They say I have my father’s nose,
My grandpa’s eyes,
My mother’s hair.
Could it be that my behind’s
The only thing that’s really mine?
~”They Say I Have…” by Shel Silverstein, p. 75 of Falling Up
Why did I start with that funny poem about family resemblance? Because today we’re going to read the very first poem in the Bible, and it talks about how we resemble our Heavenly Father.
This year we’re on our journey of discovering God, but as we do so, we’re also going to learn about ourselves and our place in this world that God created.
Last week we talked about how God created the heavens and the earth. And we stopped reading in Genesis 1 right at the point where he created humanity.
Today, we’re going to zoom into that moment. This is the first time our kind shows up on the scene. Creation stories of many cultures are intended to tell us about who we are as humans, our place in the world. And I’m sure you have all noticed from watching your favorite movies or series, or your reading favorite books, that the first time a character is introduced, we learn something essential about who they are that will affect the rest of the plot line. So today we get to focus on humans. Who are we? What is our place in this world God created?
I’ve given it away in my sermon title for today: “Relational Rulers”. Let’s start with relational.
Let’s read Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.'” Woah. Stop there. Where is this “us” coming from? Who is talking?
We have a few hints. First, God is speaking. The Spirit of God is also present, because in verse two, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. Later, in John 1:1-5, the Bible tells us that Jesus was there too.
In Genesis 1:1-4 we read last week:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
John uses “the Word” to refer to Jesus. John deliberately echoes the language of Genesis by starting his gospel with “In the beginning”.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Next, John echoes the language of God speaking the words “Let there be light” and bringing life by talking about Jesus as the Word, life, and light.
Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
So today, many Christians understand “Let us make mankind in our image” to refer to God as the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, which we call the Trinity. This is one God, but with three persons, each distinct from each other.
This God has forever been in relationship. For example, there has been a father loving a son and a son loving a father forever. So when John later says that “God is love” he’s not just exaggerating to make a point. Loving relationship is actually what defines who God is.
The Trinity sounded like a stale theological doctrine to me until I heard what Michael Reeves has to say. He points out that if God were a solitary God as in some other religions, he might have created us because he was lonely. He might have needed someone to love him, worship him, serve him. That kind of God would be inherently needy, capricious, and have infinite desires that would be impossible to please. Have you ever known a parent or a teacher or a friend like that?
But God doesn’t create us because he is lonely. God has always been in relationship. God doesn’t need any of us to fill any lack in him. Instead, God creates out of an overflow of the love in the Trinity. How freeing this is for us!
Now, maybe the impatient child in you is asking, ugh, why are we talking about God! I wanted to get to the part about me! But this is about us. This is the God whose image we are made in! So we somehow resemble this God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see this in the very next verse, verse 27:
So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
This is the first poem in the Bible. How cool!
Right away, it mentions that mankind is made male and female – distinct, yet both equally human. It mentions these two because God created male and female for relationship. And out of the overflow of the love between male and female, they create new life. Do you notice already how we reflect God’s image?
We will talk more about how this applies to our relationships next weekend in honor of Valentines’ Day. But what I want us to note is that we reflect the God who is love. So we are made to love and have relationships.
This sermon is about Relational Rulers. We’ve talked about how we are Relational, so now let’s talk about how rulers. And no, I don’t mean meter sticks!
Let’s read verses 26 to 28 in full (emphasis mine).
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
“So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth [so far that part is the same as what he said to the birds and fish – but now we get] 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.”
The concept of ruling over, subduing that’s unique to humans. And it’s clearly part of the image of God, because God says that’s why he creates us in his image. That’s his purpose in doing so.
We’re different from what we rule
He has made us different from the animals and plants, the birds and fish that he wants us to rule over.
We don’t really see other creatures doing work. Yes, they do the basics they need to find food, a mate, and shelter. But they don’t develop things. We have developed language, culture, families, towns, nations, disciplines of knowledge, fields of work… we have been creative workers. God has given us capacity to think, to create, to feel, to be creative. God has given us the tools we need to do the job he’s assigned us of ruling over creation.
We read part of Psalm 8 last week, but I want to read the full Psalm to show us how he explores the position God has honored humanity with (emphasis mine):
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Do you hear the language there of being “crowned” like a king? That’s not an accident, because we’re actually exercising the authority of a king in that ruling.
Reminders of the king’s rule
Last week, we discovered that God is like a king, assigning roles in his kingdom to each part of creation. Now, this king is delegating authority over that kingdom – to us!
King from carved East African chess set
In Bible times, kings would also set up statues in parts of their kingdoms that were far away, where people wouldn’t get a glimpse of the king himself, and they would call those images of the king. They were reminders of the king’s rule over that territory.
It reminds me of how in Tanzania, all government offices and even all businesses must have a framed photo of the President hung at the top of the wall. This is a reminder that this territory is under the authority of the government of Tanzania.
So when the Bible says we are “the image of God” it means we are like statues that remind the earth of God’s rule. Interestingly, later in the Bible, God will tell his people that they must never make idols or statues, which he calls “images” of him – because he has already made images of himself in us!
How do we rule? Delegated authority not tyrants
The way that the Psalmist celebrates our position or the words “rule” and “subdue” might make us think that we can exploit creation and do whatever we want with it. That’s unfortunately what we’re seeing the consequences of in our politics and environment today. But in Genesis 2:15 we get another picture of what this ruling looks like: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”. It’s about caring for, kutunza in Swahili. Our rule should be caring, not tyrannical, because we’re ruling on behalf of a loving God.
God the king gives us authority to rule, we don’t rule on our own authority. We don’t deserve our position, as the Psalmist reminds us. It is a gift.
If you had a farm in the countryside but you lived in Nairobi, you probably would have someone to manage it. Or suppose you owned an apartment complex. You might appoint a property manager. That person has a lot of authority on the farm or with the construction team or the renters, but only because they represent your authority, and it is understood that they are carrying out your wishes.
We are simply stewards and managers, we are not the owners. In fact, we are owned by the same God who owns creation.
Jesus reminded people of this when they came to ask him a question about taxes. There were some people who wanted to trap Jesus. In Mark 12:14-15, they asked him, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” It’s as if some Kenyans under colonization were saying, it is right to pay taxes to the British or not? The Jews hated paying taxes to their colonizers, because it was like accepting that the Romans had a right to rule them. But if Jesus said they shouldn’t pay the tax, he could be labelled as an anti-government rebel. Continuing from verse 16, Jesus said,
“Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
Give to Queen Elizabeth what belongs to her, what has her face on it, what her Central Bank created. But you and I – we don’t belong to any power on earth – God created us, and God owns us all.
We should not rule over animals, plants – or over other humans – like tyrants. God’s image is stamped on us all.
Can you imagine how history would look like if we believed our job was to care for each other and care for our environment? If we remembered that God owns us and we owe everything to God? Can you imagine what our world would look like now?
Jesus shows us how to rule
Jesus wanted to help us imagine that reality. It’s not just that Jesus talks about the image of God. He actually is the image of God himself. Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God”. That is why when he came, he talked so much about the kingdom of God. Like the statue reminding people of the king’s authority, he was trying to establish the kingdom of God on earth, showing people what that looked like.
Jesus didn’t finish establishing God’s kingdom on earth, but when he comes back, he will. Then, we will be rulers with him over a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth.
We were created to work
In the meantime, God wants us to participate in establishing his kingdom on earth. That sounds very spiritual. But what does it mean for us?
When God tells us to rule, he’s really telling us to work. That’s what God’s rule looks like. How does Genesis describe the king’s rule of setting up creation? Six days he worked, and the seventh he rests. This is a pattern he later prescribes for humans. God’s orderly, creative, good, and sustainable work is a pattern for our own. Our work is a way that we reflect God. This is our original calling as humans.
Sometimes this doesn’t feel like a high calling. Sometimes our work environments are frustrating. We think we need to go into ministry or missions to really serve God and do something spiritual, or at least escape the stress we’re dealing with. It’s true that our work has become more difficult as a result of sin. But even before the fall happened, God created us to work.
We know this deep down, because when you have a productive day, or when you come in from a sweaty manual job, you feel good. There’s a sense of satisfaction in accomplishing something. There’s also a sense of alienation when you’re unemployed and don’t have any self-employment, because that’s not the way things should be.
God intended us to participate in caring for and developing his work of creation.
Mural from Burkina Faso
As relational rulers, our relationships and our work aren’t just what we do to pass the time and survive. We’re not animals. We’re image bearers. All of us have a call from God in our families, in our workplaces, in our relationships to demonstrate who God is.
Now, agricultural work is the most basic type of work, but I also think we can apply this to other forms of work. Which of these could apply to your field of work?
- Steward the earth
- Sustain life (farmer, stay at home mom, baker)
- Bring order (administration)
- Bring justice
- Communicate truth
- Show compassion
- Think and reason
- Create beauty
- Build from or develop raw materials
Share with someone else how you reflect the image of God in your work. Then ask them to pray for one way you want to bring God’s kingdom in your work this week. Your work can include school, caring for family, cooking, or anything productive you will do this week!
This sermon was originally preached at Abundant Life Community Church in Kenya. For the previous week’s sermon, click here. The next one I preached was on the Exodus, available here.