The following post is reprinted with the permission of Crossworld and author John Spadafora.
God’s commands to humanity in Genesis 1 and 2 provide the foundational understanding of our place in God’s world and our contribution to the holistic flourishing of humanity — captured in the Hebrew word, shalom (usually translated peace or well-being).
The Cultural Mandate
“God blessed them … and said, ‘Fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over … every living thing’” (Genesis 1:28).
In the introduction to his How Now Shall We Live? Devotional, Charles Colson wrote, “For five days God created the heavens and the earth. On the sixth day he created human beings — and ordered them to pick up where he left off. They were to reflect his image and have dominion, but from then on, the development of the creation would be primarily social and cultural. It would be the work humans performed as they obeyed God’s command to fill and subdue the earth.”
God created humanity to reflect His image throughout the earth by stewarding the creation as His vice-regents. People create culture and civilization while they rule. When God gave this mandate to steward creation on His behalf, shalom characterized humanity’s relationship with God, one another, and the culture they created.
That global, earth-filling mandate has not changed even with the fall of humanity. On the contrary, this command helps us more fully understand the Great Commission of Jesus: It is a renewal of the original Genesis 1 global command, and an update of that command based on His redeeming work. God’s people, who have experienced His shalom through Christ (Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20-22), can now bring that influence in the cultures where they live and work.
The Garden Work
“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).
It is significant that the very choice of Hebrew words used in this verse alludes to the spiritual or sacred nature of work. Cultivate and keep are words used in the Old Testament for serving God or people and keeping the commandments — and these are the words He used for the work in the Garden.
Thus, God gives humanity in relationship with Him sacred work in the Garden, just as He had worked to create it all. We imitate God in our work. Work is not evil, and it’s not an add-on because of the fall. On the contrary, it’s built into our DNA and it reflects our God who is always at work (John 5:17). All honest work possesses inherent dignity because we are doing what we were made to do as beings created in the image of a working God.
Work and the Economy
Deuteronomy 8:18 says that it is God who gives us the power to make wealth through our work. God uses people in their work as the means of His provision for the necessities of life. Economic well-being in the world depends on everyone and everyone’s work, which reminds us that our labor provides for more than just our own needs.
In summary, our “garden” where we live and work is our sacred venue to love and serve God and others for the flourishing of humanity. It is our place in God’s world where we display Him and seek His shalom.