The gospel of individualism has to go! We have heard and taught how God wants to prosper us. The problem with this is that it sets each one and each nation against the other. Building our own lives isn’t the way forward. It leads to strife and all sorts of problems. The gospel is about sacrifice. Jesus gave his life for us. We follow and give our lives for those around us: our spouse, our children, our neighbour, yes and our enemy. That’s what Jesus did (we were his enemies) and this is what he calls us to do.
We need the gospel of community, of the common good. This is the gospel Jesus preached. We have individual responsibility, and the gospel to each one of us personally is about a heart change from God: to turn our heart towards others rather than our self. This is the purpose of his coming. This is his kingdom. It’s because all our hearts are turned to ourselves that the world is witnessing what it is today. When God changes us individually and turns our heart towards the other, things start to head down the right track. We don’t have all the answers, but when we serve others things begin to mend. It takes time, we might suffer for it, but it’s the only right way.
Often in history we see people who have claimed their own territory at the expense of others. The price they have paid for what they want, for what they think is their security, is the knowledge that they have persecuted and excluded other people. Others go without and are often maligned as scapegoats, to justify the “way of progress.” This type of “civilization” must give way to the values of care. If we suffer, if we don’t get what we want, if we can’t claim big assets because we share, because we allow others their position, then we end up on the right side. Jesus’ said all these things will be balanced in the judgment. Those who have it all now will lose. Those who lose now because they chose right and won’t trample on other people but rather serve them are blessed. Jesus points us to his kingdom, which renews the earth.
So what is biblical “dominion?” Adam and Eve were given dominion. They were to fill the earth and reflect God’s image of wholeness to the coming populations. It wasn’t a “civilization of progress, of development, and science”, but of community, relationships, value for the freedom of others, and care for God’s creation and its people. In that context creation would yield bountifully for all. This is civilization and these are the values we are called to by Christ. This dominion isn’t subjugation of others. Civilization after civilization has subjected other people to gain their place in history. It continues to our present time. We are called to say no to this life style and live the opposite. Jesus did. He taught about this and concluded, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Adam and Eve lost this dominion through self centeredness. It was a self centeredness driven by fear, just as self centeredness is today. We fear what others will do, so we take care of ourselves. Adam and Eve feared loss if they didn’t disobey God. This is the point at which we lose dominion. Satan, or the spirit of this age rules instead. Wordy strength isn’t dominion. It leads to havoc, breakdown between communities, oppression, haves and have nots. All these are symptoms of loss of dominion. Dominion is expressed through reconciling community. The Sermon on the Mount is dominion.
It is right here that we see God’s restoration plan. Jesus didn’t come just to take us to heaven, but to restore our dominion on earth: for us, our communities and our world to be healed. This is described in the Psalms. Psalm 8 speaks of God’s care and love for man. God gave male and female rule over all his creation, for the benefit of all creation: a benevolent rule in teamwork. Psalm 8 is a messianic Psalm, showing Christ would come to restore that rule. Jesus doesn’t come for himself, but that in him we might be restored to God’s original plan. “You have crowned him with glory and honour.” Notice that glory is associated with rule over God’s creation. This is the glory that Adam and Eve fell from. As self servers they were no longer fit to rule. Creation would no longer be governable by man. Community would fragment.
The earth is ungovernable when we fail to live in community in the image of God. So we need science, and more and bigger weapons, to help us, and we think we are clever to tame the earth to the degree we have. But what we have achieved, though often good, is nothing compared to the life God has planned for us all by our living right together. This is the wisdom which calls to the nations, as Proverbs 8 says, the wisdom which God has shown us in Christ. Isaiah and Ezekiel show this so graphically in their descriptions of the earth when the nations follow Christ.
Paul takes up this theme in Romans. He describes the fall of man in reference to his relationship with the creation. Instead of ruling over creation, man bowed down to creation in idolatry and worshipped images of beasts and birds. Even bowing down to images of materialism is idolatry, worshipping the creature, not the creator. This idolatry today is what tears apart our relationships and communities.
Paul summarises the state in Romans chapter three saying “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” This verse isn’t saying we all miss out on heaven because we have sinned. That again is individualism. Individualism says it’s just about us going to heaven. Justice on earth doesn’t matter, it isn’t our call. We can be Christian, with only the slightest concern for justice. Rather, the verse is saying that because of individualism man has fallen short of his vocation and calling to steward the world in the image and blessing of God. He has fallen short of the glory needed to fulfill his calling on earth. Thus the state of affairs we see today.
Paul follows this theme through Romans and this is one of the keys to understanding his gospel there. He is speaking of community: Jesus redeems us from all backgrounds, to give us a new heart, to bring us into one family to love and to care for each other. It’s about receiving each other and living for the other as Christ lived for us. It’s showing Christ is Lord, and not Caesar, by living Christ’s way and not Caesar’s way, by overcoming evil with good, rather than by more evil. In this way Paul says “those who receive the abundance of grace shall reign in life.” (Rom 5:17) Through love and a changed heart we are restored to Adam’s rule, and inherit the world (not just the Old Testament land) with Abraham (Rom 4:13). It is through restoring God’s sons to live fully on earth as God’s children, that the creation, now in tears, shall be set free from its corruption (Rom 8:21). God comes in Christ to Israel, to restore man to dominion, to heal the nations and heal the creation.
God shows us the way he takes dominion: not by force, not by taking the freedom of others. He shows us how land is occupied and turned into the “Promised Land”: not by taking it, but by laying down our lives for others. He shows us by coming in Christ. In Philippians two God humbles himself in Christ and serves, and even takes the form of a slave on the cross to serve humanity and his creation. It is through this that the kingdom of Christ takes root in the earth and will flourish. “Therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him a name above every name, that at his name (the name of the one who gave up himself and served others) every knee shall bow.”
This is our lead. This is God’s dominion. This is the call of his church to the nations. There is no other form of dominion that is acceptable to God. We reign by serving. We lose through self ambition. Jesus has turned what is wise to man on its head. Dominion and civilization in God’s heart and plan are always opposite to the reasoning of a fallen world. God’s purpose is that we take up his love through Christ and live it in this world.
The poem of Philippians two, of the humiliation, service and resurrection of Christ, was one of the earliest hymns of the church. It was the identity, the DNA and inner spirit of the early church. It was the way the church lived with each other and towards the world for which they gave themselves. It should be our identity also today.