Real  Manhood

Part III.

What Separates the Men from the Boys

by Kim Harrington


Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13(NAS)

     Manhood does not simply mean malehood. To be a man means more than to simply be born a male, more than not being a woman. In common English usage, the term manhood implies a degree of maturity, a certain type of acceptable behavior. A punk is not a man—he’s a punk. A temperamental teenager is not a man—he’s immature, not worthy of the label. And many men who are older in years still do not act like men, at least according to the accepted usage of the term in our culture.  Apparently this was also the case in Corinth or the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have felt the need to remind the men to "act like men."

     In Jewish culture, one didn’t become a true man until he was thirty years old. At that point, if a son met his father’s approval, there would be a ceremony in which a mantle was laid on the younger man’s shoulders, and perhaps the business seal or stamp of the father presented to him (giving him power of attorney). The son then became the executor of the father’s estate—"the right hand of the father" was how the Jew might have expressed it. He was now a real man: mature, capable, trusted, able to conduct business in his father’s name.

     Just what constitutes manhood, or maturity? What did the Jewish father look for in his son in order to feel comfortable in handing the mantle down?  Just what is it that separates the men from the boys?


First let’s look at adolescence. This period of life, normally passed through in the early teen years, is characterized by a rather swift transition from childhood into adulthood. A boy starts to get bigger and stronger, his body starts to change and soon he needs to shave. His voice changes and he no longer sounds like a child when he speaks. His emotional responses are often confused, because his raging hormones are making him into somebody he has not known before! He gets moody, irritable, and starts taking an interest in girls. He develops a tremendous appetite overnight and wants to eat three Big Macs instead of one.

     Perhaps the girls are also attracted to him, or he’s strong and athletic. Almost overnight he’s gone from being a little boy to a powerful adult. But he’s not truly a man yet, though he may be as tall as his father. His body has grown up before his character can catch up—being a man is much more than being six feet tall and having to shave every day. It is this very stage of life that provoked the saying, "that’s what separates the men from the boys."

     The difference between a man and a boy is maturity, steady reliability, character—not the size of one’s muscles or the ability to eat spicy food, down a six-pack of beer, or whatever passes as macho and manly in your particular circle of friends.

     Okay, I’ll dispense with further introductory remarks and cut to the chase. What separates the men and the boys is self-discipline, self-control. This is so important that the Apostle Paul put it right up there with such weighty subjects as salvation and eternal judgment. Look what the Bible says in Acts chapter 24…

     Now as [Paul] reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you."

Acts 24:25

Peter seems to have been in agreement. He declared self-control to be one of the qualities needed to secure an entrance into heaven…

…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control… For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-6, 8-11

     It would seem that we don’t place enough emphasis on self-control these days.. We certainly don’t equate it with salvation, but both Peter and Paul did. After all, how successful a Christian can you be if you have no ability to control your own life, your own thoughts, your own emotions? How will you say "no" to sin and "yes" to God if you don’t have the self-control to deliver on your decision?

     This quality seems to be in great demand and short supply in the American church today. It’s why so many preachers are flash-in-the-pan sensations, instead of men who are steady and reliable over a period of many years. It’s why Christian young men impregnate their girlfriends, and why men of God fall into sin.

     Man is the most powerful denizen of this planet. You might think the tiger or grizzly bear are more lethal, but think again. They don’t threaten to drive us to extinction, do they? No, but we’ve endangered them. The truth is, humans, and men in particular—with their combination of intelligence and strength and testosterone—are more formidable than the most ferocious animals.

     God wants us to keep that power under control, like the quiet throb of a Corvette waiting at a stoplight. When you’ve got it you don’t have to flaunt it. You never see guys with a ’Vette or Ferrari pealing out, burning rubber—that would be beneath the dignity of a truly powerful car. That’s how a real man should be. Disciplined, under control.


Self Control is the ability to rule your mind, to take authority over your thoughts, and thus over your whole life—for every action begins with a thought. Look what Paul told Timothy…

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NAS)

     The King James Bible renders the last word, " a sound mind." Put the two together—discipline and a sound mind—and you start to understand what the apostle is saying here. God has given us the ability, by His Spirit, to discipline our minds, to keep the power and the love under control. The Greek word literally means "saving the mind" reining it in, bringing it under control.

     The mind is the great battlefield of Christian life—it’s where Satan attacks you, and where he most often gains the victory. The mature man knows how to bring his mind under control. The immature, on the other hand is controlled by stray thoughts and passing emotions—he can’t even imagine the possibility of actually taking authority over his mind. Being able to control your mind is what separates the men from the boys.

     "Boys" think they have no ability to control the thoughts and moods that come, seemingly unbidden, into their minds. Picture the man that commits adultery… "I couldn’t help it… I was so attracted to her… it was love, what can I say?" That’s why people sin—the thought crosses their mind and instead of taking control over it, they submit to it.

     It is possible to take control over your thoughts, to bring them under the dominion of your will. In fact, the Bible commands us to do just that…

     For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments [imaginations] and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

2 Corinthians 10:4-5

     You have the ability to take control over your thoughts—to just refuse to think ungodly thoughts, drive them out of your mind. And replace them, purposefully with thoughts that are true… noble… just… pure… lovely… of good report… virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8)

     Don’t be ruled by every passing thought—be the ruler of your own mind! If you can’t control your own mind, who is controlling it? If you can’t keep yourself from thinking evil thoughts, what can you do? Abuse someone else? act tough? flex your muscles? You’re not a man if you can’t control your thought life, and if you’re serious about being a man, the man that God intended you to be, then start disciplining your mind right now.

     Sin begins in the mind and works its way out to the rest of your life. First you conceive a sinful thought, then you commit a sinful deed. On the other hand, righteousness also begins in the mind. You think about something good then you go out and do it.

     Do you think good or evil thoughts? Someone said that the true measure of a man is what he thinks about or does when no one else is around, when there’s little chance of getting observed or caught by others. Whatever you do at such times, you can bet it begins in your mind.

     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

     Self-control, or as the King James calls it, temperance, is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. Moderation is another way of putting it. In other words a man with self-control is a moderate man, not prone to extremes but living within boundaries, staying on course. A moderate person is balanced, controlled by his will, not by his emotions. When you see a so-called tough guy picking a fight, he’s establishing beyond any shadow of doubt that he’s not a real man, that he has no control over his emotions, his temper; he can’t keep himself from flying off the handle.

     In conclusion, you need to understand that I’m not advocating a wussy, wimpy kind of manhood. I’m a converted tough guy myself. There was a time when I ran around with a gang of punks, picking fights with anybody who looked cross-eyed at us. As a teenager, my dream was to grow up to be a motorcycle outlaw—which most of my buddies did—but, Hallelujah, the Lord got ahold of me. I still drive a big motorcycle. My personality leans towards the wild side—that’s why I became a missionary in a third world country. In all honesty, the traditional American ideal of manhood isn’t that far off—but it does need some fixing up around the edges.

     A boy can be out of control, emotionally and mentally: one day he’s totally consumed by one thing and the next he’s forgotten completely about it. A boy almost never finishes a job—or if he does, he fails to clean up after himself. A boy can be excited today and depressed tomorrow. You never know what to expect with the immature and unstable.

     But a man is under control, dependable, trustworthy, moderate. There’s another word that goes along with this, too, by the way—longsuffering. It is the ability to wait, to put yourself on hold… but I’m getting ahead of myself there—you’ll have to hear about that in our next segment.


Copyright © 2003,  Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved

Scripture quotations from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted

Go to Part I of this Article: Provider & Protector

Go to Part II of this Article: Adam Means Man

This series of messages is also available on six audio cassettes.

Click HERE and scroll down for information on how to order it.

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