realize fully the astounding implications for man: ultimately, all strength comes from God. And the words in 2 Timothy 2:1, “In Christ Jesus,” reveal how the incomparable strength of God is made available to man. It is through the Person and Work of Christ Jesus that man is restored to a right relationship with God the Father and is enabled to live fully in the purposes for which he was created. The more a man experiences a flourishing relationship with Christ, the more he experiences the strength and power that flow from the grace of God and that enable him to be the man God has called him to be.

Tragically, however, Christian men are often willing to trust in God’s strength for salvation but rely solely on their own strength for every other aspect of life. To be the men God has called us to be, we must look to Christ Jesus for all our strength. As the Psalmist declares, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14).

Look at the men in Scripture who strengthened themselves in victory and in suffering by placing their trust, hope, and faith in Christ Jesus. The author of Hebrews describes these men as those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight . . . Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:33-39).

I do not believe we have less at stake than these men, for God has called every man to a high calling. As men we are to be leaders in the Church, leaders in the home, and leaders in society. Even more, we are called to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of light to the darkness, armed with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But with every high calling there is an equal or greater challenge. We have an insidious enemy who is described as a “prowling lion” who seeks to devour us. We also live in a world that is fallen, broken, and cursed, creating a hostile environment towards all our labors.

To be faithful to such a high calling will require every faculty of a man’s strength, but it would be absolutely foolish to attempt any of these great endeavors against such great adversaries apart from the strength of God. The call to manliness is the call to strength, and our true strength is found in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Evaluation and Application

Before I end this article it would be beneficial to bring this concept to the ground level and ask how we can practically apply this to our lives. Here are some self-evaluation questions that will guide all of us as we intentionally seek to find our strength in God’s strength.

  • What does the discipline of prayer look like in your life? Are you consistently placing yourself in the position of dependence before God by asking him to move in the big and small aspects of your life?
  • Do you have a discipline of thankfulness? Do you thank God for all the abilities, affections, and opportunities he has given you?
  • Where do you find your identity? Is it in your accomplishments or in the Person of Christ Jesus and his accomplishments?

These questions are not exhaustive, but they can serve as a good diagnostic for the practice of finding your strength in God. Take some time to mediate on where you draw the strength needed to be the man God has called you to be.

We are weak and desperate for God. Once we admit this and seek God in everything we do, we will find ourselves stronger than ever. Paul learned this well, and wrote the following to the Corinthians: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Cor. 12:9-10).

Be watchful.
Stand firm in the faith.
Act like men.
{1 Corinthians 16:13}