Article by Constantine Campbell
Younger men, you do need guidance from older men. At the same time, the myth that the older generation has it all together must be erased. We don’t. We are learning and growing in many of the same ways young men are.
God has taught older men a number of things, though — through our strengths and weaknesses, through our successes and failures — that he may have intended for you. There is counsel that can ground you in the midst of life’s turbulence (inside of you and around you) and equip you to become more mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
Here are five points that have served me well, as well as the young men I’ve mentored. They are a companion piece with Paul Maxwell’s five things younger men need from older men.
1. Find your identity in Christ.
It might sound cliché, but far and away the most important thing I have to say to younger men is that your identity must be anchored in Christ (Romans 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17). We all define ourselves in various ways, and some of these are appropriate to an extent. But our identity must, first and foremost, be grounded in Christ. It is in our union with him that we have deep and real security. We are perfectly known and deeply loved (Ephesians 1:4–5).
“Far and away the most important thing I have to say to younger men is your identity must be anchored in Christ.”
You might “know” this theologically, but there’s a difference between “knowing” and “knowing,” you know? Each day — often each moment — when you find yourself despairing of love, look to Christ. When you find yourself seeking affirmation, look to Christ. When you find yourself needing to feel significant, look to Christ. When you have been slighted, or treated unjustly, look to Christ (Philippians 1:29–30).
Of course, God gives us people in our lives to help with these things (Philemon 7), but they cannot do it ultimately or decisively. Only Christ can bring true contentment, true identity, and true security (Philippians 4:11). Stop seeking your vindication and approval, and receive what Jesus purchased in full for you at the cross.
2. Have a plan for maturity.
I don’t need to tell you to grow up. You already know your need to resist our culture’s slipping demands on boys to become men. A boy used to become a man at 21. Then it was 30. Now it’s 40. I know you want to be mature. Desire alone will not mature you, though. You need a plan. Just getting older does not guarantee that you will mature — there are few things sadder than a 36-year-old boy, but they are out there in bulk.
Look around at men who are older than you — maybe ten years or more. Who do you want to be like? What characteristics would you like to have by the time you’re their age? What would following Christ look like at that stage of life (1 Corinthians 11:1)? Imagine the more mature man you want to be and take specific steps to become him.
Put to death the sins of your youth (Romans 8:13). It’s easy to think we will just grow out of certain sinful practices, attitudes, or beliefs. By God’s grace, sometimes that happens. But more often we just grow more deeply ingrained into the patterns and habits we establish in our youth (James 1:15). So, you need to be proactive and put these things to death. Don’t just assume they’ll go away one day. With God’s power in you and behind you, “Work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12–13).
3. Invest in your friends.
I have not been good on this front, and I continue to pay the price (Ecclesiastes 4:12). You need two or three close male friends whom you can talk to about everything. Male friendship has fallen on hard times in our culture for various reasons, but it is one of the most precious gifts God can give to a young man. If you don’t have close friends, pray for one and seek him out.
“Getting older does not guarantee that you will mature.”
Be vulnerable, be honest, and share in his troubles too (1 John 1:9). But also be prepared for potential disappointment; not every guy is looking for the same thing, and many already have their key friendships in place.
Seeking an older brother is important too. We all need an older man’s perspective, someone who can encourage us, who’s been there, and who knows that we’ll get through it, whatever it is.
Invest in your friends, but don’t rely on them to do what only Christ can do. This will put too much pressure on your friendships, and you will ultimately be disappointed and possibly disillusioned. Friendship is great (1 Samuel 18:3), but we need Christ more than any friend.
4. Stop looking for the perfect woman.
The perfect woman does not exist, so stop looking for her. Hollywood has lied and taught you wrongly (Proverbs 7:21–23). If you hope to be married, better to spend your energy developing your own godliness and maturity. Become a better husband (1 Corinthians 16:13), rather than shopping for a better woman.
Your future wife, perfectly fit or not, will never give you the wholeness that only comes from Christ. If you are looking for a wife to make you feel complete, to be fully known, or to give you security, you will put too much pressure on your marriage and you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you both know who you are in Christ, you will have the right foundation for a good marriage.
If you’re already married, you know by now that you didn’t marry the perfect woman. Don’t keep looking for the perfect woman (Proverbs 18:22; 19:14), as though you missed her. That lie comes from Hollywood too. That kind of thinking fails to trust God’s sovereign goodness (Proverbs 6:27–29). Love the wife he has given you, and don’t be a fool (Proverbs 5:18)!
5. Be strong — and gentle.
Masculinity is experiencing an identity crisis. Men don’t know whether they are supposed to be soft guys, tough guys, or something in between. I think we need men who have courage, especially courage in their convictions (Psalm 27:14; Matthew 10:22). True courage comes from security, and that is only truly found in the truth about Christ (John 10:28). See point 1.
“We need men in the church who are strong, dependable, courageous, and tender.”
We need to be strong — strong enough to be gentle (2 Corinthians 10:9). God our Father is almighty and powerful (Psalm 147:5), but he also cares for the widow and the orphan (Psalm 146:9). He knows compassion and is tenderhearted (Isaiah 40:11; Luke 1:78). This balance is hard to get right, but it’s important.
We don’t need more tough guys who are insensitive to the needs and feelings of others. But we also don’t need more sensitive guys without any backbone. Empathy matters, compassion matters, and gentleness matters. We need to be strong, dependable, and courageous. But we also need to know how to love, give, and comfort.
Stability in the Storm
When you’re young, it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the details of every circumstance immediately in front of you — every opportunity lost, every breakup, every failure, every sin. As you’ve likely noticed above, the older you get, the more your union with Christ becomes a discernibly meaningful and stabilizing reality.
Cling to Christ, and as you mature as a man, he will make clear to you the beauty and relevance of your union with him. He promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) — not now, not in your journey of growth as a man, and not when you are older. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely [sanctify and mature you]” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
<Article first appeared at desiringgod.org>
Constantine Campbell (PhD, Macquarie University) is associate professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of several books, including the 2014 Christianity Today Book of the Year in Biblical Studies, Paul and Union with Christ.