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“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” (Gen 1:28)

We all know that Jesus says: “We Christians are in the world, but not of the world.” But what exactly does Jesus mean by that? Since we are “not of the world,” there are many Christians who have taken a negative attitude toward culture. To them, the Church is in constant conflict with the world —it is us versus them. So our “job” is primarily to rescue as many sinners as we can from a world that is perishing.

They have many Scriptures to back up their theses. Bible verses such as “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Satan is the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:11) and the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). The world knows not God, neither the children of God (1 Cor. 1:21; John 17:25; 1 John 3:1, 13). The world hates the Christians (John 15:18-19; 17:14). Christians are not to “love the world or the things in the world,” that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). This world is passing away (2:17), and we must do everything we can to oppose and overcome it by faith (5:4). Even Jesus Christ Himself does not pray for the world (John 17:9). More than that, the world hates Jesus because He testifies that its works are evil (John 7:7). Then Paul even speaks of having the world crucified to himself, and himself being crucified to the world through Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14). “Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

As such, for many Christians, this world is something to stay away from. Everything in society—with all its sciences, philosophies and pop culture—is seen as the work of the devil; something profane and must be totally rejected. Since this world is not our home, we should have no ownership of material assets. As much as possible, we should not have any unnecessary contact with anything “secular.”

But on the other hand, the Bible tells us that “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” not “to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Jesus Christ is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42), and “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “That God, in Christ, is reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Eventually, “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). For there will be “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). “The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-5).

UNDERSTANDING THE “WORLD”

Is the Bible confused concerning the world, blowing hot and cold at the same time? Knowing the whole counsel of God ’s Word is very important. When the Scripture uses the word “world,” it could mean one of three things:

The world is God’s created order (or masterpiece) for His own enjoyment. The Bible says that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16). “For Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11, KJV). That is why although the world is fallen, God still loves it— and so should we! In fact, He loved it so much that He sent His Son to reconcile all things in the world back to Him (Col. 1:20). So this world, which God loves and Jesus saves, is not totally evil. But nevertheless, it suffers the effects of sin and the way sinners have treated it. Acts 3:21 says that the plan of God now or in this age is to restore all things to its original purpose and intention. To shun the world, or even to hate it, is to walk in rebellion against God.
The world also implies physical lands or nations. Jesus says that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). To Christ, used in this context, the world refers to countries and physical territories on planet Earth.
The world is the realm of wickedness and prideful rebellion against God. In this wicked realm, Satan is its prince and god (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This sinful realm constantly opposes God and persecutes the godly. It is this “world” of pride and rebellion that a believer must not conform his mind to (Rom. 12:2).
As such, when the Scripture talks about the world, a discerning reader must know what it is referring to: Is it the created order which God loves? Is it the physical lands or nations on the earth? Or is it the evil realm of wickedness and prideful rebellion that God hates?

THE CONCEPT OF CULTURE

When God created man and put him in the Garden of Eden, He gave him the responsibility “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). To tend the land means to plow or to cultivate the ground. But in the Latin, it is the word cultura, where you get the English word “culture.” Herein lies a very important truth: culture is God’s original purpose for man! It is not a concept from the devil. It is an idea from God.

God wanted Adam to “do culture,” taking the seed He has put into Adam’s hands and releasing its potential into a mighty harvest. Therefore, in its earliest and simplest defi nition, culture means taking the raw material God has given to man, and creatively nurturing it to its fullest potential. Because doing it requires creativity, each time we do culture we are actually refl ecting the image of Elohim—the God who is creative.

As the imago dei, we are the refl ection of God on the earth (Gen. 1:27). You don’t just reflect the image of Elohim by your character, you reflect Elohim by your creativity. Each time we nurture something into its fullest potential, we reveal a little of that divine creativity implanted in us and thus bring glory to Him.

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” (Gen. 1:28).

In Genesis 1:28, God gave mankind its primary job description. The first phrase “be fruitful and multiply” has to do with people. It means develop the social world! Build families, churches, schools and cities. Establish governments and laws.

The second phrase “subdue the earth” has to do with nature. It means harness the natural world! Plant crops, build bridges, design computers, and compose music.

Consciously or subconsciously, the human race has been doing that in past millennia from cutting wood to build houses, to cultivating cotton to make clothes, to extracting silicon to make computer chips.

As we develop the social world and harness the natural world, we are creating culture and building civilization upon the world that God has ordered. In theology, this is called the “cultural mandate.” As we do that, we are given the awesome privilege to be God’s co-creators! No wonder King David stood in amazement as he pondered on the whole purpose of man: “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels [more accurately, ‘Elohim God’], and You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:4-6).

Man is to harness all the raw materials on the earth, in the ocean, and in space, and creatively release them into their fullest potential (8:6-8). As we do that, we are creating culture to the glory of God, and taking dominion over the world that He loves.
    
WORK AND WORSHIP

Interestingly, the word cultura in Latin also implies cultus or “worship.” Right from the beginning in Paradise, man was given both work and worship. At creation, there was no separation between man’s cultural duties and his worship of God. Both culture and worship were one. That means that there should be never any conflict between those two activities. A Christian should never have to choose between his professional life and his spiritual life. God wants every believer to excel in both!

In fact, when your vertical relationship with God is strong, your horizontal relationship in the marketplace will be successful. The Bible pattern is this: (a) Our work is to be done in a worshipful manner, and (b) our worship of God is to be enhanced by the culture that we do.

Think about it. The weekly worship services in City Harvest Church are greatly enhanced by the songs, lighting and musical production of our members. Their creativity makes coming to church each week a full spirit-soul-body experience. The colorful, cultural work they do in the house of God brings the attendees spiritually closer to the Lord.

Because culture and worship are so closely related from the beginning, a congregation can never carry out the worship of God without interfering with the culture of the world. Theologian Henry Van Til says, “Culture is religion externalized!” What you believe concerning God will always be expressed in your culture! If you believe in a generous God, the culture you create in your home and workplace will be one that is very giving. If you believe in a stern and angry God, the culture you create around you will be one that is very critical and judgmental. If you don’t believe in the existence of God, you will create a godless culture.

Culture is your belief expressed outwardly!

FROM GARDEN TO CITY

There is another thing: culture is progressive. As you apply your gift, talent and ability, you get increasingly advanced, refined and sophisticated in your creativity. What began as horticulture in the Garden was developed into agriculture. It ultimately became the biotech culture of the 21st Century!

The Bible begins in Genesis with a garden, but it ends in Revelation with a city. The goal for mankind is to progress culturally from a beautiful garden called Eden to a glorious city called New Jerusalem. Eden was just a simple plain but the New Jerusalem is a glorious architecture with walls, gates, streets, trees, parks, rivers, canals, etc.

Since the first chapter of Genesis, all of human race —saved and unsaved—have been moving toward that goal throughout history. We see that progressiveness from the simple city of Cain, to the soaring tower of Babel, to Solomon’s glorious temple, to the ancient wonder of Babylon, and to the sophistication of the mega-cities of our time! All these testify to the cultural mandate God has instinctively put into man, and the creative urge God had hardwired into Adam and the entire human race. We are all city builders! We can’t help ourselves. We have to create and progress culturally.

BEGINNING OF THE SCIENCES & ARTS

In Genesis 2:19, Adam started naming the animals. By naming the animals according to their species, Adam had to use careful observations and analyses before coming to their rightful conclusions. That, in seed form, was the beginning of all sciences.

In Genesis 2:23, Adam became very romantic. He waxed lyrically and said of Eve: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” By composing a little poem to praise the beauty and virtue of his lover, Adam started aesthetic arts for all mankind.

So right there in the Garden, you have the birth of the sciences and arts. But God didn’t just give Adam things to ponder upon in his mind, He wanted Adam to work with his hands. He gave Adam the responsibility to care for the Garden (Gen. 2:15).

WORK IS THE KEY TO RELEASE POTENTIAL

Work is not the result of sin. Long before sin came in, God gave man the command to work. As such, work is not an evil thing. Neither is it a curse nor punishment for sin. What is sad today is that many Christians think that coming back to God means that we don ’t have to work anymore. There are those who presumptuously teach that work is the curse of the law, and that work is bondage. Nothing can be further from the truth.

We may not be saved by works, but we are certainly saved to work! God loves to work! God hates laziness and idleness. God didn ’t create the universe merely by dreaming or wishing about it. God created the universe by working hard. In fact, He worked so hard that He declared the seventh day to be a day of rest. (Think about it, if God needed to decree a day of rest, He must have worked very hard!)
 
Without work, creativity cannot be released and culture cannot be developed. No wonder in his Sermons on Deuteronomy, John Calvin says, “It was necessary for men to occupy themselves with some work. Why? Because it was against our nature to be useless blocks of wood.” Well said.

Yo-Yo Ma is the greatest cello player in the world. From the age of four, he practiced six to eight hours a day on his cello, until his spine got crooked. You don ’t become world-class merely by wishing, you become world-class by hard work —very hard work!

The apostle Paul had to rebuke the Thessalonians because they had become so obsessed with the second coming of Christ, they refused to work. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

Work is a precursor to success, wealth and prosperity. Adam plowed the ground, sowed his seed and reaped a harvest to feed his family, but he didn ’t stop there. He explored the geology of the land, dug deeper into the ground, and discovered gold and all kinds of precious stones (Gen. 2:11-12). The more you apply yourself and the harder you work, the richer you will become in life (Prov. 13:4).

God’s work from Genesis is to create, preserve and govern. Man’s work from Genesis is to tend, to keep and to subdue the world that God has planted him in. In other words, we have a threefold role of being the prophet (tending), priest (keeping) and king (subduing) of our contemporary society. As a prophet, every man is to reveal his talent, creativity and innovation into the world —all to the glory of God. As a priest, every man must serve his society by elevating the self-esteem of his neighbors, enhancing their quality of life, and bringing them joy and delight in a world plagued by pain and sorrow. As a king, every believer is to take dominion of the whole world by doing culture in a way that brings glory to the greatness and goodness of God.

JESUS CHRIST OUR MODEL

How then should we live? Our greatest example in life is Jesus Christ. He wasn’t afraid to be relevant to His society and touch those people others would consider unclean. He was accused of being “worldly”—mixing with prostitutes and drunkards, and going to parties hosted by tax collectors. Jesus understood that in order to influence the world, showing off His spirituality or religious beliefs alone is not enough. The way we impact and influence the world is by: (1) the excellence of our quality of life, (2) our acknowledgment of normal human needs, and (3) our ability to identify with a fallen world.

When Moses gave Israel the Word of God, he gave them the rationale for abiding in it: “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them” (Deut. 4:5-6).

The laws of God were to help the people be successful in possessing the land. The laws of God were so incredibly well thought-out that if the Israelites followed them, they would become the envy of every nation. God guaranteed that His laws would make them so wealthy and prosperous that other nations would start borrowing from them! But more than money, God promises the following:

“For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it” (Deut. 4:6-7).

The commandments are given to establish God’s people in society. The world only gets impressed with our faith when they see our wisdom in marriage and raising a family, our wisdom in handling finances, our wisdom in human relationships and people skills, and our wisdom in creatively doing culture (including pop culture). They will gasp in amazement as they look at the wisdom among God’s people: “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it?”

Make no mistake about it, God wants the world to envy us and say to us: “We must have your way of life!” Yet, how many among the unchurched are actually jealous of Christians today? Why aren’t the unbelievers rushing to church every weekend, or knocking on our doors saying, “Help me, I have to get into the kingdom of God! I want to be like you—happy, successful and creative!” Or have we presented Christianity in a way that is flaky, boring and ugly? Have we presented the kingdom of God to be so backward and irrelevant that the world doesn’t want any part of us?

Let us decide to be relevant to our society. We shouldn’t be afraid to engage a world that God has created and always loved. We should not be fearful to engage culture by being as creative, as colorful, and as progressive as we could possibly be for the glory of God. We mustn’t shun the sciences and arts out there in the marketplace. Rather, we should work hard and excel in the arena of life God has planted us in. As you do that, you will become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Ultimately, you will bring many into the kingdom of God ! HT

(Part II of this message will continue in the next issue of Harvest Times.)

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