His name is Tommy, and “people called him the coward of the county.” So went the Kenny Rogers ballad a few years back. It’s the story of a young man who goes through life with everyone thinking that he’s yellow. Why? Because he just won’t fight. You could knock him down, spit in his face, slander his name all over the place. You could even step on his blue suede shoes, and he still wouldn’t fight. But it’s not because he was a coward. It’s because of a promise. Tommy promised his dying daddy he wouldn’t get into fights because, as his daddy said, “Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.”
That was easy for dad to say—he wasn’t getting bullied. Tommy was, and he was embarrassed over and over again as he tried to live up to the promise he made to his dying daddy. But one day, the town rowdies accosted his girlfriend, Becky. And that’s the match that lit the fuse. Tommy had been called yellow for the last time. So after a rather poignant scene of weeping over his dead daddy’s picture, Tommy finds the men who roughed up his girlfriend. He went in where they were, locked the door behind him, and “with twenty years of crawling all bottled up inside him,” he exploded and lit into them like a windmill in a tornado. And when the dust settled, Tommy lets us know the rich discovery he made. In spite of what his daddy said, “Sometimes you have to fight to be a man.”
Really? What is the measure of a man? Proficient with his fists? Or maybe with his wits? Perhaps the measure of a man is his work ethic or his character or the capacity to provide for himself and his family. What do a man’s tears or lack of tears say about his manhood? If a man is a nurturer is that part of his masculinity or is it his “feminine side”? If he’s open to sharing his feelings or to talk with other men about something besides sex and sports, dogs and trucks, does this diminish his manhood? Hey, I like scented candles that smell like apples and cinnamon, honeysuckle and pine? What does that say about me?
A couple of decades ago manhood was locked in a laboratory and has been poked, prodded, and tested ever since? What is the measure of a man? That’s a question every generation should consider. And in this era of such gender confusion, it’s worth thinking about.
So let’s think about it this morning. And instead of listening to culture’s numerous definitions of manhood, let’s check a higher authority. I invite you to open your Bible to Psalm 15. Let’s see what God has to say about manhood.
Man was God’s idea. After creating everything else, God determined He could do better—better than majestic oaks and redwoods, better than roses and orchids and daisies, better than lions and tigers and bears, better than dolphins and eagles and large-mouth bass, maybe even better than a dog. So God scooped up a little clay in the garden, formed it like a sculptor into the shape of a man, breathed into that clay the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And different from everything else in God’s creation, God created the man in God’s own image. God made man more like God than anything else He had made. God smiled. Yes, the man was better than everything else. And then God smiled again. He could do even better than that, so he made woman. Okay, just kidding. The man and the woman are equal—both created in the image of God, both the crowning touch of creation. We’ll think a little about women next week.
Today we’re thinking about God’s measure of a man. Psalm 15 gives us insight into that measure. Psalm 15 is an entrance liturgy. It’s a prayer that gets us ready to worship. Ready to go up the holy hill. Ready to enter the sanctuary. While looking through our New Testament lenses we would broaden the application of this psalm to men and women, but in its Jewish setting it was dealing with men. And it reveals something of God’s measure of a man. Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).
Did you pick up any clues to God’s measure of a man?
Here’s one: God measures a man by what he chases. I don’t know if it’s in a boy’s DNA, but from the time boys start crawling until they are stretched out in a casket, they are chasing something: the toy across the room, the dog in the backyard, their friend on the playground, the baseball hit over the fence, the running back on the other team, the girl two rows over in science class, their driver’s license, the deer in the woods, an education, a job, a wife, a promotion, a better job, a larger salary, a bigger house, a nicer car, a lower golf score, the perfect steak, approval, prestige, recognition, praise. Seems like a man is chasing something from the womb to the tomb. Why is it that, generally speaking, women have more of a nesting-instinct while men have a harder time settling down? Most men are chasers. They’re going to chase something.
When God measures a man, God takes note of whether the man chases God. Look at verse 1:
O LORD, who shall
sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your
These are good questions. These questions reveal something about the one who asks them. According to our psalm, David asks them. David asks these questions out of a passionate desire to come into the presence of the Lord and worship Him. David chases God.
Now there’s a radical concept for manhood, isn’t it? Relationship with God is not just for women and children. Men chase God too. We men from the baby-boomer generation and our dads, were often programmed to be so self-sufficient and self-made that we struggle with leaning on anybody, let alone God. The jury’s still out on the generations behind us. Yet here is David—warrior David, King David, a man with several wives, a man who has killed lions and bears and Goliath of Gath with a slingshot and his own two hands. I don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger would ever call David a “girly man.” He’s a man’s man and he chases God. He wants to know God. He wants to worship God. He wants to obey God. He thirsts for a relationship with God. Listen to him in Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
David chased after God. God measured David a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David had wealth, fame, power, and women. But that didn’t satisfy. Only God could satisfy. David chased after God.
Sadly, many men today, and that includes many in the church, spend more energy chasing the trinkets and the bobbles of this world, more energy chasing the approval of their ungodly friends, more energy chasing things that rot, rust, and will not last, more energy chasing power and promotions that will take them away from God, than they do chasing God himself.
Their prayer is not:
O LORD, who shall
sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your
Their prayer is: “Lord, forget your tent! I’ll choose my own tent. Forget your holy hill; I’d rather chase unholy pleasures.”
And then it hits: you lose your job, your wife leaves you, your kid gets in serious trouble, your money runs short or runs out, your so-called friends bail on you, and there’s not one calorie in all the things you’ve chased your whole life long that can bring comfort and healing to your broken soul. Not one calorie.
I’ve seen men who thought they didn’t need God come to their senses when they finally discover all the things they chase led them to a dead end at best or a 100 foot cliff at worst. I’ve seen men like this repent of their idolatries, chase after God and find Him—only to make the remarkable and humbling discovery that God was chasing them first. What is Jesus’ coming into this world, what is Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, if not a chasing after His people to save their souls and redeem their brokenness and restore their lost and futile years of chasing anything with a skirt or a dollar sign or a sinner’s applause?
When God measures a man, God takes notice whether the man chases God. Chase God. Sojourn in His tent. Dwell on His holy hill. Columnist Herb Caen once wrote:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.
So many men are running. They are chasing after something. And if you are not chasing God, my man friend, I pray God will break you till you do. God measures a man by the things the man chases.
And God measures a man by the way he lives his life. Look at more of the psalm. “Who can dwell with God?” the psalmist asks in v. 1. Listen to his answer in the verses that follow:
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
When God measures a man He takes note of how the man lives his life. Does he do things God’s way or his own way? The man who does things God’s way tries to do what is right. He tells the truth. He treats people fairly. He doesn’t gossip, and he doesn’t assassinate the character of others. And the man knows how to pick out good models for his life—he doesn’t make heroes out of the ungodly or try to model his life after them or court their approval. Instead, he honors those who love the Lord and have the imprint of Christ on their lives. Those are his models. That’s who he strives to live like. And here’s another measure of a man: for a man who meets God’s measure, his word is his bond even if it costs him. He is a generous person who shares his resources rather than hoards them. And he wouldn’t be caught dead taking advantage of people even if he would profit by taking that advantage.
In a word, when God measures a man he looks for integrity. Integrity doesn’t mean perfection. It means that a person is one person. He’s not two-faced. He’s not a pretender. His life is hidden with Christ in God, and he’s the same man all the time—no matter what kind of crowd he’s with. He takes responsibility for himself—both for the good and the bad. He doesn’t blame others for his faults and failures. And he genuinely tries to do the right thing. Men that meet God’s measure are persons who live with integrity before the Lord and before their fellow human beings. And they do it no matter what it costs.
In a day when politicians will say just about anything to be elected, integrity is a President Harry Truman fighting strong opposition from the South and even fighting his own prejudices to come to an important conclusion in regard to the random, senseless violence and blatantly unfair treatment against blacks. Wrote Truman to one of his critics: “I can’t approve of such goings on and I shall never approve of it, as long as I am here …. I am going to try to remedy it and if that ends up in my failure to be reelected, that failure will be in a good cause.” Integrity.
In a time when winning is everything, integrity is a Georgia high school basketball coach named Cleveland Stroud whose team won the state championship but willingly relinquished it after discovering that a kid who was scholastically ineligible had played 45 seconds in the first of the school’s five post-season games. Said Stroud, “We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time; we didn’t know until a few weeks ago. Some people have said that we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45 seconds and the player wasn’t an impact player. But you’ve got to do what’s honest and right …. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games; they don’t ever forget what you’re made of.” Integrity.
Men, if you were to measure your own lives, how much integrity would you measure out? What grade would you give yourself on your integrity report card? On your Psalm 15 report card? An A? A B? Are you just average with a C? Or do you flunk integrity altogether? And what grade would the people who know you best assign you on your integrity report card? Maybe you should ask.
I can tell you this: nobody’s grading a hundred. Nobody’s getting a perfect score. For me, Psalm 15 is less a pat on the back and more a kick in the rump. It doesn’t so much tell me what I’m doing right as what I’m doing wrong. Wrong with the way I use speech. Wrong with the way I treat my neighbor. Wrong with the way I choose my role models and the way I use the resources God has given me. I’m not a total Psalm 15 failure, but it describes more where I need to grow than where I am right now. Psalm 15 shows me I don’t measure up to God’s standards. It shows me that I am a sinner. I’m hit and miss at best. I get a few singles here and there but I’m no Psalm 15 home run hitter. It would be easy to be discouraged.
And I would be except for one thing: Jesus Christ. Jesus is a Psalm 15 home run hitter. Jesus got it all right. Jesus lived a sinless, perfect life. And then He made the willing choice to go to the cross and make His life a sacrifice that can cover my sins and make a righteous person out of me. And out of you. Lousy exchange for Jesus. Merciful exchange for us. Listen to the Scriptures:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9).
This is the gospel. This is the good news. I can’t measure up to God’s standards, but Jesus can and Jesus did and Jesus does. It’s only when we put our trust in what Jesus did for us in the cross and resurrection that we can be assured that we can sojourn in God’s tent and dwell on His holy hill now and forever. Jesus is the way! Jesus takes up the slack for us, saves us from our sins, and makes us holy in God’s sight. When our lives are hidden with Christ in God, God forgives our sins, sees us as righteous, and continues through His Holy Spirit to help us become more and more like a Psalm 15 man. This is God’s work in us. We can’t do it on our own. Only God can shape our lives to look more and more like Psalm 15, more and more like Jesus.
And maybe that’s the best way we could say it: when God measures a man, He wants to see Jesus in that man. Not every man will like the same things, enjoy the same hobbies, express the same emotions, share the same passions. But all will bear the mark of Christ Jesus.
Buddy Kalb wrote a song about one such man. He called it Papa Was a Big Man. In the song a son tells about the radical change that took place in his daddy’s life when Jesus saved and transformed that man. Listen to the words of the song …
I remember how my Papa was back before he met the Lord.
He yelled at my Mom and kicked the dog and whipped me with a board.
The way he changed—it was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen …
He quit kickin’ dogs and started treating my Mama like a queen.
And on some days when I’d be mean or I’d do somebody harm
He’d take me out to the woodshed and hold me in his big ol’ arms,
And he’d tell me that I was a good ol’ boy and a treat for him to raise,
And then he’d whip me with that board just like he done before he was saved.
I remember once when my Papa preached the good news in the street,
Some guy came up and took his Bible, and threw it right down at his feet.
He said, “I’m sick of you silly preachers and all those tales you tell.
I’m sick of how you bother folks—worrying them all with hell.
Well, this here man he ain’t afraid of what might walk or fly,
And if you don’t stop your preaching, mister, I’m gonna whip you till you die.”
My Papa brushed a tear aside and hung his shaggy head,
And started talking to the Lord, and here’s what my Papa said …
“Lord, this here’s Luther Hopkins, and I hate to bother you so soon,
but this here man’s swore to kill me and he ain’t give me a whole lot of room,
So I’d like to pray your mercy on his poor, dear sinning heart
by helping me to kill him, Lord, without tearing him bad apart.
Cause you know how I loved to fight, Lord, back before you saved my soul,
Oh, I’d crush in all them cheek bones and gouge them eyeballs out their holes.
I remember all those broken ribs and arms and legs and blood,
And I’d ask you to help me end this thing just as quickly as you could.
And I’d like to say a word now for his widow and his orphan kids,
that they might come to know that being maimed is worse than dead.”
My papa closed and thanked the Lord that He answered every prayer,
And when my papa said, “Amen,” he was the only person there.
My Papa was a big man in a lot more ways than one;
He practiced what he preached in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and John.
He was a big man, a strong man with loving, tender ways,
And when he’d read us from the Bible, we’d see Jesus in his face.
Yes, when he’d read us from the Bible, we’d see Jesus in his face.
There it is: God’s measure of a man—a God-chasing, integrity-living man in whom both God and the rest of us can see Jesus in his face. Men, be that man.
Preached: May 7, 2017
First Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR
John Scott McCallum II