The most surprising men, whether alive today or throughout history, are men of persistent love. Men all over the world accomplish much for any number of reasons — for pride, for money, for fame and honor, for power. We expect men to work hard, take risks, and make sacrifices for self. A few strange men, however, do all that they do for love. They also work hard and take risks and make sacrifices, but they do it for the good of others, especially their eternal good.
When the apostle Paul wrote to a younger man, discipling him in manhood and ministry, he charged him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). While the qualities in this verse apply to young men and women alike, I find that they provide a simple yet challenging paradigm for becoming better men of God.
And could we have heard the apostle read this short list to his disciple, I think he may have slowed down over love, letting it land with special force.
Why would I think that? Because Paul begins the letter, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). My whole reason for writing, Timothy, is that you might be a man of love — and that you might lead others further into that love. Love, as John Piper defines it, “is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others” (The Dangerous Duty of Delight, 44). So, Timothy, set the believers an example in your growing, overflowing, need-meeting joy in God. Teach them, with your life, how to love.
“Love is an indispensable ambition for any man pursuing maturity in Christ.”
The apostle Peter charges followers of Jesus, “Above all” — above all — “keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8). And then Jesus himself says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” — not by what we can do, or how much we know, or how hard we work, but by our love (John 13:35). Love proves that a man truly belongs to God — that God has chosen him, redeemed him, equipped him, transformed him, and lives in him. We should expect selfishness, sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, and drunkenness from men (Galatians 5:19–21) — but genuine love confronts our (well-informed) assumptions about men.
If love, then, sets us apart as men of God, then love is an indispensable ambition for any man pursuing maturity in Christ.
Anyone who has genuinely loved knows just how hard love can be. Paul certainly saw and felt the hurdles himself, as well as how easily love can wither in relationships. His first letter to the church at Corinth addresses a host of serious issues, but perhaps none is weightier than their lack of love for one another. First Corinthians 13 — “the love chapter” — wasn’t written to newlyweds basking in the anticipation of marital intimacy; it was written to a church deeply infected with selfishness and divisiveness — to Christians who thought themselves mature while their love had grown cold.
So, what does real love look like? As men of God, how do we discern if our love is rooted in and empowered by God, or if it is just a self-flattering figment of our imagination? Paul gives us a series of reliable tests, culminating (and to some degree summarized) in 1 Corinthians 13:7:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Men of love do not abdicate responsibility in relationships, or shift blame when things go wrong, or turn a blind eye to the needs of others; they bear, and do so with joy. Men of love are men who gladly bear the burdens of others, and who bear with others when they become a burden — when they disappoint, hurt, or offend us.
The man of God not only bears what might earn him praise or recognition, but he bears what other men will not — what might seem, from an earthly perspective, foolish. What is he getting out of that? And maybe even more surprisingly, he consistently bears the needs and offenses of others with patience, not irritability; with kindness, not harshness or rudeness (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). When a man loves in the strength of God, the burdens he bears are real and yet they are also strangely light (Matthew 11:30). He carries more than most, with more grace than most.
“When a man loves in the strength of God, the burdens he bears are real and yet they are also strangely light.”
So, what burdens might you bear? If you’re married, this begins at home. How sensitive are you to the everyday and ever-changing needs of your wife and children? How ready are you to go above and beyond in shouldering those needs? How well do you bear with the particular weaknesses and sins in your family? And then, having provided well at home, have you thought much about how the joy in you and your home might overflow to meet needs in your church family, your neighborhood, and wherever else God has placed you?
If you are not married, you may assume there are fewer burdens to bear, but remember: the apostle Paul was an unmarried man, and he did not lack burdens to carry. All of us are surrounded by need. Singleness often allows us to shoulder more with greater focus than those who are married (1 Corinthians 7:32–35).
Love also believes all things of other people. That sounds awfully naive, maybe even reckless and irresponsible, doesn’t it? Surely men of God know better than that. When the apostle says that love believes all things, he does not mean love believes everything it hears — Jesus certainly did not — but that love believes the best of others. To say it another way, when thoughts, desires, or motives are unclear, love does not assume the worst.
Cynicism, that sin we despise in others and yet often coddle in ourselves, is not the wisdom it pretends to be. It is a profound lack of love masquerading as “discernment.” Love, of course, is discerning. “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,” Paul says, “with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). But love is not only discerning. As godly discernment grows and is refined, its love does not shrink and shrivel, but abounds more and more. And while this kind of discernment thinks carefully and deeply, while it feels the seriousness of sin and stands ready to confront it when necessary, it also refuses to assume evil of anyone. Love believes all things.
Whom do you struggle to believe the best of? Whom are you least gracious with — your spouse or roommate, your children or parents, your coworkers, classmates, or neighbors? Men of God rejoice at the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), and when the truth is unclear, they believe all things. So, when suspicion begins to swell in your heart again, fight to assume the best (it will often be a fight!), and entrust your soul “to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Men of God believe the best of others, and they hope the best for others, because love hopes all things. This hope is not “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), but a relentless horizontal hopefulness rooted in that great and happy hope. Good men don’t rejoice at the failures or misfortunes of others. They’re not consumed with selfish and competitive ambition. They’re not plagued by envy. They rejoice to see others succeed, bear fruit, and thrive — especially their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul doesn’t talk about this horizontal hope often, but he does in 2 Corinthians 1:7: “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” Even while he was horribly afflicted, “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8), Paul still hoped the best for the brothers in Corinth. He took courage and strength in knowing that their future would be better because his present had gotten worse. Men filled with the Spirit of God think and hope that way.
“When thoughts, desires, or motives are unclear, love does not assume the worst.”
So, in each of your relationships, hope for the best. Pray for the best. Ask God to use you to improve someone else’s life and future, even if it costs you along the way. Lay aside the selfishness and competitiveness that groans when others prosper while we struggle, and thank God when you see him using and elevating the gifts of someone else. Men who hope the best for others are unusually joyful men because they have so many more reasons to rejoice. Their joy isn’t limited to their own successes, achievements, and opportunities, but is catalyzed and strengthened by the joy of others.
The love of these men not only bears burdens, but keeps bearing burdens. Long after others would have walked away, feeling they had done all they could do, men of love stay and endure.
Fraudulent love always fades and fails, often quickly, like the seed that fell along the rocky ground (Mark 4:17). When real love meets resistance, the resistance doesn’t just reveal endurance, but actually produces endurance (Romans 5:3). These men will set boundaries when necessary in certain relationships, but will also endure more than most would. They love differently, they love durably, because they have been “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11).
Of this quality of love, Leon Morris writes,
It is the endurance of the soldier who, in the thick of the battle, is undismayed, but continues to lay about him vigorously. Love is not overwhelmed, but manfully plays its part whatever the difficulties. (1 Corinthians, 182)
Almost any man would like to think himself the soldier who would endure “whatever difficulties,” but like Peter as Jesus was betrayed, we often imagine ourselves dying for love (Matthew 26:35) only to cave before the servant girl in front of us (Matthew 26:69–70). We grumble and give way before the particular difficulties in our path, and make convenient excuses to get out of doing what love requires — we’re tired, we’re busy, we have our own needs, we’ve done so much already.
So, what tempts you to walk away? Anyone who is called to love sinners has plenty of reasons to give up. Love overcomes those reasons, and takes the next brave, costly step, as Jesus did when he bore the cross for us. When I lack the heart to endure, with patience and joy, in marriage, in friendship, in church life, in evangelism, I need to remember just how many reasons Jesus had to abandon me — and yet he has never left me or forsaken me (Hebrews 13:5, 8). So, forbid that, as I follow him, I be found to be a leaving or forsaking man.
While death to self did not explicitly make the list in 1 Corinthians 13, we catch at least a whiff of this kind of sacrifice in verse 5: “[Love] does not insist on its own way.” Love often dies to its own way — to its own needs, its own desires, sometimes even to its own sense of what would be best or wisest.
“Loving men are always dying men — and happy men.”
And as we look up and widen our gaze beyond the love chapter, we see this thread of loving manhood again and again, most powerfully in the God-man of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And so, he loved — and in doing so, he left us an example of surprising, masculine, sacrificial love.
For love to bear, it must die to comfort and convenience. For love to believe, it must die to cynicism. For love to hope, it must die to selfish ambition. For love to endure, it must die, again and again, to self. Loving men are always dying men — and happy men. As they die, they follow Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Like him, men of God love and die for joy.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis.