In this post, Richard Phillips gets into the details of his exposition and application of the “masculine mandate” in Genesis 2:15.
Host: I was in a church where home men’s groups were reading this book (Wild at Heart) and going off on men’s trips. I remember thinking, “Well, what is distinctively Christian about this? I mean, it’s good that we want men to be men, and to be tough, and I actually expected to have more of that in your book since you’re a tank commander. And, you know, to have more of this emphasis on men being manly men, and that’s a good emphasis, and it’s right, but, I really liked how in the book you bring out the story of the professional dirt bike racer . . . Brian Deacon . . . talked about doing all of that before he was in Christ. He was doing all of those manly things, but that’s not what made him a man, but knowing what God’s will for him and knowing the Lord is.
Richard Phillips: A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a men’s conference. So I’m sitting at a barber shop, and I’m reading ESPN Magazine. They have an article about Brian Deacon, this hooligan, X-game, trick-bike jumper. He’s like the Michael Jordan of that quasi-sport. He has a near-death crash. He got his girlfriend pregnant, and she’s off living with her parents. Meanwhile, he has this nationally televised crash, and he loses half his blood, and he goes to his girlfriend’s house to be medically rehabilitated. Meanwhile, she’s been converted to Christ at her parents’ church. He starts going to the parents’ church, and he gets converted. He heals up, and he comes back to the Metal Militia and starts leading a Bible study, and, one by one, leads most of these guys … he leads them all, one by one, to Christ.
Then I read another interview, where the typical thing’s happening: some guys saying, you know, “Dude, you’ve change! What happened to you? You’re Brian Deacon!” And Deacon says, “You know what? I’ve realized that I’ve got to become a man.” Now, the last thing this guy needs to be told is that being a man is going off on ego trips (see parts 1 & 2). You know, what he needs to be told is what his duty is as a husband and father biblically and what biblical love is. And biblically, what it means to be a covenantally faithful man. And I’m reading all this stuff, and I’m thinking, “I gotta write a book on this.”
Host: So let’s talk about that. The mandate involves two aspects, working and keeping; that’s what man was placed in the garden to do. Could you help us to understand what you mean by “work”? What is man’s specific duty in working, and what is he supposed to do?
Richard Phillips: Yeah, thanks. The two in the Hebrew, the two verbs are abad and shamar. Very simple, basic Hebrew words appear hundreds of times in the Old Testament. They’re kind of, you know, building block common verbs.
Abad, in a construction context, means “to build.” In a Temple context, it’s used of the priests serving the Temple. And in an agricultural setting, such as the garden, it’s used as farming. You know, cultivating, causing things to grow. And, what we see is, the man is given the mandate by God–and this is all in the agricultural meaning–what God calls a man to do. The first thing is, that he is to engage in labor that is to have the result of causing good things to grow. Now that alone is paradigm shifting.
Now one thing that strikes me is that in American culture, we don’t think of the man as the nurturer. Biblically he is. I’m not saying women aren’t nurturers. But I am saying that it is the role of a man in a relationship to grow and cultivate and engage in activity and ministry and labor that will cause others to grow. It may be to cause a business to grow. In marriage, it means your job is to, your wife’s heart is the garden in which you’re to have a spade and you’re to minister in that garden so that she grows spiritually.
I mean, you know, as a pastor, how often do I have someone come into my office and say, “Help, pastor. I’ve got a lot of problems in my relationship with my mother.” The answer is, virtually never. It may happen once or twice, you know. But how often do I have someone come and say, “Oh, my relationship with my dad…” All the time. Why? Because the father is the one through whose ministry we gain so much of our identity and who we are, and the cultivation of character and faith and all those things result from the man’s role.
And so, it’s enormously helpful for Brian Deacon to be told, “Hey, Brian, if you want to be a man now, what you are to do is, like Adam, you’re put by God to work the garden. To engage in sacrifical ministry that would cause us to grow. You’re to do that in all your relationships. And so the book works that out. First in principle, that in various relationships–marriage, fatherhood, church, friendship, those kinds of things.
The other verb is shamar. Another very common word. It means “to watch over and protect.” In Psalm 121, “the LORD will keep you.” The LORD watches over you, he neither slumbers nor sleeps. He will keep your life. That’s shamar. And so, Adam was placed by God into his covenantal world of relationships and duties, to cause the garden to grow and to keep the garden safe. And likewise, godly men are to engage in a life of labor, the effect of which is that those under our care are to be kept safe, and their growth will be nurtured by our ministry.
That’s it. Isn’t that beautifully simple?
Host: It is. It’s profound as well….
Richard Phillips: Profoundly simple, but it requires the redeeming work of Jesus Christ in my life fully expressing itself for me to do it. It’s anything but easy. But to me that is so helpfully clear: I’m a husband–what am I to do? My wife is to feel safe in our relationship, and I’m to make her–I’m to make her safe, to promote her safety, and I am to engage in ministry to her so that she grows.