After a decade of research into biblical manhood, if there was only one thing I could pass on to other men it would be this:
Learn to use your hands.
A man who is skillful with his hands will lead a fulfilled and productive life regardless of what he knows or doesn’t know about the theology of manhood. It may sound like a low-level thing but the reality is it is core to being a man.
Every man of God in the New Testament made skillful use of their hands. Jesus was a Carpenter. Peter, James, and John were fishermen. Paul was a tent-maker. Paul, in talking about the apostles being treated as the “scum of the earth”, said,
We labor, working with our own hands. 1 Cor. 4:12
He admonished the guys in Thessalonica to work with their hands:
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thes. 4:10-12
He instructed thieves:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Eph. 4:28
There are at least two examples of work that men were called away from. Matthew the tax-collector, sitting at a desk and exacting money from people and Paul who was a Pharisee. These were both careers that provided no real fulfillment. Consider the transition from a highly-educated, high-level authoritative leadership position to a tent-maker. This is what happened with Paul. His education was valuable of course. Some say he had the equivalent of four Ph. Ds. But consider this: God used him to plant-churches and write the New Testament after he became a tent-maker.
In the Old Testament we find more evidence that this is part-and-parcel to the design of men:
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands. Psa. 78:72
Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle. Psa. 144:1
Working with hands coincides exactly with what God does:
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. Psa. 102.25
Working our way back to the very beginning we read this:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep [dress] it. Gen. 2:15
There are two key things here in the realm of work. God commanded the place and the work. What this means is that there is a specific, ingrained way that a man should work and that if he does not follow that he will be left feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. God here did not form Adam of the dirt and then leave him alone to sort out his path or work on his own. The narrative shows us clearly that Adam is not a universally adaptable or capable creature. The narrative of our society however is exactly that. The world tells us we were formed from dirt and alone. And if you’re all alone then by all means the answer is to do whatever you feel like. Just live in the moment and follow your heart, says the world. You have complete freedom being completely alone, don’t you? No, you don’t.
Regardless of what you do, how you feel, or where you go in life, two things are always following you around and limiting what you are capable of: your hands. They were not your choice, and you have no freedom from that. The reflex, the dexterity, and the flexibility are all limited. If you stay within the realm of design, you will find the most freedom. If you try to push that design you will stress out and injure yourself. I think Clint Eastwood said it best:
A man’s got to know his limitations, otherwise he deludes himself and ends up in the hospital, therapy, or a mental institute. There should be harmony between a man’s design and his work.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matt. 5:30
Not every man has to farm. Or work wood. Or make tents. But our work should be just as specific to what we are as to who we are. We are made to use our hands and dress or cultivate the land. The word dressing implies improvement. It’s hard not to notice men seeing themselves “slaving away” at desk jobs and always looking to escape to some place where they can actually make use of their hands. Or successful, wealthy men who have it all and yet are darkly depressed and feeling far from “full” of satisfaction in life. They have no skill with their hands. They don’t know how to do anything with them. So they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, spending their hard-earned money on more and more pleasures that don’t satisfy. All the while the answer is an arms length away.