J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Is Toughness a Virtue?



The word itself implies power and strength.  Universally, toughness is valued over weakness.  Very few people, if any, would say they desire to be weak or needy, yet the world is seemingly full of people who are not very tough.


American culture values toughness.  From the 80’s icons (Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger) to 90’s action stars (Wesley Snipes, Will Smith) to today’s themes of conquest (Gladiator, 300, and the popularity of MMA), the USA loves people who are tough.  Our culture does speak to weakness but only as it rises to places of strength as seen in movies like Rudy and Remember the Titans.


The church embraces toughness as a value as well.  For many, Christianity is the place where they grow in being tough and strong (either intellectually or morally).  The commands of God are seen as means to a strong end where men can be men never showing fear or need, and women can be tough never needing to cry.  The family is always set on go go go, busyness and accomplishments are virtues, and the need for rest is perceived as weakness.  These so called strong families are praised, promoted, and elevated, while the weaker families are pitied.  Elevating toughness to this level results in Christians who are self-reliant, unmerciful, and fatigued.


While not necessarily sinful, toughness is not the equivalent of righteousness. Scripture does speak of similar qualities like perseverance (a virtue and fruit of the Spirit) but toughness in and of itself is not commanded.  In fact, scripture actually advocates things that seem to be far from tough.


Ezekiel 34:16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.  I will feed them in justice.

Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

1 Corinthians 1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;


A re-imagining of Jesus has painted Him as a tough guy who worked with His hands and took no crap from anyone while scripture describes Him gentle and lowly.  Surely, Jesus’ silence in light of His crucifixion was tough, but His posture appears to be more dependence on the Father than inherent toughness.


Interestingly, scripture presents Jesus as the Savior to the tough guys who need rest:  Matthew 11:8 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” To those that think weakness is to be pitied, Jesus seems to say, “You got it all wrong.  It’s you tough guys who refuse to ask for help or ever take a break that need the most help.”

Is there no place for toughness in Christianity?  Of course there is, but not as most would imagine.  Scripturally, weakness is the true strength as weakness is the posture of the dependant believer before Christ.  2 Corinthians 12:10: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s relationship with strength and toughness was a constant recognition that enduring difficulties and living as a weak believer before a strong Savior was the life to which each Christian was called.  The believer grows in enduring difficult circumstances but only as they grow in dependence of Jesus.


What difference does understanding the distinction make?  Plenty.  Striving to live as a weak believer results in several things:


Relational Compassion to Those in Need:  the needy are not to be perceived as anything other than fellow friends in need before the God of all compassion.


Constant Dependence on God for All Things:  the works of our hands don’t feed us and care for us.  Every blessing is from God and is to His glory.


Greater Enjoyment of Times of Rest and Refreshment:  as God the Father demonstrated the virtue of rest on the seventh day, we see rest as prescribed and good.


Continual Reminder of the Need for Prayer and Study:  the weak need constant encouragement and the disciplines of prayer and the study of the scriptures are two of God’s means of meeting those needs.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.








October 27, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,


  1. Thanks for this piece, Gordon. Working with the Navy and USMC, toughness is a cardinal virtue. I’d love to read a follow-up on what Christian strength means and looks like.

    Comment by Drew Jones | October 27, 2009 | Reply

    • Thx Drew. I hope to continue reading, writing, and thinking on this topic. Some of my thoughts are still in flux.

      Comment by jgordonduncan | October 27, 2009 | Reply

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