By Richard D. Phillips
senior minister, Second Presbyterian Church
Father’s Day is a time when men enjoy receiving manly gifts, especially movies about manly men. My favorite movie features John Wayne portraying Capt. Nathan Briddles of the U. S. Cavalry in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” A grizzled Civil War veteran facing the end of his career, Briddles is a walking cornucopia of manliness. His approach to life is summed up in two words: Never apologize!
When I was a younger man, I am afraid I took John Wayne’s counsel too much to heart, becoming a bit more obnoxious than I needed to be. As I grew older and entered into fatherhood, I found another two-word guideline in the Bible that produces better results. Right after the Bible tells of how God created man, these two words serve as God’s marching orders to help men fulfill their calling in life: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). This is the Bible’s masculine mandate: men are to work and keep in the relationships where God has placed them.
John Wayne knew that men like simple instructions and God knows this too, so He gave men only two main tasks to perform in life. Adam’s first calling was to work the Garden. In the context of the Garden in Genesis 2, this word means to cultivate. In short, God calls men to serve in order to make good things grow and abound. Adam’s second task was to keep the Garden. This idea involves protection: the word for to keep is used elsewhere of guardians who keep watch and make safe. So in addition to cultivating and growing, God calls men to protect and keep safe those under their care.
These two words – work and keep – have the potential for the most radical impact in a man’s life. According to the Bible, masculinity is seen when men serve to produce growth in others and watch to keep them safe. Men are to work and keep – build and protect – in every aspect of life. In marriage, husbands are called to nurture their wives emotionally and keep them safe from harm. In the workplace, men labor to build and grow useful things – products, services, people, and organizations – and then protect them from assault. The masculine mandate is especially helpful for fathers. What is a man to do with a son or daughter bouncing on his knee? According to the Bible’s masculine mandate, a father is to cultivate the heart of his children and always keep them safe.
The keeping aspect of fatherhood is probably more widely acknowledged among men today. Keeping means protecting the child from all kinds of threats and harms, including dangerous influences that arise from media, in schools, and in relationships. A loving father exercises his God-given authority to discipline his children, protecting them from the harmful effects of their own sins and errors. Fewer men are aware of the equally important calling to work in the lives of their children. The Bible envisions a discipleship bond of mutual devotion between fathers and children. Just as Adam was to work the Garden to make plants grow, fathers are to cultivate the hearts of their children to grow in confidence and character. I use this formula to help focus my own involvement with my children: Read – Pray – Work – Play. A father disciples his children by reading with them, especially the Bible, praying with and for them, helping children succeed in their work and working alongside them in chores and home projects, and finally by enjoying the fun and laughter of playing games with his boys and girls.
Fatherhood is a lifetime calling to which men need to give their best efforts. Thankfully, the Bible gives fathers a clear and simple mandate: work and keep. In fact, the Bible’s mandate for men is exactly what we admired in all those great John Wayne movies. Take away the dumb saying, “Never apologize,” from “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and practically everything Captain Briddles did for his men (and women) falls into the categories of working and keeping – building up and keeping safe. According to the Bible, not only will the masculine mandate enable men to fulfill their calling as fathers, but it will result in Dads getting the respect and admiration from our children that heroes like John Wayne got in the movies.
Richard D. Phillips is Senior Minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. and the author of several books including “Jesus the Evangelist,” “What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?” and “The Masculine Mandate.”