Masculinity, by John Piper

In January, I had stumbled across a fantastic article written by Elisabeth Elliot simply titled, “Femininity.” In this piece, she writes: “But what is this man, what is this woman? What are these elusive and indefinable but universally acknowledged qualities on which every culture and society has shaped its existence?” I thought she did a fine job of trying to explain the inexplicable, at least, far better than I could! So when we decided to examine the concept of masculinity this month, I certainly did not consider myself qualified to take on a task such as defining an equally elusive term. Instead, I sought the wisdom of John Piper. The following material has been excerpted from Chapter 1 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:


“Mature” means that a man’s sense of responsibility is in the process of growing out of its sinful distortions and limitations, and finding its true nature as a form of love, not a form of self-assertion . . . His sense of responsibility will find expression in the ways he conquers self-pity, and gives moral and spiritual leadership for his family, and takes the initiative to provide them with the bread of life, and protect them from the greatest enemies of all, Satan and sin.

Benevolent responsibility is meant to rule out all self-aggrandizing authoritarianism (cf. Luke 22:26). It is meant to rule out all disdaining condescension and any act that makes a mature woman feel patronized rather than honored and prized (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). The word “benevolent” is meant to signal that mature masculinity gives appropriate expression to the Golden Rule in male-female relationships (Matthew 7:12).

Masculinity is a God-given trust for the good of all his creatures, not a right for men to exercise for their own self-exaltation or egosatisfaction. It is less a prerogative than a calling. It is a duty and obligation and charge. Like all God’s requirements it is not meant to be onerous or burdensome (1 John 5:3). But it is nevertheless a burden to be borne, and which in Christ can be borne lightly (Matthew 11:30).

1. Mature masculinity expresses itself not in the demand to be served, but in the strength to serve and to sacrifice for the good of woman. Jesus said, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26). Leadership is not a demanding demeanor. It is moving things forward to a goal. If the goal is holiness and Heaven, the leading will have the holy aroma of Heaven about it - the demeanor of Christ.

2. Mature masculinity does not assume the authority of Christ over woman, but advocates it. The leadership implied in the statement, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23), is not a leadership that gives to the man all the rights and authority that Christ has. The analogy between Christ and the husband breaks down if pressed too far, first because, unlike Christ, all men sin. Christ never has to apologize to his church. But husbands must do this often. Moreover, unlike Christ, a husband is not preparing a bride merely for himself but for another, namely Christ. He does not merely act as Christ, but also for Christ.

3. Mature masculinity does not presume superiority, but mobilizes the strengths of others. No human leader is infallible. Nor is any man superior to those he leads in every respect. Therefore a good leader will always take into account the ideas of those he leads, and may often adopt those ideas as better than his own . . . The aim of leadership is not to demonstrate the superiority of the leader, but to bring out all the strengths of people that will move them forward to the desired goal.

4. Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.In a family the husband does not do all the thinking and planning. His leadership is to take responsibility in general to initiate and carry through the spiritual and moral
planning for family life.

5. Mature masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband and wife, but does not presume to use it in every instance. In a good marriage, decision-making is focused on the husband, but is not unilateral. He seeks input from his wife and often adopts her ideas. This is implied in the love that governs the relationship (Ephesians 5:25), in the equality of personhood implied in being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and in the status of being fellow-heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7) . . . His awareness of his sin and imperfection will guard him from thinking that following Christ gives him the ability of Christ to know what’s best in every detail.

6. Mature masculinity expresses its leadership in romantic sexual relations by communicating an aura of strong and tender pursuit. This is very difficult to put into words. But sexual relations are so basic to human life we would be delinquent not to at least try to say how masculinity expresses itself here. It is the mingling of tenderness with strength that makes the unique masculine quality of leadership in sexual relations. There is an aura of masculine leadership which rises from the mingling of power and tenderness, forcefulness and affection, potency and sensitivity, virility and delicateness. It finds expression in the firmness of his grasp, the strength of taking her in his arms, the sustaining of verbal adoration, etc. And there are a hundred nuances of masculine pursuit that distinguish it from feminine pursuit . . . But there is a difference. A feminine initiation is in effect an invitation for the man to do his kind of initiating. In one sense then you could say that in those times the man is responding. But in fact the wife is inviting him to lead in a way as only a man can, so that she can respond to him.

7. Mature masculinity expresses itself in a family by taking the initiative in disciplining the children when both parents are present and a family standard has been broken. Mothers and fathers are both to be obeyed by their children (Ephesians 6:1). Mothers as well as fathers are esteemed teachers in the home (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20; 31:1). They carry rights of authority and leadership toward their children, as do their husbands. They do not need to wait till Dad gets home from work to spank a disobedient child. But children need to see a dynamic between Mom and Dad that says, Dad takes charge to discipline me when Mom and Dad are both present. No woman should have to take the initiative to set a disobedient child right while her husband sits obliviously by, as though nothing were at stake. Few things will help children understand the meaning of responsible, loving masculinity better than watching who takes the responsibility to set them right when Mom and Dad are both present.

We should humble ourselves before God for our failures and for the remaining
tendency to shirk or overstep our responsibilities. The call to leadership is not a call to exalt ourselves over any woman. It is not a call to domineer, or belittle or put woman in her place. She is, after all, a fellow-heir of God and destined for a glory that will one day blind the natural eyes of every man (Matthew 13:43). The call to leadership is a call to humble oneself and take the responsibility to be a servant-leader in ways that are appropriate to every differing relationship to women.

It is a call to risk getting egg on our faces; to pray as we have never prayed before; to be constantly in the Word; to be more given to planning, more intentional, more thoughtful, less carried along by the mood of the moment; to be disciplined and ordered in our lives; to be tenderhearted and sensitive; to take the initiative to make sure there is a time and a place to talk to her about what needs to be talked about; and to be ready to lay down our lives the way Christ did if that is necessary.

Masculinity and femininity are rooted in who we are by nature. They are not simply reflexes of a marriage relationship. Man does not become man by getting married. But it is clear that the form which leadership, provision and protection take will vary with the kind of relationship a man has with a woman -from the most intimate relationship of marriage to the most casual relationship with a stranger on the street . . .The point here is that even though a man will not take initiating steps of leadership with a stranger or with a colleague the same way he will with his wife, his mature manhood will seek a pattern of initiative appropriate for the relationship.

The above material was excerpted from "What's the Difference?", Chapter 1 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, by John Piper. You can read all of John Piper's works online at


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