Reading I Thess 3
These are my notes for a talk I gave a few weeks ago; it was the fourth in a series of four talks on being green. I'll post the PowerPoint shortly.
This is the last in the series of being green. Forget everything else you have heard, ignore all the previous speakers, what do they know? If you want to know how to be a green Christian, I’m your man, follow me. ....
At this point half of you are about to walk out of the door in outrage, half are about to stone me and the other half .... (I never did understand fractions...)
Of course, I'm only joking! I'm not here as a model example - ask my wife or kids - and yet Paul said almost exactly the same things; and he wasn't joking!
1 Thess 3
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.
9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.
How can he say that? It’s outrageous!
But in essence this is what the gospel of the kingdom is all about? - it's not rules to be obeyed its examples to follow.
How much of an example are we?
Can people look at us, as they did Paul, and see Jesus?
The church is called to be an example - an example to the world. We should be the best at being green - we are the ones who are to show the world the gospel of Jesus. A gospel that touches - or at least should touch - every area and aspect of life.
Pull back the curtains and see all that God wants. Let him be the divine optician and adjust our prescription lenses so we can have 2020 vision. Let’s see things as God see them – get rid of our blinkers, ask God to remove them.
Elsewhere Paul says we are to be the fragrance, the aroma of Christ:
2 Cor 5:
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.
15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
How do we smell?
The gospel is about being and doing not saying.
We are human beings before being human doings!
But obedience is part of the gospel (again from the passage we had read earlier):
2 Thess 3:
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.
15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Strong words, do we live up to them? How many people have we warned recently?
Paul also commands us to work out our salvation. We have to work at it.
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
But this gospel is no gospel of works! It’s not a gospel of being green – we don’t work out our salvation by recycling or buying the right products.
It's a gospel of grace.
We are given the grace to do it - if God calls us he also anoints us.
The Ten Commandments are no longer commands: you shall not- they are promises: you shall not – Why? because we have his Spirit and his strength that enables us not to.
We can do these things not because we should but because we can!
Love [God], and do what you like! (Augustine Homily 7 on Epistle of John section 8)
We can do what we like - because if we love God we will be doing what God wills!
We have him in us - his resources are ours; the weak are now strong - we have his strength to do it.
It's all about grace not guilt! We do it out of grace not out of guilt. Let’s not be green because of guilt!
I love what Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said - ‘Preach the gospel and if all else fails use words’.
Paul can say I'm your model, because he is the image of God. We are God's aroma - do we smell of the gospel?
As God’s image bearers we should!
I want to look a little more at being the image bearers of God, because this will help us in understanding how to live in God’s world.
So, what does it mean to be the image of God?
There are four options: resemblance; relationship; representative; and rulership.
Resemblance Until the 1940s this was the theological consensus: the image of God consisted in humanity's form. In some way the image means we mirror some aspect of God: we resemble him in some way. Be it physical or spiritual or some combination of the two. Here the term is used as a noun. Imaging God is something we are. For Thomas Aquinas, the great (but misguided) Scholastic theologian of the Middle Ages, the image consisted in human rationality, The Reformer Martin Luther saw it in terms of morality and John Calvin in terms of both rationality and morality.
The problem with this viewpoint is that the OT never makes a distinction between the physical and spiritual parts of humanity. Everything is spiritual (as Rob Bell reminds us). The spiritual as something ‘other-worldly’ is a Greek trojan horse smuggled into Christianity. In Hebrew thought it is the whole person that is the image of God, not some aspect. All of life is spiritual.
Relational The adherents of this position see the image consisting in some form of relationship: the ability to have a relationship with God; or, our relationship male to female.
Representative/ counterpart Here the image is taken to be a verb: humans are to image God. We are his representative on earth. To image God means we represent him, perhaps as ambassadors, or vice-regents.
Rulership implies that to be the image of God involves a task: imaging God is seen in ruling and subduing the rest of creation.
Each of these positions carry an element of truth, some more so than others. Werner H. Schmidt summarises it well:
'Accordingly, the likeness to the image of God in man can be understood as deputizing for God on earth. Perhaps the concept of the "image of God" cannot be strictly defined at all, because in the tradition itself we catch the note of several themes: the appearance of God, his actualization, his representation, his representation by another, and also that of governorship on his behalf.'
To image God is both a verb and a noun: we image God and we are to be imagers of God. The first implies that it is something we are, the second something we do.
But being before doing.
Included within its meaning is the task to subdue and rule the creation: this is not a mandate for dominion but responsible stewardship.
Part of the calling to be human is to steward creation and this involves living green.
It means developing and cultivating creation according to God-given norms.
Most green thinking involves aback to nature philosophy, there is no room for progress. This is where the Christian worldview is different. It is not a back to the garden mentality – the scriptures start off in a garden but end up in a city: there is development.
There are two sides to the developing and opening up of the creation: the kingly and the servant. The kingly is implicit in Genesis 1:27f; the servant in Gen 2:15. Both aspects are important, both are required to fully understand our task of filling/ developing/ opening up creation.
Subduing and ruling are then to be done as God's representatives: he is our role model. It is not domination or exploitation, but leadership as servanthood as demonstrated by Jesus the servant king (he’s the one we are imaging after all).
One thing is immediately obvious: creation is not merely for humanity. The world exists for the glory of God.
All things exist and have their meaning in God.
The earth is not ours to do with it as we see fit. It is God's creation, and as God's delegates we are to take care of it on his behalf; we are accountable to God for its treatment of the earth.
Dominion cannot therefore mean domination, it is to be done as image bearers of God gently and caringly unfolding and developing the potential locked in God's creation.
It is to be done with freedom within limits. God’s law is full of care for the creation – it also contains restrictions on human use of the earth:
• No blood of any animal may be eaten (Lv 17: 10-14)
• Fields are not to be reaped to the border (Lv 19:9)
• The grower may only harvest from trees five years old (Lv 19: 23)
• Fruit trees may not be used for siege works (Dt 20:19)
• A kid may not be boiled in its own mother's milk (Dt 14:21)
• An ox is not to be muzzled when treading corn (Dt 22:6)
• The land is to lie fallow regularly (Lv 25: 1-12)
• All the tithe of the land is the Lord's (Lv 27: 30-33)
Developing and cultivating the creation is a God-given activity, which is to be done in dependence on God and his Holy Spirit. It cannot be an activity independent of God. Neither is it is to be used for domination or destruction of the earth but to be exercised by us in our role of image bearers of God to unfold and continue the work of creation with freedom but within clear limits.
The church should be able to say we are model of the kingdom of God - the kinging it of Jesus is manifested through us!
We are to rule and subdue the creation - but we are to do it as stewards.
It’s not just a matter of being green; it is being faithful. Faithful in fulfilling the creation mandate – to develop and cultivate the earth, to tend and take care of the earth as responsible stewards as image bearers of God, as God’s representatives on earth.
The Church is God’s redeemed community – we are to live out and demonstrate God’s love for the world.
Is this how we read John 3:16: God so loved the [people of the] world?
How can we show God’s love for the world?
Being green – if by that we mean taking care of the earth – is part of it.
We are called to bring redemption to the world – not to redeem individuals out of the world.
The kingdom of God is about a new transformed world, heaven comes down to the earth, the meek are to inherit the earth – let’s pray that because of our responsible rulership they won’t be disappointed!