“Fill the Earth”
Genesis 1:27-28; Matthew 18:18-20
These next few weeks we are going to be looking at what are sometimes called the “creation ordinances” – the commands to humanity at the time of creation – before the fall – which then, though certainly are affected by the fall nevertheless are generally considered to be commands not just for a specific occasion, but perpetual ordinances for humanity.
Some of God’s commands in the OT are conditioned by and confined to the cultural situation of Israel (such as the civil laws), or the stage of redemptive history of Israel (such as the ceremonial laws); and so while there may be principles derived form them which instruct us, beyond that the laws themselves aren’t applicable to us now.
You’ve probably heard critics of Christianity, when arguing against an aspect of morality which christians uphold, bring up these other laws to suggest that Christians are arbitrarily “picking and choosing”; but actually Christians have good reason for making distinctions, most of all following example & teaching of Jesus.
But creation ordinances are perpetual, abiding commands for humanity, since they are not arising out of a particular culture or historical circumstance, nor are they only part of a certain stage of redemptive history, nor are they merely regulating sin (some laws arise after sin enters picture, with the goal of regulating sinful behavior and so may not prescribe God’s ideal). but creation ordinances are in fact prescribing God’s ideal as they arise in God’s good and perfect world, which is described in Genesis 1 & 2.
These form the basic law of human existence. And, there are different ways to categorize them, but we’re going to categorize them into 3 groups:
1) Procreation & Dominion; 2) Work, Rest, & Worship; 3) Marriage.
And, the reason – one of the reasons – the 10 commandments are considered perpetual commands for humanity and specifically for the church – are because that even though they do arise in a historical circumstance, they are the foundational elements of the moral law of God, and in fact, the 10 commandments are often seen as a republication of the creation ordinances.
And, you can see that within these three categories are the seed form of all the 10 commandment:
-The creation ordinances of Worship & Rest are republished in Commandments 1-4 of the 10 commandments;
-The creation ordinances of Procreation & Dominion, as we saw last week, are directly connected to the creation of humanity in the image of God – and therefore, the special-ness and sacredness of human life – which is republished in commandment 6 – murder – unjustly taking human life; and commandment 9 – bearing false testimony against your neighbor – which, involves seeking to unjustly harm human life;
-The creation ordinance of Work is republished in commandment 8 – thou shalt not steal;
-The creation ordinance of Marriage, and, by implication, the establishment of the family unit, is republished in commandments 5 and 7 – honor to mother and father, and the prohibition of adultery which reinforces the sacredness and the exclusiveness of the marriage relationship.
This week: Procreation & Dominion
This command related to procreation & dominion – in Genesis 1:28 “fill the earth, rule the earth, and subdue the earth” is commonly called the “cultural mandate”.
And, as I’ve mentioned, it is intimately connected to humanity in the image of God.
Try not to be too repetitive here, but:
As humanity rules the earth, they rule as God’s ambassadors – in humility – imaging his benevolent reign which cares for those under his reign. They are to rule as ambassadors, not seeking their own will or agenda or living by their own law, but seeking God’s will, agenda, and living by his law – in their ruling and subduing the earth, they image God – they don’t rule as their own kings, but as representatives of the true king – by consciously living in submission to him, and seeking reflecting his character – his goodness, love, holiness, righteousness, mercy, compassion, generosity towards his fellow humans and towards those he rules over – the earth – not leaving it untouched or unused but cultivating it’s resources, while caring for it’s animal inhabitants & resources which we depend upon for live.
Since we talked about that last week a bit, I want to focus more on the first part of this cultural mandate, and then we’re going to look at the NT republication of it, which we read in Matthew, commonly called the Great Commission.
And, that first part, is the command to multiply and fill the earth.
Humanity, created in the image of God, is then given the task to fill the earth with the image of God.
This is a command to reproduce human life – humans who before sin entered the picture perfectly bear his image – they are mirrors which point to God and his nature and character, and so all that is necessary before sin to fill the earth with the image of God is to reproduce, with the result that as humanity fills the earth, God’s glory and reign and kingdom would spread throughout the earth, through people who worship and love and serve him as they were created to do.
This is the goal and design of God’s kingdom – his glory filling the earth by his image-bearers filling the earth – and while after the fall this took up a redemptive element which we’ll look at; before the fall, the spreading of God’s kingdom throughout the earth didn’t have any redemptive element – people didn’t need salvation or transformation or rebirth or renewal or repentance; they just needed to be born. God’s Kingdom would have been spread exclusively through procreation as there was no difference between church and world; no difference between children of God and children satan; no difference between those who were the people of God and those who were not the people of God – everyone was the people of God, the church, the children of God. There was only 1 group of humanity, not 2.
His kingdom was spread exclusively through procreation – and through humanity fulfilling this command to have children.
And, in case you weren’t sure, this would have been accomplished in the same way before the fall into sin as after the fall into sin – through the sexual union between male and female. And, maybe you wonder why then it needed to be commanded at all – perhaps this was one of the easier commands for Adam and Eve to get the hang of, and so did they really need commanded to obey God in this way?
But probably the command was present not necessarily because humanity would have been hesitant about this particular activity and need to be pushed towards it, but rather because the command from God shows that this particular activity was God’s idea, and his will, and part of His good creation – the human sexual union was not part of the fall into sin, but rather part of God’s very good creation – and so though of course the fall into sin complicates it, and brings sin and dysfunction and misuse of the gift into the picture, nevertheless it remains God’s idea and gift – one of God’s wonderful gifts to humanity, provided that they use it in the way he intended – in the context of marriage.
Obviously, the creation ordinance of procreation is necessarily connected to the last creation ordinance I mentioned – marriage
In chapter 1 God commands the reproduction of the human race; but then in chapter 2 God provides the means & context for that command to be carried out – marriage. We’ll talk more about this when we look at marriage, but the biblical view – assumption, standard – all throughout the bible is that the good gift of human sexuality is rightly expressed only within the context of God’s provision of marriage.
and so we see here two necessary and natural connections, then, that our modern culture has separated, with devastating consequences:
First, the separation of sex from marriage. And second, the separation of sex from procreation – reproduction – offspring.
First: our culture has clearly separated sex from marriage – even many who claim to be Christians have separated sex from marriage. We’ll talk more about this when we look at marriage, but the repeated insistence upon sexual purity in the NT makes it impossible to claim to hold to Christian teaching while denying the radical nature of the Christian sexual ethic. And, I believe that the church needs to talk about this.
Of course, the gospel is all about grace, and the church ought not to shame those who have fallen short in this area. But, at the same time, you can’t really claim to take seriously Christ’s call to discipleship – his call to take up his cross and follow him, without at the same time taking seriously his radical call to sexual purity outside of and within marriage.
Second: our culture has separated sex from procreation. According to the biblical view, the human sexual union naturally leads to children. That isn’t the only purpose of sex, but it is a central one.
But our culture has separated this obvious aspect of reality – and insisted upon sexuality that is totally liberated from both reproduction and from marriage; and the effect of the former is the insistence on the right to abortion, the murder of the innocent image of God in the womb. We just talked about this when we looked at Psalm 139, so I’m not going to talk about it more here; and the effect of the latter is the breakdown of the family unit – which is connected to so many social ills.
Marriage as the context for procreation establishes the family unit as the basic unit of God’s world, created for the flourishing of human life in God’s world. And it’s no surprise that much of the misery of our fallen world is related to the breakdown of this basic unit of God’s world – the family.
1. Children are a gift from God. Our culture often views children negatively. Nowadays, if you have more than 2 children people assume your mennonite or irresponsible. Children are expensive; children are costly; children are difficult; children are time-consuming; children are messy; children get in the way of being able to live life; children get in the way of goals; they are merely obstacles; rather than the biblical view that children are a blessing to life. Children are a gift – a good gift from God. And, when parents wanted to bring children to Jesus, the disciples reflected the view of their culture which similarly to ours thought that Jesus wouldn’t want to be bothered by them, but how wrong they were – that Jesus, the eternal Son of God come to earth, though he ministered for just about 3 short years and had a lot to do in that time, nevertheless stopped and allowed children to have special access to him, and he blessed them – recognizing that they too are image-bearers of God – not just adults are image-bearers of God – but children, even infants, are image-bearers of God – and they are a blessing from God.
2. We are commanded to be fruitful, increase, and fill the earth, through the human sexual union in marriage. But, that doesn’t mean every married couple needs to have as many children as they possibly can. Perhaps you breath a sigh of relief at that statement.
This is a command given to humanity, and no one couple is solely responsible to fulfill all of it.
There are good reasons to limit the amount of children in a family, and there may be good reasons to purposefully not have children although I think that is harder to justify than only limiting children, and I think that on the basis of this command a couple would want to make sure they have good reasons to do that.
But I say this b/c some churches have taught, on the basis of this command and the connection between sexual union and procreation, that any type of contraception to try to limit children is sinful. But, that is a misstep – from acknowledging that procreation is one purpose and a natural result of sex, to insisting that procreation is the only purpose and the necessary result of sex.
Sex in fact has more than one biblical purpose, one of which is simply enjoyment and pleasure; and so every act of sex does not need to lead to procreation or does not need to have the intention of procreation: that would limit the freedom and ability of husband and wife to have sex much more than seems to be the biblical goal.
So, using contraception – natural or physical or hormonal – is not necessarily sinful or wrong, so long as the contraception used prevents pregnancy rather than terminates pregnancy. If humans are created in the image of God, then life in all it’s forms must be protected and preserved and so must be treated with the utmost carefulness. Christians ought to be cautious and thoughtful about that and not just assume that because something is accepted in the culture that it is morally appropriate; but at the same time Christians can and do come to different conclusions about which birth control methods meet those criteria.
So, there are good reasons for limiting children; but, we have to be careful about seeking good reasons for this
2 bad reasons (shouldn’t assume these are other peoples’ reasons, but should examine our own hearts to make sure they aren’t our reasons.
Selfishness – Many of the things I mentioned which contribute towards our cultures negative view of children – that having children means a loss of freedom and opportunity. But of course it does! and so does any other act of love!
There’s not much that is more selfless than having children – assuming you are faithful to parent those children; because there’s not much that requires more sacrifice – costly long-term sacrifice, than having children.
Spoiling – that children are too expensive – some truth to this, but overrated because often arises out of assumption that you need to buy them all the latest and greatest things, you need to give them all the experiences that their friends have…
TV show: these kids observe another kid that is obviously being spoiled – his parents are caving to his every wish and desire, and obviously a brat as a result – talking back to his mom; and the kids who observe this kid getting everything he wants, say to themselves, “That must be the happiest kid in the world.”
And the humor of it – any informed observer who doesn’t share the ignorance and naivety of those other children observers – knows that nothing could be further from the truth. And what most kids need is parents who hug them and tell them they love them and spend time with them, not more fancy shoes or expensive gadgets or whatever else.
That being said, the temptation towards judgmentalism in this area is common, but we should be careful to remember that this is something that each couple decides for themselves, and that while we can evaluate the reasons we have for such matters, we don’t know the reasons that others have and so we should be charitable and not judgmental.
3. Children are a blessing, even when they arise outside of marriage. The human sexual union outside of marriage is a sin, but being pregnant outside of marriage, or having children outside of marriage, is not a sin. That is the consequence of sin, but not itself sinful. The church hasn’t always done a good job at making this this distinction clear. And so, someone shouldn’t be shamed or ridiculed or humiliated or excluded, but loved, cared for, helped, and in fact, honored, as it is a difficult but courageous and righteous and God-honoring decision to keep a baby as an unwed mother. And in fact, to say or treat pregnancy outside of marriage as a sin is essentially to advocate for abortion. And to treat a child born out of wed-lock with disdain is simply utter self-righteousness and denies that that child too is an image-bearer of God worthy of and needing love just like any other.
4. In talking about procreation, it seems necessarily for me to mention infertility & miscarriage. Those who experience infertility and miscarriage often suffer in silence. In infertility there is no lost baby to mourn, they mourn not what they’ve lost but their unrealized longings. In miscarriage – since society gives at best a mixed message about what is in the womb and as a result also about the loss of what is in the womb, it’s difficult to grieve as fully as is warranted or as openly as is desired. Infertility (& possibly miscarriage is included in the OT description of “barrenness”) is one of the ways throughout the OT that the people of God, particularly the women of God, suffer.
And so I don’t know much what else to say about it, except that God knows your suffering. And even if you feel that you must suffer in silence or mourn in secret, you do not because God who became man and tasted humanity’s griefs mourns with you.
Now, after sin entered the world, this creation ordinance of procreation remained, but it nevertheless was transformed. While previously filling the earth with the image of God required only procreation, after the fall it took on a primarily redemptive element. Because after sin came into the world, though humanity still retained the image of God it became severely tainted, deformed – the character of humanity was now sinful – they were no longer a clear mirror representation of God, and they no longer lived as God’s ambassadors, representing him and seeking his kingdom and glory, but their own.
Their became instead of one family of humanity, two families. And in fact Genesis 4-11 traces out these two families – the godly and the ungodly – those who seek God and those who don’t – the children of God, and children of the serpent – satan.
And in order to be in the family of God one needed not merely to be born but to be redeemed. Redemption, not procreation, became primary in the building and growing of the kingdom of God.
The preaching of the gospel becomes primary:
Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Now, after sin entered the world and marred the image of God in humanity and turned humanity from ambassadors of God to rebels against him, now, the cultural mandate of filling the earth with the image of God involves not just procreation, not primarily procreation, but it requires redemption: it requires the making of disciples of Jesus – those who turn away form sin and self and laying down their life and taking up their cross, follow him; baptism into the name of the Father Son and HS – by so implication – of those who are outside of that name and need to be brought into it by his grace, symbolized in baptism; and the teaching of obedience to those who were now ever since Adam enslaved in disobedience.
The Great Commission is the cultural mandate republished for a sinful world – with fallen image-bearers of God and what is needed now to fill the earth with image-bearers of God who reflect his character and submit to his rule and worship him in truth and seek his glory, is redemption,
Having children is still a significant way that Christians fulfill the great commission by multiplying the image of God in the world. But unlike in Gen 1 & 2, it’s not automatic. Christian parents have the privilege and responsibility of passing on the faith to their children, and teaching them the faith. And while the church has an important and necessary role in that, it’s primarily the role of parents in the home to pass on the faith.
Parents: pray with your children; parents: read the bible with your children; parents: talk about God with your children; parents: teach your children that God comes first and is our ultimate priority by making church a priority, where Christians gather together to worship and hear the word. Place before their eyes the example of the love and gentleness and humility of Christ.
Raising children is not an easy thing, nor is it a glamorous thing, nor is it always viewed & treated with the dignity which it deserves; but it is a significant thing. And the tiresome thankless tasks that go into it can make a significant different for God’s kingdom.
The bible makes no guarantee that children will walk in the faith even when you are faithful; and it’s certainly a painful thing for a Christian parent to see a child depart from the faith.
And whether one has children or not, whether one remains single or gets married or is blessed with children or unable to have children, they can still participate in what is now the primary avenue of kingdom-building: evangelism and discipleship. In fact, the apostle Paul suggests that single people can contribute more to the building of the kingdom of God than married people. Jesus himself was single and he had not little impact on the growth of the kingdom of God.
If we want to image God in a fallen world, then we have to image the compassion of God in a fallen world – 1 Timothy 2.