Category Archives: kingdom of God

A Biblical Theology of Work – Part 1

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

oil on wood panel

oil on wood panel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been referred to as the Cultural Mandate.  It is a requirement from God of all human beings that we reproduce ourselves in order to fill the earth and subdue it.  God built a planet we call Earth capable of sustaining many billions of people and He wants us, commands us, to rule over it in a way that in fact does sustain us.  This requires work, effort on our part, to successfully accomplish the utilization of Earth’s resources in a way that pleases God and brings life to Earth’s population — us.

Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3) God gave them work to do (Genesis 2) that included taking care of the Garden of Eden (2:15) and understanding and overseeing the animals of this area (2:19,20).  This responsibility did not cease after man’s rebellion, but became fraught with frustration as the ground began to work against man’s best efforts to grow food.  In the process human beings developed systems for raising livestock, growing food, producing music and forging tools (Genesis 4), all of which were necessary for our health and development as divine-image replicators.

In contrast to the pagan notions of man’s responsibilities, God did not create us to be His slaves and do all His dirty work.  He made us to be presidents to His chief executive role, vice-regents to His kingly rule, and managers for His owner-operated business.  There are at least three implications to this Cultural Mandate:

  • We are workers under divine appointment

We are not independent contractors.  The work we are called to do is or should be determined by God.  We are responsible for knowing what kind of work would be acceptable to Him in faithfully caring for His world and each other.  We may say that providing prostitution, or drugs, or control over other people is providing a service, but it is not the kind of service God says helps His world thrive.  And of course, He knows best what will make us thrive.  Our work must be of the kind that furthers the honor of God and the welfare of mankind.  This is His world and we are asked to share in making it livable.

  • We are stewards of God’s green earth

A steward is someone who takes care of someone else’s property.  His or her responsibility is not to own it but to develop it for the sake of the owner.  It just so happens in this case that the owner, God, has made us partners in the ownership, but nevertheless, He is the principle owner.  So our work must serve to develop and utilize, not exploit for ourselves, the world He has given us.  This means we must use arts and technology wisely and lovingly to reflect the character of God and benefit our race (see Lessons from the Old Testament: Arts and Technology).  It must certainly mean that we do not so exploit our world that we make it less habitable or reduce its quality of livability.

  • The more of us there are, the more work that needs to be done

We were made to care for each other the way God cares for us.  So as we multiply we need to create better systems for caring for each others’ needs for food, shelter, beauty, clothing and protection.  Our goal cannot be personal wealth but public weal, the prosperity and well-being that we can secure for all people.  And though it might be argued that capitalism is the best system in a fallen world for such public weal, sinners always find a way to take personal advantage of even the best systems to the detriment of others, and those who submit to God look for ways no matter the system to help others thrive.

Are you a plumber?  You are helping me and our whole culture thrive.  Do you grow food, deliver and sell food, make clothes, sell insurance, pave roads, build buildings, serve in government, paint pictures, make music, heal, administer funds, advocate for lawbreakers, develop community laws, cut hair, raise livestock, put out fires or any number of other “professions”?  You are working as God’s appointees to tend His world and people in ways that make it possible for us to fill the earth.  You are so cool, because the part that you play combined with the part that I play and all of us play makes possible a relatively peaceful and prosperous life.  We are caring for each other under God’s wise direction, and that’s what makes the world go round.

For further reading:

What is the Cultural Mandate?

The Cultural Mandate

What the Cultural Mandate Means for Your Work

Video and Resources from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City

Ephesians 6:5-9 — Conversations with God

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.  Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

If I were a slave, Lord Jesus, owned by another person, owned by a Christian person, and your apostle told me to obey my earthly master as I would obey You, I could be very tempted to doubts and to giving up Christianity. I could argue that being a Christian has certainly not changed my situation as I hoped it would.  Why wouldn’t Your apostle command my Christian master to give me my freedom?  Where is the justice?  Where is the compassion?

But when Paul reminds me that I am a bondservant to You, Lord, I have no qualms about it.  I willingly serve You as your slave.  I owe everything to you.  You own my life and I willingly embrace that and want to serve you from a sincere heart.  And the fact that You will reward me for such service blows my mind.  I don’t deserve that!

And commanding masters to “do the same thing,” to live as Your bondservants and do Your will from the heart, this could certainly lead to real changes in the way I am treated and reminds me that the Christian life is not about righting all the wrongs that are here in this world before the kingdom comes.  It is about demonstrating the righteousness of the kingdom despite all that is wrong continuing to make it countercultural to live as Your followers.  How else will people see that You really do transform our lives?  You don’t just change our conditions, You change our hearts.

Ephesians 1:7-10 — Conversations with God

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

A third blessing You have blessed me with, Father, is redemption through the blood of Your Son, Jesus.  You purchased me to Yourself by covering my debt that I owed You with Your own sacrifice.  This sacrifice freed You to forgive my sins and is yet another evidence of the richness of Your grace. 

It seems there is no end to how much You love us, for You lavished on us this forgiveness, covering even the most vile of our transgressions.  There are some of us who were convinced that our crimes were too great, too heinous, to be forgiven.  But Your grace has known no bounds.

Indeed, to a population of trespassers who could hold their collective wisdom in a thimble, You gave an additional blessing of all wisdom and insight by making known to us the mystery of Your will.  How else could we have known the extent of Your love and that it was really ours to receive?

Jesus is the embodiment of this kind intention of Yours to fill us in.  He came to tell us about You and about the rescue available to castaways drowning in an ocean of sin and rebellion.  He began a new administration of Your grace that is suitable to the finalization of Your plan to redeem the human race.  Jesus is the sum of all things and His administration of Your grace is the summing up of all things in heaven and earth.  We are looking to this finalization of Your plan when He establishes His kingdom here.  I can’t wait, Lord!

Father, there has been much reflection on why You deemed it the right time to send Jesus, why that was the fullness of time.  it seems a history of rebellion and exile and restoration had prepared Israel for the Messiah.  The success of world super-powers like Greece and Rome in creating a need for and ability for speaking one universal language by most people on earth made preaching this fullness of times easier.  it does not seem that the world was any darker nor more enlightened than any other time.

But in Your infinite wisdom You considered what we now call 5 B.C. (or B.C.E.) the right time for the Son of God to take on a human nature and be born as a human child.  The uneasy relationship between Israel and her Roman conquerors set the stage for Jesus’ crucifixion.  And the rest is history.

It is still the fullness of times and the administration of the gospel is still in full force, but it seems we continually need a kick in the pants to keep our energies up.  I need constant motivating and I thank You for helping me along.  My daughter asked, or should I say remarked in disgust, yesterday, “Are Christians now considered extremists?”  I suppose we are.  May we ride that wave to glory, Lord!  May we be identified with Your Son, the extremist.

Setting Aside the Counterfeits (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 17-21)

One of Paul’s responsibilities, and a responsibility of all spiritual leaders, is to identify counterfeits to the true gospel.  Given the rebellious nature of human beings and the very active influence of Satan, there should be a high expectation of distortions to the message of life.  Paul leverages his own example of orthodox living and orthodox doctrine, then he begins to describe those in particular, the Judaizers, who are threatening all of Paul’s church plants.

Not everyone is agreed that these are “the enemies of the cross” to whom Paul is referring.  To some it looks like Paul is describing a group who seeks to push the limits of godly morality.  “Their god is their stomach” sounds to them like those who eat greedily. “Their glory is in their shame” sounds like taking pride in their willingness to push the boundaries ethically.

But in the context Paul has only identified one group of false teachers.  These appear to be people who teach the Jewish law as the standard of holiness and focus on the requirements of circumcision for males and kosher food laws for all.  With that in mind, “their god is their stomach” means their focus on keeping kosher has become their idol; “their glory is in their shame” means they rest confidence in circumcision as their badge of honor.  In all this “their mind is set on earthly things.”  What God designed as a picture of ultimate spiritual truths to be revealed when the new dispensation arrives, these false teachers are still clinging to and giving saving power to instead of looking at faith as the basis for salvation.

By way of contrast, Christianity, God’s new revelation in Christ contained in “new wine skins” (Matthew 9:17), is focused on heaven.  Though the Philippians might take pride in their Roman citizenship, the real reason to boast is their heavenly citizenship.  As citizens of heaven we need no longer be enslaved to earthly elements.  We are people of the last age, the age of the resurrection.  When Jesus comes He is going to resurrect us, make our bodies like His, with all the attributes of a body made suitable for the kingdom.

Focusing on the coming resurrection when Jesus returns to rule on earth helps us stay moored to the true gospel.  We are not trying to muster our own law obedience in order to earn God’s love.  We are operating in God’s already abundantly outpoured love.  We are depending on what Jesus can work in us (the willing and the doing of His good will, 2:13), something He is able to do as the resurrected one.  We are free from the earthly elements that so many have clung to as a means of earning God’s love.  We are in training to recognize the false so we may more readily embrace the true.

Building Blocks of Unity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 3 and 4)

If the first part of verse 3 gives us the roadblocks to unity (selfish ambition and vain conceit), the end of verse 3 and verse 4 give us the building blocks of unity.  We might better think of selfish ambition and vain conceit as potholes, huge potholes in which the entire vehicle of the church can get plunged and from which freeing ourselves is incredibly difficult.  But humility of mind, which manifests itself in valuing others above ourselves and considering their interests, is like paving material that fills in the potholes and gives the church a smooth pathway for the gospel to travel.

What is humility?  The Greek word is tapeinophrosune, a mouthful of a word.  It means “lowliness of thinking.”  But that could mean all kinds of things.  We have seen those who consider themselves worthless and when they compare themselves to others they see themselves as therefore insignificant.  But that attitude is never encouraged in Scripture.

Moses, who is called the most humble man of his time (Numbers 12:3), was certainly repudiated for his self-description as unworthy of leading Israel (Exodus 3&4).  In fact, he became quite an effective leader, not because he was self-deprecating, but because he longed for all to have his spirit and wisdom (Numbers 11:29), and he was concerned more for God’s glory and the protection of His people (Exodus 32; Numbers 12).

So, in fact, humility as demonstrated in Scripture, is about considering others more important than yourself without demeaning yourself, and therefore being willing to think about the needs or interests of others but not failing to think about your own needs or interests as well.  And though Paul does not mention it here, he too advocates that humility means giving God glory for the good He works in us (2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 4:7; and of course, Philippians 1:11).

So the truly humble person does think about his or her own interests or needs (the Greek reads literally, “things”), but also thinks about the interests or needs of others and considers them more important than his or her own.  This is always a bit of a tightrope to walk.  I can’t ignore my own needs without, perhaps, suffering losses to myself that prove destructive to my meeting the needs of others.  I can’t consider my own needs as so important that I don’t consider my own agenda as the one to push to the exclusion and detriment of others.  I must learn to discern what is best (Philippians 1:9-11) by adding knowledge to my love and recognize that the advance of the gospel is the most important purpose for the church.

In doing so I learn to give up  needs I have that will hinder the progress of the gospel.  I learn to discern what is crucial to the integrity of the gospel because if that is lost there is nothing worth unifying around.  I do everything for the sake of the kingdom, knowing that God will take care of me, whether in this life or the next.  I give the meeting of my needs to Him, in essence, as the only one who can truly meet my needs.  I am a living sacrifice, the only reasonable thing to be in light of the salvation the gospel has brought to me (Romans 12:1).

So when my Bible study group argues about Calvinism and Arminianism, I may take a side, but it does not, can not, keep me from being 100% behind my fellow believers when it comes to proclaiming the gospel.  When my church gets in an argument over whether we should build or not, I must be a peacemaker, despite my personal view, and an advocate for the progress of the gospel no matter the outcome.  And when I hear others disparaging another church that does not believe the way we do, I must become a defender of my brothers and sisters in Christ if they preach the true gospel, because it is only in unity that we have power against our enemies.

I must pave the way with the humility that acknowledges my own needs but sees them as secondary to the needs of others when it comes to seeing the gospel gain territory in the world and in the lives of individual believers.

Jesus the Prophet

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13,14)

Jesus did what a prophet did.  He spoke with the authority of God about areas where God’s people needed to repent and about future events in light of either their repentance or lack thereof.  Jesus filled the role of a prophet, a spokesman for God empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak the words of God.

Jesus’ main message is summed up in the early chapters of the Gospels:  “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)  This was a message in very many ways similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets.  They too spoke of the kingdom coming, but they typically spoke of it in terms of the Day of the Lord, the day in which God would begin to judge the world in righteousness and establish His rule over the earth.  What was different about Jesus was that he was saying, “The Day of the Lord is here; the kingdom is here in the person of the king.”

Many of Jesus’ prophecies were about the need of the nation to repent.  He tells parables about the vineyard and the vineyard workers refusing to give the owner of the vineyard his due and the judgment the owner imposes (Matthew 21).  He speaks most directly about the need for repentance to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  His cleansing of the temple (twice, John 2 the first time and Matthew 21, Mark 11 and Luke 19 the second time) was an indictment of the religious establishment and their failure to maintain justice even in the temple courts.

Jesus, of course, predicted the coming cataclysmic events of his second coming in Matthew 24 and 25, Mark 13 and Luke 21.  He also had knowledge about people and things no one could have unless the Spirit of God revealed it to him (for example, Mark 2:6-8; John 4:15-19).

Jesus was much more than a prophet, but that he was a prophet is without dispute.  Even Islam recognizes that he is a prophet from God.  A prophet must be obeyed.  Jesus is the prophet most worthy of being obeyed and loved.

Jesus as King

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Matthew 27:37)

As a descendant of David with regard to his human nature, Jesus has the lineage and legal right to be a king over Israel.  Matthew’s genealogy in Matthew 1 is concerned to demonstrate that fact.  He is thus able to fulfill the prophecies that predict an eternal kingship for David’s offspring and predict a ruler who will bring Israel back to a place of favor and power with God among all the nations.

This is the kind of king Israel was expecting their Messiah to be.  When Jesus comes announcing that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, anticipations are that the oppressive rule of Rome will be thrown off and Israel will become the power broker in the mid-east.  But Jesus deliberately takes the edge off of that expectation.

In Luke 17 Jesus tells the Pharisees, when they want to know what the cosmic signs will be of the kingdom’s coming, that the kingdom in its present form is in their midst and is known by the lives it changes.  But then he tells his disciples that the future kingdom will come with quite impressive signs, but only after he, the king, first suffers and is rejected by the present generation.  There is a “now” aspect to the kingdom and a “coming” aspect to the kingdom.  Like when one company buys out another but only later begins to change out personnel, so the kingdom of God has come in Jesus the king, but all the expected changes are still in the future.

As king, Jesus requires full obedience and love.  “If you love me,” he told his disciples, “you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  When we pray, as Jesus taught us, that God’s kingdom would come (Matthew 6:10) we are praying for Jesus to come (Revelation 22:20).  Paul tells us that he will deliver the kingdom over “to God the Father after destroying  every rule and every authority and power, for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24,25).

Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).  There is no one whose authority is above his, except God the Father.  His reign now is made most evident in our obedience.  We are subjects of this loving king who willing give our whole lives over to such a benevolent dictator.