Boys behaving badly has become all too common. Sometimes it lands a boy in the news immediately, and sometimes it takes decades for the misdeeds to surface.
There is probably no common saying more ridiculous and unhelpful than “boys will be boys.” It reflects a determinism that leaves no room for the shaping of young male lives. Boys will, of course, be boys if left to their own devices, if they have no positive role models, if they are not given any instruction about how a boy ought to behave. And one result is that many men continue to behave as boys throughout their lives.
Why do we not hear the phrase “girls will be girls” to excuse their bad behavior? There are two possible reasons. Either we think boys are naturally bad and girls are naturally good, or we think girls’ bad behavior should not be defended. I think it’s more of the latter. Adults often do a nudge-nudge-wink-wink to boys’ bad behavior but shake their heads in rebuke at girls’ bad behavior.
Attitudes, fortunately, are changing. Boys and men are being held more accountable for bad behavior.
The “me too” movement has been necessitated by the reality that many boys and men have behaved as sexual animals free to pursue whatever satisfaction they like. They should never have felt such freedom, and it is good they now are being held accountable.
Instruction is a key. It does not guarantee right behavior, but it surely makes it more likely, especially if an example of good behavior lives in the same household. It surely is wise to help boys and man-boys to learn God’s truths about life and living well.
Of course, it’s also wise to help girls and girl-women to learn this.
We need help.
Proverbs! Turn to Proverbs! It is resting there near the middle of our Bibles. Parents, read it to your sons and daughters. Boys, girls, men, and women, read it for yourself. There is so much wisdom to be had there. It gets a little sexy at times, but it’s about much more than sex.
Here is a little sample of Proverbs from the Christian Standard Bible that our boys/men could use:
My son, if sinners entice you, don’t be persuaded (1:10).
Don’t plan any harm against your neighbor, for he trusts you and lives near you. Don’t accuse anyone without cause, when he has done you no harm. Don’t envy a violent man or choose any of his ways (3:29-31).
Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth. A loving deer, a graceful doe — let her breasts always satisfy you; be lost in her love forever (5:18-19).
Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned? Can a man walk on burning coals without scorching his feet? So it is with the one who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished (6:27-29).
A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel person brings ruin on himself (11:17).
But the book of Proverbs is not just for boys/men; it’s for girls/women. It was written in a different cultural setting, but what it says about wives can be applied more broadly — working hard, providing food, making business transactions, using her physical strength, investing well, speaking wisely, and supervising her household.
Every wise woman builds her house, but a foolish one tears it down with her own hands (14:1).
Who can find a wife [woman] of noble character? She is far more precious than jewels (31:10).
She [a woman of noble character] is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and portions for her female servants. She evaluates a field and buys it; she plants a vineyard with her earnings. She draws on her strength and reveals that her arms are strong. She sees that her profits are good, and her lamp never goes out at night (31:14-18).
Strength and honor are her clothing, and she can laugh at the time to come. Her mouth speaks wisdom, and loving instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the activities of her household and is never idle. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also praises her (31:25-28).
And there are truths in Proverbs that apply to everyone.
Good things: fear (respect) of the Lord, wisdom, discipline, integrity, promoting justice and righteousness, right use of possessions, honesty, work, and gentleness.
Bad things: dishonesty, laziness, plotting evil, arrogance, hurting the innocent, stirring up trouble, perverse speech, ill-gotten gain, and a hot temper.
Lots of us have not learned these truths and others of us are not applying them in our day-to-day lives.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline (1:7).
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up success for the upright; He is a shield for those who live with integrity so that he may guard the paths of justice and protect the way of his faithful followers. Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and integrity—every good path (2:6-9).
Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest; then your barns will be completely filled, and your vats will overflow with new wine (3:9-10).
Don’t let your mouth speak dishonestly, and don’t let your lips talk deviously. Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established. Don’t turn to the right or to the left; keep your feet away from evil (4:24-27).
Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator, or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest (6:6-8).
A worthless person, a wicked man goes around speaking dishonestly, winking his eyes, signaling with his feet, and gesturing with his fingers. He always plots evil with perversity in his heart; he stirs up trouble. Therefore calamity will strike him suddenly; he will be shattered instantly, beyond recovery (6:12-15).
The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers (6:16-19).
To fear the Lord is to hate evil. I [wisdom] hate arrogant pride, evil conduct, and perverse speech (8:13).
Ill-gotten gains do not profit anyone, but righteousness rescues from death (10:2).
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but one slow to anger calms strife (15:18).
There are 31 chapters of such foundational wisdom for living life well. Proverbs, as with all of Scripture, should not just be read once. It needs return visits. Only then does it have a good chance of reshaping our sinful thoughts and actions.
We surely need God’s grace for forgiveness, but we also need God’s wisdom to help head off some sins before they happen. Sin hurts people. It is great to have forgiveness; it is better to avoid a sin that will need forgiving.
Note: Feel free to add a favorite passage from Proverbs in the discussion.