Cheryl and I raised four sons and our home was an active, exciting place. I tell everyone we had more fun than we deserved. But with four young boys, it was easy to focus on controlling the moment. And this is probably what people had in mind when they asked Cheryl, “How did you survive four boys?”

And yet, if our mind is only on controlling the moment, this usually means “correcting their impulses” and “reigning them in.” When we think of our parenting as preparing young men for manhood, we are automatically connected with the future. Changing our perspective allows us to appreciate and enjoy those characteristics that God has placed in our little future men.

Manhood is where boyhood should be aimed.

–Douglas Wilson

I recently began reading Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants by Douglas Wilson. From just the first few lines of the Introduction, I found myself agreeing with his observations and exhortations.

Wilson says boys take a lot of faith, “but it is important to remember that the object of faith is not the boy. It is faith in God, faith in His promises and faith in His wisdom.”

“This is good because the presence or absence of faith reveals whether or not we have a biblical doctrine of our future. Unbelief is always anchored to the present, while faith looks at that which is unseen.”

He further qualifies this faith. “The faith exhibited by wise parents of boys is the faith of a farmer, or a sculptor, or anyone else engaged in the work of shaping unfolding possibilities. … It is the faith of someone who looks at the present and sees what it will become—through grace and good works.” (pg. 9)

You see the raw material in a young boy. You can’t miss it. But, these qualities sometimes take the form of, or look like, bad behavior which needs correction. So, what are these qualities we observe in even the youngest of boys?

Wilson describes manhood according to five aspects as described throughout the Bible.

“Men are created to exercise dominion over the earth; they are fitted to be husbandmen, tilling the earth; they are equipped to be saviors, delivering from evil; they are expected to grow up into wisdom, becoming sages; and they are designed to reflect the image and glory of God.”

Let’s think of our boys according to these five aspects of manhood. For each one, I have included Wilson’s summary statement.

1. Lords

According to Genesis 1:26-28, men were created to exercise dominion over the earth.

Even as young boys, my brother and our buddies evaluated every location for its potential for building an impregnable fort. Though we didn’t understand it at the time, we were exhibiting the traits God had given us to subdue and control the earth.

Our sons did the same, whether the back yard or the woods behind our house. They were always interested in conquering the land.

“[Boys] should learn to be lords in the earth; they should learn to be adventurous and visionary.”

2. Husbandmen

Man was created to make the discovered and conquered worlds flourish, to be responsible stewards. The word “husbandman” comes from “husbandry”–the care, cultivation, and management of crops and animals. 

Every farmer I ever worked for had the vision of improving the land he was steward of. He was always planning improvements, cultivating it, subduing it, and making it flourish. A land-owner myself, I view my own land with the same desire.

“Boys … should be learning to be patient, careful, and hard-working.”

As husbandmen, boys should find satisfaction in this learning. Though the word husbandman does not directly apply to being a husband, it certainly has many applications to a man’s role in marriage.


3. Saviors

Men have a strong desire to deliver or save. How many young boys do you know who want to be superheroes?

I recall an evening spent with one of our grandsons. As we did dozens of times with our own four boys, my grandson and I constructed a tent in the living room by stringing sheets between chairs. We supplied our tent with flashlights, blankets, pillows, books, and provisions. Outside the tent, an imaginary campfire (contained in a blue plastic bucket) kept us warm.

From the moment we settled in, my six-year old grandson was working on a plan to keep us all safe (including his younger sister and her family of baby dolls) from the threats that he knew would come, for we had unwittingly made our camp in bear country. This night, we were threatened by fierce marauding bears, both black ones and brown ones. In preparation, he made sure the men in our camp each had a weapon and that we knew our assignment.

Flashlight and weapons in hand, he watched for the attack he was certain would come. Right on cue, the bears attacked and the alarm sounded. We charged out of our tent with flashlights blazing and rained down a hail of imaginary bullets and arrows on the bears. The animals, outmatched by our plan and our weapons, were quickly overpowered and sent fleeing into the darkness.

“Boys must learn that they are growing up to fight in a great war, and they must consequently learn, as boys, to be strong, sacrificial, courageous, and good.”

4. Sages

Besides helping our boys “fight giants,” we must show our boys the masculinity of study and wisdom, of books and intellectual discussion. They naturally want to know stuff. They want to be smart and appear smart to others.

Sitting around the dinner table discussing important topics should be exciting. I am not talking about heated declarations of opinion, but thoughtful exploration of understanding and wisdom together. We want our boys to aspire to have something of value to share with others and wisdom to impart to their own sons and daughters.

“Boys must learn to be teachable, studious, and thoughtful.”

5. Glory-bearers

Men and women together are the image-bearers of God.

“Boys must learn how to fulfill their responsibility to be representative, responsible, and holy.”

In summary, Wilson says by the time we understand these five aspects of manhood, we should have a pretty good sense of where we are going with our sons.

We should want our boys to be:

  • Aggressive and adventurous–they are learning to be lords of the earth.
  • Patient and hard-working–they are learning husbandry.
  • Haters of evil with a deep desire to fight it–they are learning how to fight with effective weapons.
  • Eager to learn from the wise–they are learning to become wise themselves.
  • Desirous of standing before God in worship –they are the image and glory of God.

To the Christian parent, some of a boy’s raw qualities can look like sin that needs to be corrected—such as turning everything he touches into a weapon. But, think of these behaviors as ones to be directed rather than corrected.

Have faith, parents! Have faith by looking at the present and seeing what it will become—through grace, good works, discipline, and training. Know your little boys are future men and God has gifted them in unique ways to one day fulfill their role and position of manhood as He designed.

A special note to parents of daughters:

You, too, will be interested in these qualities of manhood. Recently, Cheryl and I hosted a group of college men who are being discipled in biblical manhood. On hearing of this event, a friend with two teenage daughters sighed and said, “Oh, I hope my daughters meet some young men like that!”

Teach your daughters what biblical manhood looks like so they will know what to look for in a young man. Talk to your daughters about the sometimes “annoying” behavior of their brothers or other boys and how God can refine and use those behaviors one day when they are husbands and fathers.


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