Princes and Princesses

Original Date: 
Sunday, April 14, 2013

Genesis 1:26-28 Who Do You Think You Are? Princes and Princesses

Mr. Big Stuff
O.K., let’s get the big question out of the way early: The song was called “Mr. Big Stuff.” It was the debut single for an R&B singer named Jean Knight in 1971. It spent 5 weeks as the top Soul single in the nation and reached #2 on the Billboard top 100. It was about a guy with fancy clothes and a big fine car who broke the hearts of one girl after another. Now he had his sights set on the singer but she wasn’t having it. She’d rather date a poor guy who would be true than to be fooled by the guy with all the money but didn’t know how to treat a girl right.

The chorus, which once you hear it tends to stick with you for a while, goes like this:

Mr. Big Stuff
Who do you think you are
Mr. Big Stuff
You're never gonna get my love

That song, with its famous line, has nothing to do with the sermon series we are about to embark on. I just want to get that out of the way. We’re calling this series: “Who do you think you are?” but it has nothing to do with R&B music from the ‘70s or heartbreakers in big shiny Cadillacs.

Rather, the series we are about to begin is about “Biblical anthropology.” I want to spend the next several weeks studying the theology of humanity. That is, we are going to ask and attempt to answer the question: What does the Bible say about what it means to be human?

We’ll look at several different scriptures during the course of this series, but the key verse—the one referenced on our graphic and the one we’ll be looking at today—is the passage that says we have been created in the image of God.

Imago Dei. That’s the Latin phrase for it. And it has incredible implications for how we see ourselves and how we view the world.

So let’s read our text and then we’ll ask what it means for us to be made in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-28:

26Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Valuable and Representative
The word I want to focus on is the word “image”. God says: “Let us make man in our own image.” What does that mean?

The Hebrew word that is translated “image” is used elsewhere in the Bible of things that represent other things—like statues or paintings that are meant to “stand in” for the object they depict. There is a sense of similarity here—only humanity, out of all the things God created, is said to bear the “likeness” of God. And there is also a sense of authority here-- God has created humanity to “stand in” for Him here on earth. I’ll phrase it like this, our big idea this morning: being made in the image of God means humanity is the high point of creation and represents God here on earth.

Or, to put it another way, we are the princes and princesses of God’s creation. We have incredible dignity and value as creatures made in God’s likeness. And we also have incredible authority and responsibility as the rulers of creation.

There are two main points I want to make from the text.

The Crown Jewels
First, we are the high point of creation. We are unique among all of creation in that God has intentionally crafted us to be like Him. You see this in verse 26:

26Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”

When the Creator of the universe set out to create something more like Himself than anything else in creation: He made us. Humanity enjoys a unique standing in relation to God.

For one thing, there is little doubt that the appearance of man and woman mark the climax of the creation week. As you read through Genesis 1 you realize that from the first day God has been preparing a place for mankind. Everything is building to this moment. One of my theology professors liked to say that it is like God was building a nest for humanity.

Plus, it is right after the creation of humanity, at the end of the sixth day, that God rests. It’s as though once men and women have been created, there’s nothing left to do. We are the jewels in the crown of creation. God’s masterpiece.

Or notice the way God determines to create men and women. Up to this point when God has decided to make something He has simply said, "Let there be..." or "Let the land produce..." He says it, and it happens. But when we get to verse 26 God says: "Let us make man..."

Do you hear the difference? Instead of saying, "Let it happen" it’s as though there is a discussion among the members of the Trinity and they decide to get personally involved in the creation of humanity.

I'm not saying that God was somehow less involved in the rest of creation. The text doesn't allow for that at all. It is God, and God alone, who made the light and the waters and the land and so on. But the emphasis here is that God took an even more personal interest in the creation of man.

You can see this especially well when you come to chapter 2. Some have claimed that Genesis 2 contains a second creation story that competes with chapter 1. Some have said that the two creation stories of the Bible are different enough to call the whole book into doubt.

But if you look closely, you will see that they are not different stories at all. If you look closely, you will see that chapter 2 is simply a more detailed account of what happened on the sixth day, told from a different perspective. What we see is that God was personally and intimately involved in the shaping of man and woman.

So, chapter 2, verse 7:

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

And then, again, chapter 2, verses 20-22:

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

My point is that when we start talking about the creation of man and woman, we are talking about the creation of something very special. God is like a craftsman in the shop, shaping Adam and breathing into his lungs; shaping Eve and bringing her to her husband. There is a unique connection between God and humanity.

This is emphasized all the more by the assertion that man was created in God's image and likeness. This is said only of human beings. No other aspect of creation—not the sun or the stars or angelic beings or the creatures of the air or the fish of the sea—no other aspect of creation is made in God’s image. It is only the formation of humanity that shows such personal and intimate connection to the creator.

We are clearly precious to God. Princes and Princesses. We are the crowning achievement of creation, deliberately made to resemble Him, the result of His personal craftsmanship.

So what difference does this make? What are the implications of being the high point of creation?

For one thing, it should teach us to value all human life. I'm not saying that we can slaughter animals willy-nilly or tear up the environment—I’ll talk about our responsibilities to the rest of creation momentarily--but I am saying that human life is inherently more valuable than any other part of creation.

In fact, God takes the uniqueness of humanity so seriously that He imposes strict penalties on those who would dare harm it. Genesis 9:6 says: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man."

It is for this reason that I think Christians should be opposed to a worldview which treats human life as though it were disposable. We should stand against genocide, abortion, the disposal of defective children, and euthanasia. We have no right to take such action against that which was created in the likeness of God. When we do such things we trivialize the crowning jewel of God's creation. We should have a worldview which values human life.

But, more than that, the unique standing of human beings in relation to God should have a direct effect on the dignity with which we treat people around us.

C.S. Lewis, in one of his more famous sermons, entitled The Weight of Glory, wrote:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities… that we should conduct all our dealings with one another… all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

Every person you meet is made in the likeness of God. Every person you meet has been crafted by God and is precious to Him. And we should treat them as such.

I dare you to try a little experiment. Go up to a parent who really loves his or her child and start tearing the child apart. Say things like: "Little Jimmy is a holy terror" or "That is the most obnoxious child I've ever seen." Don't say anything about the parent, but really rip on the child. What will happen?

You know that the parent will be utterly offended. Why? You haven't said anything about them...or have you?

Of course you have. The connection between parent and child is unique and special. In a sense, that child was created "in the image" of the parent. If you attack the child you attack the parent. The kid may not be perfect, he may do naughty or foolish things, but he is still that parent's child.

In the same way, we offend God when we treat the people around us poorly. When we are unkind to a family member, or a neighbor, or even to a complete stranger, we are demeaning that which God esteems.

So treat one another with dignity and respect.

The Rulers of Creation
So, the first thing we learn about being made the image of God is that we are the high point of creation. But there is a second point. Being made in God’s image also means we represent God to the rest of the world. We are responsible for creation. The key verse here is verse 28:

28God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

After creating the first man and woman, God blesses them and issues His first set of instructions. And those instructions have everything to do with how humanity relates to the rest of creation.

The key words here are “subdue” and “rule.” Humanity has a governing responsibility. That’s why I call us Princes and Princess. God has given us authority over the rest of the world. We are to act on His behalf.

This cuts right to the heart of the modern environmental debate. Does this verse mean that we have free reign to use and shape creation however we want? Or does this mean that we should be going out of our way to protect and preserve the environment? What does God mean when He tells us to "subdue" and "rule over" the earth?

It might be helpful for us to see that God is not so much issuing a command here as He is pronouncing a blessing. God is granting to humanity the position of "ruler" here on earth, appointing us as stewards over His creation--as it were.

There is no sense, then, in which God is commanding us (or even giving permission to us) to go out and exploit or destroy the earth. This is important, because many who advocate unrestricted "free-use" of the environment will often point to Genesis 1:28 and the words "subdue" and "rule" as divine permission to use the resources of nature in whatever way suits their purpose.

This is not the teaching of Genesis 1, though. What Genesis 1 teaches is a policy of responsible use of the divine gift of creation.

The key is in understanding the word which in English is translated as "rule over" or, in older versions, “to have dominion." These words can be misleading in the sense that they imply a harsh or unsympathetic kind of authority. When we hear the word "dominate" we immediately think of something unpleasant where the powerful take advantage of the weak. Thus, we make the mistake of thinking that if humanity is to dominate nature then we can do with it as we please.

This is not the classical understanding of what it means to have dominion, though, and it is not the way the Bible uses the word. Rather, when the Old Testament talks about ruling it is always with the sense of kindness and compassion toward the one being ruled. In Leviticus 25 masters are three times told not to "rule over" their servants "ruthlessly" (43, 46, 53). In 1 Kings 4:24 the rule of Solomon is described as a "peaceful" dominion. In Psalm 72, which could be described as an instruction manual for kings, the ruler is told to "defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy" (v. 4).

In other words, when men and women are called to rule, they are called to rule responsibly. We have been given authority over creation, but that authority is to be exercised with compassion and wisdom. Our dominion over nature is not so much for the benefit of mankind as it is for the preservation and protection of the environment. We have been given the right and the gift of using creation, but we have not been given permission to exploit it.

This is perhaps best illustrated in the very next chapter of the Bible. As I said earlier, Genesis 2 is a more detailed account of what happened on day 6. The key verse is verse 15, which reads:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Here is the classic definition of what it means to "subdue" the earth. It was the man's job to "work" the garden--in other words, to farm it and to make it productive and to prosper from it--while at the same time he was responsible to "take care of it"--in other words, to conserve and protect and replenish so that it will still be there for future generations.

This, then, is the Biblical teaching with regards to man's relationship to the environment. We are to use the world around us responsibly. We are to be good stewards of a creation that belongs to Someone Else. We are to rule as servants.

We are not given permission to exploit the environment, but neither are we all called to become "tree-huggers" who treat bald eagles as though they have the same value as human beings. We are to "work" the land and "take care of it". We have a royal calling to responsibly use the gifts that God has given us.

*Implications *
Let’s wrap up by looking at a couple of implications

For one thing, this reminds us that humans stand at the head of creation. God does want us to use and learn about the environment around us. As Christians, we need to affirm the appropriateness of taming the land for agricultural use and doing scientific research to improve the quality of human life. It is not chauvinistic to say that human life is more important than the rest of creation.

I say this because at times this is not the message being conveyed by certain environmental groups. For instance, I recall a story of a woman jogger who was attacked and killed by a mountain lion in California. As is usually the case when something like that happens, the mountain lion was found and put to sleep. Subsequent to that, however, it was discovered that the mountain lion had left behind two young cubs. The cubs were taken in by a humane society and a collection was taken for their care.

Now, I don't remember all the details, but the upshot of the story is that there was a far greater outpouring of sympathy for the two lion cubs than there was for the family of the woman who was killed. Moreover, in terms of monetary donations, the lion cubs received nearly 5 times as much as the woman's family did.

My point is that when things come to this point, the natural order of things as God created them have gotten out of whack. Human beings do have the permission and the right to exercise authority over the rest of creation.

Which leads to a final implication: as God’s stewards, we are responsible for creation.

Our understanding of our relationship to the rest of the physical world is a key part of our faith as Christians.

I say this because some have tried to divorce Christianity from the rest of the world. Sometimes we think that the business of the church is salvation and heaven and matters of the soul and spirit while everything else--politics, science, history, technology, education, etc.--belongs to the rest of the world.

But this is not the case. God is not only concerned with what happens to your soul. God is interested in every part of His creation.

Think about it, verse 28 is the first thing God says to humanity! It is important to Him that His image-bearers go into His creation and subdue it and rule over it. He said this before sin ever entered the world. This was His plan for humanity from the beginning--that we would care for and manage His creation.

As I said, this is important. This needs to be a fundamental part of our worldview as Christians. We have been put on this earth to responsibly use creation as God's appointed regents. And this doesn't just have application to the world of farming or wildlife conservation. This applies to every aspect of life.

Abraham Kuyper was a theologian, politician, journalist, university founder, and pastor in the Netherlands at the turn of the last century. He even served for a while as the Dutch prime minister. And he took this instruction of Genesis 1:28 very seriously.

He talked about something he called "sphere sovereignty". He said that the world likes to separate everything into spheres. There's the sphere of medicine, the sphere of education, the sphere of industry, the sphere of religion, and so on. And the way the world looks at it, each sphere has its own authorities and its own rules. Thus, in the sphere of religion, God has influence and authority, but that's it. He doesn't have anything to say to any of the other spheres.

But Kuyper took a different view of things. Around all the other spheres Kuyper drew one big circle representing God. Taking the teaching of Genesis 1 seriously, Kuyper said "there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine!'" Kuyper imagined Christ stretching out His hand to the sphere of medicine and crying, "Mine!" Putting His hand on the world of politics and crying, "Mine!" Touching science and farming and education and industry and crying "Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!"

And if this is so, then that means that as Christians we have a calling to enter every sphere of the world and claim it for Christ. We don't just honor God when we sing in church on Sundays then, but also when we do our jobs as farmers and nurses and teachers and laborers and mechanics and clerks and everything. We have a mandate from God to be His representatives in every venue of life.

We must always remember that what has been entrusted to us belongs to our Father. We are stewards, managing creation for a short time. Eventually we must give it back, and our master is going to want to know that we have used it wisely.