What is the greatest thing about being a young man? What defining quality sets young men apart from everyone else—young women, children, older men—and makes them special?
Proverbs 20:29 tells us: “The glory of young men is their strength.”
The word strength means firmness, vigor and force. It’s referring to a young man’s physical capacity and ability, the might and power of his young body. God gave young men a potential for unmatched physical strength—and for an important reason.
Though this is generally less true today than in the past, life often demands hard physical effort. It can be helpful to have a strong young man around to get things done.
One book I read recently said masculinity is “the collection of all those characteristics which flow from delighting in sacrificing bodily strength for goodness.” That is an incomplete definition, but it contains an important kernel of truth. God built men to bear life’s heavy burdens. A young man with strength, who delights in sacrificing that strength for goodness—lugging that load so women don’t have to—is internalizing important lessons in manliness.
Many boys seem predisposed to want to demonstrate strength. My son, 4 years old, loves to wrestle me in a way my daughters never did. He glories in using his little muscles.
Of course, God gives young men the potential for useful, glorious physical strength—but that strength doesn’t develop automatically. It requires hard work. Lots of it. Those young men who put in the work are rewarded for it: With their God-given capacity, they see faster gains in strength and stamina, and recover faster, than anyone.
God says strength is their glory. But our world today has a lot of young men you could not say that about. Poor diets, sedentary lives, too much screen time, not enough vigorous exercise and work—all have conspired to produce hordes of young men who are soft and weak. Many are self-indulgent in every way, and do not delight in sacrificing anything for anything.
We must encourage our sons to build their strength. God wants them to be strong. He wants their strength to be their glory! He has given them that capacity—but they must develop it. We can help them.
First, our sons should be accustomed to hard work.
“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). A young man needs to be taught to embrace physical challenges, to exert himself rigorously to get a job done.
I remember working with my dad each summer growing up doing yard work, landscaping and home repairs, and his example made a huge impression on me. He would give me a task—perhaps digging or removing roof shingles—and I would start into it. He would watch for a moment, then step in and demonstrate with forceful, even violent effort. I instantly got the picture that sometimes work required real muscle.
It is good for young men to work outside, digging and hauling, using and building brawn. We fathers should work with them around the house and yard; include them in doing jobs for widows or other needy folks. When our sons are old enough to get a job, we should encourage them to consider something that will challenge them physically over something easy.
We have to be conscientious to ensure our sons learn how to work. “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Proverbs 10:4-5).
A second way a young man can build strength is through exercise. Running and sports are important for conditioning, but building strength generally requires specific exercises.
Pushups require no gear. Pull-ups are excellent, and you can find a pull-up bar to mount in a doorframe for $25. Certain gymnastics movements build extraordinary strength and require no special equipment. Weightlifting is great for strength-building, and a used set of weights can be quite inexpensive. (It is important to get instruction on how to do exercises like dead-lifts, squats and presses correctly and safely.)
Building strength through such exercise has many benefits, including reducing the risk of injuries and dramatically increasing a young man’s capacity in other activities. In addition, it clears the mind and builds confidence.
Most importantly, we must encourage our young men to develop spiritual strength. That means teaching them to remain clean from the world, to build good habits, to master their passions, to resist negative pressures and stand up for what’s right, to earn a reputation for dependability, to consistently make the little decisions that strengthen character.
Our sons need strong faith, strong character, strong will. They need to build and shape the bold, masculine qualities that will enable them to succeed as leaders.
With our help and God’s, our sons will grow to inspire those who come into contact with them to agree, in admiration, with the proverb: that the glory of young men truly is their strength.