Sermon on Genesis 1:26-31 – “Environmental Stewardship”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, March 17th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[Gen 1:26-31 ESV] 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Christians are environmentalists.

 

We care about the world which God made.

 

This phrase might be a surprise to some: “Christians are environmentalists.”

 

Aren’t environmentalists the type who say you can’t wear a leather belt, or drive a gas-powered car, and that you should be eating bugs for dinner?

 

Well, that’s not us. And it is high time we recover the term “environmentalism” for ourselves.

 

But not all “environmentalisms” are created equal.

When it comes to the environment, there is often one of these “bait and switch” tricks. Do you love the environment? Of course I do! All people should. But the conclusion of some environmentalists are quite bad. Do you love the environment, ok, then you should give your money to the government and let them be in charge of the environment. That does not follow. In fact, in many instances the government makes the environment worse.

 

The Russian government has turned the Aral sea into a puddle.

The US government has conducted 1,054 nuclear bomb tests. And even if those tests are “far away” they are still on this planet.

 

There’s an old joke in Australia about a sinking oil ship, and how it was “towed out BEYOND the environment.” As if it were not polluting anything, so long as we move it out in the ocean far enough.

 

Well, 1,054 nuclear bomb tests in the desert of Nevada on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific surely have caused some environmental effect.

 

I’ve also heard that birth defects skyrocketed in Iraq following the wars there, and the chemicals from the bombs are the likely cause.

 

All that to say, the government, whether by military enthusiasm, forest service mismanagement, or the overreach of the EPA, isn’t necessarily the best environmentalist. Sometimes they are the worse.

 

But it is not my intent in this sermon to outline policies that should be in place. That is far too complicated. Even if we leave the government out of it, and let the market and the law courts handle environmental matters, there is still much to be figured out.

 

What instead is the goal of this sermon is to look at the foundation of Christian environmentalism (or as I call it “environmental stewardship” to understand its philosophical/theological and Bible underpinnings.

 

Like most subjects, we start with the book of Genesis.

 

When God created man, He said, “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

 

There are three points to this sermon. The first two are the bad ways to look at this passage and environmentalism, and the third is the good way.

 

I. Not man over man.

 

First I want to note that this is dominion over NATURE, not dominion over other MEN.

There was a philosophy some years ago, which has fortunately faded in our day, called Dominionism or Dominion Theology. And Dominionists advocated for nations to be taken over by Christians and to have Christian views enforced.

 

While I would love to have more Christian positions held by the government, and more Christian believers in our nation (and every nation), it is not the way of Christ to do this through forceful controlling efforts.

 

Dominionists actually refer to Genesis 1:26-31, but this passage is clearly about man taking dominion over nature, not man taking dominion over man.

 

II. Not nature over man.

 

There is another error.

 

If dominionism is an error on the right, then standard environmentalism is an error on the left.

 

This error is to have NATURE OVER MAN rather than MAN OVER NATURE.

 

Modern environmentalists worship nature, even to the point of preferring it over man.

You’ve find them advocating for having fewer children or no children at all, because people are polluters!

They want resources to be left untouched, rather than used for the good of man. No drilling. No fishing.

 

They want “nature over man.”

 

Of course, an unbridled “man over nature” could be destructive, and they want to avoid that. But the Christian view is something different and better. Man is over nature, but answerable to God. We are called to be stewards of creation, not to destroy it but to use it for good purposes.

 

III. Man over nature

 

So we have the Biblical view – Man over nature — but in a limited way which we call stewardship.

 

Just as there is financial stewardship, there is environmental stewardship.

 

The problem is all cases is “scarcity.” There is only so much money, and there is only so much nature. If we didn’t touch nature at all, we’d all die. We need plants and animals to eat. We need trees for building materials. And we need oil and rocks to have transportation and transportation infrastructure.

 

We are giving dominion from God over the birds of the heavens and everything that moves on the earth.

 

And you can see that in how created us. God made us with the intelligence and abilities to control all other species. Though we are not as strong as some animals, not as fast, don’t have sharp teeth or claws, yet we are above all of them. We can domesticate some animals, hunt others, and use nature for various purposes.

 

The seeds of the earth bear forth fruit that we may eat, and following the Covenant of God with Noah, we may eat animals as well.

 

God even says OF THE EARTH, that we are to SUBDUE it.

 

We are to control the rivers, building damns and hydroelectric power plants, and create weather forecasts, and build snowplows, and invent sunblock, and make all the conveniences of modern life. We subdue the earth, taking control over it.

 

That control doesn’t mean destruction. God doesn’t give us control so that we may destroy. We are to use our resources wisely. That is where we are “environmentalists.” We care about the environment, not as an end unto itself, but as valuable for man. We cultivate our fields and our forests for the benefit of ourselves and others. If a wild lion is threatening our lives or our livestock, we are allowed to kill it rather than bowing to it with sacrifices.

 

We might even find at time that we have the same policy conclusions as the “environmentalists” even if we have different motivating factors.

 

So I have to say this, as Christians, WE CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT TOO!

 

We just use the term “environmental stewardship” to distinguish our view from the silliness of the environmentalists.

 

Stewardship means we are caretakers. And when you realize the brevity of life, that’s all you can be is caretakers. You don’t own anything, you only are a caretaker of it. I’ve gone through a lot of archival records of the lands around here. And they are bought and sold regularly. Only rarely do you find a person owning a piece of land for say 50 years. And that gives a nice reference point in the history, when trying to figure it all out. But even those long-term landowners. 50 years maybe. Or a family might have a parcel for 100 years. It still ends. It is fleeting. They don’t own it. They can’t take it with them.

 

God gives MAN dominion over nature. Man is to subdue the earth. The phrase before it is perhaps more well known “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” It is GOOD to have children. Humans are good things, not bad as the environmentalists sometimes say. So it says “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” and then it continues “and subdue it.” Subdue the earth.

Not like Sherwin Williams.

 

Have you ever seen the logo for Sherwin Williams! Cover the earth with paint. No thanks! Let’s not do that. It amazes me that they continue to use that slogan and logo.

 

Now there is no promise that the earth will last forever. We talk about renewable and non-renewal resources, but in both secular and biblical scenarios there comes an end. God does not intend for us to live on this earth forever. So, even if our stewardship of the environment is perfect, it is not good enough. One day the earth will be destroyed.

 

[2Pe 3:10 ESV] 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

 

But while the earth is here, we are to think of it as a blessing from God, something to tend, to steward for ourselves, for others, for future generations, and ultimately for God’s glory.

 

While I’ve called our view “Man over nature” the full understanding is that we are stewarding something that belong to God. It is all His.

 

Psalm 24:1 says:

 

[Psa 24:1 ESV] The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,

 

 

 

And in Psalm 104

 

5 He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.

6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

7 At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.

8 The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them.

9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11 they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.

12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.

13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

 

In essence, God is above all creation and controls it.

 

So we shouldn’t worry about all the doomsday scenarios, all the scenarios man makes up where the earth gets too cold for habitation, or too warm, or the sun dies out, etc. The Lord controls these things.

 

And we are blessed to live on His planet.

 

So let us thank Him for this Earth, and steward it wisely for our benefit and His glory.

 

Amen