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God's Green Earth

We represent and glorify God by taking good care of his creation.

Introductory remarks from Steve Mathewson:

This sermon definitely resonated with my listeners! Many of them had already been practicing environmental stewardship because they sensed "it is the right thing to do." My sermon gave them a theological basis for their actions. A few had always associated environmental issues with political liberalism. Now they realized how central this issue is to the mission of God in the world.

At first, I felt a bit intimidated about tackling the matter of environmental stewardship. I worried that I lacked the time and expertise to take a position on global warming and other ecological issues. I was also concerned about the perception that I was simply jumping on the environmental bandwagon as if it were some kind of fad. But some excellent resources gave me the insight and encouragement I needed. First, I found some simple, practical works by evangelicals that provided a framework for understanding the overall issues. A couple of the most helpful books were Tri Robinson's Saving God's Green Earth (Ampelon Publishing) and Calvin B. DeWitt's Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues (Faith Alive Christian Resources). Then, the chapter on "Mission and God's Earth" in Christopher J. H. Wright's The Mission of God (Inter-Varsity Press) showed how central environmental stewardship is to the mission of God.

My congregation responded with enthusiasm and conviction. Some even challenged me to lead our church in pursuing more environmentally friendly practices! They pointed out that we needed more recycling bins throughout our facility. Others suggested ways to cut down on the amount of paper products we use.

Personally, I was inspired to begin participating in monthly restoration workday projects at a local forest preserve. I am now a regular participant. Just last week, I spent a Saturday afternoon clearing buckthorn—an invasive species of small trees—from an oak and maple woodland. I also find myself making a greater effort to get more life out of products, to recycle paper and plastics, and to use less gasoline by walking more and consolidating trips. I even pay more attention to setting the furnace thermostat at a lower temperature and the air conditioner thermostat at a higher one—all for the conservation of natural resources to glory of their Creator!


God's green earth is a wonderful place to live, isn't it? Have you stopped to think about the privilege we have of living in such a beautiful environment? I think about several evenings where we would sit outside on the back patio and eat dinner together. We would watch the cardinals in a nest nearby and the squirrels as we ate delicious ears of sweet corn. That's all part of living on God's green earth.

I think about some of the walks my wife, Priscilla, and I have been able to take. We've seen flowers and maple trees and have watched the squirrels. Once in a while we'll see a fox or even a coyote. And I think about some evenings in August when we've had our windows open and felt the breeze blowing in. It's all part of living on this incredible earth.

I had the privilege of going with my sons to Colorado in 2008 and hiking at 10,000–11,000 feet and seeing some spectacular views and walking through snow fields. We got caught in a hailstorm and took cover under some huge Lodgepole Pines, and then 20 minutes later the sun came out.

God's green earth is an incredible place for us to live, but with privilege comes responsibility. I want us to think about the responsibility we have to care for God's green earth.

Some of you might be thinking to yourself, "Wait a minute. Are you going green on us? This is a political issue, isn't it? Are we just picking up on some kind of a fad?" After all, even McDonald's is going green, recycling their Happy Meal boxes. Their take-home bags are made out of recycled materials, and they guarantee that the Big Mac is made from beef that wasn't raised in a tropical rainforest.

I want you to realize that even though this matter of the environment has become a politicized issue, even though it's been taken up, in some respects, by those who worship the earth, this is really our issue. I fear sometimes as followers of Christ that we've given it up, when we as the church ought to be taking the lead. As men and women committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to Scripture, we ought to be taking the lead in this matter of caring for God's green earth and respecting the environment that God has given to us. It's part of our mission.

You might say, "I don't see the connection. Our mission is to build a loving community of Christ followers, to reach a culture in need of his presence. God's put us here to save people, not to save the earth."

But I'd like to read for you a statement from an Old Testament scholar, Christopher Wright, who's written a fine book called The Mission of God: "The church in its mission must bear witness to the great biblical claim that the earth is the Lord's and must care for the earth as an act of love and obedience to its creator and redeemer." Wright goes on to say, "If the greatest commandment is that we should love God, that surely implies that we should treat what belongs to God with honor, care, and respect." Wright also notes that what benefits creation is also good for human beings. So that means that care for creation is not only an act of loving God, but it's an act of loving our neighbor. Isn't the heartbeat of our mission the command to love God and neighbor?

So with that in mind I would like us to think from Scripture about what it means to care for God's green earth. By the time we're done, I want us to be able to answer the question, "What on God's green earth are you and I supposed to do, especially with respect to the environment?"

God created the heavens and the earth.

Turn with me to Genesis 1. In this chapter we learn that God created this world as a good place for human beings to live. The opening lines of Genesis 1 are critical: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." That reminds us of something important that we may take for granted. When we get into discussions with others about caring for the environment, we have to insist on this: that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Creation is not divine. Some people who are concerned about the environment come from a perspective that says this created world is God. That's pantheism: all is God; the mountains, trees, hills, grass, and rocks are divine. We need to say, "No, God is the Creator. The creation is his handiwork and it does reflect his majesty and glory, but we don't worship the earth." We understand the distinction between creator and creation.

But what on God's green earth is a human being supposed to do? This is what the Bible says in Genesis 1:26–28:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; 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 of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

So what on God's green earth are human beings supposed to do? One of the clues is in that statement, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness." Then the narrator says, "So God created man in his own image," and then he flips it around, "In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

God made us to serve as his representatives.

Usually when we talk about the image of God, we start with a list of characteristics we share with our Creator—ways that we are like God. In fact, we sometimes use the word image in that way. I remember hearing my grandfather referring to someone's little child and saying, "That boy is the spitting image of his father." So we often begin by asking, "How is it that we resemble God?" God is love, and we resemble him because we are creatures with the capacity to express love. God shows compassion, and we show compassion. God is able to reason, and he's given us the ability to reason. God is the Creator, and we reflect that by being creative.

But the first hearers of Genesis chapter 1 would have heard this differently, because when they heard "image of God," they didn't immediately think of all the ways they were like God. The word image is actually the word statue, and in the ancient world, kings would set up statues in remote parts of their empire. Before the days of telecommunications or printing, you couldn't have a poster of yourself as king in some remote part of your empire to remind everybody that you were in charge. You couldn't give a "State of the Empire" address and have everyone hear that. So kings would set up these statues, these images that would remind people of their presence. These statues would provide a visible representation of their invisible presence. In Daniel chapter 3, we read that that's what King Nebuchadnezzar did. He set up an image 90 feet high and 9 feet wide to represent himself. Some ancient kings referred to themselves as images of God. By that they meant they were representing the gods or goddesses that they served.

So when we read that we are made in the image of God, we are to read that as, Wow, God has made us to serve as his representatives. We're like kings who thought they were representing certain gods. We are representing our Creator. The word likeness here reminds us that we represent him by resembling him, so the chief end of human beings is to represent God.

Some of you say, "Wait a minute. I've heard in the past that the chief end of human beings is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, so which is it: to glorify him or to represent him?" The answer is yes. Both tie together. We represent him by carrying out his agenda, by showcasing his character qualities in the way we live on this earth. That brings glory to him; that brings honor to him. So this idea of being created in God's image and likeness is all about glorifying God.

Something else is wonderful about this: when you trace the image-of-God theme throughout Scripture, you end up with Jesus. Colossians 1:15 says, "He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God." Jesus is the one who fulfilled that responsibility as God's image most completely. He did it perfectly, didn't he? Then we find out toward the end of Romans chapter 8, verse 29, that we were predestined as God's people to be conformed to the image of Christ, to the image of God. We're conformed to his image. God is making us like Christ, because Christ is the image of God. You and I are predestined to be conformed to his image, and that work of being conformed to Christ is going on in our lives right now through the Holy Spirit.

As we live on this earth, what are we supposed to do? We are to represent God, and God has given us the capacity to do that by creating us in his image for that purpose. Even in a fallen world, he is restoring our ability to represent him.

When we think about serving as the image of God, there are a lot of implications for the dignity of human life. I believe the image of God comes into play in how we treat others and how we view ourselves. Matters like end-of-life decisions, abortion, and protecting human life tie back into the image of God.

We represent God by caring for his creation.

But as we read the creation account, we realize that the responsibility to represent God begins with and includes the way we treat creation. In verse 26, right after God says, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness," he says, "and let them rule over the fish of sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Then in verse 28, we find out that God has blessed us, and as a result of that blessing we have the privilege and responsibility of being fruitful, increasing in number, filling the earth, subduing it and ruling over some of these creatures—the fish of the sea, birds of the air, over every living creature that moves on the ground.

So what is our responsibility as God's representatives in relationship to the creation? In verse 28, as well as verse 26, are the words subdue and rule. Those are strong words as they are used in the Old Testament. In fact, sometimes they are even used in negative ways. But here in Genesis 1, remember, everything is good, and this is before sin entered and everything got wrecked by evil. So when God tells his people as part of his blessing to subdue it, and rule over it, he is not giving people a license to simply consume everything and use the earth only for their benefit, no matter what it does to the earth.

Make no mistake about it, God does allow us to use the earth for our benefit. In fact, verses 29 and 30 say that God's given us "every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." God does allow us to use the resources of the earth to sustain human life, and to sustain animal life as well. But when God says to subdue and rule, he is talking about our responsibility, I believe, to care for creation. That word subdue as it's used throughout the Old Testament in its various contexts has to do with bringing something under control; it's a reminder that creation doesn't run by itself. You may point to the places on our earth that have seemed to sustain themselves for years, but in terms of human life, we have to plant crops, don't we? We have responsibilities.

It's interesting that a lot of people in the environmental movement say we're intruders in creation. In fact, a man by the name of Alston Chase, who was Harvard, Oxford, and Princeton trained and spent about 40 years in the Yellowstone ecosystem, wrote a book in 1986 called Playing God in Yellowstone. The parks service wouldn't even sell it in their stores, because he claimed that the park was being wrecked by conservationists who said human beings don't belong in nature. Alston Chase said, "Yes, they do."

That's what the Bible is saying here. We have a responsibility and a privilege as part of God's blessing to subdue the earth, to bring it under our control. It doesn't mean to abuse it, but to bring it under our control agriculturally. Then that word rule means to exercise authority. Our role is to be a proactive one, not just a passive role.

In the creation account in Genesis 2, which looks at God's creation from another angle, we read that "the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Even though, as we find out in Genesis 3, through the Fall human beings were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, this mandate hasn't been pulled back. No, what God asked the man to do in the Garden of Eden is what we are supposed to be doing in our sphere of God's green earth: to work it and take care of it.

That word work means to serve. It's an interesting concept to think of serving the earth. And then to take care of it means to watch over it. The word that's used here, whenever you see it in the Old Testament, can refer to a variety of activities, but it always means to exercise great care over. A shepherd watches over or cares for his flock of sheep. He's exercising great care over it. Or a watchman cares for a city by watching for the first sign of enemy attack. That's what God has asked us to do.

Here's something else I find fascinating. When you look at these words—work and take care of it or serve and watch over—they're also used later in the Old Testament to describe our service to God or our worship, and also our obedience or keeping God's word. So even the words used here have overtones of worship and keeping God's word. We do that by taking care of the creation.

Our responsibility as human beings here on God's green earth is to represent God by caring for his creation—using it to sustain human life. There's nothing wrong with using the resources God has given to us; we are supposed to do that. But we do that in a way that cares for the creation he has given to us and allows that creation to reflect the glory of God. That's our responsibility.

We should take steps to better care for God's creation.

So human beings are responsible to represent God and to be caretakers of his creation. Exactly how do you do that? How do you do that as people who are on a mission, recognizing that God is at work in this world, bringing people to himself, bringing his salvation, helping people experience life in his presence? That's the goal of the gospel, isn't it? That's why Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose. He paid the penalty for our sin so he could bring us to God, that we could live life in God's presence. But guess what? Life in God's presence involves living here on planet earth.

We need to evaluate solutions and ideas with humility, because as you know, a lot of solutions get tied into political agendas and we have to be careful of that. We could have a debate over global warming, and the question of whether it's due to human influence, to the overuse of fossil fuels, or simply part of the natural weather cycles. Maybe we could have a fight about this. We could split our church over this issue. You may have strong feelings on one side or another.

We could talk about an issue like whether we should use battery-powered cars or hybrid cars, and then we would have to debate battery disposal and how the production of energy that allows those cars to run clean maybe isn't that clean. You see what we're up against when we start discussing these issues?

We have to start with the biblical framework, and we have to think wisely about these issues and not get all tied up into solutions that satisfy one political agenda or another or satisfy a business interest or that would draw us into worshiping the earth.

Here are some healthy steps we can take within our church to better care for God's creation:

1. Consume less. Consuming less would take care of many problems. Simple things like turning off lights, turning up the thermostat in the summer when the air conditioning is on and turning it down in the winter when the heat is on. Things like saving fuel, saving paper. We're not talking about not using electricity or living in a grass hut somewhere, but consuming less.

2. Recycle. I know people are rolling their eyes because they may be tired of seeing these recycle signs. Everybody's recycling and it seems like a fad, but that's one of the ways we can carry out this mandate. Every time I see those blue recycle bins, I'm convicted, because sometimes I get lazy and just throw stuff in the big dumpster. I don't want to take the time to sort it out. We can also re-use things by donating them. Many organizations can use stuff that we would be tempted to discard. Why create more production of the same thing when somebody else can use it?

3. Develop. Develop the environment around us. When you walk out, take time to smell the flowers, and plant some! It seems like a small thing, but it's a huge thing. Does your own property reflect the glory of God in creation, or does it reflect that there's something wrong here?

4. Protect. Don't litter or dump waste at inappropriate places.

5. Restore. Get involved in some of the restoration workdays in the county forest preserves. What an opportunity that might be to let the world see that we care about the creation in which God has placed us. That might lead to opportunities to share with them the gospel.


Pursue these things out of love for God—not because we're following some fad to be green, not because we're trying to be trendy or politically correct, but out of love and adoration for God. Never think that you should care for our environment so God might accept you. He's already accepted us through his son, Jesus Christ. Instead say, "I'll care for creation because I've been accepted, because God has changed my life through the gospel, and because I realize that I've been placed here in this world."

God's green earth is a wonderful place to live, isn't it? Let's honor God by representing him well and by taking care of this earth he has given to us to live.

To see an outline of Mathewson's sermon, click here.

For your reflection:

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism" and "Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize".

Steve Mathewson is senior pastor of CrossLife Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, lllinois. He is also director of the doctor of ministry program at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

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Sermon Outline:


I. God created the heavens and the earth.

II. God made us to serve as his representatives.

III. We represent God by caring for his creation.

IV. We should take steps to better care for God's creation.