Thoughts on Being a Christian Gentleman in a Carnal Culture

One of the great frustrations that many people have with the Kingdom of God is the apparent disconnect between Christian ideals and Christian conduct.  The poison pill in all of this is that dreaded straw man known as hypocrisy.  It is not just a metaphorical scriptural stumbling block (Mt 18:5-7, et al), it is a literal insurmountable wall in some instances, effectively isolating some who desperately need an encounter with Christ from consideration of the possibility of an authentic transformation.  Little in the Kingdom is as important as the manner in which we are perceived after we profess, and for that reason the enemy works overtime to compromise that evidence.  Somewhere between the extremes of the hyper-masculinized macho culture of some and the milquetoast passivism some insist upon is the ground upon which most of us ply our trade, and it is there that the fundamentals need to be re-engaged and embraced.  In a culture where the image of fatherhood has been systematically relegated to that of a cartoonish irrelevant buffoon, there is a dire need for real men to embrace the public practice of their faith and not just persist in the shadows muttering uncommitted assent.  The loony peripherals will always flicker in their irrelevancy, but the middle ground upon which most things that matter are found is begging for some simple, easily implemented bullet points by the use of which the cultural nosedive can be averted.  At the risk of sounding presumptuous, let this old sailor and admittedly average preacher offer a few simple suggestions for Christian men who want to make a difference and not just an impression.

  1. RESPECT – show it to everyone regardless of whether or not they are in your food chain.
    1. Make eye contact – it demonstrates that you value the contact
    2. Greet men with a firm, full grip handshake, and ladies with a likewise intentionally gentle one – it’s your first occasion to establish rapport
    3. Listen more than you talk
    4. Give your undivided attention to those with whom you talk (in the words of Doug Small, ‘you’re not that important! – turn off that cell phone!’)
    5. Don’t pre-judge people based upon their outward appearance or the fluency of their presentation.  Some of the best advice and most sage council a man can receive comes from men with callouses on their hands and imperfect diction.
    6. Don’t dismiss people that behave offensively out of hand.  Offense is a choice by the offended, not always an intentional wound by the one guilty of the affront.  The most undisciplined, foul mouthed and unrestrained people with whom you interact are often guilty of something that those more restrained types lack – honesty and transparency.  The key to being able to influence a man for the good is in the example of Christ who didn’t condemn men for their crudeness, but interacted with them as people with inherent value given by the one in whose image they were created.  Respect is given, not earned, and it’s investment in those who initially appear undeserving is a testament to the character of the man who gives it, not the one who receives it.
  2. SELF CONTROL – in a time when the church is becoming obsessed with body image and physical fitness (whose ‘profit’ is little at best), it seems we have forgotten the basics
    1. Watch your mouth!  Foul language only validates impulses and devalues your testimony
    2. Clean your hide up!  Take a shower, use deodorant, brush your teeth, comb your hair (and btw, GET A HAIRCUT, you hippie!), if you’ve got a beard, keep it neat, and for heaven’s sake put on some clean clothes – first impressions always determine whether or not you’ll get a chance to make a second.
    3. Practice humility – not in the sense of artificial diminishing of your worth or value, but in the sense of always deferring to the status of others first.  A truly humble man does not fall prey to the abhorrent impulse to control the behavior of others, nor to judge the motives of others without cause.  It is a gesture of appreciation for the inherent value of the people around you at the expense of demand for such for yourself.  It’s that ‘mile in your moccasins’ rubric that helps identify authentic Christian witnesses rather than cultural ideologues.
  3. RELIABILITY – as old fashioned as it seems to say it, a man’s word is his bond.  Relying on people’s understanding is the most direct path to irrelevancy.  Reputations (and therefore imputed trustworthiness) are built on conduct, not intentions.
    1. Pay your bills!  Don’t be that one whose face reddens and whose normally conversant nature is stifled at the very mention of your credit score.  The way you have kept your previous commitments is first testament to whether you can be trusted to keep your new ones.
    2. Be on time for your appointments.  This is an area where people who perceive themselves important (or it’s less offensive sounding partner – busy) often presume on the time of others, more out of self-consideration than intentional slight.  A Christian man who merits the respect of others never demands their deference in matters of timing or esteem.  If you are late, communicate!  The problem is one of respect, not simple punctuality.
    3. Keep your commitments.  This should go without saying, but promises matter! Your commitment to your local church includes attendance, participation, and tangible support – not just sentimental connection and congenial affection.  One of the most under-confronted energy drains in the modern church is the need for pastoral follow-up (read extracurricular reaffirmation) among otherwise professing Christians.  It is understandable and in fact a necessary pastoral function for the leader of the flock to tend them when they are hurting or spiritually under attack, but there is absolutely no excuse for a grown Christian man be anywhere besides the house of God when the time comes to be there unless providentially hindered.  The same is true with being punctual and prepared in all the places where your presence is necessary and expected.  This is not a control issue, but one of preservation of your testimony and garnering respect from those for whom you work as well as those with whom you work alongside.
  4. DIGNITY – here’s one you don’t hear much about these days.  Every man has his own body of influence and activity commonly called in my humble climes as his ‘business’ –– that set of boundaries that devolve from his ability to choose his own way and determine his own priorities – an expression of his God given liberty.
    1. The measure of a man’s dignity – framed by his self awareness and self esteem, is the public way he presents the product of his own journey for others to see.  A dignified Christian man is not cavalier or uncaring about what others see or say about him.  On the contrary, he makes every reasonable effort to put his best foot forward as a faithfully discernable citizen of a society to which his connection contributes.
    2. Personal dignity is about the appreciation that a man has for his own holistic influence on others, and because of that his responsibility to maintain his carriage and demeanor with that in mind.  The juvenile protest that somehow a man ‘doesn’t care what other people think’ is a betrayal of his responsibility to those upon whom he has influence, and a crying abdication of his obligations as a citizen.  We’ve all seen that one caricature of humanity with dozens of facial piercings and flesh festooned like the funny papers, and we can come to a unanimous conclusion….that rascal will never get a job!  (Okay, maybe that last part is a stretch, but my point remains)
    3. A Christian gentleman senses and acts upon his place in the backdrop of other peoples lives, and as such protects the dignity of that interaction with intentionality and circumspection.  Good manners and social graces are not to be reserved to the snooty few, but should be in the repertoire of every Christian gentleman.
  5. SOBRIETY – here’s one that is all but in shambles in our modern culture…
    1. The standard is whether a thing is right and good, not just whether it is allowed.  Scripture is plain about what thing should occupy our minds and our hands (Philippians 4:8).  A real Christian gentleman is more concerned with whether he should do a thing than whether he can.
    2. Substance abuse is just one of a laundry list of expressions of man’s fallen nature – his obsession with pleasure at the expense of his love for God and His purpose (2 Timothy 3:4).  It rears itself in various other addictions (pornography, sex, adrenaline, fame, etc), but is at it’s root an expression of a life lived without submission to the authority of and trust in the Lord and His will for the abusers life.  Sociologists have tried to hide the various ‘isms’ behind a clinical cloak, thus legitimizing the lie of their purported inevitability, but the scripture is far less convoluted in it’s command to ‘come out’ and ‘touch not’ (2 Corinthians 6:17). 

As a practical matter, the Christian Gentleman should be on the endangered species list.  That is a shame, because as he becomes rarer, the church becomes weaker, the culture becomes coarser, and the future becomes bleaker.  The good news is that there are some who do not take the shape of whatever vessel they are poured into, but that can stand on their own two God-redeemed feet as examples of lives transformed and vouchsafe by a Holy God.  Oh that we could en masse heed the call to “…quit ye like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13) – there’s too many boys and girls who’ve never seen a real one.

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