A man and a woman stand on the deck of a yacht. The sun is setting. Dinner is being prepared. She is discovering what he already knows – that they are soul mates. She says to him,
“You’ve never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean.”
He laughed. “Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man’s magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes.”
“Yes [she replies]. And that particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature – I’ve never received it from nature, only from…” She stopped.
“Buildings,” she whispered. “Skyscrapers.”
This is moving stuff to be sure. Gail Wynand proposes to Dominque Francon just a few minutes later in Ayn Rand's book The Fountainhead. The author, however, was not writing a romance, but rather a novel of philosophy. One aspect of that philosophy as expressed here is the greatness of man seen through his ability to do what our biblical text says – "subdue [the earth]." There is one particular difference. Rand's philosophy has no place for God.
Rand was very concerned with what a person did with his ability. What she had little patience with is what we will patiently explore through the summer – the concept of stewardship. What does it mean for us to have been given great ability and resources by our Maker? What do we owe him, and what is our responsibility to our fellow creatures and the rest of his creation?
We will explore the answers mostly through examining how others practiced stewardship: Cain and Abel, Abraham, Esau, Jacob, Joseph, and others. But there is the question of stewardship itself: Are we really stewards? Where does that concept come from? Well, it comes from the text we will study tonight.
The stewardship mandate is founded on the teaching of the first chapter of Genesis. God created the world. God created us – man. God set us over his world.
1. God created the world. Whatever viewpoint we may bring to how creation came to be, the one undisputable teaching of Genesis 1 is that God is the Creator. And thus creation is his possession. As Moses tells his people, "Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it" (Deuteronomy 10:14).
God created with purpose. All that is created has been made to glorify him. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36). He has made the heavens and the earth that he might enjoy his creation: "May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works" (Psalm 104:31).
2. God created the world, and God created man. As much as he delights in his creation; as much as his creation depicts the attributes of God (cf Romans 1:20) and glorify him, there is something special about man. For man alone was created in the image of God.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
For all other created things – whether inanimate or living – God says, "Let [it happen]." For man alone does he switch to "Let us make." Chapter 2 will present how man – both male and female – is created. He comes from the earth, but the very breath of God is blown into him.
But of particular significance is the phrase "image of God." Dr. Boice liked to say that anything Scripture teaches is important. If it is repeated, it is very important. If it is said the third time, then we had better pay attention! Three times the Scripture says that man was made in the image of God. Do you get that? Do you get how important man is? Indeed, have you noticed that the rest of Scripture is taken up with man and God's dealings with man? He is set apart from creation because he alone is made in God's image.
This naturally leads to the question of what it means to be made in God's image. Some say it has to do with having a personality – that is, wrapped up in having a conscious understanding of being a uniquely created individual. Some point to man's ability to think creatively or to think about the future or to use reason. G. K. Chesterton said that art is the signature of man, pointing to that unique ability to represent what he experiences. There is the dimension of having a soul that relates to the Spirit of God. Some believe its fundamental element is that relationship with God and which is then expressed in holiness. It is that relationship and holiness that is being recovered as new creatures in Christ (cf Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:10).
There is certainly much to explore in this phrase, but for our purposes in studying stewardship, one clear message conveyed is that man represents God to the rest of creation. We are made in God's image, not simply that God could have a lot of chips off the old block, but that we might serve as his representatives. This is likely how the idea developed in the ancient world that a ruler was a god. He could be referred to as the image of God representing whoever that god might be to his people. He was acting on behalf of – he was ruling under the authority of – God. Scripture applies this concept to mankind. We are all – male and female – created in the image of God to rule for him.
3. God makes this clear by expressly setting us over the world.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Like other creatures, man is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (v. 22). But man is, further, to have dominion over all other creatures and over the earth. Man is to subdue the earth.
Man is more than a watchman keeping eyes on the work and progress of the world. He is to be active; he is to be productive; he is to subdue animals for service; he is even to subdue the environment. He is to take the resources of creation and turn them into instruments that glorify his Maker – be it for artistic expression or functional utility. This is his obligation. This is his stewardship mandate.
Let's think through further the implications of this stewardship mandate.
1. Treat creation with care and respect as God's possession.
Go back to the first lesson taught in the chapter – God created the world. And he created it with purpose, for his pleasure, and for his glory. How then should we, as his stewards, treat this world? If I asked you to take care of a print for me of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," you would not take too much thought of how to do so. Perhaps you would place it in your closet; perhaps you hang it on a wall. And then you would not think much more about it. But if I put you in charge of the original work, that becomes a different matter. It is an expensive painting, but more than that, you would consider its creator. This is a Van Gogh! Now, you take great care as the steward of mankind to protect it.
The world is God's creation. What we have been given dominion over; what we have been given to subdue is God's masterpiece that he delights in, by which he intends to glorify himself, and even to depict his glorious attributes. That, Gail Wynam and Dominique Francon, is why everyone else get those feelings of "sacred rapture" when contemplating nature. And that is why we are to be responsible in our handling of nature. We may not obstruct the glory of God, and we may not mar what gives him delight.
Indeed, because we are created in the image of God representing God before the world, we have the responsibility to treat our environment as God would do so. As a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, so we are to care for creation with the same mind – purposefully, taking delight in it, and glorifying God through our stewardship. All the more it matters how we new creatures in Christ, who are being renewed into the image of God are to demonstrate how God cares for his creation.
We should be known as the true environmentalists. We do not worship nature. We do not confuse it with divinity. But we know the true God who made this world. We know that this world serves to glorify him. We know that he delights in his creation. And therefore our actions should show it. We should show proper care in whatever capacity has been given us. We should demonstrate the attitude of God towards his creation.
As a college student, I took a trip with two friends into the Smokey Mountains. As we were driving along the scenic highway, we saw a large protruding rock that had “Jesus Saves” painted on it. One of my friends gave praise to God for that message. I pointed out that someone had defaced God's creation to write that message, and we proceeded to argue. But what do you think? Do you believe an unbeliever would have looked at that ugly painted rock and admire the painter's Christian faith? Do you think they would have been led to praise our Maker and turn to Jesus, or would they have been appalled that a believer in God would deface his creation?
2. Man's achievements glorify the God who made him.
Now, there is also something appropriate with getting goosebumps when looking at buildings and skyscrapers, even of thinking about ships and planes, even tunnels and dynamite. For if man is created by God, then the accomplishments of man are proper to be in wonder of. And if man is created in the image of God, then his creativity and his industry reflect those same attributes of God. And if we behold the heights that man has reached, and understand that God is infinitely above anything that man may aspire to be or to do, then all the more God is glorified. The achievements of man do not make God smaller, but all the more his greatness is magnified. All the more we "grasshoppers" glorify "God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it" (Isaiah 42:5). Every progress in knowledge, in skill, in physical and mental attainment, in artistic expression, and in practical invention gives testimony to our Maker and to his glory.
You will find that message in Psalm 8 which David wrote. If Gail Wynam had had the mindset of King David, he would have replied something like this to Dominique. "When I look at the ocean, and I think of man’s magnificent capacity that created this ship to cross it; when I look at mountain peaks, and I think of tunnels and dynamite that allow man to walk through them; when I look at the planets, and I think of airplanes and spaceships that take us into the skies and even into space, then I say, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! What is man that you are mindful of him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
All the more then, Christians should strive for excellence in whatever they do, because Christians represent God’s handiwork. This status of being God's handiwork is something we cannot escape. We should be excellent engineers and scientists and doctors and scholars and artists. We should demonstrate the majesty of our God by showing what his representatives can do when their lives have been redeemed and transformed; indeed, what he can do in such clays of jar as we.
3. We are to be productive.
Another principle to take away from our passage is that we are to be productive. Idleness is a sin. There is a time for rest. That is the point of the Sabbath. But if there is to be a time of rest, the rest of the time is to be spent in productive work. People can work too hard; they can be too driven; nevertheless, we are made to work. A common teaching that I hear is that a person is not to find his identity in his work, rather his status in Christ. I won't argue with that, but there is an equal danger of dismissing work as a mere activity to perform in order to rest. Thus we work through the weekday toward the real goal of resting and playing on the weekend. We work through the years toward the goal of retiring and taking it easy. Indeed, the ultimate success is to retire early and live on a golf course.
Whatever our circumstance may be – unemployed or retired or ill – we are to be productive. That productivity may be to look for a job; it may be to volunteer helping others by feeding the poor, caring for a neighbor, stuffing envelopes for an organization. The size of the task and the recognition of its importance by others does not matter. What matters is to be productive before God. No one retires from his service until he takes us into glory, and even then he is likely to have a job for each of us.
Some may bemoan that they are unable to reach high heights of achievement that glorify God. We are not all blessed with high mental ability or with impressive physical skill. Perhaps, but we all are give the ability to produce with what we have been given. Is that not the lesson of the nobleman who left his three servants with varying amounts of money to invest for him? Each man was judged by what he did with what he was given. But all three were expected to be productive. Do something. Many people are weighed down with troubles simply because they have too much idle time on their hands. Idleness will itself produce more troubles. As Paul told the Thessalonians, "We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies" (2 Thessalonians 3:11).
4. Christ is our ultimate model of stewardship.
Finally, consider then the One who was "in the form of God" (Philippians 2:6); who is "the radiance f the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3); consider the One who from the beginning "was with God, and…was God (John 1:1), who created man; consider that he took on the "likeness of men…being found in human form" (Philippians 2:7-8). He who made us in his image took on our image. And he did so that he might fulfill the stewardship mandate. What Adam failed to do – fulfill the commandment of God – Jesus Christ accomplished. By disobeying God, Adam failed to act as God's holy representative; through him came sin and death into creation. By obeying God, Christ took the throne as God's holy representative. Christ has subdued both sin and death. By his Spirit, he is producing new creations – us. By his Spirit he is transforming us and sanctifying us so that we are being renewed in the image of God.
Now that is good stewardship – redeeming what is marred by sin and returning it to God as holy, as useful, as beautiful. Christ has rested from his atoning sacrifice, but he has not stopped working. He is God's steward-king who reigns over all creation – both physical and spiritual, who will return some day and deliver his kingdom over to God the Father.
Until that time, then, we are to serve as Christ's representatives on this earth. We cannot subdue death, but we can become healers; we can restore what sin has harmed; we can be builders and inventors; we can give a glimpse of what man could have been by what we now accomplish – by the work of our hands, by the contemplation of our minds, and by the love we show. By being good stewards who take seriously the stewardship mandate.
God created the world, and we as his stewards will take care of it to our best. God created man, and we will strive to live up to our fullest potential for his glory. God has set us over the world that we might be his representatives, showing the love and delight that God has for his creation.
Remember. We are the redeemed. We are each a new creation in Christ. We are stewards of this world and the gospel that has broken into the world, that the world might see the hand of its Maker and Redeemer.
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