Defining Work

In my younger years, my attitude towards work was largely negative.

“Mom, do I have to clean my room?”

“Dad, I don’t want to mow the lawn.”

“She gave us even more homework tonight!”

Work was, to me, something to be avoided at all costs! Maybe it is the same to you now. Now that I am a little older and have learned what work really is, I have a different perspective. This definition of work has given me new motivation and energy to work hard at school, my job, and at home.

Work is God’s mandate for man to take dominion over his surroundings.

The rest of this article will unpack this definition. 

God’s Mandate

Before defining work, it must be understood that work is not a burdensome command from God. I only want to mention a couple things on this point. Firstly, Genesis 2:15 gives the very reason man was put in the garden: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (NKJV).

Furthermore, in Exodus 20:8-11, God commands the Israelites to do two things:

  1. Remember the Sabbath day
  2. Six days you shall labor and do all your work

Think with me for a moment…if God is commanding the Israelites to remember the day of rest from creation, it is not a leap to understand that God commands the other six to be days of work.

Man was created to work. God mandates it. Matthew Henry writes, “We were none of us sent into this world to be idle.”

So, what is work?

Taking Dominion 

The defining aspect of work is God’s command to ‘have dominion’ over the earth.

Genesis 1:26-28 says, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (NKJV).

What does it mean to have dominion?

Dominion is something that must be taken. Again, Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (NKJV). Taking dominion means asserting yourself in the world around you to “tend and keep it.”

Dominion means subduing the earth around you, bending it to your will. In his book Manly Dominion, pastor Mark Chanski comments on Genesis 1:28 saying this: “Thus to subdue something means to bring it into bondage, or by force make it serve you…In this way, man is to subdue ‘the earth.’ The planet and its function are to be taken in hand and brought under subjection. Man is instructed to make the earth do his bidding. He is to accomplish this by exerting forceful and aggressive effort” (15).

The point here is not that God has commanded you to be a domineering and vengeful person, but that God has given us the authority to bend and control the creation to our will within the boundaries of his Law.

Taking Dominion Over Coffee?

A cup of coffee is a great example of taking dominion over the earth. A coffee grower somewhere took his land and plowed it, making it suitable for planting. Then he planted and nursed the plant to fullness. Then, this grower decided when he wanted to harvest the coffee bean. He did not let this plant grow as far as it wanted, he took it and bent it to his will.

Next, the beans are shipped to a coffeehouse. At the coffeehouse, the baristas take the beans and grind them to their liking. Hot water is run through the grounds to make the end product: coffee.

At each of these stages in the life of a coffee bean, man is taking some of God’s creation and forming it as he pleases. He is dominating the coffee bean and shaping it for his own use and benefit.

Let me give one more example. When I was younger, my mother commanded me to clean my room as all good mothers do. This act of cleaning a room is a clear picture of taking dominion.

“I will take these things in my room and put them where I want them to be. I will form this room into what I want it to be. This is my room and it shall be as I make it.”

I will let Mark Chanski conclude: “To sum up this theme of dominion: God has bestowed on man both supremacy and mandate, both an authority and an assignment. Man is God’s deputy and representative on the earth. Therefore, man is obligated to exercise an assertive, aggressive, and godly rule over the various realms of God’s creation” (17).


God gave has given us work for two main reasons: providing for self, family, and society, and bringing Him glory. Our culture has lost this, hasn’t it?

A primary way that Christians can be and look different from the world is working hard and enjoying work for God’s glory. God has sent us out into this world not to bend to our wills, but for His glory and His will. He has mandated that we do this and that we do it for Him until Christ returns.

~ Konrad Holden, Guest Author ~

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