As Christian masculine men, we are called to develop two distinct categories of attributes within ourselves to be good ambassadors for the gospel. Though often these categories overlap, knowledge about how they function both in our bodies and outside our bodies is key to understand the calling of God.
Mastery in the Scriptures
The word for “mastery” shows up in the Scriptures only a couple of times, and it is very interesting in the contexts it is used.
The most often piece of Scripture which shows that we are to have a mastery over our own lives comes out of 1 Corinthians 9 (NASB) where Paul likens the Christian walk to a race:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games (agōnizomai) exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I [l]discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
The KJV is a bit more clear:
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery (agōnizomai) is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
Strong’s dictionary defines the word agonizomai as thus,
ἀγωνίζομαι — agōnizomai — ag-o-nid’-zom-ahee
From G73; to struggle, literally (to compete for a prize), figuratively (to contend with an adversary), or generally (to endeavor to accomplish something): – fight, labor fervently, strive.
And it’s quite an interesting word because the root of it, agon, is pretty much what we would say in English is similar to the words agony or agonizing. That is the mastery to which we are called is going to be a struggling, a fight, and a labor over our own bodies to do the calling of God.
The 6 other uses of this Word in the Scriptures, 2 by Jesus are as equally illuminating,
Jesus to the multitude — Luke 13:24 “Strive (agonizomai) to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Jesus to Pilate — John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom [k]is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting (agonizomai) so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not [l]of this realm.”
Paul to the Colossians — Colossians 1:29 For this purpose also I labor, striving (agonizomai) according to His [an]power, which [ao]mightily works within me.
Paul about Epaphras — Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly (agonizomai) for you in his prayers, that you may [f]stand [g]perfect and [h]fully assured in all the will of God.
Paul to Timothy — 1 Timothy 6:12 Fight (agonizomai)the good fight (agon) of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought (agonizomai) the good fight (agon), I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
The mastery or fight that we are called to takes on two forms: the internal and the external. 1 Corinithas 9 explains the internal as self controlled or temperate in all things. The external primarily focuses on furthering or advancing the faith. Let’s discuss a little bit about what we can adequately call the internal and external the next section.
As I have discussed a bit before, the 9 fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 are thus:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Catholic tradition from the catechism lists 12 fruits of the Spirit:
charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity
It’s actually pretty easy to categorize these into the two separate categories of the internal and the external. From there we can get an idea of how they are supposed to be developed in our lives.
- Internal (6) — Joy, Peace, Patience/Longsuffering, Faithfulness, Chastity, Self Control
- External (6)— Charity/Love, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Modesty
If we include the fruits from the Catholic tradition we can see that the traits we want to develop inside ourselves and externally through our actions are each equal — 6 internal and 6 external.
The internal characteristics of Joy, Peace, Patience/Longsuffering, Faithfulness, Chastity, Self Control are internal because they are of the godly characteristics that God wants multiply in our lives as a model for both other Christians and non-Christians. They are comprised of 2 different categories themselves which are the emotional and the logical:
- Emotional — Joy and peace which are not of ourselves but by nature from God. This is not to say other emotions such as happiness, anger, sadness, etc are bad, but they are transient and not what we are supposed to base our faith on. I will have a follow up post on this in the future.
- Logical — Faithfulness of a godly persuasion, Self control which leads to patience/longsuffering, and the maintenance of chastity which is also a form of self control.
The external characteristics are Charity/Love, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Modesty. They are primarily external characteristics because they are shown through our actions towards others. These also fit two categories namely actions and how we are to perform the actions,
- Actions — Charity/Love to others, Generosity to others, and Modesty for others.
- Performance of actions — Kindness, Goodness, and Gentleness/humility
Obviously, there can be argued a bit of overlap between the internal and external characteristics of say chastity and modesty, but that is nit picking. The main point is that we as Christians, and especially godly masculine men need to both master ourselves and in our relationships with others.
The main reason why I wrote the Foundations of Christian Masculinity is that the passage from 2 Peter 1 provides a guide on how to develop several of the internal and external characteristics:
Faith -> Moral excellence -> Knowledge -> Self Control -> Perseverence -> Godliness -> Brotherly Kindness -> Love/Charity
Likewise, in the Fundamental Nature of Christianity I discussed free will and how it gives us the choice on whether to serve God or not. The ultimate conclusion of the article is that the nature of Christianity allows us to build relationships first with God and then with others effectively.
As you can see from the characteristics, the ones that are internal are mainly as an expression of your relationship with God. That is we can only have the supernatural peace and joy of God when we have faith in Him. We can only master our bodies to be able to overcome temptation with the free will that He has given us and build into perserverence and maintain our chastity from that.
Similarly, when I discussed the nature of the confidence as it relates to Christian masculinity, two of the three of the conclusions of the “state” that most resembles confidence that Christians should have are internal (eirene and pistis and not parrhesia):
- In our hearts, we have eirene, the peace of God which is a wholeness with Him.
- In our souls, we have peitho/pistis, the faith and assurance of salvation from God.
- In our minds/might, we have parrhesia, the intellectual understanding that leads to an external boldness of which we can freely speak to others because of God.
The main reason I keep harping on these characteristics is that without development of the internal characteristics most Christians will be dead in the water. For example, take the following series of questions and answers:
What is your testimony? Can you reliably tell someone your testimony of how you became a Christian and how God changed your life? I doubt most people that call themselves “Christian” in Western Civilization could actually do it. What then does that say about their “faith” and the assurance thereof?
How many Christians can you say you see the peace of God in their life through trials, or the joy of the Lord in their lives at all times even in struggles? Not many. To most people God in Western civilization is just an accessory to their lives to be called on only once a week or twice a year.
How many Christian men or women can say they have mastered self control of their desires? How about of the 7 deadly sins: lust, greed, pride, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy.
My main point with this series of questions is this: Most Christians should be focusing on mastering themselves.
If you haven’t mastered yourself and your desires how are you going to reliably show Love, Generosity, Modesty, Goodness, Kindness, and Gentleness/Humility through your actions? Are you not just going to be a hypocrite that non-Christians scoff at instead — that “christian” does and says this but look at what his life looks like.
This is not to say that we should neglect to serve others while we focus on mastering ourselves. Rather, it is a call to introspection about the stewardship of what you are doing with the heart, soul, mind, and body that Christ has redeemed.
It’s interesting because there is a certain parallel with this and PUA. PUA for years was about using particular tricks and gimmicks in order to push attraction buttons on women to be able to sleep with them. However, over the past few years and with the addition of many manosphere blogs there is a greater focus on “self improvement.” The reason why “self improvement” and “self confidence” are touted by the community is because that internal change leads to significant external change.
See my take on self improvement versus God improvement for more details.
The internal must be consistent with the external, otherwise you are just lying to yourself and others can see through it. Mastering the internal, which is your relationship with God and ability to control your desires and form good habits, will allow you to blossom and be able to serve and build relationships with others.