I recently reviewed the book Manliness. It was a good book, but it left me wanting more. It left me wanting a sequel that would explain how to be a Christian man, how to be manly in the ordinary day-to-day of being a husband and daddy, a friend, employee, or employer. I said I wanted a book that would explain “the manliness required to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.”
The Masculine Mandate is exactly the book I was looking for.
Understanding your mandate as a Christian man
Pastor Richard Phillips spends the first five chapters explaining the masculine mandate, God’s calling to men. He begins with God’s creation of man in the garden, before the fall, explaining the command to work and keep. In doing so, he faces a best-selling fallacy head on.
The problem is that the basic approach to masculinity presented in Wild at Heart is almost precisely opposite from what is really taught in the Bible.
Many Christian men have read Wild at Heart and been led to believe that they were meant for the wild and not the garden, but Genesis says that God made man for the garden, not the wilderness.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. [Genesis 2:15]
Phillips makes the argument that the garden, as the setting for this mandate, is a “world of covenantal relationships and duties” in which the Christian man operates.
The mandate defined
And here is The Masculine Mandate, God’s calling to men: work and keep. He spends the rest of the book seeking to,
specify, clarify, elaborate, and apply these to verbs to the glorious, God-given, lifelong project of masculine living. [p. 8]
He starts by defining each of these verbs.
Work. To work is to labor to make things grow.
Keep. To keep is to protect and to sustain progress already achieved. [p. 8]
Over the next several chapters Phillips goes on to explain what this means. The Christian man is called to work and tend those things placed in his charge, his wife, children, friendships, church family, vocation, etc. We are to work and tend these so that they grow, and then to keep them safe.
Work is a good thing. God intended it before the fall, to be a joy. Since the fall, work has become a burden. In the new heaven and new earth, we will still work, but it will then be a joy again.
During the course of these five chapters, Phillips explains what it means for a Christian man to live a godly life. The first order of business is tending your own heart and mind as a Christian man.
Few things will more powerfully impact any man than a life of serious devotion to the Bible, through which God’s life-giving Word enlightens our minds and hearts. [P. 39]
The most necessary competence of any leader is a knowledge of God’s truth in the Bible. How is a father and husband, for example, to guide his family without a knowledge of the Bible’s teaching on marriage, raising children, handling money, serving in the church, and more? [p. 48]
Living your mandate as a Christian man
Part two of the book begins with chapter six. Here, Phillips begins to apply The Masculine Mandate, in very practical ways, to the covenantal relationships Christian men are called to work and keep. Three chapters are given to the relationship of marriage. Two chapters are dedicated to parenting. One chapter discusses friendships. One chapter deals with the church. And the last chapter serves as a conclusion.
The mandate and marriage
One of the most important things Phillips says about marriage is that it isn’t supposed to be easy. Too often, Christian men find marriage to be difficult and look for a solution that will make it easy.
God intends for a man’s love to his wife to be costly. Simply put, it is not easy for man to love his wife, and God does not intend it to be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be valuable. [p. 63]
Instead of giving you tips on how to make your marriage easier, Phillips calls us to man up, make sacrifices, and love our wives especially when it’s hard. That’s not to say that he believes our marriages should be miserable. In fact, he points us toward joy and contentment in marriage, he just acknowledges that it takes some effort to get there. The difficulty in our marriages come from attempting to find joy apart from submission to God’s authority and design.
God’s curses on the relationship were the poison for which God alone was the antidote. This is why marriage is practically hopeless part from the grace of Christ, and why divorce is so rampant. The struggles that men and women experience in marriage are intended by God to drive us to our knees and to our Bibles, that we would restore God to the center of our lives. [p. 74]
But how does the mandate to work and keep apply to our marriages?
The Christian man is to work, or tend, his wife for her spiritual growth and maturity. We do this by living together in rhythm with our wife, by paying attention to her heart, by showing her that she is valued, and by ministering the Word to her in encouragement.
The mandate to keep is applied as the Christian husband keeps his wife safe. And we must never forget that,
…the main threat against which a man must protect his wife is his own sin. [p. 87]
In addition to that, the husband is to keep his wife by sacrificing himself for her sake.
The mandate and children
When it comes to our children, the two parts of the mandate (work and keep) take the form of discipling and disciplining.
Work = discipling
The work of discipling your children is essentially the work of winning their heart for the Lord. Phillips argues that we must begin by giving our heart to our children. He then suggests four ways to give your heart to your children and win theirs.
- Read the Bible to them
- Pray with them and for them
- Join them in their work, and have them join in yours
- Play with them
This was a great chapter with some very practical advice. Some of this I was already doing, and this chapter encouraged me to continue. I also picked up some great ideas I’ve been trying to put into practice.
Keeping = discipline
The keeping of our children is the practice of discipline. This isn’t a popular subject these days, but Phillips handles it well. He presents biblical examples of what happens when a father doesn’t discipline his children. He then outlines the goals of discipline, which I think is important. Without keeping the goals in mind, our discipline can easily go off-track.
The goal of fatherly discipline is to protect your child’s heart “from seeking to satisfy its own sinful cravings.” To put that positively, it means working toward obedience and self-control.
…if we do not rule our children, sin certainly will. [p. 110]
Discipline takes two forms, physical reproof (spanking) and verbal reproof (correcting). Both forms require self-control. And he offers some good practical advice on how best to go about each. If you are not one to spank and the idea bothers you, consider the biblical data in favor.
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. [Prov 13:14]
Spanking is a biblically mandated for of parental discipline that works for our children’s good, withholding it is selfish and lazy.
The mandate and friendship
The next chapter addresses the issue of friendship. We need this sorely in today’s Christian world. Too many Christian men don’t have any good friends. A good friend being one who works to build up the faith of his friend and help protect against unbelief and fear.
Here Phillips draws heavily on the biblical example of David and Jonathan, but also tells a compelling story about General Ulysses S. Grant and Major General John Rawlins, who served as the famous General’s friend, helping him become the great man that he was.
The main takeaway here is that true friendship doesn’t just happen and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it, it’s part of our calling as men, and it’s something we all need and most of us lack.
The mandate and the church
The calling for the Christian man to work and keep applies in the church as well. Here the work is primarily the work of growing in your knowledge of the Word of God, so as to make yourself available and qualified to lead. Beyond that, the mandate to keep means that men must protect the church’s practice and doctrine. Of course, you can’t safeguard right doctrine if you don’t know it. You must do the work up front before the keeping can happen!
The Christian man as servant
In the final chapter, Phillips covers three key principles that greatly aid Christian men seeking to fulfillThe Masculine Mandate, contentment, joy, and humility. He closes the book by directing the reader’s attention to our ultimate goal, that of hearing our Master say,
Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master. [Matt 25:21]
The Masculine Mandate is a book I highly recommend to all men, especially husbands and fathers, or those who want to be such. The book is great for individual reading but comes with discussion questions for each chapter which makes it easy to use the book for a small group. I look forward to reading it again in the future with a group of men, where we can encourage each other and hold each other accountable to living as godly men, men who work and keep with contentment, joy, and humility.