“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
The whole phrase “act like men” comes from one Greek word, basically taking the noun for “men” and turning it into a verb, i.e. “Be men,” or “Man up!”
It is a peppy, catchy phrase, but what does it mean? What is Paul specifically wanting us to do, as a result of this command? What does it mean in biblical terms, to “man up”?
Paul Is Not Saying Just to Be More Masculine
Do monster-truck rallies, professional sports, and toolboxes immediately come to mind? Wrong!
Remember that Paul is addressing the whole church with this letter; he is not telling the women to act more masculine.
Also, however, Paul is speaking clearly in context of spiritual attributes: watchfulness against temptation, standing firm in the faith, being strong in the Lord. These, of course, are not merely masculine qualities but apply to every Christian believer. So Paul’s admonition to “act like men” has deeper, stronger, more difficult implications than just “get yourself a man cave.”
Paul Is Contrasting Spiritual Maturity with Childishness
This is a similar, parallel admonition to Paul’s previous instruction to “not be children in your thinking … in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). Likewise, Paul warns in Ephesians 4:14 “that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro…” Paul is exhorting believers to grow up, to think and act like spiritual adults.
This is why this passage is still potent and relevant for us as men, specifically (though applying broadly to both men and women). Our society and the Church have never been more in need of Christian men who are ready to “man up,” to stop acting and thinking and prioritizing like little boys.
If you are big enough to read these words, then you are big enough to heed this call! My prayer for each of us, as Christian men, is that we will take our rightful, responsible place as mature and able spiritual leaders in our homes, in the Church, and in society.
What Does Spiritual Maturity—“Manning Up”—Specifically Look Like?
1) It looks like courage. The single word translated “act like men” is only used once in the New Testament, but it is used several times in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint). It is many times translated “be courageous.”
The fact is, there is nothing more challenging to every bone of masculine strength in our body than to truly, deeply, consistently grow into Christian manhood. It means standing out and being different; it means doing things that aren’t easy; it means permanent commitments; it means thinking and talking about difficult things.
This is why many Christian men hide behind mere “masculinity” (cars, sports, work, etc.); it is far harder to be a mature Christian man than merely a dude or a jock.
2) It looks like mature thinking. We saw this already in 1 Corinthians 14:20. Thinking with mature wisdom, rather than childish ignorance, is the long-but-fruitful labor of learning to know Jesus better, through his Word.
Men, we must know our Bibles! We cannot be men of God without being men of the Word.
As a husband, father, student, or single—are you acting on thoughtful, purposeful biblical knowledge, or just winging it according to your own intuition, preferences, or personality? Underneath our tough exteriors, many of us are spiritually still just little boys when it comes to the Bible. We are wandering around lost because we don’t know what we’re doing or how we’re supposed to be doing it.
We need to get serious about our own study of God’s Word.
3) It looks like stability. As we saw in Ephesians 4:14, Paul makes a direct connection between immaturity and instability: “that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro…” We ought not to be thrown off by every new teaching, every fresh temptation, every wave of discouragement that comes our way.
We ought to be servant-leaders, who can be counted on—each day, and for the long haul.
4) It looks like looking to Jesus. Paul prays that believers be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being [or “inner man,” same root word], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:16-17).
Our great goal is the strengthening of our inner man! And that only happens as we look to Jesus by faith, trusting in His work for us on the cross and His Word to us in the Bible.
If our inner man were on display today, would it be embarrassing? A weak, awkward, gangly figure, whose muscles are atrophied and uncoordinated because of inexperience?
Brothers, may we man up! May we mature into courageous, knowledgeable, stable, faithful men who have been looking at our Savior so closely and so long that we have begun to resemble him in our every deed and every decision, every word, and every aspiration.