The American church has a passive man problem. Not just that it is filled with them but that we typically applaud men for impotence and limp-wristedness. The problem with Christian men, then, is that they don’t think passivity is a big issue or a problem at all. Let me make this clear. Christian men should hate passivity. It should leave a bitter taste in our mouths wherever we see it. It should make our stomachs sick when we see it in our own lives. Instead, we tell ourselves, “Well, at least I never…” and we fill in the blank with the sins we happen NOT to struggle with. Which is, in itself, evidence of our passivity. But the problem is more than excuses and justifying, we have a misunderstanding that goes back to the Garden.

Man’s Purpose

If you ask the average Christian what God’s command was to Adam in the garden, I’d bet he will tell you that it was to not eat the fruit of the tree. That command is there. But it was at the end of the list of instructions.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Ge 2:15–17)

First, man was to “work” and “keep” the garden. The command to work is to cultivate like a gardener. Back in Genesis 1:28, man is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. He is to take the garden God has placed him in and cause it to grow. This is proactive work. It is not merely refraining from doing bad things but actually doing what nurtures the garden he is given.

The command to keep means to guard or protect. He is to protect that garden and all who are in it from anything that would endanger it. This, again, is active work. There is nothing passive about it at all. Protecting takes vigilance. Next, man is told to eat from and enjoy the fruits of his labor. The labor was a gift from God. The garden was a gift from God. The enjoyment was a gift from God. Finally, he was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

The Passive Problem

All seems just fine until a serpent comes into the garden and starts whispering to the woman. Adam was passive in protecting the garden God gave him and he was passive in cultivating God’s word and God’s order in his marriage. He takes a backseat. “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree…’” (Ge 3:17). When confronted with his failure, he does the only thing passive men are quick to do, make excuses and blame shift. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree…” (Ge 3:12).

Yet God, in his mercy, doesn’t bring immediate death. He allows man to continue in his purpose. Plants will grow but with greater difficulty. We will eat bread but by the sweat of our faces. The marriage relationship that is designed to help us in it will be disjointed. Ultimately we will die. Man still works and keeps in whatever garden God places him in. We are to work and keep our marriage, our job, our kids, our church, and our community. We are to devote ourselves to cultivating good things and then protecting what is worthy of protection. We are to enjoy the blessings of God that He has given us and the fruit of our labor there. The substance of God’s purpose for man has not changed but there is now a curse where once only blessing flowed. But there is a promise, One who will crush the head of the serpent.

The Antithesis of Passivity

Jesus was anything but passive. 

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. (Jn 6:38–39)

It wasn’t enough to avoid creating or adding to the problem. There was once a command to fill the earth with the image and glory of God. It was God’s will for Him to proactively make sure that happened. So He came, He lived, He died, He rose, and now He reigns. Before leaving earth, He commissioned His disciples to carry on the job of working and keeping to the glory of God.  But now with a risen and reigning Savior empowering and interceding for us constantly. Even after dying for us, He still keeps after it. 

Men, our command is not merely to avoid exasperating our children but to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Our command is not merely to refrain from unfaithfulness to our wife but to nurture a healthy, loving marriage that honors God. Our command is not merely to put in eight hours of honest work but to do all our work as unto the Lord. Our job is not merely to avoid growing sin but to see the blessings of Christ flow wherever we find the curse. As the hymn tells us:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow

far as the curse is found,

far as the curse is found,

far as, far as the curse is found.