What is the essence of biblical manhood? Biblical manhood means leading, providing and protecting. All of these roles require one attribute: strength. They take strength of character, strength in resolve, strength in determination, strength in confrontation. The Christian man’s responsibility also requires another type of strength: physical strength.
When God made human beings, He made them male and female. He gave greater natural physical strength and greater capacity for physical strength to the man. This is an intelligently designed, masterfully created fact of life that God instituted for a reason.
This biological reality has been universally recognized, accommodated and embraced throughout human history. Consider these facts on the subject as it relates to military recruitment: “The average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle …. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength” (Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, Nov. 15, 1992). Women are far likelier to suffer injuries like stress fractures, their aerobic capacity is significantly lower, they cannot carry as much as far and as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue. In physical capability, “the upper 5 percent of women are at the level of the male median” (ibid).
Nobody should take these irrefutable facts to mean that women are inferior. But God purposefully designed her muscle mass, strength and durability to be less than the man’s. Let’s not ignore that fact.
Proverbs 20:29 begins: “The glory of young men is their strength ….” God gave men this glory of greater bodily strength! Why? To help us fulfill our roles as providers, protectors and leaders.
You shouldn’t shy away from that. You shouldn’t apologize for it. In fact, you should maximize it. Build your physical strength.
Young men should work to develop their God-given glory: their bodily strength. Many who are younger have neglected to develop that strength. They do not see it as glory, and thus neglect it. Even as we get older, we should continue to develop strength. It is a crucial measure of health. Making a consistent, active effort to get stronger helps us remain useful, and can stave off many of the problems that besiege us in older age.
Every aspect of the man’s role is under attack in our society, and we need to fight that in our own lives. We need to do what God designed our bodies to do. We need to become more physically capable in our masculine duties. And we need to strengthen our thinking toward fulfilling these duties. In fact, I am convinced that building your physical strength is a specific, tangible, effective means of accomplishing all of these goals!
Strength Helps You in Your Manly Role
Consider how strength helps you fulfill your role as a man.
Physical strength is very useful to be a provider. If you work with your hands, the stronger and more able you are physically, the higher your quality and speed of work, so maintaining your vitality is often connected to your earnings. Even if you have a day job at a desk, manual tasks will come up at the office and especially outside of it. In fact, you never know when you might need to take a job as a laborer. The stronger you are, the more you will be able to care for your property, digging post holes, lifting bags of mulch, mowing, moving furniture, and so on. The fitter your body is for these tasks, the less you will have to hire these out. And you just never know when some tool will fail; when you are strong, you can be comfortable resorting to brute strength when you have to.
Physical strength is very useful to be a protector. If you are on the scene when a bookcase falls on someone, or a person is trying to escape from a burning building, or a wild animal is loose, you will be more able to help if you are strong than if you are weak. Fitness also has a more day-to-day benefits. When your wife is thinking about her security and the security of your children, she will feel and be more protected if you are strong than if you are weak. When your teenage son gets bigger and stronger, he will have more respect and pay more deference to you if you are strong than if you are weak.
Physical strength is very useful to be a leader. A physically stronger man naturally commands more authority and respect than a weaker man. A strong physique does not automatically make you a good leader, but it is more of an asset than a weak physique. Men who are strong are healthier and have higher testosterone. Building strength combats depression, boosts your mental health, increases your confidence, and fortifies your willingness to face challenges. A physically strong man will not be a good leader without higher attributes, but those higher attributes can be wasted on a physically weak man.
In his article “Why Every Man Should Be Strong,” Brett McKay shows how Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill made their bodies strong, and how that benefited their capacity for leadership. “Churchill and TR understood that if they wanted to develop their minds to their peak excellence, and do something significant on the world stage, they could not spend their lives curled up in bed reading stacks of books …” McKay writes. “A strong body would take them where they needed to be, and help them perform nobly in the field. Without physical strength, they could never have achieved, or become, all that they did.”
Building strength can directly help you as a provider, protector and leader in the exertion of your muscles. But building strength has an additional, perhaps even more powerful mental benefit: It teaches you to embrace hardship.
Getting stronger is hard. A job offer or a good deal on a car or a 50-dollar bill might blow your way on a gust of caprice. Not so with muscle. It comes only through hard work.
“The pain and dedication required to work out regularly,” McKay writes, “teaches you about discipline, resilience, and humility, among other things.”
“When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you,” Henry Rollins writes. “If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. … It wasn’t until my late 20s that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain.I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: Pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.” And, I would add, humility.
I’m not suggesting that you try to attain a certain physique or a certain bodyweight. I’m simply saying that getting physically stronger is a valuable tool for growing as a man.
How you grow physically stronger is up to you. Find an approach that works for you and then take action on it. Start simply—but start!
Getting stronger may seem intimidating. But at its most basic level, exercise is simply moving something, whether it is a barbell, bricks, or just your own body. When I was in my 20s, I bought some cheap dumbbells and checked out a library book that contained simple descriptions of how to use them. You can find barbells and fitness equipment in the classifieds or on Craigslist all the time, because people buy those things with great intentions and then don’t stick with it.
For basic and extremely effective strength-building, I recommend learning three simple movements: the deadlift, the back squat and the shoulder press. If you can find someone to coach you on these movements, you can learn the proper form. Then it is simply a matter of devoting some time to it every week. If you’re doing it safely, the more effort and intensity you put into it, the greater return you’ll receive.
And as you strain and sweat, remember what you are building strength for.
“Strength is a defining attribute of masculinity,” McKay writes. “It’s the literal power that has allowed generations of men to protect and provide for their families. It’s the force that built our skyscrapers, roads and bridges. While our current environment doesn’t require us to be strong, developing our physical strength is still a worthwhile pursuit, for it lays a foundation for developing the Complete Man.
“Strive today to become stronger than you were yesterday. I promise as you do so, you’ll see a transformation not only in your body, but also your mind and spirit.”