Throughout law school, I co-led a morning Bible study for a group of guys.
We started meeting together to combat the isolation inherent in law school’s hyper-competitive atmosphere and the destructive cathartic options so readily available. But for many of us, the group turned into much more.
I watched as brilliant, talented, and dynamic men – individuals poised to attain wealth, power, and significance – embraced humility and allowed their abilities and ambition to be informed by God’s grace. In a culture pushing individuality and perfection, we learned to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). A bond formed that one man even said he would never have thought possible.
Our group had its ups and downs, but many of us experienced true companionship. I feel it was the most significant part of my law school experience and will remain a highlight of my life. Life-shaping, life-altering friendships were born of that group, the likes of which every person should enjoy.
The Starvation of Modern Men
I generally try and write for as broad an audience as possible so people can engage my ideas instead of getting sidetracked by other issues. This is true for the concept of armor bearing that Steve and I are developing – it applies to both men and women, Christian and non, Liberal and Conservative, etc…
However, sometimes it’s necessary to focus. This week, I find myself writing to men, and Christian men, in particular.
Several weeks ago we discussed armor bearing and the façade of perfection – our felt need to portray ourselves in a certain light. As we know, this prevents us from being transparent and vulnerable, which are attributes required to forge the foundation of trust that armor bearing is built on.
But the effect is actually far more widespread when it comes to men. We have an epidemic that most of us hardly realize we’re facing: Companionship is actually a point of starvation for modern men.
Yes, I know we have buddies with whom we hit the gym, barbeque, or watch the game, etc… But I’m talking about more than just bonding. We rarely plumb the depths of each other’s hearts. As a result, we never know the kind of friendship shared by Jonathan and David. The place from which Jonathan emphasized, “I will love you until death parts us” (1 Samuel 18-20).
Think about that – it’s the kind of commitment expressed in a marriage vow!
Life-long, unyielding, no matter what the cost.
Make a list of the people to whom you’re that committed… For most of us, if we’re honest, it’s a very short list.
Thus, even when we’re together, we’re not together. Men miss out on the kind of companionship in which God’s grace is reflected onto their mistakes, struggles, and insecurities, neutralizing the damning implications and helping them embrace the truth of their Christian identity. And that’s a tragedy.
“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
– Ecclesiastes 4:10
So how can we start to experience real companionship?
So how do we demolish that façade of perfection, adopt armor bearing, and start to experience real companionship? The key is a threefold change in perspective that helps us connect with others and ourselves.
First, we must dispel cultural masculine stereotypes. Much of Christendom has taken secular notions of masculinity, bolted on Christian concepts, and called it biblical. I’m talking about books like Wild at Heart, which teaches that every man needs a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live.
Frankly, I don’t think that’s right or biblical.
It may not be completely wrong because some men are created for those things. But what if we define masculinity according to the example set by Jesus, instead. We see that there is much greater depth to masculinity – a broader meaning of strength and more potential for relationships and legacy. Picture the Son of God walking peacefully through a hostile crowd. That one example demonstrates real meekness, wisdom, integrity, and loyalty and betrays just how we cheapen masculinity by ‘Christianizing’ cultural machismo.
Second, we must accept that armor bearing is not about elimination of sin. Jesus did that on the cross. If you’ve embraced his sacrifice, then you’re covered by his grace. Your sin has been removed. (Psalm 103:12, Romans 8:28-39 ). Continuing to focus your energy on working to overcome sin is bondage! And the sin you struggle with most comes to define your relationship with God.
I get push-back on this all the time. It demonstrates that we are uncomfortable with a Christianity that isn’t about our performance. You see, focusing on elimination of sin keeps everything under our control. We can ignore God’s sovereignty and don’t have to wrestle with the scandalous implications of an all-sufficient grace. It allows us to sanitize the Christian faith, hold it at arm’s length, and make it a ‘religion.’
Ritual is never threatening – but a sovereign, living Lord is hard to control.
Nonetheless, armor bearing is not about elimination of sin. Instead, armor bearing is about keeping each other centered in our proper identity as saints, heirs with Christ, and a royal priesthood. Thus, armor bearers protect each other from the accuser of the brethren and keep each other from making sin the defining element of their lives. Sometimes, armor bearers even stand in the gap to protect against cheap shots by pharisaical people. And guess what – as armor bearers constantly encourage each other to embrace God’s grace and move toward true Christian identity, sin falls by the wayside.
Third, we must appreciate that we are the ones who change in the context of armor bearing friendship. As we’ve discussed, armor bearing is reciprocal. Just as demonstrated in the story of Jonathan and his armor bearer, we are at once both the protector and the protected. In this reliance we realize that life is not a game and neither is armor bearing – it’s a commitment to stand by one another no matter what. With this change in perspective, facades of perfection need not be peeled off because they simply fall away.
Machismo loses its luster; Sin becomes irrelevant; We embrace our dual role and expect profound change.
The commitment to one another becomes exciting. We gradually enter the depths of each other’s lives and, as we walk through hurt and hope, our love for one another deepens. We begin to know a commitment that is actually exhilarating, and we become amazed that we could have ever endured life without it. We begin to know true companionship.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
– Proverbs 27:6
Armor Bearing is for You
Our hope is that you’re experiencing this kind of companionship in your own life. If so, congratulations! You’re an armor bearer, and you’ve got armor bearers looking out for you, as well. If not, please sick around. Armor bearing friendship – true companionship – is there for you too. We will help you learn what it’s all about and do what we can to help you find it.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on ‘armor bearing friendship‘ – the subject of an upcoming book by Jer Monson and Steve Gerali. Your thoughts will help us shape the book, so be a part of the conversation in the comments below. You can also subscribe to stay connected to new posts on armor bearing. When you do, you can download a FREE copy of Jer’s ebook, 12 Ways to Maximize Your Next Twelve!
Leave a Comment: Do you need a change in perspective? Which part will be most difficult for you?