From the establishment of the biblical canon early in church history, Christians have believed that the Bible is not a book for the church, but the book for the world. The past two millennia have more or less confirmed this—the Bible being the most published book in history. Its first book, Genesis, has had a profound influence on human thinking and behavior—in particular its first two chapters. In these chapters we find three key mandates (obligations, responsibilities), not just for Christians, but for all of humanity: the dominion mandate (1:26-31), the care mandate (2:5-15), and the marriage mandate (2:20-25).
These three mandates are foundational for the perpetuation of life on earth and for true human progress (developing all the potential of God’s good earth in order to honor Him and, in the process, give us everlasting joy). These obligations are compulsory and unavoidable for all humanity: 1. Be servant-masters over the other creatures, and allow them to multiply (Genesis 1:26, 28). 2. Multiply and fill the earth (1:28). 3. Bring the earth into God-honoring subjection (1:28). 4. Cultivate the soil (by implication in 2:5) 5. Tend, care for, and protect the Garden (by extension, the earth, in 2:15). 6. Marry heterosexually and reproduce (an implication of man and woman becoming “one flesh” in 2:24-25).
From these we can extrapolate humanity’s basic activities: obtain food and water, obtain shelter, maintain health and safety, bear children, care for our families from conception until death, and care for the creation from which all living things sustain their existence. We could call these humankind’s material-creational responsibilities.
The Bible does also, however, address the specific responsibilities of those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ or “the body of Christ.” These we could call the church’s spiritual-relational responsibilities: loving God and loving and caring for our neighbors as we love and care for ourselves, sharing the good news about Jesus as our Savior and Rescuer, sharing the good news about Jesus’ restoring all things when He comes again, making disciples of Jesus, and being exemplary world citizens by sacrificial and orderly living.
When we understand the foundational chapters of the Bible this way, we see the meaninglessness of the wrong-headed and sadly typical evangelical conclusion that it’s more important to save souls than to care for the creation. Our prior obligations, indeed the obligations that prevent the extinction of life on earth, are the ones we share with all people: our material-creational ones. Christians who do not tend to these first and foremost will be poor evangelists and incapable of effectively carrying out our spiritual-relational responsibilities, like sharing the gospel.
God cares about the earth. Indeed, He has compassion on all of earth’s living creatures:
The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:9-13).
In closing, consider these words of Joseph Sittler: “A believer is an evangelist primarily by who he is and how he lives—not by what he says. What he says is important; but unless his speaking tallies with what he is and does, he had better keep quiet.”
[An extended version of this discussion can be read in the Articles section of this website. Follow this link.]