As we continue our conversation about the basic beliefs of the Christian worldview this week, we are talking about people. What are people? More importantly, what should we think about them as followers of Jesus? The answer to that question is entirely wrapped up in how we got here and who put us here. Whether we like it or not, we are ultimately beholden to whatever or whoever that is. Let’s go back to the beginning to see just what people are for.
On Being Stewards
Let’s play a little game this morning. I’m going to describe an object and I want you to tell me what it’s for. The first object has three long legs and a large flat surface on top. Got an image in your minds? Okay, what’s it for? If you said, “for sitting,” you owe me some money because you probably just broke the floor tom for my drum set. A floor tom is for making music (or noise), not sitting. I really wish you’d be more careful. Let’s try this again. This time I’m thinking of an object with a handle usually made out of wood or some kind of composite material, and out of one end protrudes a long, thin piece of metal. Now you again: What’s it for? If you said, “putting in screws,” you are going to have your work cut out for you trying to put in screws with an ice pick. You can turn it all day long, but you probably aren’t going make much progress. You’re just so-so at this, aren’t you? I’ll give you one more chance. This time I’m thinking of an object that is usually made out of wood, though sometimes metal is used instead. It is typically about as long as your arm and tapers from a thicker end to a thinner one. What’s it for? If you said something along the lines of, “hitting balls,” it would technically work for that, although you’d probably better get the table leg back to whoever’s table you took it off of to play ball with along with an apology.
That was kind of a dirty trick wasn’t it. Those descriptions could have all applied to multiple different objects. Trying to guess what they were for based on those incomplete descriptions was not so easy to do. Generally speaking, it’s a whole lot easier to know what something is when we know what it’s for, not the other way around. That principle doesn’t just apply to basic objects either. It also applies to you and me.
This morning finds us in the second part of our new teaching series, You Believe What? For the next few weeks, we are taking a look together at what are some of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian worldview. The big idea driving all of this is that our culture is at a point where followers of Jesus can’t get away with not having a firm grip on the basics of our faith any longer. Used to be, most people believed about the same things we do. That’s simply not the case anymore. Not only is it not the case, but the culture around us is going to get increasingly pushy over the next several years to get us to move in its direction as the distance between the church and the world in this culture grows greater all the time. If we don’t have a firm grip on our foundation, we’ll be swept away.
Last week we started off this journey by talking about where any conversation about our faith has to start: with God Himself. Specifically, we talked about the fact that God exists as a trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. While we certainly didn’t nail down every detail of the Trinity, we did make a couple of things clear. The first is that the Trinity’s being hard to understand doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Far from that, the fact that we don’t have a category for something like this, combined with the Scriptural evidence, suggests that it isn’t simply something made up out of thin air. Even more importantly than that, though, God’s triune nature means He can have a loving relationship with us. No other god can offer that and without it, He couldn’t either. Our God is three-in-one and that’s a very good thing.
If that’s a start of what we should think about God, the next thing worth understanding a bit better is what we should think about ourselves. As followers of Jesus, what should we think about people? Well, if we are going to understand better who we are, the best place for us to go is back to the beginning to check out what our original parameters were. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you, find your way just a little ways inside the front cover to Genesis 1. Now, this section of the Scriptures has been subjected to endless analysis and debate. We’re not going to get into any of that this morning. Instead, as we look at some really key verses out of this text, I want to set our sights on three really key points that will help us frame out the most basic Christian worldview beliefs about people.
Let’s start right at the beginning. Look at this with me: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ There was an evening, and there was a morning: one day.”
Now, we really only needed the first verse here, but I wanted you to have a little bit of context. What we find in these words is really the starting point for all of our thinking about…well…everything after we think about God. Once we have God fairly well established and are ready to talk about pretty much anything else, this is a critical text to understanding. And what do we see here? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That is, God created the world and everything in it.
God is the Creator. He created everything. All of it. If there is a thing, God created it. Period. If you want a great tool to help you get your mind around this a little more fully than perhaps it is right now, there is a great one online called The Scale of the Universe 2. You can download it as an app on your phone for a small fee or go to htwins.net/scale2 to see it on your computer. It gives you a sense of just how big and small some things are. From the smallest thing in the universe (quantum foam, the theorized substance that makes up all matter) to beyond what we can observe (including a star that is by itself about 2/3 the size of our entire solar system), God made all of it. And, as the Creator, He gets to define it.
Now, that’s a pretty profound idea right there. We could spend the rest of our time together this morning talking about just that one thing. Because God created the world, He gets to define it. He determines what’s what and who’s who. He’s the one who establishes both identity and purpose. Perhaps most notably, if He’s the one who has the right to do that, we don’t. Any argument that we can somehow define anything about ourselves in a way that doesn’t correspond to reality—and there’s no such thing as “my reality” or “my truth”—denies this fundamental truth about the world and thus is one followers of Jesus must reject in its entirety as false.
Enough on that for now. When God started creating, He kept right on creating one thing after another until just almost everything was in place. Then, when creation was nearly complete, He added one more thing to the picture: us. Look at v. 26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, and the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”
Do you see it? God created the world and everything in it, but saved the very best part for last. When He had everything else finished, He turned His attention to making one more creature. But this one would be different. It would be something more than the rest. This one He would form from the dirt with His own hands and then breathe the breath of life right into its nostrils. He made this one—us—not like the rest of the creatures He had made. He made us in His image. Nothing else in creation bears such a distinction as this. It means we are like God. We are more like God, in fact than any other created thing. We’re not like Him in the sense that we are somehow divine or share in any of His divine abilities like omniscience or omnipotence, but we do share in His personal characteristics. The things that make Him a person are the same things that make us persons (and the lack of which mean there is no such thing as a non-human person). We are relational, intelligent, creative, self-reflective, and moral agents. As image-bearers we have a value that surpasses any other created thing. We reflect the Creator in a way no other created thing does.
Like the truth of God’s identity as Creator, there are staggeringly profound implications to our being created in the image of God. Perhaps the most important is that because every single person is created in the image of God, every single person is possessed of an inestimable value. There are not people who are somehow more valuable than other people on the basis of any criteria. Things like stage of life, level of development, level of dependency, skin color, and the like have absolutely no bearing on a person’s value, and as followers of Jesus we should be absolutely opposed to any policies or ideas that institutionalize or even simply suggest they do. Or, as Dr. Seuss rather memorably put it on the lips of a faithful elephant named Horton, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” To that we could add “or big or old or sick or rich or poor or black or white or brown or red or yellow or purple with green polka dots.” All people have value that should be honored. Period.
Now, all of this so far tells us more about who God is and the value we have in light of that, but it still doesn’t tell us what we are for. Listen just a bit further at how this next part addresses this very need. Look down to v. 28 with me: “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’ God also said, ‘Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This will be food for you, for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it—I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day.”
There’s a lot going on there, I know, but focus in with me on a part right near the beginning of those words. God told us to subdue the earth and to rule over all the creations in it. A little later He made clear that the plants were given for food to all the animals. Do you see an ordering to creation being laid out here? God’s on top. Then comes us. Then the animals. Then the plants. In other words, after God, we’re in charge. God is the owner, but we are the managers. Under God, creation is subject to us. We were created to be the stewards of creation.
Steward is a bit of an old word how I’m using it. A steward was kind of like a manager, but not exactly the same. A manager just keeps things moving forward. A steward is more concerned with advancing and honoring the interests of the owner. The steward doesn’t just hold a particular line, she seeks to move forward to greater and greater things so that the owner’s investment in her yields more fruit than it did when she received it. A steward combined elements of both a manager and a leader into one powerful package. When it comes to our place in creation, that’s the role God designed us to fulfill. Our purpose, then, the thing for which we were created, was to continue and advance the interests of the Creator for His creation. This, more than anything else we do, brings God honor and glory…which is exactly the point. Our service as stewards should bring God honor. If we get that right—and the details on how exactly we pursue that are unique, varied, and don’t really matter all that much in the big picture if we get that picture right—we will be on the right track for God’s purpose for us.
So then, where are we? We know three things that matter a great deal, that’s where we are. God created us. He created us uniquely in His image. He created us to be His stewards. Put all of this together and you have an idea very much like this one: God created us to serve and honor Him. God created us to serve and honor Him. And if that seems somehow arrogant of God to you, keep this in mind: God created the world. He gets to define it. What’s more, He is, by definition, the greatest conceivable being. Just like the highest honor for someone not the king is to serve the king, the highest honor for beings who are not the greatest conceivable being is to serve the greatest conceivable being. God created us with the incredibly high honor of doing just that. Giving us the chance to serve Him isn’t arrogant because it’s honest and consistent with who He is. It is an act of incredible humility that He would allow creatures such as us the honor of being a part of advancing His purposes in His world. God created us to serve and honor Him.
If you’ve ever wondered over God’s purpose for you, wonder no longer. The question you should ask is not what is God’s plan for my life, but how can I honor and serve Him in the place He currently has me. If you’re doing that, you’re on track with His plans for you. It really is that simple. Understanding more clearly what we believe is not a burdensome thing to do. Understanding our faith rightly brings with it a lightening of the burdens we may otherwise carry from getting it wrong. God created us to serve and honor Him. That’s His call for every single person regardless of who they are and where they’re from. We can serve and honor Him no matter what our defining distinctions are. His definition of us overrides everything else. In a world that is increasingly divided and at odds over such distinctions this truth is a powerful antidote to the poison of hatred and jealousy and anger that otherwise grips our interactions. God created us to serve and honor Him.
And if we just got that right, a whole lot of things would be a whole lot better than they are. But we don’t and if you’ll be back to join us next week, we’ll talk about that very thing.