And in nothing has Christ appeared so much as a lion, in glorious strength destroying his enemies, as when he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter: in his greatest weakness, he was most strong. –Jonathan Edwards
If I could somehow measure my faith from childhood to adulthood, I certainly wouldn’t rely upon anything I could count, like years lived or deeds done or services attended. Instead, it would have to be measured on God’s terms, and that’s precisely why it’s impossible to actually quantify. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t give us calculators to determine our progress in the kingdom of God. He did, however, give us parables. And what we find is a numbers game completely contrary to our earthly standards: a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to seek just one (Matt18:10-14) or a laborer who works just one hour and gets paid the same as someone who worked nine (20:1-16) or a merchant who sells everything he owns for a single pearl (Matt. 13:45-46). In an American culture that insists on measuring its success in concrete terms of attendance or likes or pounds, the kingdom of God can appear like a foreign language. Which brings us back to faith.
Faith is the conviction of things unseen. (Heb. 11:1) Therefore faith demands that we stop measuring our spiritual maturity in worldly, quantifiable terms. And never is this more obvious than in the way that the kingdom of God defines strength. The world likes to measure its strength in terms of muscle, athleticism, and the ability to lift weight. But the eternal world works much differently. In the kingdom of heaven, strength is measured in terms of love, compassion, and the ability to endure the weaknesses of others. (Matt. 9:36, 1 Cor. 13:4-7) A strong Christian is someone strong enough to love and love well. So why is it difficult for so many men to tell other men “I love you”? The answer begins at the cross.
An omnipotent God showed us what real strength is when He took flesh, became a slave, and died an ignominious death in order to save ungodly sinners who refused to love anyone other than themselves. (John 3:16-18) The greatest man who walked the earth became the least. (Matt. 20:16) He knelt down from His throne and became weak. That took immeasurable strength. Therefore, there is absolutely no such thing as a mature Christian who has not matured in self-denying love. This is the very purpose for reading the Bible and growing in our knowledge of God: to grow in the love of God. (1 Tim. 1:5) In fact, according to Christ, this is exactly how we will identify real Christians. (John 13:25) Because Christians believe in a God who loves, Christians love. (1 John 4:19) That means regardless of the years he has lived on this earth, regardless of the amount of time or money he’s given to others, regardless of the hours he’s volunteered, and regardless of the Scripture he’s memorized, a man who cannot bring himself to say “I love you” is a man who is still learning what it means to be a strong Christian. In this life, we simply cannot define true, biblical, godly strength without love.
In today’s world, the reason that men struggle with telling other men “I love you” is the problem of earthly strength. They’ve chosen the world and its measuring stick. They’ve knowingly or unknowingly bought into the lie that says strength is about brawn and masculinity. That’s why you’ll often hear men shorten the phrase into “luv ya,” as if a full “I love you” is simply too mushy or delicate. According to this worldly thinking, for men to tell other men that they love them is a homosexual kind of love. It’s weakness. But the Gospel says that true strength is found in the man who can willingly become weak for the name of Christ, who can risk social awkwardness. But for anyone who has ever received an “I love you” from a strong man of faith, the result is anything but awkward. Paul boasts, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) Real men are strong enough to love others in word and deed. Instead of bowing to public perception, they embrace being weak. As those who are found in Christ, the crucified King, they have the strength to do so. Real men are lions who love becoming lambs. To the world, just three soft words uttered from a man can betray a sense of femininity or inferiority. But in the kingdom of God, the man who loves is the man who is most sure of His identity and that of His God. He has real power – the power to love.
It’s time we reconfigure our idea of strength. According to the kingdom of God, we’re less likely to find it on the set of an action movie and more likely to find it in next to a hospital bed tending to the sick or dying. It looks far less like a man underneath a benchpress and more like someone able to shoulder the burdens of the weak. (Rom. 15:1) The world doesn’t need another man afraid to say I love you. It doesn’t need another man willing to drive a big truck but unwilling to step down and utter three words that epitomize the essence of the Gospel. The world needs needy sinners who sit at the foot of the cross, able to first kneel and receive the words “I love you.” Only then can men find their real strength. In Christ. That’s why strong men love Jesus from the bottom of their heart. And from the overflow of that thankful heart, their mouths confidently speak “I love you.” The strong man is a weak man. Or at least he’s strong enough to admit it.