Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go…for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:5–9—NKJV)

My Scottish heritage is rich with heraldic symbols. My family’s clan motto is “Courage grows stronger at the wounding.” When I first learned that was the heritage given me by my forebears, I remember seeing visions of mighty clashes of broadswords and manly men. It is quite a motto to consider and to live up to. I believe my children also have tucked the motto away in their hearts and it sings out to them now and then.

Several years ago I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to come up with our own, personal family motto with a Scriptural bent. “Be true, be wise, be strong, always godly” became our family’s watchword. There was a purpose in the order of virtues and a reason that being godly is made out to be the common thread throughout the other three virtues. In our motto I hope that I have given my children the gift of an explanation for all I have done in their upbringing.

We live in such a confused day that in order to regain the simple meaning of an English word like manliness we have to trust a humble dictionary rather than take our clues from the mavens of academia or self-appointed arbiters of shifting societal norms. There is no doubt that times change and yet what a man is in his DNA cannot be changed no matter how much time and treasure may be spent on treatments or re-education. What God designs always has a perfect purpose in His infinite mind, whether a man wants to honor God’s intent or not. It is always wise to consult the designer to see how a purpose-built item is supposed to work. A man is no different. He will never work best when he works against his design.

There is a striking difference between males and females. I am under the impression that women do not spend much time wondering, as they come into womanhood, whether they are a “woman” the same way that young men wonder if they have achieved manhood. For a conscientious male, there is a measure of uncertainty as to whether he has the requisite character that must back up authentic manhood and he will only discover when he is tested how much character he really has. The definitions of manly and masculine reflect this reality.

Masculinity is defined as having the qualities regarded as characteristic of men: strength, vigor, virile, manly, resolute and honorable. It is not that women cannot exhibit many of these same virtues when their character is put to the test. By the same token, their feminine characteristics may be defined as gentle, delicacy, and modesty. These distinguishing qualities are designed differences gifted to each and every one of us by our Creator (Genesis 2:18–24). Ephesians 5:22–33 goes as far as to distinguish the needs placed in each heart by His design. Husbands need respect and wives need sacrificial love. I had a professor who once described the man of the house as the Leader (v. 23), Lover (25), Loner (31) and Lifter (32–33)—these attributes are God’s designed intent for a husband to bring into his marriage and anything he touches in his world.

The virtues most often identified as characteristic of manliness are naturally based on the general capabilities of a man’s body and the way his brain is wired (divine design). Like our family motto, strength, honor, courage, and self-mastery are most often pointed out as a particularly masculine suite of attributes. These are also the general qualities that a woman looks for in the guy she would have protect her and her children. She does not just want a good man but a man who is good at being the best of all that is masculine, according to the plan of the Designer. The funny thing is that these very qualities may be the things that get her upset with him from time to time.

Strength is only evident when there is opposition, and sometimes the opposition may come with threats and fears she is not driven to face. Honor is only effective when it is coupled with a deep sense of accountability; it is his love of honor that makes him choose formidable battles, but it is also what keeps him faithful to his family. Courage does not take its cues from the number of the enemies, but is reckoned by the rightness of the course of action and is the reason he goes on doing right even when weary. Self-mastery requires every bit of a man’s strength and is a battle that he must engage in for the rest of his days if he is to finish well. It is what will allow him to be the steady rock his acquaintances may depend upon and find their strength when their world is shaken. No man can fulfill his design for dominion (Genesis 1:26–28) if he is weak in self-mastery.

Our Lord was all of these qualities and more. He is the perfect man and perfect God (Luke 2:52). No threats made Him swerve, no enemies made Him adjust, no price made Him quail, no distraction made Him lose focus, and no temptation mastered Him. These are the same behaviors He commanded of Joshua and requires of every real man, even in these times. Trust and obey.