he expression literally means, "Be men," or "be manly." The TNIV, notorious for trying to sidestep masculine pronouns and male-oriented words, simply says, "Be courageous." That's an important aspect of what Paul is saying here. It's a start, but it's not really the full gist.
Paul uses the Greek verb andrizomai in the middle voice. It's another one-word imperative, though it's hard to make it one word in English. It means "play the man."
It's a word that speaks of masculinity as opposed to femininity. He's not saying be grownups rather than children; he's saying, "Act like men, not like girls." And frankly, that was a fitting charge to give to the church at Corinth. As a reminder and a rebuke, it is also well-suited for a large segment of evangelicals today.
Manly courage is certainly an aspect of what Paul means, but it's much bigger than that. He is commending all those characteristics that are associated with masculinity rather than femininityeven though it's not politically correct these days to say things like that. Paul is sweeping up and including in that command attributes like courage, and strength, and boldnessstout-heartedness, heroism, daring, gallantrymachismo. There is, of course, a rather pedestrian aspect to true machismo: the idea of work. When God created Adam, He made him to workto tend the gardeneven before the Fall. That's something to remember in this age of leisure. We need to be redeeming the time. You can't exclude that from this command.
But remember, the context is militant. This is first of a call to arms and a summons to battle. "Fight like men; defend the faith in a manly way." That is surely the cardinal idea here.
Now it's worth noting that this verse is written to the whole churchit's not addressed to men onlyand much less does Paul single out only the elders and the church leaders. This apples to every Christian. There's a sense in which even the women in Corinth needed to cultivate the strength and fortitude of a warriorlike Deborah in the book of judges.
But while this applies to everyone in the church, it is nevertheless the particular duty of the elder and pastor to model the spirit of virile, vigorous, vigilant faithsteadfast and courageous. And I love it that Paul has no scruples about connecting those ideas with manliness. "Act like men!" Masculinity. That is certainly one of the missing qualities of churches today.
The King James Version of this verse says, "Quit you like men," and I fear that sometime in the late 20th century or so a lot of evangelical readers mistook the message and thought it meant "Quit being men."
Several books have been written analyzing the feminization of evangelical churches. I gave a lengthy message on this subject two years ago at a Grace Church Men's conferencethat message is online if you want to download it. But be forewarned: some people got offended by what I had to say (which is a totally new experience for me.)
In my judgment, the typical evangelical church of this generation has become weak and womanly. Churchgoers demand that preachers be soft and daintyespecially when they are dealing with hard-edged truths. If you don't sufficiently tone down every severe text or hard-to-receive doctrine in the Bible, the tone police will write you up for an infraction before you can get from the pulpit to the front door. All the rough edges of every truth must be carefully sanded smooth and painted in pastel tones. We've traded up to cushy seats instead of hard-bench pews and we expect our preachers to fashion their message accordingly. None of this sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God stuff.
Instead, today's evangelicals favor feminine themes: Let's talk about our emotional hurts, our personal relationships, our felt, needs. We're hurting. The church has begun to look weak, effeminate, frightened, sissifiedlike a society of fops and milksops instead of soldiers.
We're told relentlessly that we have to be always agreeable no matter whatseeker-sensitive, gender-neutral, effervescent, transparent, sentimental, and delicate in everything we say and do. Those sound like rules for figure-skaters, not warriors in the army of Christ.
These trends have received a lot of attention in recent years, and more and more people are recognizing the problem. The church is not reaching and ministering to menwe're actually driving them away. But those who see the problem more often than not have really bad solutions. You know: have the men's Bible studies over beer, cigars, and poker games. Get your men watching cage-fighting and encourage them to develop a taste for blood sport. Or go out in the woods, put on war paint, and perfect the art of the primal scream. Salt your vocabulary with a sailor's favorite expletives. Or (my favorite) Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, where you dress up like a knight or a gladiator and assume that persona out in a vacant field somewhere with other people who are doing the same thing.
Right. Dress up and pretend. That's the way to be masculine.
None of those things even comes close to the essence of true, virile masculinity. In fact, those are all the kinds of things little boys do.
Paul has none of those things in mind when he tells the Corinthians to man up. He is telling them as simply and straightforwardly as possible to be bold, sober-minded, mature, and committed to their callinglike soldiers. Be valiant soldiers in the battle for truth. You don't have to take up smoking or swearing or get a tattoo on your arm to fulfill that command. Those are all external things. They have nothing to do with the kind of masculinity Paul is calling for here. He's talking about character and conduct, not the costume you wear.
In fact, notice the two imperatives on either side of this command to act like men. They explain the true gist of it: "Be steadfast." "Be strong." Those are character qualities. And sandwiched between them is this: "Act like men." The imperatives in that string of commands basically explain one another. Strength, steadfastness, courage, and even vigilancethese are all vital aspects of what Paul means when he says, "Act like men."