Some Thoughts on Manhood: Work

Thabiti Anyabwile offers us an excellent post on manhood, specifically in regard to his responsibility to work. You can find the post here as well as more helpful resources at

Some Thoughts on Manhood: Work

By Thabiti Anyabwile

In our last post, we went back to the beginning, the Book of Genesis, to glean our first basic thought about what it means to be a man.  Surveying the opening chapters we suggested that manhood means worshiping God.  Men and women were created for that purpose.  So, it seems to me, there’s no way to sufficiently describe manhood or womanhood without attention to this first principle, this reason for existing.  without a constant orientation to God as Creator and Lord deserving our worship, we’re reduced to a kind of beast-like existence.

Well, today we want to continue thinking about this.  As with each post, I’m not offering “expert opinion” or trying to narrowly define all the applications.  I’m not the person to tell everyone else how to be a man or what in the final analysis constitutes manhood.  I’m a fellow traveler.  But it seems to me that based on the opening chapters of Genesis that “manhood” must include some statements about a man’s relationship to work.

How often have we heard the preacher say, “The first thing God gives Adam is a job”?  The insinuation being every man should work.  Well, there’s some truth in that, though we might want to hold off on quick judgments about what constitutes work and what kinds of work are “manly.”

After being created, Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8-17).  Eden, which loosely means “pleasant” or “paradise,” is the place where man is intended to dwell with God.  Just as the Sabbath is a “temporal shrine,” the garden is a physical temple.  It’s the meeting place between God and man.

In the garden, man is given work to do.  He is to “work and take care of” the garden.  A prima facie reading suggests that real work is gardening!  How manly!  Of course, we could opt for the more hardened and calloused title of “farmer.”  But you see the point?  A hyper-restrictive application is going to get us into all kinds of trouble, isn’t it?  After all, Genesis 2 does present an utterly unique historical occurrence.  So we ought to be cautious about declaring what work is “men’s work” and how much a man should make relative to their wives.  Instead, we should perhaps should read the text with a certain amount of freedom in mind and read the text a bit closer for a higher principle than specifics about work, place of work, pay, etc.

In effect, Adam is to be the priest of the garden.   For the remainder of scripture, the phrase “work and take care of” is only used of the temple priests.  Perhaps that continuing usage illustrates how sacred a relationship man has to creation in the call to work?  It seems safe to say that Adam’s work is part of his worship.  Adam is to cultivate the vegetation already there, and he is to protect it from intrusion.  He is to extend God’s dominion and glory from this central place of paradise to the ends of the earth.  That is to be the objective of work in society: the spreading of God’s glory by men and women who are priests of the One True God.

In this account, the theme of dominion is carried forward.  But despite Adam’s rulership over all things, he is to remember that while his dominion is real it is merely a reflection, an image, a shining forth of God’s ultimate dominion.  So, he is told that he may eat of every tree and fruit of the Garden of Eden except one.  This prohibition is good for Adam and reminds Adam of His creatureliness before God.  Just as all creation is to bow the knee to Adam’s good, cultivating rule, so man, too, is to bow the knee to the good, cultivating rule of God.

The garden is a place for God-worship, not self-worship.  A biblical man works as a form of worship; He does not worship his work.  His work and dominion image forth the rulership of God in creation.

With that said, let me conclude with a few reactions apropos the tendency to take the good gift of work and to abuse.

Balance by integrity.  The vision isn’t that we compartmentalize our lives such that we “worship” for two hours on Sunday but we give our lives and minds to work the rest of the week.  No.  We make our work an integral part of our lives of worship.  Colossians 3:23-24—”Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Prioritize by denial.  Yet, there are workaholics who cannot distinguish between working as unto the Lord and work as an idol.  Those men sacrifice their wives and children to the Molech and Baals of career and prestige.  Turn down a promotion.  Refuse extra hours.  Put the big rocks in first: Worship, Family.

A man who will not work is not a man.  I’m not speaking of men who’ve hit a patch of difficult times, who find themselves unable to secure work even though they’re attempting.  I mean the lazy man, the selfish man, the uninspired man, and the undirected man.  As Nietsche put it, “A man without a plan is not a man at all.”  That includes a plan to work.