Christian Stewardship of the Environment
by John E. Silvius
God, out of timeless eternity, created the heavens and the earth, and then ceased His creative activity, and rested (Genesis 2:1-2). "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1 :31).
There was once a time when the earth, the creatures, and the natural resources were seen by the Creator as being good. The ! created order was a perfect testimony of the wisdom and ! greatness of the Creator. Today, we live on the same planet, but it seems that all is not good. The evidence is everywhere in our environment. Instead of life-sustaining rain from the heavens, we receive "acid rain." Millions in developing nations suffer because ~ of water shortages or water supplies that are contaminated by; toxic chemicals or disease organisms. Expanding deserts, drought, I and famine are affecting millions of lives daily. Even in America, the growth and prosperity of whole communities are threatened by dwindling water supplies. The soil that nourishes us, the air that ~ we breathe, and the fuels for our industries, cars, and homes are; also diminishing in quantity and quality.
This depressing list of environmental problems should not be a surprise to those who understand the Scriptures which teach that the curse of sin was placed upon man and the creation as a result of man's disobedience to God. Therefore, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22). But thanks be to God "who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son..." (Colossians 1:13). "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells" (Il Peter 3:13).
Those who have confessed their sin and acknowledged their need of the Savior have a blessed hope that transcends the groaning and deterioration of the environment. However, this hope does not justify a disregard for the environment and the natural resources of the earth. In fact, the Scriptures clearly emphasize certain principles concerning the responsibility of Christians as stewards of the environment. Certainly, the focus of the Bible is not upon natural resource preservation, but upon the preservation of the souls of men and women. Yet it is the conviction of this author that if Christians are to be effective witnesses as salt and light in this world, there must be a new awareness of and commitment to living in harmony with the Creator and the created order.
The following is a brief outline of the marks of a Christian steward. Hopefully, it will help the reader to initiate a prayerful study of the Scriptures which address this very important part of our lives on earth.
The Steward Loves the Creator.
Christian stewardship begins with willing obedience to the great commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Stewardship grows out of love for God. The steward's love for God is nourished by his remembrance of Calvary, where the great lover of our souls provided the ultimate demonstration of stewardship in His submission to the One He served (Philippians 2:5, 9).
The Steward Loves the Creation.
God has allowed the creation to be subjected to the futility of sinful mankind, but He loves the creation. In Colossians 1:16,20, we read that in Christ "all things were created, both in the heavens and the earth...He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (hold together). And it was the purpose of the Father that this same Christ should "reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." The incarnation, humanity, suffering, and death of Christ demonstrate God's love for souls and the created order within which each soul is embedded—the flesh of man, the creatures, and the life-sustaining environment. Even under the curse of sin, the wisdom and greatness of God is evident in the marvellous design and function of the human body and the bodies of various plants, animals, and microbes. Each species has been woven by the Creator into a complex tapestry of life with many intricate interrelationships necessary for their survival. The steward who loves the Creator (John 1: 1-3), Sustainer (Colossians 1 :17), and Redeemer (Colossians 1:18-20) is moved by the indwelling Spirit to love what God loves, and to live in harmony with his neighbour and the created order which is being sustained by God. The steward views his responsibility to love and care for the creation as an important part of God's redemptive plan.
The Steward Understands His Role.
All creatures and all natural resources belong to the Creator God (Exodus 19:5, Psalm 24:1). The divine Owner delegated to man the responsibility to be a steward of the natural order of creation. That is, man was called to subdue and rule over the earth (Genesis 1:28) while being careful "to dress it" (serve it) and "keep it" (preserve it) (Genesis 2:15).
Adam, the first steward, was called to study the creatures so that he might understand his relationship to them biologically and spiritually (Genesis 2: 19, 20). Here we see the beginning of scientific endeavor. The proper exercise of dominion requires that the steward have an appreciation for and understanding of the interconnections that are necessary to sustain human life and the life of every creature.
Today, in spite of the subversive effects of sin, God's grace has permitted man to develop a partial understanding of these interconnections through ecology and economics.
Ecology (Greek (oiko = house) + (lopos = the study of) is the branch of life science that deals with the interrelationship among all of the creatures, and between the creatures and their environment. Even the Christian steward with only a basic knowledge of ecology can see that God's natural lows are still in effect to sustain a marvelously intricate life support system on earth. Man could not live on earth today without the life-supporting food and oxygen from plants and animals. On the other hand, man alone has been given the ability and privilege of exercising dominion over these life-sustaining creatures and their environment. He can extract mineral and energy resources and utilize plants and animals to provide goods and services through an economic system.
The words economics and stewardship are both derived from the same Greek word oikonomia (oiko = house) + (nomos = management of). That is, man is a manager of the "household of earth."
The Christian steward understands that all men are economists in the sense that all are managers of their part of the household of earth. He realizes that he cannot live in greed and careless over consumption of food, energy, and other resources without adversely affecting his neighbor and the other creatures. Because of the ecological and economic interconnectedness that exists around the world, the demands of one person's lifestyle can have an impact upon the lives of many others.
For example, the more developed nations of the world represent only about 25% of the world's 4.8 billion persons, but are responsible for 80% of the annual energy and material consumption. This great demand raises the cost of energy and food on world markets beyond what many nations can afford. Several developing nations that are struggling to avoid bankruptcy are recklessly extracting natural resources and ignoring the needs of their citizens in order to stay afloat in the world economy.
In light of these issues, the Christian steward views his stewardship in giving tithes and offerings in a brooder sense. He realizes that in order to give in true worship of God, he must live and earn without making unreasonable demands upon the natural re i sources, the creatures, or his neighbor (Isaiah 58; 59: 1, 2).
He is not a slave to materialism or to the guilt that may arise when he compares his lifestyle to those who are less fortunate. Instead, the Christian steward acknowledges that he has bee created with the ability to serve only one master (Matthew 6:24) Therefore, he chooses to serve God, not material wealth. Anxiety is controlled by a trust in God's marvellous supply system a described in Matthew 6:19-34. As a result, the steward learns that he can live more richly by consuming less. He is seen by others as one who loves God, the creatures, and the earth, but it is evident that he is investing his life and wealth in another world. Best of all, he has many opportunities to minister to the poor of this world, whether they are rich in material wealth or not. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8).
To the reader who has bean challenged to examine the quality of his or her own stewardship of the environment, we suggest that the Word of God be prayerfully studied. In addition to passages cited herein, note the references listed below. As you read, allow God to search your own heart and life. Do you love the Creator above all other things? Do you love His creation as He loves it? Do you understand your role in the created order and the impact your stewardship can have on others? And do you serve the Master or materialism? The following references offer additional instruction and practical suggestions for applying these principles to your life in today's world.
Dr. John E. Silvius is a Professor of Biology at Cedarville University, Ohio. He is the author of a college level biology textbook, "Biology: Principles and Perspectives (4th edition)."
Exodus 23:10-11: Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 14:28, 29: Matthew 25:14-46; Ephesians 4:28: James 2:14-17,1 John 3:16-17.
Elsdon, R. 1981. Bent World. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL.
Longacre, D.J. 1980. Living More with Less. Herald Press. Scottsdale, PA.
Schaeffer, F.A. 1970. Pollution and the Death of Man. Tyndale. Wheaton, IL.
Wilkinson, L., et al. 1980. Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, Ml.