For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. | Philippians 1.21-24
There are a lot of laws in the Bible; many things we are called to do or avoid, but there are two that exceed all of the others in both scope and importance: the Cultural Mandate (Genesis 1.28-30) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28.18-20). It is important to understand how these two relate if we are going to be able to fulfill both of these calls effectively.
The Cultural Mandate was given to ALL people at the beginning of creation and was reiterated to Noah in Genesis 9.1. God states that human beings were not just created to sit still and ‘survive,’ but to cultivate and create for the development of cultures and the benefit of humanity. As Christians, we are part of this work and should be engaged with the world as partners working toward the common goal of flourishing. We are called to more than this; we are to be on mission.
The Great Commission calls us to be more than human: we are called to be ambassadors of God. As we engage with the world we do so to invite people into a relationship with Jesus. In our humanness, we have no right to call people to be disciples, but Jesus has this authority and calls us to exercise it. We have no ability to declare truth from ourselves, but in submission to God’s Word we can. We aren’t called to go out and force people into anything, but to offer people the most valuable thing we have.
WE HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE BEST THING WE HAVE. I have seen a constant theme in many of my friends to ignore the Great Commission in order to live in the Cultural Mandate. “The Commission has grown stale and has contributed to great harm calling people to deny themselves, to suffer, and to be called to follow a specific pattern of life (Matthew 16.24). Wouldn’t it be much better to focus on what we have in common, the goals we share, and the development of society?”
My answer is simply this: only if you believe that human flourishing is the ultimate good. If it is, put all of your eggs in that basket and put all of your time and energy into healing the world and making it a better place. Jesus makes it clear that there is more than this. That while great beauty and joy can be found here and now, it is worth risking some of this to offer people a greater beauty and joy to come. While it is never clear where one ends and the next begins, our life should reveal both an attempt to bring God’s goodness to people and an understanding that the best we do still falls horribly short. We are a people with both a mandate and a commission; may we take on the challenge of struggling to not set either aside as we live out the paradox of life.