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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.

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20 thoughts on “Some Basic Thoughts About Manhood: Work”

  1. Louis says:

    Hey T:
    Great post. What say you regarding the man who chooses to go to school, i.e. seminary for some years while his wife works? Is his training work?

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hey Lou,

      Good question: Is his training work? Well, it’s at least work training :-). I don’t know that we need to call it work in order to justify it. Such cases will be temporary, and many cases will involve the man working as well as attending classes. I don’t think such a situation is sin and it may be the best investment of time in order to secure better work and ability to provide in the future. So, I suppose it’s an investment rather than work.

      What do you think?

  2. Annonymous says:

    I live in a seminary community and quite a few of the younger couples I know have situations where the husband attends classes but doesn’t work and the wife works full-time, as well as manages the home and finances. My husband and I are a bit older than this crowd and we have seen a lot of immaturity in this area, where men aren’t protecting their wives and their wives are stressed out because of the burden of being the breadwinner and home manager. I’m not against women working outside the home – I do actually contribute to my family’s finances through work. But I really struggle with the inconsistency of complementarians in this issue. I just feel strongly that sending your wife out to be the breadwinner and yet saying you’re the leader of the home is a have your cake and eat it too kind of a deal. And if we really believe that God has given men the responsibility to provide and protect for their families, I don’t see how we have the right to make exceptions – like seminary or church planting. It reminds me of the Corban in Matthew 15 that Jesus spoke out against. Just my two cents:)

    1. Pat Sawyer says:


      Thabiti is better equipped to weigh in on this (and perhaps will) but I just wanted to make a quick comment. I appreciate your concern. It is not foreign to my experience. We attend a large evangelical Church with many seminary students. I would say, however, that the problem is not complementarianism. Complementarianism, rightly and biblically understood, would have those men shouldering much of the responsibilities related to managing the home. It would also have those men being leaders (both in word and actions) in the care of the children in the home, especially in the areas of discipline. Children who are bearing the fruits of godly discipline (joy, self-control, and obedience) are a great “stress-reducer” for moms. Men who are rightly embracing biblical complementarianism are seeing to it they provide this type of environment for their wives.

      Much more could be said, but I know your interest is to hear from Thabiti. By the way, I thought your reference to Corban was an interesting observation.

      1. Annonymous says:

        I should have clarified and said that I struggle with the inconsistency of those complementarians specifically, and the fact that many complementarian leaders have the same view.

      2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        Actually, Pat, I think you give a wonderful answer here. We’re still faced with “if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat.” Perhaps that wife carrying all the load should stop feeding the lazy husband!

        I’m grateful for this exchange because there are certainly guys so enamored with seminary and so “spiritual” in their justification of it that they’re actually neglecting a fundamental prerequisite to ministry (and I would argue seminary): a husband must manage his home well. Managing the home well must be done in every situation, even in the atypical case of temporarily not working while in graduate school. And, honestly, as someone who went through a full-time Master’s and PhD program while working a full time managerial job and raising a family, I don’t have a lot of empathy for the guy who takes the sinful, lazy way out. If pushed, I’d have to say that it’s difficult to imagine why a guy wouldn’t at least work half-time while in college. In my earlier comments, I’m not trying to excuse such things. But I want to leave room for defined short-term situations that allow for study in preparation for work. “After all,” as one of my PhD advisors put it, “a PhD is only another form of job training.” Don’t put of the job for perpetual training.


  3. Richard says:

    Honest questions: Does manhood retire when a man retires? Is manhood lost upon crippling injury? Is manhood on hold when a man is imprisoned? (think along the line of Bonhoeffer) What about faith missionaries, no manhood because they are not providing for their families? Is manhood suppressed in totalitarian governments? Is there a difference between a godly man and a great provider?

    A fellow traveler seeking answers.

    1. Kenny Taylor says:

      Good questions, RIchard, on an important theme. If I could briefly respond –

      I’m not sure how biblical “retirement” is, though even after retirement men continue to work in other ways. Work is not measured merely by income.

      Is manhood lost upon crippling injury? I suspect that men who suffer a crippling injury will indeed struggle with “feeling as manly” as they once did, but the short (and I think obvious) answer is no.

      Is manhood on hold when a man is imprisoned? (See previous answer, and we should add that those in prison can often do some form of work, though far from what they might like to do if given their freedom).

      I’m not sure what you mean by faith missionaries, so no comment on that one.

      Is manhood suppressed in totalitarian regimes? No, but freedom certainly is. Still, one can work, to keep it on theme.

      Is there a difference between a godly man and a great provider? Yes. Being a great provider does not necessarily entail godliness on the whole.

      Great post Thabiti! I like having a fire lit beneath me to work hard as unto the Lord!

  4. Pat Sawyer says:


    Thanks for the post. There are many things to take away from it. For me, as a grad student and lecturer in a secular university, it is a reminder that biblical Christianity has much to offer secular academia. The Bible emphatically demonstrates that work is intrinsic to ontology. In other words, work is intrinsic to BEING, to being human. Much of the social sciences in secular academia are chasing what it means to be human. This chase is a mixture of grabbing hold of pieces of truth, yet missing the whole of it. One of the beauties of Karl Marx (yes beauties, there was some beauty in the midst of his darkness) was his insistence that our labor was an extension of who we are. Marx was right in this instance. In this regard, he was inadvertently wading into Divine truth.

    There is a beautiful bridge of WORSHIP and WORK and what it means to be HUMAN (an Image-Bearer) that connects what you tell us here from the early chapters in Genesis to the passage you mention in Col 3:23-24, and still further, to Acts 17:28 “For in Him we live and move and have our being…”

    Thabiti, thanks again for the post and for all you do in the service of our Savior. You are indeed a gift (Eph 4:11-12) to Christ’s Church.

  5. david carlson says:

    Genesis – We acknowledge that God created everything
    Nietsche – We acknowledge that God is dead and we have killed him

    That is an interesting way to frame a post, starting and ending with those two.

  6. Michael C. says:

    By the way, the verse in Gen. 2:15 corresponds to Num 8:26 the “work” (tend) and “keep.” Though for what its worth they aren’t quite the same verb forms, but all the same stem.

    1. Michael C. says:

      I did want to add that in the full section Num. 8:24-26 you get this sense, but in the exact verse where these two words occur (v. 26) you see keep in a positive sense and negatives “work” (i.e., no work). You can read it in the English just fine, it speaks of the Levities in retirement, they shall no longer work after 50. Still it does seem to insinuate that Adam may have been a priest.

  7. Dean P says:

    Good post. I appreciate your guidelines and flexibility in defining work and how that might look as a practical application as opposed to some of the more hardline one size fits all based applications that many other complimentarians expect from Christian men.

  8. Matt Aiello says:

    Hey Thabiti! Hope you are well brother.

    I am doing a lot of thinking on this topic these days. Having recently been promoted inside a well regarded consulting firm, your comment about turning down a promotion caught my attention. Do you think Christians should always turn down promotions? If not, what are the circumstances where it is ok or even good to accept one? I am an active member of my local church and spend a lot of time with my family, for context….thanks for spurring on these thoughts and driving us towards God.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Matt!

      Good to hear from you, brother. I pray Jan and the family are flourishing in the Lord’s love and grace.

      You ask some good questions. I’ll try a couple general responses and let’s go from there.

      First, “no,” I do not think Christians should as a rule turn down promotions. The offer of promotions ought to be one evidence of our doing our work “as unto the Lord.” While we look for our reward from Christ, we might expect that our good deeds in the workplace result in praise to God and appreciation for our labors. What boss would not want a couple folks who work for him as if he were Jesus?! It’s likely that such employees would be seen as promotion-worthy. And sometimes, perhaps often, they would be inclined and positioned to accept. Those who are faithful in little will be made faithful in much.

      Yet, work is not our highest priority. While we work as worship, we don’t worship our work. So, I’d say the first indication that a Christian should probably refuse a promotion comes when the work will hinder their worshiping with the saints. So, if the promotion means you’re no longer going to be an active member of a local church (attending on Sundays and perhaps mid-week, participating in or leading a small group, discipling others, etc.), then the promotion is at odds with your spiritual health and the spiritual health/mission of your church. I’d encourage turning it down in such cases.

      Second, if the promotion will entail neglecting your family, I’d recommend turning it down. We all know this, but promotions can tempt us to forget that paychecks cannot replace fathers. We can see how the additional income could benefit, but we don’t see as clearly how the additional absenteeism will hurt. We may even need the additional income. But time and again we learn that the additional time with the wife and the children is far more critical. So, I’d want to know that the promotion would not significantly intrude on time with the family, that my wife were supportive of any schedule adjustments we might have to make, and that I knew my family would have my attention. This will take some effort to push back against the easy but often false division of labor that says, “I’ll earn the money and she’ll raise the kids.” That needs, imo, to be resisted. As I said, a father is more than a paycheck and research is pretty clear that the engagement of the father in the family routine makes all the difference in life outcomes for our children, especially our daughters. But if I were okay on these fronts, I would accept the promotion.

      Third, if the promotion would put me into morally compromising positions, I would decline the promotion. Morally compromising positions could mean a range of things from unethical accounting or business practices (just had a young man with integrity decline a job for that reason just yesterday) or inappropriate relationships with persons of the opposite sex (for example, the job requires overnight travel with women). If work is worship, then we want to worship at work in spirit and in truth. This might be the more difficult area to discern, but it’s no less vital to our spiritual health and our reputation. Think of it this way: Every man, imo, should aspire to be an elder in his local church. Two qualifications for an elder is “above reproach” and “has a good reputation with outsiders.” Being known as a leader in an unethical or morally compromising promotion would disqualify the man for further service in the local church. If it disqualifies from the eldership, don’t accept the promotion.

      Those are my quick thoughts on what might lead me to turn down a promotion. Hope it helps. But this is an area that probably benefits from a lot of wisdom from other counselors. So, others should jump in if they have different thoughts or push back on some of what I’ve written here.


    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Oh, by the way, congratulations on the promotion! And it sounds like your situation is a good situation in which to joyfully accept the promotion. Love to the family,

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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