These past few weeks we’ve been asking, “What is the mission of God’s people?”
The answer to this question is found in the very first calling God gives in the Bible.
“God has created us in his image, so that we may carry out a task, fulfill a mission, pursue a calling,” writes Anthony A. Hoekema in his book Created in God’s Image.
This mission is described in Genesis 1:28:
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.
This passage, known as the cultural mandate, calls Christians to partner with God in his work. From the very beginning, God’s plan was to entrust the world to humankind. This is what we were made to do.
The calling to work is emphasized again in Genesis 2:15:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Nancy Pearcey writes in her book, Total Truth:
Our calling is not just to “go to heaven” but also to cultivate the earth, not just to “save souls” but also to serve God through our work. For God himself is engaged not only in the work of salvation but also in the work of preserving and developing His creation. When we obey the Cultural Mandate, we participate in the work of God himself.
Our stewardship role is a call for man to work with and for God in everything we do. This why the Apostle Paul can say, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).
The significance of all of our work – in our jobs, our homes, our communities, and our churches – is directly related to its connection with God’s work.
The lesson of the Cultural Mandate is that our sense of fulfillment depends on engaging in creative, constructive work. The ideal human existence is not eternal leisure or an endless vacation – or even a monastic retreat into prayer and meditation – but creative effort expended for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
Work was instituted before the Fall, before the need for evangelism. There is intrinsic value to our work. It is what we do to bring about biblical flourishing, to give others a glimpse of the way things were and are supposed to be.
The Garden of Eden was perfect but not finished. If Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin they would not have stayed in the garden forever. They would have moved out into the world, filling it with God’s images and subduing it.
The Hebrew word translated “subdue” in verse 28 (Hebrew kabash) literally means to make the earth useful for the benefit and enjoyment of human beings.
The idea of the cultural mandate is that God entrusts me with something and he expects me to do something with it, something worthwhile, something that he finds valuable. This is evident from the very beginning when God placed Adam and Eve on the earth. This calling implies an expectation of human achievement.
This first calling of the biblical story is a calling to the world, a calling that comes for the sake of God’s purpose to bless all things that he has made. It is a calling informing and shaping all the people of God throughout the entirety of the Bible.
As biblical scholar Michael Williams writes,
Should we miss our first calling, a calling that informs the nature and purpose of our very existence, we will in fact impoverish the biblical portrayal of calling.
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