Joe Rigney: A Framework for Manhood
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Joe RigneyJoe Rigney is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He oversees the Theology and Letters program, an undergraduate major that focuses on the Great Books and the Greatest Book. He is the author of three books: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013), The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2015), and Strangely Bright (Crossway, 2020). Joe...more
How do we define the roles in our household? Joe Rigney gives us insight by using an easy 3 sentence framework.
Joe Rigney: A Framework for Manhood
Joe: One of my definitions or summaries of masculinity comes from C.S. Lewis; it’s from Narnia. It’s when King Lune of Archenland says, “This is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack; to be last in every desperate retreat; and when there’s hunger in the land, as must be now and again in bad years, to wear finer clothes, and laugh louder at a scantier meal than any man in your land.” First in, last out, laughing loudest: that’s the pitch of masculinity. If there’s an option/if there’s a choice, he should be the first through the door. He gets to die first; that’s part of his glory. His glory is—not he gets to be the boss—he has the privilege of dying first.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So one of the things we talk a lot about, here at FamilyLife, is: men, women, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers—it’s central to what we do—it’s central in the Word of God.
We have Joe Rigney back in the studio, the second-ever president of Bethlehem College and Seminary. I know you think about this; you write about this; you’re even going to be preaching about biblical manhood and womanhood.
Ann: I’m so intrigued, because he has three sentences that—
Joe: I do.
Dave: Well, at least, that’s what he told us. We’ll see if he’s going to be able to deliver.
Joe: I do. Yes, this is—in our culture today—this is an issue; isn’t it?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Joe: There’s so much confusion. So in trying to get deep and think about the biblical picture of this, a three-sentence framework that I think is biblical and will help people put things in the right bucket. So here’s my three sentences:
- God’s acts establish basic facts.
- Number two: God’s commands fit those facts.
- And then number three: Our applications ought to fit those facts and those commands.
Three very simple sentences.
Another three words you could put with each of those: indicatives, imperatives, applications. Indicatives are statements of fact—just what is—and God has established those in the way He made the world. You could think about this in terms of, in the beginning, when He made man and woman. He made Adam first, and then said, “It’s not good for man to be alone”; He makes a helper fit for him. There are all sorts of things there that God just establishes basic facts.
That’s where a husband’s headship comes from—it’s a fact—that’s how the Bible treats it; the husband is the head of the home. It doesn’t—and this is important—it doesn’t say the husband should be the head of the home; it says he is. The only question is: “Is he going to be a faithful one or an unfaithful one?” The burden of leadership rests on his shoulders, period. The question is whether or not he will exercise it: he will be a husband like Jesus; or a husband like Adam, who abdicated and then blamed her.
Those are basic kinds of facts that God establishes in creation. These are facts of nature; and these are the sort of things that, in our day, are controversial. Kind of coming out of that are the ways that men and women are just kind of wired different.
Ann: Could you say briefly: “What is headship? What that looks like?”
Joe: Yes; so headship would include, I think, two elements, at least. One is a responsibility to order—I don’t mean like order people around—but kind of structure, internally, and then to represent, externally. Jesus is the head of the church; and He’s responsible for caring; providing; protecting; and ordering, internally; and then representing the church as the head. That’s headship
I think that God has designed the world such that husbands are to be the head of their home, and that’s a good and glorious thing; now, that’s a fact. Now, what’s the command that fits the fact?—well, “Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church.” That command fits that fact. Similarly, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as the church submits to Christ”; that command fits those facts.
There are basic facts; and then, when you read through the Bible, and you [see] these commands—they’re not just arbitrary, willy-nilly, God flipped a coin—it’s: God’s commands fit the facts that He has put in place. And then, now we have all sorts of decisions to make in our lives that the Bible doesn’t specify: “Well, how do we make those decisions? How do we apply the Bible?”—well, we want our applications to fit God’s commands and God’s facts.
That’s the basic framework, and it’s been a really fruitful thing for me; because it allows us to try to cut with the grain of the way God has made the world—and not feel like men and women have to be identical—because we’re not. It’s glorious that men are different than women, and women are different than men.
Ann: You’re talking to college students all the time.
Ann: How does that fly with women today, in a culture where women are pushing back more than ever?—in terms of: “I feel like I’m a leader. I feel like I hear that submissive thing and…”—there’s more pushback than we’ve ever had.
Joe: That’s definitely true. I think that, if it’s just phrased that way, as: “Here: submit,”—and it’s not put in this larger context of—“How’s God made the world?” When it’s reframed as: “God has given a particular glory to women. You were made for something, and one of the things you were made for is—you are—every man is a son of a father—everyone, and every woman is a daughter, and that means that every man is a potential father, and every woman is a potential mother.” That’s true whether or not they ever actually bear children or not.
Ann: There is the potential for—
Joe: There is the potential. God has built you to fulfill that calling, whether or not it’s your biological children, or in other contexts—like I’m a fatherly-like figure to college students—so spiritual fatherhood or spiritual motherhood.
And if you think about the quality of fatherhood and motherhood, it’s liberating, I think, for men and for women to feel like: “I’m free to be a man,” or “…a woman,” “I’m free to be a father,” or “…a mother.” A woman doesn’t have to compete or try to be a better man than a man—that’s not going to work—instead, she’s free to be a mother, a sister, a daughter; and that there’s a particular glory to that. There’s a feel and equality that she should just lean into and flourish, rather than feel like: “I’ve got to compete in a man’s world.” Does that make sense?
Joe: And by “a man’s world” I don’t mean whether she can go work outside the home or not. If you look at Proverbs 31, or something like that, that lady—today, if Proverbs 31 was written about today—she’s running like a mid-sized company. She’s like the household manager in that day: is like she’s got all kinds of people, who are working, so it’s not about competence.
Ann: You’re saying: “Why would she want to become like the man—
Ann: —"when God has made her so beautifully unique, as the woman,”—
Joe: Exactly; 100percent.
Ann: —and “That position is just as glorious, in a different way, than a man.”
Joe: Yes, it is; that’s right. One of my favorite quotes: G.K. Chesterton said, “If I put the sun beside the moon; and if I put the city beside the country; and if I put the mountains beside the sea; and if I put the man beside the woman, I suppose some fool would ask, ‘Which one was better?’”
Ann: That’s good.
Joe: Like it’s foolish to compare in that way. It’s good to recognize the differences, because the differences are good.
Dave: So we had Sam Alberry—
Dave: —on FamilyLife Today, months ago, talking about this very topic. He was pretty insightful; I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Joe: Yes; I’d love to listen.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Sam: I actually think that’s a hard question to answer. We know that it’s more than just our biology. We know it certainly includes our biology, but it has to be more than that; because most of what God has to say to humanity in the Bible, He says to us as men and women, without distinction/as men and women in common.
But because there are some things God says to men and some things God says to women, that shows us that there’s a difference between male and female that is not just biological. There’s something about the way we think and the way we behave that means that God has particular things to say to us. But I think I’d want to be hesitant to try and pin down what the essence of each of those things is. I think true masculinity is being a male person, who is godly; and true femininity is being a female person, who is godly. Those two things will end up looking slightly different, but I’m not sure I can quite pin down exactly what that difference consists of.
In I Timothy 2, Paul talks about “men lifting holy hands in prayer without brawling”; and again, that may reflect that actually there is something in us men that likes to brawl so that the focus seems to be: “Rather than wrestling with each other, why don’t you wrestle with God in prayer?” and “Turn that tendency into actually something that is spiritually productive and godly.”
Joe: Yes, I think he’s right to say it’s a difficult thing to pin down; and yet, it is something that we intuitively recognize there’s a difference between men and women. Like a father’s relationship to a son is different than his relationship to his daughter—he loves them both and they’re both his children—but there is no—or even flipping it around: we talk, sometimes, about parenting as a category. There’s really fathering and mothering, and there’s a lot of overlap between fathers and mothers—they both kind of issue commands, and they both care for and do provide, and all that kind of stuff—but there’s a difference in quality.
And the way to, I think, draw out those qualities is to recognize God has given us both a mission—I think this is what Sam was getting at—that the commands are given to both; and if we faithfully pursue the mission of God, those qualities will emerge in the course of it.
Ann: How do you address the men that become abusive—or just they take that role of headship—and yes, they mistreat it or mishandle that?
Joe: Yes; headship is the given: it’s just going to be there. It can be abused in multiple ways. Domineering headship: the guy who thinks mainly what a head means is being the boss, getting to order people around; that’s not headship.
Who’s the model for headship?—Jesus is. Jesus does issue commands, and He does put things in order; but it’s His presence that is kind of the fundamental thing. When I think about my role as the head of my home, it’s my stable, grounded presence that is the thing that kind of brings stability to the whole thing. That’s me exercising headship, not by barking orders—I hardly ever do that—I don’t need to do that if I’m doing the other thing well. It’s my steady presence, just being there—the happy father thing—we talked about that in previous interviews about being the smile of God to your kids. That happy father thing is meant to be a stabilizing thing in the home.
Another image that we use a lot is I’m trying to set a beat; and then my wife is what is going to give the harmony. The harmony is what people notice; the harmony is the thing that people go, “Whoa!” The baseline/that beat is what that harmony launches off of; but it’s kind of/it’s more foundational; and therefore, it’s more hidden at some levels.
Joe: It’s a different kind of image, but the idea is there’s a glory to that expression; but it needs something stable and sturdy. I think that that’s a part of what a husband’s headship/a father’s headship is supposed to be in the home, that is a kind of anchor.
Ann: How have you taught that to your sons? What does that look like, to be a godly man?
Joe: There’s a chapter in a little book called Designed for Joy, and I wrote seven things. I won’t be able to remember all seven of how I try to impart things to my son. One of them is, from C.S. Lewis; and it’s from Narnia. It’s when King Lune of Archenland says: “This is what it means to be a king.” I think you could substitute: “This is what it means to be a man” in his definition here. I think he’s using kingship as a way of getting at masculinity.
“This is what is means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack; to be last in every desperate retreat; and when there’s hunger in the land, as must be now and again in bad years, to wear finer clothes, and laugh louder at a scantier meal than any man in your land.” First in, last out, laughing loudest: that’s the pitch of masculinity. If there’s an option/if there’s a choice, he should be the first through the door; he gets to die first. That’s part of his glory. His glory is not—he gets to be the boss—he has the privilege of dying first/of taking the bullet first. Now, she may have to take the bullet next. That make sense?
Joe: He’s going to make the first sacrifice. She may have to sacrifice, but he should be the one—if he pushes her through the door first—I think, even in our confused culture, I think everybody would say, “That feels off!”
Ann: We just had this conversation: “If there’s somebody in your house—you hear a noise—who goes and checks?”
Joe: That’s exactly right.
Ann: I just think, universally—now, there could be some women, who are like, “I’m going to go protect my husband”; but generally speaking: “I don’t care! Dave is stronger than I am. He’s bigger—
Dave: [Deep voice] Yes, I am. [Laughter]
Ann: But I think most women would say, “Yes, you’re first out,” “You’re last out.” I think we generally would want—
Dave: I love “laugh the loudest.”
Ann: Me, too; that’s good.
Dave: That’s the smile of God.
Joe: That’s right; and if masculinity is the glad assumption—that’s the definition a pastor friend of mine uses—"the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility”:
- The laugh is the glad.
- Sacrificial: first-in responsibility.
The responsibility means he, not only needs responsibility; but he needs to have the support, encouragement, help in order to exercise that. This is why the Bible, when it gives commands—this is: “The commands fit the facts” thing—it says to the husband: “Love your wife”; and it says to the wife: “Honor your husband.”
We go, “Well, does that mean that he doesn’t need to honor her, and that she doesn’t need to love him?” Well, of course not. But there’s a particular element there. He’s going to feed, soul-wise, on her honor more than her love; and she’s going to feed on his love more than on his honor. His respect for her is a good thing, and it should be there.
Joe: But there’s a different fuel that we’re running on, as men and women.
Part of our task, as Christians, I think, in the culture we live in, where people don’t get it, is first to just live it; because it is attractive. It is actually attractive. God has made the world in such a way that people will go—whatever they may say; whatever lies they may want to believe—push comes to shove, like a woman, whatever she may think and say—she wants the guy, who’s going to go through the door first; that’s what she’s actually going to follow.
I’m wanting to teach young men: “Find your mission and go do it. And what you will find is, if you have a mission/if you have something that God’s called you to do, the right kind of woman will look at that and say, ‘I want to come along, and I want to help.’”
Ann: That was me with Dave.
Joe: That’s right; “I want to help.”
Ann: “This guy’s going to change the world; and I don’t want to miss it, because I want to do that too. I want to be with him.”
Joe: “And I’m going to help him.”
Joe: “I’m going to be a helper/—
Ann: “I’m going to aid him.”
Joe: —"helper fit for him.” And that’s not like a helper/like a servant—it’s a partner—out of his side, next to him.
Ann: One rabbi said, “It means to contend with.” That’s what I feel like: “I want to contend, with Dave, to take this territory. And I will help him to do that. He’s just going to be in front of me, protecting me.” [Laughter]
Dave: That’s exactly right.
Joe: That’s exactly right.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Joe Rigney on FamilyLife Today. Don’t go anywhere, because we’re going to hear what each of them thinks good leadership from a husband can look like, in just a second.
But first, if you’re looking for studies for your small group that can help you feel connected and known, and help you love and know God more, check out the studies at FamilyLifeToday.com. While you are there, you can use the code, “25OFF”; that’s 2-5-O-F-F to save on all leader materials. Again, the code is 2-5-O-F-F at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann with Joe Rigney as they each share how a husband leading can be a really good thing.
Dave: So we’ve been talking about headship and leadership, thinking specifically, as a husband or maybe a dad. If headship could look something like to be the head; to be the leader means: “I’m going to be the first to blank.”
Dave: “I’m not waiting; I’m not passive. I’m going to be the first to lead in this way,”—think of two ways: we each get two.
Ann: I’m just going to do one, actually. I just have—
Dave: Okay, you do one.
Ann: Okay; I have mine.
Dave: It doesn’t matter what we think, Joe.
Joe: You go first.
Ann: I’m going to go first.
Joe: I want to hear you go first.
Dave: Yes; see?—see what he just did?
Ann: Oh, that was good; I like that! Oh, look at you.
Dave: — “Letting your wife go first,”—that was.
Ann: When I think of a husband is called to lay down his life for his wife, the thing that comes to my head is the husband should be the first to out-serve or serve his wife and family. The picture that comes to my mind is Jesus, washing the disciples’ feet. This is the God of the universe, who created—not only all of creation, but created each of them and knows every part of them—and He’s washing their feet. It’s mind-blowing to me.
When I think of a husband serving and out-serving his wife, with a smile on his face—he may not always want to do it—but still: “No, I want to do this; because that’s my role.”If that’s headship, I’m all in! [Laughter]
Joe: —all in to follow that.
Ann: I’m all into that definition of serving; because when we hear headship—what, as a woman, we can tend to think is: “domineering”—
Ann: —and “controlling.”
Ann: Some women would say “abusive”, and they are running as far as they can from that. But to serve/to out-serve everyone in the family—whoo!—that’s remarkable.
Dave: What do you have, Joe?
Joe: I have a couple, and there’s a package.
Ann: Alright; we’ll allow the package.
Joe: Does that make sense?
Joe: So one of them is going to sound like, “Oh”; okay? I’m trying to figure out how to say it, with the first.
A husband should be able to stand up to his wife—this is the one I thought, “Oh, no; people are going to…”—here’s what I mean: a man, who can’t stand up to his wife, can’t stand up for his wife.” What I mean by that is—not “put her in her place”—but the capacity to receive criticism from her, and to not buckle and blow up, or shrink back; but to be able to hear, and listen, and not be undone by it. To have enough stability in himself, and who he is in Jesus—to be able to receive criticism, feedback, push back, advice, counsel, help—and not shrink. That’s what I mean by “stand up to.” Does that make sense?
Joe: He’s not shrinking.
Joe: He’s standing up. That’s one.
The second one is he should be the first to apologize. Now, you see how those pair. On the one hand, he needs to be able to endure criticism from his wife; and be able to listen; and not react, and not blow up, or not shrink away; but then, if he’s been wrong/if he’s done something wrong, he needs to be the first to say, “I’m sorry,” even if it was
90 percent her fault. If that fight they just had—90 percent was her sin and 10 percent was his—he gets to say he’s sorry, first, for the 10.
Ann: That’s so interesting, because I just met with a group of women—a lot, probably 50 women—we had this conversation: “Who apologizes first in your home?”
Ann: I would say, 80 percent of the time, it was the husbands.
Joe: That’s right; that’s leadership.
Ann: Yes, which is amazing. But I think, in my heart—because Dave is definitely the first to apologize—I feel like I’m more prideful! [Laughter] It’s terrible, but I think that really is a sign, like: “Wow, that’s a humble and beautiful thing that a husband can do. Way to go, Dave.”
Joe: What it does is—if I’m leading—and I’m thinking, “I want my wife to apologize. She just spoke disparagingly,” or “She was just cruel in what she just said,”—whatever it was—“She said something that was rude, and I want her to apologize,”—“Well, show her how: lead.” You said something rude; so I should say, “I’m sorry for what I said.” That’s the beat of our home: is we keep short accounts; and now, she can fall in there and say, “I’m going to say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
And then similarly, if I didn’t sin, then I want to be able to absorb that and not simply apologize to make peace.
Joe: I remember one time a friend of mine was at a Christian bachelor party. His advice to the groom was: “If you didn’t sin, never apologize; and don’t lie to your wife.”
Joe: Because if she’s just upset—and you’re just trying to make it go away; so “I’ll say I’m sorry, even though I don’t think I was wrong. I’m willing to lie to smooth it over,”—as opposed to standing up to her—which means now we have to have a harder conversation, and it’s going to take more work and more effort—that’s leadership.
Ann: Okay, Dave.
Joe: What are yours?
Dave: Well, I want to make one more comment on what you said, though. It’s interesting. We did a seven-day “Reignite Your Marriage” challenge on our social media.
Dave: And it was sort of like: “The fire’s gone,” or “The fire’s low. You want to get that fire stoked back up?”
Dave: So as we were laying out: “What are we going to talk about? A seven-day, 15-minute workout for a marriage; right?” Guess what the first one we thought—“Wow! This never occurred to me!”—it was that: if you own your sin and say, “I’m sorry for it,” and apologize, something happens to the fire in your marriage. That lights up your wife’s heart; she’s like—anyway, I just thought of that. It’s bigger than just apologizing; man, something happens in the relationship that’s good.
I changed mine when you were going, Joe—you’re talking—and I was like, “Oh!” I had: “Be the first to initiate reconciliation,”—
Joe: That’s it.
Dave: —which is apologize—but when you were talking, here’s what hit me: “Be the first to get in the Word and lead your family”; because I have so often, especially as a pastor, seen women leading the family, spiritually, knowing the Word. And I get—I’m not saying that’s bad—women, I want you to know the Word and be digging in there; but I so think, so often, the man is passive; and lets her do that. She does it because she sort of has to in some ways, so—
Ann: Well, we’re with the kids more than the husband. Even if we’re working, a lot of times, we’re still with the kids more—so I think we do, generally, teach our kids—it’s an overflow, I think.
But you’re saying for the men: “Step into that.”
Dave: Yes; I’m just saying, “Man, wouldn’t it be something if we were the first to initiate?—'Let’s dive in the Word together.’”
And the other one was—they both sound so spiritual—but it’s: pray.
Dave: “What if you’re the first one to pray?”
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Joe Rigney on FamilyLife Today.
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Now, tomorrow: it’s easy to follow God when He’s vibrantly moving in our lives; but what about when He seems just kind of gone or silent? Nicki Koziarz joins Dave and Ann tomorrow, in studio, to talk about the necessity of hope when we go through incredibly dark times and disbelief. That’s tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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