PART 1 BIBLICAL THEMES

3

CREATION

God's creation was very good (Gen. 1v31), but it was not complete. God had planted a garden (Gen. 2v8) but Adam was to till it (Gen. 2v15), to develop it. Mankind's task was to act as stewards tending the earth on God's behalf for the benefit of all creation. They were to develop the natural resources as indicated by the command to till the garden, and the implied command to exploit the gold and onyx (Gen. 2v11-12), and to develop the community by filling the earth and subduing it (Gen. 1v28). These God given tasks are often referred to overall as the cultural mandate, and equate to human and community development in their widest senses.

 

4

THE FALL

 

Development had not exactly gone very far before the fall - how quickly Satan messed things up! The fall does not negate the cultural mandate; however the task is harder, painful and even dangerous after God curses the earth (Gen. 3v17). Weeds sprout (Gen. 3v18) where Adam wants to develop the land for agriculture, and the task becomes painful toil. There is also pain in childbirth (Gen. 3v16), so filling the earth, populating it with a growing community also involves pain. Development must now be coupled with renewal to reverse the effects of the fall as far as possible, not just spiritually, but physically now that the material world is subject to decay, and socially as human institutions as well as individuals are affected by sin. Agricultural tools help reduce Adam's painful toil, anaesthetics reduce the pain in childbirth, and equal opportunities policies reduce men's domination of women. Women's rights are an important aspect of community development.

 

So community development continued after the fall. Cain built a city. Cities like mankind have always tended towards evil, but Heaven is a New Jerusalem not a new Eden. Lamech's sons Jabal and Jubal developed livestock rearing and music respectively, and their half brother Tubal started metal working. Today there is plenty in all these activities that needs renewing, and scope for their development in the community. After the flood God reaffirmed his covenant and the cultural mandate with Noah - who needed lessons in avoiding alcohol abuse!

 

5

REDEMPTION

 

In due time God called Abram to establish a covenant people through whom all peoples on earth would be blessed (Gen. 12v1-3). For this example of community development on the grand scale leading to spiritual renewal God first called Abram out from a community to make a fresh start, and it is many hundreds of years later that the great commission to go out into all the world comes. Nevertheless it is in this community of the old covenant that we clearly see God's providence at work as He provides for His people through the Law and Wisdom.

 

6

LAW

For obedience to the Law there is a clear promise of blessing upon the community for its growth and development, while disobedience will lead to disaster (Deut. 30v15-18). Through the jubilee principle the Law made provision for complete community renewal economically every fifty years, preventing the development of a poor landless underclass; though there is no evidence to show that the Israelites ever obeyed this. Leviticus 25 explains it in detail, but each year at harvest the community was to give welfare rights to the poor, whether they were nationals or immigrants, in gleaning (Lev. 19v9-10 and Deut. 24v19-22). The Book of Ruth is a beautiful example of this in practice, and where Boaz went beyond the Law's demands and graciously gave more.

 

God shows his providential care, not only in giving rain to the just and unjust, but also to Abraham in providing the ram to sacrifice as a substitute for Isaac (Gen. 22v14). Mount Moriah, later the site of the temple in Jerusalem, is called Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide.

 

7

WISDOM AND PROPHETS

The Law regulates the minimum in terms of bringing economic renewal to the poorest sections of the community. The Wisdom of Proverbs gives more principles for it, and then the prophets speak out against the people and their leaders when they fail to provide for the whole community, but become greedy and rich at the expense of the poor.

 

The righteous care about justice for the poor (Prov. 29v7) and actively defend their rights (Prov. 31v9). Proverbs 24v21 warns against despising those in need, and Amos condemns those who trample on the poor and deny justice to the oppressed (Amos 2v7)

 

8

THE INCARNATION

 

As history progressed and the time became right God became incarnate as Jesus Christ for the spiritual renewal of the community first to the Jews, but then to Samaria and the ends of the earth. The incarnation bringing spiritual salvation is the central and highest example of bringing renewal, and shows the attitude in which to serve others; loving our community in the way that God so loved the world; in holiness because He is holy; in self-denial putting others first, as Jesus emptied Himself in obedience to the Father (Phil. 2v5-8); becoming a human to identify with those He came to save, coming to enable and empower them, by granting them rights to develop their full potential as children of God (John 1v12).

 

9

JESUS' MINISTRY

Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Mat. 1v21) through His sacrificial death (Heb. 10v12), but was his ministry only a spiritual one?

 

Luke shows the scope and purpose of Jesus' ministry as He quotes from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue; "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Luk. 4v18-19)

 

There is no reason to suppose Jesus did not go on to quote more verses, but even if not, we still have the words from Isaiah of his call to service in which those he ministered to were enabled to go out and rebuild the city in this architectural aspect of community renewal. Jesus Himself went on to preach of Gentiles being fed and healed. Luke in particular emphasises not only the physical aspects of salvation, but also that they were for everyone, for the poor and outcasts, for women, and every section of society including Gentiles - those outside the church in our terms. Jesus had compassion on the crowds and He healed (Mat. 14v14) and fed them (Mat. 15v32). These miracles are not just signs to point to His spiritual authority or ability to bring spiritual healing, but also part of His concern for people as whole beings.

 

We will return to the example of Jesus after studying some themes drawn out from the old testament example of Nehemiah.

 

10

NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING

 

Jesus sent out His disciples to preach, to heal, drive out demons, freely to give, to bring about community renewal, and in the great commission commanded them to teach their disciples everything He had commanded them. In the sermon on the mount, He commanded, or rather declared that His disciples were salt and light; to be an example for the community to follow, and a preservative in them doing it (Mat. 5v13-14), to do to others as they would have others do to them (Luk. 6v31) if they were in a state of multiple deprivation, hungry, thirsty, a refugee lacking clothing or adequate shelter, sick and unable to work (Mat. 25v35-36).

 

Salvation, being born again, is individual, but we are born into a new community, God's family, and are to serve not only that family especially, but also those outside the church in the community (Gal. 6v10), any people who are our neighbours as defined by Jesus in the parable of the good Samaritan, and any who slip through the current welfare provisions (1 Tim. 5v16). All the parables about stewardship also teach sharing and involvement, making good use of all the talents skills and gifts we have. The teaching of Paul and others in the Epistles follows the same lines as Jesus'.

 

Again we will return to the example of Paul after studying Nehemiah.

 

11

THE KINGDOM

 

Whichever aspect of the Kingdom we take, whether that already near or amongst us as Jesus preached, or its fulfilment to come, the message on involvement is the same. Jesus' teaching on the former has already been outlined. The fulfilment of the Kingdom is indeed God's work, and not ours; the world is destined to judgement by fire (2 Pet. 3v7) and the New Jerusalem comes down out of Heaven from God (Rev. 21v1-2); but this is no excuse for non-involvement in society. The fall did not negate the cultural mandate, nor does the great commission supersede it; rather the cultural mandate is the setting within which the great commission takes place. Nor does the coming of the end times mean we should concentrate on evangelism to the exclusion of meeting people's physical needs. For one thing we do not know when the end will come, and are to be physically caring for people until the end (Luk. 12v42-46), and secondly as the end nears there will be greater physical needs to meet, with wars and famines and many more people needing our compassion.

 

Filled stomachs rather than empty ones are more likely to listen to the gospel. Paul warned the Thessalonians who were eagerly awaiting the second coming not to be idle. In Revelation 22 the angel tells John that those who are doing what is right must continue to do so. Revelation 21v24b-26 suggests that the cultural riches of the nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem. The good works which God prepared beforehand for us to do will not run out before Jesus returns (Eph. 2v10). Nor should any lack of resources prevent our sharing. Justice does not depend on our having abundant resources but seeks equality in distribution. The world may promise to give more aid when the economy improves, but the Bible teaches that blessings come when people act justly.

 

The church as the prototype of God's new kingdom is to be multiracial and multicultural like the church at Ephesus, and each local church must therefore be representative of its community in order to share the gospel with it. Loving ones neighbours is to extend to loving ones enemies and doing good to them, physical good and not just preaching the gospel, lending without expectation of getting things back, of being merciful just as God our Father is merciful, kind to the ungrateful and wicked (Luk. 6v27-38).

 

We will return to the growth of the church at Ephesus later to seek clues for its success.

next