Book Review: Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men
The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men, by Richard D. Phillips. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing. Pp. xi + 220. $12.53 (softcover).
What is your mandate as a man? Is it to spend endless amounts of time on your electronic devices? Is it to sleep in until the last minute possible and then rush out the door to school or work, neglecting your own personal devotions? Is it indulging in sports or some other leisurely activity? The word of God gives us the proper mandate in Genesis 2:15: “[T]he LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it.” The ESV is translated “work” instead of “dress.” This is what Richard Phillips uses and what I will use here, as the book runs with a theme of “work and keep.”
Phillips does an excellent job of expounding on this mandate that we all share as men. In the first half of the book he focuses specifically on what that mandate is. He begins in the garden with who and what we are and how we must obey God. He then moves on to the mandate generally, first in the area of working and how we are to labor in whatever field the Lord has placed us in. Phillips then reminds us of the second part of the mandate, to keep safe all that the Lord has put under our care. It’s striking that although this book was published ten years ago, what it contains is even more applicable today than ever.
Men have a calling to work, plain and simple. In the day and age of mothers working outside the home and stay-at-home dads, we do well to consider this for ourselves as well, even in our own circles, as we see more and more men willing to give up their masculinity in the way of neglecting this mandate to work and keep. Work is a very important part of our lives here on earth. Phillips speaks of the reality of the temptations we face in work. World glory, self-serving power, and many sinful pleasures there are that can be associated with work. Sometimes we find that our identity has become wrapped up in who we are professionally. This is a real danger for many self-employed men especially. We must remember our God-given mandate to serve others and have a balanced life in our labors. Above all we must work to glorify God and serve him in all we do. If God is pleased with our work, we can be satisfied in it, even if the world opposes it. Work is important, but it should never be so important that a man is forced or even tempted to neglect family, friends, church life, or, most importantly, regular time with God. Phillips ends his chapter on work with a reminder that we serve an audience of one. We do not labor for the praise of men, but solely for the glory of God.
When considering a masculine mandate, one cannot help but think of leadership. Phillips makes no effort to sugarcoat the current state of our nation and the church today in the lack of leadership. He focuses specifically on shepherding in guiding, protecting, and caring for that which God has put under our care. Much of this mandate applies to leadership in the church. Too often the motivation of leaders is to use their office improperly in a self-gratifying and self-glorifying way. True leadership is nothing but self-sacrifice. True leadership is protecting and caring for the flock. Phillips reminds us that in anticipation of his death on the cross to deliver his flock safely home, Jesus says in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” This is a tremendous calling we have as men to lead in offices of the church. We must always pay close attention to the ultimate Shepherd-Lord, Jesus Christ, in his ultimate act of service, his death on the cross.
Maybe you think that you have a good understanding of what a man is, and you don’t need this book. I would challenge you to read it and not grow from it. Every man I know, myself chiefly, will benefit from it. Once you begin you will be humbled more and more and realize how much growth you need in the way of working and keeping in every aspect of your life. Ultimately the place to learn of this mandate is in the word of God, but this book can aid us greatly, and it is my prayer that God will use it to spur on a new zeal for godly living in manhood.
The name of the book implies it is solely for men. I would encourage women to read it as well, both young and old: young women, to assist you in your searching for a husband and a father for your children if the Lord wills; older women, so that as mothers and grandmothers you may be better able to train your sons and grandsons to carry out their God-given mandate to work and to keep, whether as a teenager, adult, father, or husband.
This mandate is also important as there continues to be a growing need in the church for boldness and yet humility in the offices of elder and deacon. Most important is this mandate for men who take up the high calling of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. It is Phillips’ desire, and should be ours as well, that God raises up men who kneel before our sovereign Lord and acknowledge our complete dependence on him. We will fail as men in every aspect of this mandate, but God’s grace, and his grace alone, will equip us to serve and lead as he calls us in various ways. Then when Christ returns we will hear the words we should prize above all others: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).
Derek is the husband of Lydia (Bruinsma) and the father of Hailey and Cody. He is a member of Grandville Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
Originally published March 2020, Vol 79 No 3