Any high school student has probably heard the word “Renaissance.” The term, which means “rebirth,” is used to describe 15th-century Europe—particularly Italy—at a time when art, literature and science were “reborn.” Most students have probably also heard a common phrase used to describe the men of that era: “Renaissance man.”
During the Renaissance, there was a revival in learning. Individuals were artists, musicians, scientists, inventors, philosophers. Today, the term “Renaissance man” describes the man who is competent is multiple fields—the man who has a rounded personality. A Renaissance man is an athlete and an academic, a warrior and a poet, an officer and a gentleman.
Many of the great figures of history could be described as Renaissance men. One example is Winston Churchill. He was an avid reader, an outstanding writer and an influential philosopher. He memorized poetry. He was an artist who loved painting. At the same time, he loved to build, to develop, to get outside and work with his hands. He loved polo and fencing. Even as he got into his forties and fifties, he still loved getting outside and working with his hands. In fact, he was a good brick layer.
Ask yourself: Is a godly leader a Renaissance man?
There are many examples in the Bible of Renaissance men.
Moses: He lived with royalty and was extremely well-educated. He was a sheep-herder, a warrior, a poet and a musician.
Abraham: He was a farmer, astronomer, mathematician, educator and athlete.
Amos: He was a sheepherder and fig farmer as well as a poet and prophet.
Paul: He was a tentmaker, sportsman, traveler, writer and apostle.
The point is, godly leaders are well-rounded. They are balanced. They love reading and studying, art and music; they enjoy museums and the theater. But they are also not afraid to get outside and “get their hands dirty.” They play sports; they landscape; they hunt and fish. They work with their hands. They are intellectuals, but they are also warriors.
We live in a society where there are very few Renaissance men. Think about society’s portrayal of “masculinity”: On one side, there is the uneducated, the unsophisticated, the childish men, the immature men who love to play video games. On the other side, there is the extremely well-educated—those who been to university and have white-collar jobs. They appear to be sophisticated and smart. They scorn the blue-collar worker. They hate manual labor. They complain and whine at the thought of hard work. There are precious few Winston Churchills around today—very few Renaissance men.
What about you, young men? Where do you fall on this spectrum of masculinity? Do you like to read, to think, to engage your mind? Do you like art, poetry, fine music? If so, do you also work hard, pushing yourself to your physical limit?
More importantly, what does it mean to be a godly Renaissance man? What exactly are his qualities? What actions can you take now to become a renaissance man for God?
I want to inspire you to make becoming a Renaissance man your goal.
To see what a godly Renaissance man is, we can look to the Bible and find one of the greatest examples in King David.
King David, even as a teenager, was a tough, brave warrior. He lived outside; bathed in creeks; slept by the fire and under the stars. He hunted for his own food. He was absolutely deadly with a sling shot and sword. He fought lions, bears and giants. He was the ultimate tough guy.
And yet, at the same time, David was an absolutely brilliant musician. He played the harp, and probably other stringed instruments. He wrote poetry and songs. He loved knowledge and learning. He was a terrific public speaker. David was a Renaissance teenager!
There are many examples in the Bible that prove these characteristics, but they are all summarized in a single passage in 1 Samuel 16: “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him” (verse 18).
Think about this—David was a teenager when this observation was made! Though he was out herding sheep—living in virtual obscurity—his name came up in the royal court of King Saul! He was a teenager, but he already had a reputation for being a “Renaissance man”!
The Matthew Henry Commentary writes: “By this it appears that though David, after he was anointed, returned to his country business, and there remained on his head no marks of the oil, so careful was he to keep that secret, yet the workings of the Spirit signified by the oil could not be hid, but made him shine in obscurity, so that all his neighbors observed with wonder the great improvements of his mind on a sudden. David, even in his shepherd’s garb, has become an oracle, a champion, and everything that is great. His fame reached the court soon, for Saul was inquisitive after such young men.”
Notice, young David developed these qualities in the rural hills of Judea. This wouldn’t have been easy: practicing his music hours each day, fighting off wild beasts, studying God’s word, drawing closer to God in prayer, developing wisdom and prudence. But when the moment arrived for young David to move on to the next chapter in his life, he was ready! In fact, as the Bible tells us, he already had a positive reputation.
Read again the description of David from one of Saul’s servants in 1 Samuel 16:18: “…cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the LORD is with him.” This verse lists six of young David’s “Renaissance man” characteristics.
1) A Renaissance man appreciates fine culture.
David was “cunning in playing.” Cunning means “to know, to know by experience, be skillful in, to be instructed.” Playing means “to play or strike strings, play a stringed instrument.” Even as a teenager, David was an exceptional musician. He loved music and wrote both music and poetry. As he grew up, he set his life and the lessons of his life to poetry and music. Think about it: We still benefit from his creative talent today, over 3,000 years after he died!
God wants His people to embrace the finest possible culture. Just look at God’s House! That building is tangible proof that God expects His people to embrace culture and the finest music and art available. This is also why we hold etiquette diners at S.E.P.
Be cognizant of and reject the natural tendency to ridicule and mock the cultured person. In today’s world, we worship the slovenly and the lazy. The reader is teased; the classical musician is laughed at; the boy who reads or writes poetry is scorned. Catch yourself if you’re about to ridicule that attitude—don’t do it!
Determine to educate yourself in culture—and introduce yourself slowly and ease your way into it. If you don’t have an interest in classical music, don’t throw on the opera. Rather, find what you do like, and listen to that. Movie soundtracks can be a good start. If you play an instrument, recommit yourself to it. If you have a talent for art, carve out time in your day to do it.
2) A Renaissance man has courage and strength.
Note how balanced the Renaissance man is: he loves fine culture, but he’s also a man of courage and strength. Mighty means “strong, mighty, brave.” In the Old Testament, it is used to refer to an excellent hunter. This is someone not afraid to battle ferocious animals. Likewise, valiant man refers ability, force, wealth. It can also refer to fitness and physical strength.
David wrestled wild beasts (1 Samuel 17:34-35). There are many verses in the Bible that refer to the strength of young men. In Proverbs 20:29 the word strength means “human strength, might, power.” Your physical strength is something to glory in. This doesn’t mean that you glorify brute strength—it actually means you are making the most of this time in your life.
The August 1969 edition of the wcg’s youth magazine, Tomorrow’s World, wrote: “Your teen-age years are the absolute prime years of your life. To be out of shape, or skin-and-bones, or chubby, or weak or effeminate is a disgrace!”
To avoid falling into this trap, learn to embrace hard work. We live in a culture that looks down on the blue-collar worker. Many people think it’s beneath them to cut their own lawns or prune their own trees. Too many people expend more energy getting out of hard work than they expend actually doing hard work! Don’t be that way. Instead, look for projects around the house and around the yard.
Develop a fitness regime. You don’t have to join a gym, but make sure you’re getting regular exercise. Get a few weights. You can do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and squats without going to the gym. You don’t need to become Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you should be fit, healthy and strong.
3) A Renaissance man is a man of action.
After David killed Goliath, his popularity in Israel grew quickly. 1 Samuel 18:19-27 tells us that David wanted to marry Saul’s daughter Michal, but he didn’t have a dowry. Saul essentially told him, “If you bring me 100 Philistine foreskins, then you can marry my daughter.” He was hoping David would be killed. Accepting this mission was incredibly risky. But David acted on it and killed 200 Philistines—that very same day.
Now, it is different for us today. David was a “man of war,” but you are not going to go off and fight in the army, and you shouldn’t; because we fight for God, not any army of this world. But you are expected to be a man of action, of purpose, a proactive man—someone who takes life by the horns!
King David was a man of action, and he surrounded himself with like-minded men. Read the account in 1 Chronicles 11. When David said that he was thirsty while he was on the run from Saul, his men acted by breaking through a Philistine camp and fetching David water from a well in Bethlehem. David was prepared to act for the cause—to stand up and defend what he believed in—and his men learned from that example, becoming valiant warriors themselves.
Back to the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. David was a teenager; he did not have to speak up. There were plenty of soldiers to do the fighting. But David had a cause that he believed in and had devoted his life to. That cause was GOD! When God was mocked, or ridiculed, David acted! How do you measure up in this area?
Learn to exude purposefulness. Walk with purpose. Work with purpose. Play with purpose. Be active at services, and make sure your every action is directed by God. David was a man of action, but that sometimes got him into trouble if it wasn’t a godly action (think of Bathsheba). But God does want you to be an active soldier in His army! He wants you to be a man engaged in the war against devil.
4) A Renaissance man values education.
Prudent means “to perceive, discern; intelligent, discreet, have understanding; to show oneself discerning or attentive, to teach.” David loved knowledge! He loved learning! He loved school!
David wrote, “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:4-5). David yearned to be taught!
What about you, men? Do you yearn to be taught—Not just about God, but in general? You should love learning. You should love acquiring new knowledge. The great leaders of God loved education: Abraham was a master scientist and mathematician. Many were writers. Mr. Armstrong studied the Greek classics and the science books—in fact, he understood science better than the scientists!
The godly man loves learning. But we live in a culture where school is a chore, a bore, something students are groomed to despise, to take lightly, to cruise through. That is not GODLY! If you want to come to Armstrong College someday, then learn to love education and knowledge!
Look at the example of Jesus Christ in Luke 2:46-47: “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.”
Make God your source of wisdom. Solomon prayed for knowledge in 2 Chronicles 1. He prayed for hours and hours of reading and meditating and writing. He prayed for school! He prayed for education.
In matters means “in speech, word, utterance, business, occupation, manner.” A number of commentaries agree that this is also talking about speech. David was an exceptional public speaker.
Soncino’s Commentary says the phrase “prudent in matters” in 1 Samuel 16:18 would be better translated as “skillful in speech.” This is referring to David’s poetic skill. David exhibited talent for combining verse and music. The Psalms are proof of David’s skill in composing verse. David was able to play the melodious and meaningful music that soothed Saul’s demented mind (verse 23).
5) A Renaissance man reflects God in his outward appearance.
Comely means “shape, form, figure, appearance.” It is referring to physical appearance In other places, this same word is used to describe a person’s outward appearance as “beautiful.”
Read the description of Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:13-15. Notice, Christ projects power and perfection, quality and refinement, class and dignity. Christ certainly has no imperfection, no scruffiness, no stains or rips or tears. Here are some practical tips for you to emulate that:
- Wear clean clothes.
- Tuck your shirt in when appropriate.
- Brush your hair.
- Clean your teeth.
- Clean your shoes.
- Wear a smile.
6) A Renaissance man is ultimately a Godly creation.
The most admirable description of David in 1 Samuel 16:18 mentions the source of his talents and character: He saw God’s presence in David’s life!
Mr. Gerald Flurry writes about this in his book The Former Prophets: How to Become a King: “Several times throughout his life, David said that God was with him. That was like the motif of his life. That’s the most important statement that you can make about a person: That God is with him.”
The ultimate source of David’s admirable character traits was God’s power working with and in him!
What about you, men? When people look at you, do they see God? Do they say, “Wow, there is something special about that guy”? This is the characteristic that will really set you apart. The first five characteristics of a Renaissance man can be developed by anyone. Plenty of people appreciate culture; there are brave and strong men; there are men of action; there are men who love education; men who take care of themselves physically. You can develop these characteristics separate from God. But with God, and with the power of His Spirit working with you, these characteristics can become a hundred times more effective! In many instances, the power of God will actually empower you as you develop these characteristics!
Pray specifically that God would show you how to develop these traits. Pray for situations and opportunities. Ask yourself: How practical am I? How specific am I in my prayers?
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believer, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Young men, God needs you to grow up fast! The Work needs you. God needs you: He needs young men of courage and strength; masculine men prepared to get their hands dirty, with the physical strength and mental character to work hard. But He also needs you to be wise, to love knowledge, to love music and the arts and culture.
Young men: God needs you to be a godly Renaissance man!