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Reigniting the Church with the Five Gifts of Jesus
By Neil Cole, Dezi Baker, Ed Waken, Phil Helfer, Paul Kaak
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2014 Neil Cole
All rights reserved.
DISCOVERING THE PRIMAL FIRE WITHIN
We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great. That is the unconsolable heartburn, the lifelong disquietude of having been made in the image of God.
ROBERT FARRAR CAPON
Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people?
YOU DON'T HAVE to be a movie critic or a literary scholar to know that the realm of storytelling is fueled by the mythic imagining of a world of heroes (both ordinary and super-) who somehow save the planet from evil villains. Even a cursory scan of modern blockbuster films reveals our abiding fascination with this singular theme: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Incredibles, Iron Man, Hancock. The list is extensive and ever growing. This almost-universal dream reflects our innate desire to outgrow our ordinary lives, to break free and learn how to fly. Deep within our hearts is a yearning to be special—to make a difference in the world because we have a unique ability that sets us apart for a greater good.
This idea of a larger-than-life version of ourselves—something truly heroic—is a fascinating one. It is powerful and fundamental to who we are. In every age and every culture, some form of the hero myth can be found. From Gilgamesh to the Green Lantern, from Beowulf to Batman, from Hercules to the Hulk to Hercules again, heroes are part of the human psyche. The desire to be special and significant is cut deep in our souls, a primal fire waiting only to be set free.
But what if these dreams are actually from God? What if part of the very fabric of our humanity is to at some point begin to ask, Is this all there is? Is there more to me than what I see in the mirror? Could I be more than I am now? What am I destined to become?
I believe these rumblings of the soul are God-designed—that part of what it means to be made in the image of God is a desire to be significant and heroic representatives of God in the world. These stories are so compelling to us because, deep in our hearts, we know we lost something of our intended place and power when we allowed sin to prevail on our planet. And ever since we were cast out of the Garden, we have longed to reclaim the original significance we were created and destined to have.
FIVE GLIMPSES OF PARADISE
My wife, Dana, and I have always been fascinated by the idea of what life was like prior to the Fall, when human beings were uncorrupted by sin, perfect in design and yet able to learn and grow. Imagine the uncluttered human mind functioning with a pure soul in a perfect body. Imagine a pure DNA untainted by our fallenness and by generations of poor living in a corrupted world. What would it be like to have access to 100 percent of our brains, in bodies designed to live forever? This side of eternity, we'll never fully know what we missed out on.
There is not a lot of biblical material to work with when trying to piece together what humanity was like prior to the Fall. At the beginning of Genesis, the account of the Fall comes quickly, and the beauty of our original intention is lost after little more than a couple of short chapters. But perhaps even that tiny snapshot grants us some insight into who we were meant to be and why we carry within ourselves this desire for more.
From the Creation account, I want to make five brief observations about our humanity and the seeds of God's image and purpose that were planted in Adam, safeguarded in the person of Jesus Christ, and gifted back to us in the church. These seeds—or assignments—given to Adam by God reveal something about how we are created in the image of God and are charged with productive, spiritual tasks that naturally suit us. In these five characteristics, we see how we were born to reflect God's very nature to the world.
I. Master architects of a beautiful fruit-bearing garden. The first assignment given Adam was the responsibility to "cultivate and keep" the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). He was to care for the created world and master it in a special and holy balance of usefulness and stewardship. Likewise, we have a responsibility to all the earth to maintain the perfect balance God designed so that our planet continues to thrive and provide a place for us to live and grow. We long to see the fruit of our labors and to produce something beautiful for all of humankind. We were created to create. In the image of God, we are made to be creative builders who master our environment. In a very real sense, our role in the created order is as royalty (1 Peter 2:9).
God's intention for us is so expansive that when we ponder the responsibility He has given us, we are left breathless. As God's creative builders, we are to cultivate the earth to make it fruitful, preserve peace, maintain the ecological balance, and discover new technologies. As we understand and swim in the genius of the design that God placed in us, we can apply it to our architecture, clothing, art, transportation, agriculture, and every other realm of human endeavor, until we begin to see possibilities that can flow only out of the mind of God. We are to be architects of cities, farms, art, technology, and enterprises of all sorts. These designs and discoveries are meant to reproduce and provide stability, beauty, strength, and progress throughout time so that God's story is responded to with deep worship worldwide.
Adam was not to stay in the Garden of Eden; he was told to procreate and fill the earth. It is in this first assignment that we see the beginnings of the apostolic gifting as we are sent out into the world as architects who are to be fruitful and multiply God's work throughout the earth.
2. Guardians against evil in the world. Adam was assigned to rule over God's creation. The Hebrew word translated "to keep," as it is used in Genesis 2:15—"God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it"—can also mean "to guard," as it is used in Genesis 3:24, when the angel is placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword to keep Adam and Eve out. In that context, the word means "to meet a threat with force."
As custodians of God's creation, Adam was to keep and protect God's Kingdom against a hostile enemy. But protect it from what? What could possibly be a threat in a perfect paradise? We don't have to wait long for an answer. Right away, in Genesis 3, a threat emerges that outwits Adam in the first encounter. From that point forward, we have become soldiers in an epic battle between good and evil. Deep within us is a drive to do something heroic for the sake of others. We want to overcome the evil that oppresses and destroys all that is good. Our role in the created order is to stand up to the evil, do battle, and overcome.
Like Adam, we have been created with a purpose to discern our surroundings and protect the world from an encroaching and sly evil. We must be watchful, prepared, and ready to do spiritual battle with evil when it comes. We are to protect what is holy. This is a small picture of the prophetic image of God placed in man from the beginning.
3. Passing on good news from God. Adam and Eve were given a mission that involved growing a family of devoted children of God. Part of our natural makeup as human beings is to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. This involves more than simply populating the earth. Part of our innate mission as the people of God is to pass on His message to others, so that together we reflect God's image on earth. Because we were created for this purpose, deep within us is a natural desire to be part of something that involves others. We are made to need one another. God Himself said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). We long to partner with others to accomplish something bigger than ourselves.
God gave Adam good news of freedom, grace, and abundant living: Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth, and freely eat the fruit from the trees in the Garden. There was only one restriction: Don't eat the fruit from one particular tree. Everything else was free.
Adam told all this to Eve, who told the serpent in an innocent but natural fashion. Just as Adam was expected to tell everyone who came after him the good news that God had given him, we all have an innate sense within us that we were designed to tell others the Good News we have received from God. This is the root of the evangelistic impulse.
4. Honest, vulnerable, and unashamed. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden, they were naked and unashamed. They saw only the beauty in each other rather than anything lacking in themselves. They had no secrets and no vanity. This is an unfamiliar virtue today, except in isolated instances. This strength of character—putting others before ourselves—is part of what was stolen from us by sin. When Adam and Eve had their eyes opened to see the world differently because of the experiential knowledge of good and evil, something interesting happened immediately: they recognized their own nakedness, felt ashamed, and began to hide in the shadows. Prior to the Fall, Adam saw only Eve's beauty, and Eve saw only Adam's beauty. Their eyes were focused on each other, not themselves.
The very nature of being other-focused—seeing the beauty in others and not considering our own state—is a small glimpse of the pastoral quality inherent in us. We are made to be open to beauty and to see the best in others, just as Adam and Eve did in the beginning and our Great Shepherd always does. The other-centered view is essential to the shepherding role of bringing out the individual strengths of others for the good of the whole, and it is also at the heart of the shepherd's willingness to lay down his or her life for the sheep.
5. Investigators who study, catalog, and enjoy all of creation. Adam was given a task to fulfill even before Eve came on the scene. He was to observe and name all the animals in the world. Think of the giant task that must have been. This was more than simply assigning a name. To give something a name means that you are responsible for it and have some authority in providing its care. The reason Adam was given the task is also revealing. He was without a companion and he was to search all of creation before she would be revealed. God directed Adam to see the many differences in the animals of the world, to study them and understand how he stood among them as unique. This intensive study set the stage for Adam to appreciate Eve all the more when he awoke to find her with him.
It is mind-blowing to consider the pure brainpower of the first man, untainted by sin. He could quickly analyze every creature on the planet, identify what made each unique, and classify it with a name. This suggests a deep curiosity and fascination and incredible analytic skills. Adam was responsible not only for determining each creature's name, but also for passing on to succeeding generations what he had observed about that creature and why it carried its name. This is where we briefly glimpse the teacher quality of man in the original creation.
It's not easy, with so few verses, to uncover all the gifts of Ephesians 4:11 in the original creation, especially since there were only two humans on the planet at the time. Evangelists and shepherds find fulfillment in the company of other people, so we're left to look for small hints and quick glances of these gifts in Adam. But they are there nonetheless.
No other creature is made in the image of God. So we can look for the character of God reflected in our own character. For instance, just as God is creative, we are full of designs and are always building new things. Just as God is holy, we are called to be holy and to defend virtue, goodness, and truth. God speaks what is true, and we are created to announce good news. God is united as three distinct persons in one, and we are created to be in close communion with others. God is all-knowing, and we were created with a deep-rooted desire to learn and increase in knowledge. We alone among God's creation are able to reason with abstract thought and consider the future. We can communicate in deep and reflective ways, and ask important questions. Only humanity is able to make tools and design and build things. We reflect our Creator in the ways we protect the downtrodden, hate what is evil and unjust, tell others the Good News, and find beauty in nature and in each other.
I believe these five glimpses of paradise reveal something about how we were created in the image of God and how we're intended to reflect God's beauty and glory. Every person, even apart from a relationship with Christ, is made in the image of God and thus shares these qualities, albeit often in a corrupted form tainted with selfishness.
Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is that we have been entrusted with certain assignments that reflect the character and nature of God and support His purpose in the world. These seeds of God's image and purpose were planted in Adam, but were lost or corrupted in the Fall. Nevertheless, God safeguarded these seeds in the person of Jesus Christ, who gifted them back to us in the church. But these gifts are not like packages that Christ wrapped up and handed to us; they are qualities of Christ (God) Himself that we "come into" when we become part of Christ's body here on earth.
When Adam and Eve fulfilled these assignments, they reflected God's image. Unfortunately, when Adam failed in his role, the beautiful image of God became veiled by the ugliness of unbridled evil. Our glory was stolen from us. Nevertheless, we still carry that image deep in our hearts and long for what could have been.
But here's the good news that undergirds the gospel: The second Adam, Jesus, overcame the curse, conquered the enemy who stole our glory, restored our original assignments, and restored the true image of God in us. In fact, He is the fullness of God in bodily form. He and the Father are one. As He said to His disciples, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" (John 14:9, CEV).
In the next chapter, we will demonstrate how Jesus is the fullest representation of all five of the gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. These functions, which we saw in small glimpses in Adam and Eve before the Fall, are the picture of Christ, and therefore the image of God. Thus the roles mentioned in Ephesians are more than simply a division of labor in a church organization. These five roles represent the facets of God's image that our restored humanity is intended to reflect. When these facets work together in harmony, they are what allow us to display God's glory to the nations.
When humanity was first created and placed in the Garden, we were given a mission, along with the ability and authority to accomplish it. We were commanded to multiply and fill the earth with God's glory, and to take care of the Garden, to study it, and also to protect it. We were given a message that we were to pass on to subsequent generations. We were to be united as one just as the Godhead is one. But we failed with every assignment. Relationally, we turned on each other, which led to envy and murder in the very first generation after Adam and Eve. We were banned from the beauty of the Garden but still entrusted with the responsibility to care for God's creation. We were commanded to fill the earth, but we kept trying to stay in one place. Eventually, God had to mix up our languages to get us to go. And of course we failed to protect the world from evil, and we have been suffering for it ever since. Fortunately, the epic story doesn't end there.
What we learn about humanity from the first chapters of the Bible is that we were created to be something special in the world—to build a world that is holy unto the Lord and to fight the evil that wants to tear down God's Kingdom. Humans were meant to be, in one sense, superheroes in this life.
The result of the Fall is that we carry within us a sense of loss for what should have been. We are discontent with who we are now because we were meant to be so much more. We have latent within us a power that enables us to do something that will leave lasting change for the better in this world, but this power is muted by our selfishness, ignorance, and rebellion. We lost the strength and beauty of our original design when sin was let loose in our world.
The Good News is that when Jesus came, He took the curse of the Fall upon Himself and defeated the enemy who threatens our collective mission. Christ has redeemed us from the destruction of the Fall and ultimately will restore us to the roles we were destined to fulfill. We believe that part of Christ's redemption is a rebirthing of the power within us to make the world a better place. We still must overcome our enemy's plots in this world and restore our humanity to its original reflected glory in Christ.
Excerpted from Primal Fire by Neil Cole, Dezi Baker, Ed Waken, Phil Helfer, Paul Kaak. Copyright © 2014 Neil Cole. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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