Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have Christians Lost Their Minds? Part I

Kairos magazine latest edition The Church's Neglected Treasure is fresh out of the stove. Here is an unedited draft of my article on the the loss and recovery of the Christian mind in our spirituality and mission.

As an inquisitive new believer in secondary school, I began asking how the Genesis account of creation in seven days explains those fascinating dinosaurs I discovered while watching documentary shows on T.V. Were they safe inside Noah’s ark? Did the flood wipe them out?

So in hope for some answers, I picked up the courage to ask my science teacher who also happened to be a Christian. He gazed at me somewhat quizzically and asked another question in return, “Tell me. Does God answer your prayers?”

I nodded sheepishly, baffled by how the quality of my “devotion time” had anything to do with the extinction of dinosaurs! Perhaps sensing my perplexity, he explained, “If God has answered your prayers, why do you need to ask so many things?”

From that day on, I found out that for many Christians an intellectual understanding of the faith is not important as long as we have an experiential feeling that it works! The heart is what you used in a relationship with God but the brain is what you used while studying science, economics and history in school.

This common suspicion towards the role of the mind in our spiritual life may sometimes be fueled by faulty interpretations of Bible passages: “What’s the use of reason since we should have faith like a child? (Matthew 8:13) Knowledge just puffs up our pride (1 Corinthians 8:1) so we should avoid secular studies. And shouldn’t we beware of hollow and deceptive philosophy? (Colossians 2:8)”

To begin with, we should not confuse the need for a childlike faith (humble, dependent trust in God) with childish thinking. To the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) He also warned against a proud attitude that paraded one’s spiritual knowledge for self-glory instead of mutual, loving edification. The real problem is arrogance, not knowledge in itself. Therefore, our proper response is humility, not ignorance.

Indeed, we need to be careful of many deceptive ideas available nowadays. But we cannot beware of bad philosophy if we are not even aware of it in the first place. The cure is truthful, biblical and sound thinking (not the absence of it). C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” The learned apostle Paul himself was familiar with the ideas of pagan philosophers so that he can discern truth from error. (Colossians 2:8)

Discipleship of the mind is so crucial because we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind. (Luke 10:27) It is obedience to the greatest commandment of our Lord Jesus. Scripture also calls us to be transformed by the renewal (not removal!) of our mind less we be conformed to worldly patterns. (Romans 12:2)

But what practical value is there in developing a ‘Christian mind’? Isn’t it just theoretical, head knowledge that does not help us live properly?

Although there is partial truth to the perception that scholars sometimes split hairs over seemingly irrelevant issues, the best theologians often aid us not merely to gather data but to gain wisdom for life. After all, a good theory is a very practical thing just as having a good map is an immense help to reach unknown destinations. In the same way, an accurate mental map of reality guides our navigation through difficult decisions in the world.

Furthermore, what we believe to be true has a powerful influence over how we should live. For example, if we view human life as merely a biological machine, we won’t be terribly inclined to treat it with much dignity or respect. Or if we truly understand God to be holy and gracious as revealed in Scripture, our spiritual life gradually reflects His own character. Sound theology should flow from the head to the heart and finally to the hands. True knowledge and living experience enrich each other.

Have Christians Lost Their Minds? Part II

In this age of digital information, it is also nearly impossible to isolate our loved ones from ideas (even harmful ones!) They are just a Google search away.

What we can do, however, is to boost up our spiritual immune system by being informed of these ideas first and equipped to evaluate them from a biblical perspective. The strategy is not retreat into a cultural ghetto, but cultivating a robust Christian worldview that understands and engages culture. When the church provides thinking tools that empower our youths, they will learn how to detect faulty arguments and dismantle irrational assumptions on their own. By training them what and why Christians believe, we intentionally raise up a generation of confident, conversant and winsome ambassadors for the Kingdom. An informed faith prepares us to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:16)

But if we neglect the discipleship of our minds, we easily absorb materialistic values or hedonistic practices from popular movies, songs and novels without even knowing it. Our witness of the gospel would also lack boldness as we succumb to the temptation to either withdraw from or compromise with the world. Since the gospel is public truth (not merely private experiences), Christians have a responsibility to speak sensibly in the public square where crucial issues of life are discussed and decided.

Today, there is an urgent and serious need for us to explore how the church as a redeemed community in the world responds to racism, inter-religious harmony, economic disparity, the spread of infectious diseases, ethics in biomedical technology and so on. We cannot address these burning issues in our Malaysian society without faithfully and diligently applying our minds to connect God’s word with God’s world.

How then shall we recover the Christian mind? Here are some brief suggestions:

• Help the laity to integrate biblical faith with their vocation. Discipleship classes should also tackle unique opportunities and challenges they face in the marketplace as a lawyer, artist, businessperson, teacher, healthcare workers etc.

• Encourage healthy reading habits by stocking up the church library with solid resources that stimulates the mind and create interest with regular book reviews.

• Preach well-prepared sermons that help the congregation to read the Scriptures themselves, not merely packed with entertaining how-to advice.

• Does our youth ministry educate students to think Christianly about the subjects they learn in school or colleges? More than games and songs, they may need to discern what’s true, beautiful and ethical expressed in these disciplines.

• If we have evangelistic courses like Alpha or Christianity Explored, small group leaders could be trained in apologetics so they can handle frequently asked questions from seekers with humility, confidence and knowledge.

Can you imagine what the transformation of our spirituality and witness in society looks like when our minds are regularly renewed with such practices? It is a lifelong project that requires lots of energy and time, but the effort will be worth our while.

And you’ll never know when a curious young believer may approach you with questions about the book of Genesis and the last dinosaurs!

God’s Prophets of the Old Testament

By Rabbi Anthony Loke

There is a group of people mainly found in the Old Testament (OT) who might be considered strange or eccentric today. They have been called diverse names such as prophet, seer, visionary, man of God, and man of the Spirit. Whatever the designation, one thing stands out clearly: they were unique. They often stood out in the crowd like sore thumbs, distinct in the way they dressed (hairy mantle, e.g. Zechariah 13:4), what they ate (wild honey and locusts, e.g. 2 Kings 1:8) or what they did (walking barefoot and naked, e.g. Isaiah 20:2).

These prophets came from all walks of life – from priest (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) to herdsman and sycamore tree dresser (Amos), to royalty (Isaiah) – but the personal backgrounds of the majority were unknown. Sometimes even their patrimony was not preserved and their lineage left unspecified. The OT is not concerned with their biographical details. It clearly had little or no interest in the kinds of questions modern readers would ask. The prophets are remembered not because they lived interesting lives but because of their message. Their lasting legacy was the words they left behind. These linger long after the prophets disappeared from the scene. Who can forget some of their more memorable sayings?

‘But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.’ (Amos 5:24)
‘He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 5:24)

When prophets spoke, even kings stopped to listen (e.g. David in 2 Samuel 12:13). Confrontation with them often proved futile (e.g. the story of Elijah and King Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1:9-17). They were often treated as enemies of the state and the originators of trouble (e.g. Elijah was called the “troubler of Israel” in 1 Kings 18:17). Yet, people frequently sought them for advice about venturing to war (e.g. Micaiah ben Imlah in 1 Kings 22) or to look for lost donkeys (e.g. Samuel the seer in 1 Samuel 9:6) or to seek help when all seemed lost (e.g. Elisha in 2 Kings 4).

Not only did they preach with power and conviction, some of them even dramatised their messages. Ezekiel immediately comes to mind. For Ezekiel, his life and personality became part and parcel of his message. One day, he was found lying on one side. After 390 days, he proceeded to turn over to lie on the other side for another 40 days (Ezekiel 4:4, 6). Another time, he cut his hair and beard and divided the hair into three portions; one portion he burnt, the second he chopped up with his sword, and the third he scattered into the air. Then he took some and sewed them inside the hem of his garment (Ezekiel 5:1-4). One night, with his belongings bundled up, he made a hole in the wall, and proceeded to crawl through it, leaving his flabbergasted neighbours to wonder about his sanity, if they had not already doubted it before (Ezekiel 12:1-7).

Read on for the full article at Kairos latest issue The Church's Forgotten Treasures.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Day God Showed Up On Earth

Preached a pre-Christmas evangelistic sermon today based on the themes from Tim Keller's sermon The Purpose of Christmas

Text: 1 John 1:1–4
Topic: Incarnation
Big Idea: Because the Word became flesh, we have a joy that transforms our lives.

This is what Scripture says: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

Introduction: Good morning, church and friends! Christmas is just 4 days away. Are you feeling the holiday mood yet?

I know for many people, this is the season to be jolly. It's a time to celebrate, sing carols, throw parties, receive presents and lots of merry making. As we wrap up the year 2008, it’s also a time to relax, go on a holiday with family and have some well-deserved fun. And yes, sales promotions are everywhere. It’s a mad rush to shop till we drop.

Or if you are in the retail business or have sales target to achieve, Christmas is the season to be busy. It’s a crazy time to close deals, meet datelines and lots of profit making. For Christians, we may be just so stressed up with many church programs and activities, endless rehearsals and singing practices.

But for others, Christmas is the season to be depressed. Psychologists have found that many people experience a sad and anxious mood during and after Christmas. Statistics for suicide also increase. The reason goes something like this: “Everyone is supposed to be happy and be with their family during the holidays - since I am not, there must be something wrong with me”. This ‘holiday blues’ is most keenly felt if we are separated from loved ones. The loneliness, tiredness and isolation become more intense when there is pressure to look happy at parties or gatherings. The contrast can be very depressing.

But if we are not feeling Christmassy yet, that's ok. Because Christmas is not about Christmas. It’s not about sales promotion, Santa Claus or all that jazz. Christmas is all about Christ. That God has not left us alone. He showed up on planet earth to rescue us. The baby born on that first Christmas night two thousand years ago was called Immanuel, God with us. His presence is with us even now whether we feel Him or not.

And the scripture passage today taken from 1st Letter of John tells us what Christmas is all about. It says something radical about God and how Christmas can transform our lives whether we feel happy, busy or sad today.

Firstly, Christmas tells us something radical about God.

If you understand the word incarnation, you'll understand what Christmas is about. And the meaning of incarnation is nicely captured in the song we sang just now “Hark the Herald angels sing!” The second stanza goes like this:

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel (meaning, God with us)
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Incarnation simply means that God took on flesh and blood and showed up on planet earth as a human being. Amazingly, He decided to come as a helpless baby born of a virgin girl. He did not come as some sort of violent, conquering warrior.

In the Bible passage we read just now, the apostle John tells us that Jesus the Son of God has appeared to us. He is the Word of life who was “from the beginning”. That means: He existed long before the heavens and the earth were even created.
People have always wondered about the universe that we live in. Sue May told me a story about her friend who never had much interest in God and one day she went scuba diving and so amazed to see a whole new world underwater so beautiful that by the time, she came up from the water, she believed in God.

I wonder if you too have ever looked up to a starry sky and feel a sense of cosmic wonder: “Man, how was this made? Where do we come from? How come we exist in this universe? Why is there something rather than nothing?” Suppose (let's imagine) that in the beginning there was nothing. If there was absolutely nothing at the start, there won’t be anything now. Because out of nothing, nothing comes. No cause, no effect.

But something does exist today and not only that, if we look around us, everything that we observe has a beginning and was caused to exist by something else. For example, I have a beginning and my existence was caused by my parents, and my parents came to exist because of my grandparents, and if you rewind all the way back, even the universe has a beginning. Scientists called it the big bang. But what caused the big bang? Who is the big banger?

There must be something or someone that has always existed from the very beginning. In ancient times, the Greeks called that eternal force that holds the universe together Logos. The Logos (translated as the word) gives life to human beings. The Chinese also have a similar idea in the Tao that brings harmony to opposite forces of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’.

So when the apostle John spoke of the “Word of life”, the people understood what he was talking about. He’s talking about the Logos that made all things to exist, brings order to chaos. The Logos has always existed, it is eternal, uncreated since the very beginning of time…

But then John went on to say something radical that they never thought of: “Guess what? This Logos is not something abstract or a philosophical system. It’s not even an impersonal force that you can manipulate by hiring a fengshui master.”
The Logos is a person. He is someone who knows, makes choices and can communicate with us. He is relational. From the Gospel of John, we read: “In the beginning was the Logos, the Logos was with God and the Logos was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.… The Logos became flesh and dwell among us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. The God who is from eternity stepped into time. He took on flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhood. The invisible has become visible, the spiritual has become physical. The ideal has become reality. In other words, God has become human without losing His divine nature. It’s a profound mystery -Jesus is not just fully man, He is fully God.

To appreciate just how radical this is, we can compare it with what other religions tell us about God. On one hand, in Islam/Judaism, God is so high above the creation, so transcendent that incarnation is impossible. It’s scandalous to think that God could take on human nature. On the other hand, in some Eastern religions like Hinduism/Buddhism, God is so close to the world, so immanent that reincarnation is normal. It happens to everyone. Everybody has a divine spark in us. So not all religions are the same…

Listen to these words from Tim Keller: But Christianity is unique. It doesn't say incarnation is normal, but it doesn't say it's impossible. It says God is so immanent (near us) that it is possible, but he is so transcendent (high above us) that the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is an earth-shaking, history-changing, life-transforming, paradigm-shattering event. Christianity has a unique view on this that sets it apart from everything else.

So who is Jesus? He’s a teacher but not just a good teacher. He’s a prophet but not just a human prophet. He’s so much more. He is the transcendent God who became incarnate. He’s not a far away God. He is God with us.

Secondly, not only does Christmas tell us something radical about God, it also tells us something historical about Him. The story of Jesus actually happened in space and time. On earth. In Israel. Two thousand years ago.

Unlike the wonderful stories we find in the Hikayat Ramayana, for example, it is not meant to be read as a myth. They cannot be just wonderful fairy tales that teach us moral lessons.

Imagine if I were to say to you that my late Grandmother appeared to me in a dream last night and gave me the recipe for a magic soup that gives eternal youth. And I can sell it to you for a thousand ringgit each. Could you examine this dream to see it’s true or false? You can’t because you have no access to my dream.

But imagine again if I were to say to you that she appeared to me at the Sunway Pyramid skating rink at 12 p.m. yesterday in front of more than one hundred shoppers and ice-skaters who can confirm this event… ah ha… now that’s different… that is an open public event … it’s something you can investigate, you can check out the facts, interview the witnesses and so on… it’s something historical you can verify…

The apostle John says: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard. We saw His miracles. We heard His teachings. With our very own eyes. With our own ears. Our hands have touched Him, this person who is Eternal Life. This Jesus of Nazareth.

So these records of Jesus were written based on eyewitness accounts, people who have seen and heard Jesus while He was still on earth.

If the resurrection of Jesus was made up, it would be easily shot down by hundreds of eyewitnesses in Jerusalem who saw him crucified and buried. His enemies would be just too happy to show off his tomb and the story will die off very quickly. But the eyewitnesses did not contradict the empty tomb. Instead, people were invited to check out the facts with about five hundred witnesses who saw Jesus appeared after His resurrection from the grave.

The point of Christmas is that Jesus really lived, and he really died. It happened in space and time. He did these things in public. It is open to public examination and invites us to investigate its claims.

But you may wonder: What’s the big deal about something that happened so long ago? I live a good and moral life. That’s most important anyway, right? It doesn’t matter what happened in history. I don’t steal or murder, God will surely accept me.

But that’s salvation by good works. Trying to impress God by how good we are and then God owes us a ticket to heaven.

The bad news is you and I are both separated from God and God is so holy that there has to be punishment for our sins. In our deepest heart, if we look at ourselves in the mirror honestly, we know that we are simply not good enough judging by our own standard, not to mention God’s holy standards.

Suppose you are driving your car to work or school one day and you ran the traffic lights and got caught by the police. You cannot say: “Tolong-lah Encik, don’t give me the saman. Just now, got nine traffic lights, I also follow the rules. I only ran one out of ten traffic lights lah...”

If this excuse can’t help us with the local police, it cannot help us on Judgment Day to say “God, I know I have committed many sins but look at so many good things I have done also.”

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John1:8)

Why did Jesus the son of God come to earth? The good news is not that He came to tell us: “Try harder, live a good life and then earn a ticket to heaven.”

The good news of Christmas is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the perfect life we should have lived, and died on the cross to pay for our sins (He took the death that we deserved). So when we turn away from our sin and trust in him and what he has done for us, we are accepted freely by God. We are rescued by grace alone. That’s why He came: To save us from our sins.

If these things didn't really happen in history 2000 years ago, then we can't be forgiven by grace. And we are still carrying the crushing burden of condemnation and sin on our shoulders.

But the good news is God incarnate did come and lived and died for us. The witnesses heard him, saw him, touched him and proclaimed him. Because it happened in history, we have hope, forgiveness and acceptance from God.

Do you know Jesus as your Lord and as your Savior? Would you trust in what He has done for you today?

Thirdly, because Christmas is radical and historical, it invites us to a personal relationship with God.

If you see who Jesus is and why He came to earth, God became flesh and lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died — then Christmas invites you to know God personally. That means we can have a friendship, fellowship, an intimate communion with God himself. We become truly free and truly ourselves in the context of a love relationship.

The apostle John says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son." This word fellowship, which is koinonia, means that we now have a basis to be reconciled with God.

He is no longer vague or far away in heaven. He has shown Himself to us. So we don’t need to guess what God is like and what He wants from us, He has come personally to tell us. Now He has a human face.

And if some of us here are spiritually seeking and you want to know what it means to be a Christian: Well, it means you come into a relationship where you acknowledge God as the Father, who loves and cares for you as a father cares for a child. You call God “Father”. And you receive Jesus the ultimate expression of God’s saving love, as your Lord and Savior. And the Holy Spirit lives in you and gives you the power to know and follow Him. Then through baptism you express this immersion into a love relationship with God.

So Christmas is an invitation by God to say: “Look how far I've come to be near you. Now draw near to me. I don't want to be a concept; I want to be a friend.”

Lastly, Christmas invites you to be passionately incarnational.

If we know Jesus personally as our Lord and Savior, we have the hope of eternal life beyond the grave. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

But when many people think of eternal life, they think of cartoons of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. So the idea is to escape from this physical world, and treat life on earth here and now as a temporary transit point to heaven. But the danger of that is we can be so heavenly that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and focus only on the afterlife.

We see the poor oppressed and the environment destroyed and we shrug, “Oh well, this world’s gonna burn anyway so I just wait for my time to go to heaven.” No wonder many people see religion as a drug that makes us insensitive to pain and oppression happening around the world.

But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. The future of the gospel is a new heaven and a new earth. This world will be renewed, not abandoned. The hope of Christians is the resurrection, where we will be raised to eternal life in an incorruptible glorified physical body. Because God himself took on physical flesh and blood and invaded this planet, we long to see the presence of God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Because the rightful king of the world had entered human history. All unjust rulers are at risk. Dictators like king Herod, Roman Caesar, Satan, Sin, Death, Injustice, Pain, Disease, Hatred - their days are numbered. The worst they can do is give death but even death is conquered by the resurrection.

The King had come. The kingdom of God had broken into history, bringing healing and hope, peace and life. Christmas marks the beginning of God's mission to recapture the world for Himself.

So as His followers, we are also invited to imitate Christ be living incarnational lives. We also enter into other people’s worlds, as he entered ours. We seek first to understand then be understood. We enter into the world of their thinking as we try to understand how others look at life and how they see the gospel. We come into the world of their feeling as we try to empathise with their pain. And we come into the world of their living as we live, embody and demonstrate the gospel in the orang asli village, at the low cost apartments at Angsana and Mentari.

In conclusion, Christmas tells us something radical and historical about God – he has come to earth and revealed himself supremely in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us, Christmas invites us to love God personally with all our heart, mind and strength. It also frees us to get involved in the lives of other people by embodying God’s kingdom on earth.

If the present creation will not be abandoned but transformed, then in the meantime, we are to work here-and-now looking forward to that final vision. So that our community and church could be a foretaste, a glimpse or movie preview of its future glory. Incarnational spirituality is lived out in down to earth realities, where we do business, how we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study, love and do exercise, infusing everyday life with fresh authentic meaning. The gospel must be embodied with our lives and proclaimed with our words.

Think about that the next time someone wished you "merry Christmas" this year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Commission And Creation Mandate

Dr Leong Tien Fock's paper for NECF Forum VI: TRANSFORM NATION AGENDA
is already online for preview. It takes a fresh look at the Great Commission in light of the Creation Mandate and provides a firm biblical-theological basis for what is called "wholistic mission". Here is an excerpt:

The eschatological Kingdom and the Great Commission

It is in the context of what the Church and disciples of Christ are called to be and to do that the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations by “going,” “baptizing” and “teaching” them is given. Certainly, in “going” to make disciples, the Gospel must be preached and accepted before the “baptizing” can happen. But the Gospel to be preached is the Gospel of the Kingdom, which is an invitation to repent and believe in Jesus so as to enter the Kingdom of God, thereby having a foretaste of the eschatological salvation. This explains why there is such a focus on “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,” that is, teaching them to submit to God’s reign by seeking to do His will in every area of their life.

The Great Commission is premised on “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This means Christ is already reigning in heaven and on earth. Hence the Great Commission is premised on the presence of the eschatological Kingdom of God. But Christ will not impose His authority on the nations. When disciples, and not just converts, of all nations are made, people of all nations will willingly recognize Christ’s authority and seek to do God’s will. Hence the Great Commission is, in this sense, about seeking God’s Kingdom to “come” to, and hence His will be done in, all nations. Since not everyone will become a disciple, Christ’s reign will not be universally recognized. And since even the disciples of Christ have not yet fully experienced the eschatological salvation, Christ’s reign will not be
perfectly recognized. The Great Commission is given with the promise that Christ would be with His disciples even to end of the age. Hence the work of the Great Commission is to continue until He comes back to consummate the Kingdom, where His reign will then be universally and perfectly recognized.

The kingdom of God and the Creation Mandate

Since the Kingdom of God was promised in the Old Testament, we need to understand what the kingdom or reign of God means in that context to fully appreciate the meaning of the Great Commission (note: the Kingdom refers to the eschatological Kingdom, while kingdom refers to kingship or reign in general). In order not to miss anything, we need to go all the way back to the very first commission given to the human race: the Creation Mandate (Gen 1:28).

It was before the Fall and in the Garden of Eden that God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Thus the mandate to fill and subdue the earth and rule over the creatures was given when Adam and Eve were in direct fellowship with God and before there was a need for world redemption.

This mandate must first be understood in this context before we can relate it to the Great Commission.

When the earth was first created it was “formless and void” and God had to do some major renovation on the earth and the solar system before life on earth was possible. Then he created plant and animal life and finally human life (Genesis 1). God further developed (a small portion of) the earth by planting the Garden of Eden and placed the first human couple there to “cultivate it and keep it” (2:15).

It is in this context that the Creation Mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill and subdue the earth (outside the Garden of Eden) was given. What did it mean to Adam and Eve?

John Walton in his Genesis commentary explains:
If people were going to fill the earth, we must conclude that they were not
intended to stay in the garden in a static situation. Yet moving out of the garden
would appear a hardship since land outside the garden was not as hospitable as
that inside the garden (otherwise the garden would not be distinguishable).
Perhaps, then, we should surmise that people were gradually supposed to extend
the garden as they went about subduing and ruling. Extending the garden would
extend the food supply as well as extend the sacred space (since that is what the
garden represented).

The Garden was a “sacred space” because it was within this space that God dwelled with Adam and Eve. And within this space God’s will was to be done perfectly (“on earth as it is in heaven”). And when they sinned by not submitting to His will they were driven out. In other words, the Garden was where the kingship of God was fully realized, and to expand the Garden by filling and subduing the earth was to expand the kingdom of God. It was thus the pre-Fall version of the command to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33).

The Creation Mandate came with the assurance of the availability of food in the Garden (Gen 1:29) just as the command in Matthew 6:33 came with an assurance of the provision of food (and other basic needs) through a promise. The implication in both cases is that the need to “make a living” is no excuse for not fulfilling the mandate or the command to extend God’s kingdom.

But how would the multiplying of human beings and the filling and subduing of the earth actually work out in history?

Albert Wolters has answered it well:
When God rested from His work of creation (and renovation) on the seventh day,
this is not the end of the development of creation, however. Although God has
withdrawn from the work of creation, he has put an image of himself on the earth
with a mandate to continue. The earth had been completely unformed and empty;
in the six-day process of development God had formed it and filled it—but not
completely. People must now carry on the work of development; by being fruitful
they must fill it even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind,
as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God left off. But this is now to be
a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own
kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of
the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task
ahead is civilization.

Thus the Creation Mandate is to develop a civilization that would spread to the whole earth.

But what kind of civilization would this be? The first human civilization was that of the ungodly Cain and his descendants. They did build a city and develop agriculture, industry and the arts (Gen 4:17-22). But they did not call upon the name of the LORD (cf. 4:26). And Lamech not only practiced polygamy; he boasted about killing a boy for hitting him and, unlike Cain, had no fear of the consequence (4:23-24). It was a godless civilization that eventually led to the Flood, which destroyed the world except Noah and his family.

The Creation Mandate was given before Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God. And they
were in direct fellowship with Him. So the civilization was intended to be distinctly (but not completely) different from that developed by Cain and his descendants. The difference would not be in the building of the city and the development of agriculture, industry and the arts. All this is part of the mandate to “fill and subdue” the earth. The distinct difference would be that the civilization is developed in obedience to, and in fellowship with, the Creator.

Hence, the civilization is to be an expression of the kingdom of God. In other words,
the kingdom of God is to be expressed through a civilization. What then is this civilization supposed to be like?

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