Sunday, July 15, 2012

Multiply! Meditations on the theme of fruitfulness.

Recently I was appointed as a missionary to Japan with Converge Worldwide. The motto of Converge Worldwide is Multiplying Transformational Churches. I wholeheartedly agree with this motto, and I pray that God will use me to catalyze a healthy church planting movement in Japan.

Multiplication is actually a theme that is very common in the scripture. And it is a theme I will explore in my blog posts for the foreseeable future. Another word that is synonymous with multiplication in the scriptures is fruitfulness. While studying missions at Wheaton College I did a lot of thinking about fruitfulness; I hope to share some of the insights the Lord has given me into fruitfulness as part of these blog posts.

flickr user plumandjello
The first foundational verse in understanding the theme of fruitfulness and multiplication in the bible is in Genesis 1:27-28, "So God created mankind in his own 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 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. ”" (emphasis mine). 

God's first commission to mankind was to be fruitful and increase in number (multiply). However, this passage is in context of them being image-bearers--mankind was commissioned to fill the earth with image-bearers of God. Dr. Gregory Beale in his book, The Temple and the of Church's Mission, makes a compelling case that the command to fill the earth and subdue it is actually a command to expand the boundaries of the garden and fill it with image bearers (the garden being a prototype of the temple).

the Duggars, being faithful to Genesis 1 fruitfulness
Now for the mind blowing part! The great commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is a restatement of the original commission given to Adam and Eve in the garden. "Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”" (emphasis mine) Greg Beale does a much better job at drawing out the similarities in the biblical languages, but the themes alone should make the case for their parallelism.

The original commission was given to pre-fall Adam and Eve--they were to fill the earth with image-bearers and expand the boundaries of the garden, taming the wilderness and expanding the proto-temple. As Christians, we bear the image of Christ, the Son of God, who is the last-and-perfect-Adam, the perfect image-bearer of the Father. The great commission to go and make disciples of all nations mirrors the original commission in its emphasis on going (filling) and making disciples (being fruitful) by making image-bearers for Christ among all the nations of the world.

Subduing, or taming, is what we pray for whenever we pray the prayer that the Lord taught us, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt 6:9-10) Worldwide the disciples of Christ are being built together into a temple, the true kingdom of God--it isn't an earthly kingdom, or a temporal theocracy.

Fruitfulness in the New Testament context means disciple-making--it is unequivocally linked to mission. In order to be faithful to the command given to Adam in Genesis and given to the church by Jesus, we must reproduce image-bearers for God among all nations. In doing this we are expanding the boundaries of the garden/temple (or the borders of the Kingdom of God). Thankfully the Father has sent the Holy Spirit to do this work through us--because apart from the Holy Spirit it would be an impossible task. The fruits of the Spirit will have to wait for a future blog post on fruitfulness.

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