Text: Gen 1:26 – 2:3. Preached 8/8/04 at Werribee Church of Christ.
What is man? What makes a person human? What gives them dignity, worth, significance? .. If you turn on the telly, or open a magazine, there are no shortage of answers: branded fashions (what you wear is who you are) .. two-storey homes in manicured streets (where you live is who you are) .. 4WDs (what you drive is who you are) .. high-paid executive jobs (what you can afford is who you are & your job is who you are) .. parties and entertaining (your friends are who you are) .. travel programmes (even your recreation and holidays are who you are)
What does it really mean to be a human being? If you’re not quite sure anymore who you are, or who your neighbour is .. and if you’re not sure whose answer you can believe .. you could always ask the one who started the whole thing in the first place. If we asked God what being human is all about, I think he would point us to his word in Gen 1.
[For those who weren’t here last week, I need to reiterate something important about reading Genesis. I said it can be a little like listening to one end of a phone conversation .. if we don’t know clearly what the words we’re hearing are responding to, it’s just a little more challenging to grasp the fullness of what it’s all about. The early chapters of Gen were written for the benefit of the early Israelites, to tell them the truth about how the world and the human race came into being and what it all means – from God’s perspective, in contrast to what their neighbours believed according to the various creation myths that were around in the ancient world at the time. We saw last week that in contrast to the prevailing view at the time, the universe was no accident, but rather the beautiful outcome of the plan and purpose of God.]
Today we want to ask God what it means to be human. And if we pondered Gen 1 deeply, I think we’d find at least two core answers – both centred on our connection with him:
Bearing God’s image
The ancient Babylonians believed that just like the created world itself, humanity was simply another accident, or an afterthought – created so the gods would have someone to do their dirty work. But what does Genesis say about man’s dignity? ..
• Made in God’s image and likeness 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them …. .. Exactly what that means is one of those things we’ll have to wait for heaven to ask God. But I can see two clues in Scripture to help us understand part of it with out limited minds.
• i. v28 the very first thing God speaks to the human race is: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over … every living thing …” So right at the outset, God gave humankind dominion over all his earthly works .. we carry his commission to act as his representatives (ambassadors?) in exercising his rule and authority over the earth, which as we saw last week was planned by him .. created by him .. and is ruled by him. .. Or to use the terms of the modern day business world, he is the owner-director – we are the joint CEOs of planet earth. And our commission is to manage his world according to the values reflected in his character.
Now please consider the implications of that for our view of the environment. If we hear with open hearts God’s decree at each stage of his creative work that “it was good” .. and if we marry that with the realisation that the first word God has spoken into our lives is about managing the earth as his personal representatives who reflect his character .. then we who submit to the Scriptures should be greener than Bob Brown and Peter Garrett put together! It should matter deeply to us that the cars we drive and the plastic bags we throw away and the water we pour down the drain are all destroying the balance of the ecosystem. (And when I get home, my family will tell me what a hypocrite I am because I have the longest showers in the house. .. And they’ll be right.)
• ii. Fwd to Gen 9:6 – God’s covenant with Noah after the flood – God says anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death themselves .. because God created people in his image. i.e. Even though humanity has become riddled with sin – so much so that God has just demonstrated how offensive sin is to him by sending a destroying flood – even in sin, people still retain something of the image of God. (Gen 9:6) 6 Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. Of no other part of the creation .. no other living creature .. does God ever say that. However gross a person’s sin is .. every violation of a human life is an act of defacing God’s image. So this says every person is precious, and every life sacred, because every person in some way is a testament to the character of God.
• And it’s when – and only when – God has created man, that he steps back and marvels at all his work, and says not just “good” but “v. good”. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. We are the goal of God’s creative work, and the very pinnacle and climax. The apex of the created order – so esteemed by God our creator that everything is made for our benefit.
The Israelites who first reflected on this account of creation would have been blown away by God’s esteem for humanity in v29: “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. The reason that would blow you away if you were an ancient Israelite is that the Babylonian creation myths you heard from your pagan neighbours would have told you that humans were created by the gods as slaves whose highest function was to bring them food. .. But do you see what v29 says? .. The one supreme God, who trumps every so called “god” in the universe .. he brings food to the people he treasures.
What a dignity is granted to every human on the face of the planet! Bearers of His image .. having supreme delegated authority over His creation .. and treasured enough to be served by God himself. .. And is there just a hint of God’s Son who took on human form, and said he’d come not to be served but to serve – giving his very life to bring many back to the waiting arms of God?
However unattractive .. degraded in character .. wicked .. insignificant .. shameful their past .. seemingly hopeless their future .. the truth is you never met the eyes of another human being who doesn’t bear the likeness the God of heaven, and whom God himself would not gladly serve. That includes the eyes you meet when you look in the mirror. And it includes equally the streetworker, the homeless junkie and the worst of criminals. If you’ve fallen for the lie that social welfare is someone else’s problem, or that reaching people spiritually is all that matters .. then you need to read again what Genesis says about being human.
The Pharisees at the time of Jesus, for all their study of God’s law – which certainly included Genesis – treated some classes and groups of people as unworthy of their esteem. May it never be so of the church which claims to honour God.
Doing God’s work
There’s a view that’s alive among some Christians that says there’s something holy or spiritual about preaching, or teaching the bible or being a missionary .. as against being a builder or a doctor or an engineer or a receptionist. That’s just “work” .. whereas the other is “ministry”. No one works unless they have to, and you only do it to pay the bills, and you canb’t wait for the weekend when you can stop working and start enjoying. The Bible casts work in a different light.
God introduces himself in the opening chapter of the Bible as a worker, who takes delight in what he does. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. It was a long week at the office! Creating the universe was work, and so God rested from his work (which implies that he intends the people he’s created in his image to do the same – to work .. to rest) .. even though his word is powerful and effective, as we saw last week, Gen 1 is full of references to God doing something .. God made the firmament .. sun & moon .. created the sea monsters & fish .. and today we read that he created humankind in his image.
This is God the worker .. and the story doesn’t stop there. In numerous ways Scripture identifies God in terms or images that say, or imply, that he has worked .. is working .. still has work to do: Isa. 42:9 See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” i.e. God still has more to do; cf. Jesus John 5:17 “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Rev. 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
And that’s not to mention the many worker images scripture uses re God: shepherd (Ps 23; Isa 40:11); potter (Jer 18:1-4, Rom 9:19); builder (Isa 28:16f); weaver (Ps 139:13-6); gardener (Jn 15); musician, artist (Zeph 3:14,17)
Now let’s put it all together .. if people bear God’s likeness .. and if God is a worker, then that means work is actually pretty central to what we were created for. Our work has dignity in itself. That’s why unemployment so devastating – to people/ to society. It’s because work is something at the core of being human in the likeness of the great Worker himself. People were not designed to be content without work. I once saw a TV documentary featuring a desperately poor community in Africa. One man was asked what he’d most like. And do you know what he said … : “I’d like to be able to work.”
Now have you noticed – in all that I’ve said about work so far, I haven’t even mentioned money. .. You don’t work solely to pay the bills; you work because work is human, and part of the Father’s loving plan.
And as we’ve already seen, God confirms all that in the very first instruction he gives to the human race: 28 “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the [creation].”
But do I hear a cynical voice out there…? “Well,” I hear you saying, “if work’s so fantastic, why do I hate Mondays with such passion?” .. For the answer to that, you need to jump to chapter 3. In chapter 1 (& 2) work is presented as God’s design and God’s command .. in chapter 3, work – along with everything else in God’s perfect creation – is horribly damaged by sin .. and the consequences are devastating. Listen to what God says to Adam in the wake of sin:
(Gen. 3:17 And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
Gen. 3:18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
Gen. 3:19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground, )
i.e. Work is still of the essence of life (still God’s world .. and we’re still human) .. but work will not be the same .. This is the beginning of drudgery … pressure … stress … frustration .. competitiveness .. sweat shops .. industrial thuggery .. union disputes .. retrenchment … The creation is beautiful, and yet damaged .. the ground is hard .. and you’ll eat only with toil and sweat and hardness .. all features of what work became in a world which had turned its back on God .. where God’s plan was hijacked by Satan.
But that’s not what work is all about. Christians are people who through trust in the crucified & risen Jesus have been rescued from the decay and death of that fallen world. Paul (Rm 8) and John (Rev’n) tell us that at the return of Christ, the whole creation will be restored to its former glory and purity. And until that time, Jesus calls us into his service under the Father’s restored blessing, as we labour for the building of his kingdom.
And Paul says (Col 3:17) And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This week let there be a new reason to get up on Monday morning. Whatever you do .. wherever you are in the pecking order .. whoever notices .. whether you get paid or not, remember that you go to work under the call and invitation of God. Your work will not be what God intends it to be for your blessing, if you regard it as just some meaningless thing you do to put bread on the table. No Christian should view work – any work – like that. Every act you do bears witness to the likeness of God your Creator in you, who has graciously called you into his service.