There has to be more to life than just the daily grind of work and personal entertainment. Life should have meaning and purpose. But where do we find it? I’d like to suggest the the first place we can find what we are looking for is in the first chapter of the Bible’s book of Genesis. It’s in something we call the Cultural Mandate.
Just what is the Cultural Mandate?
If we want to understand what the book of Genesis is all about and how it applies to us, if we want to understand its themes and what they mean for us, then we have to understand the passage in Genesis which sets the stage for everything that comes after it and that sheds light on everything that comes before it. That passage is Genesis 1:28. We call this little passage of scripture, the Cultural Mandate.
"God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" Genesis 1:28
All that takes place in Genesis is a working out of this passage in the lives of its central figures and events. First, let's define what these commands are in modern terms.
- Fruitful and multiply means to grow, expand, become more.
- Fill means to populate.
- Subdue means to bring under your control.
- Dominion means to manage or steward something.
Let’s look at some examples from scripture of the Cultural Mandate being fulfilled. And let’s start with Adam.
As a farmer, Adam began subduing the earth. Then Adam and Eve began having children, fulfilling the commands to fill and multiply.
Cain and Abel were the beginning of the command to fill, though there were other children as well. As a herder, Abel began to exercise dominion over the lesser creatures (Genesis 4:2). But through Abel's murder, Cain violated the principles of multiplication and filling (Genesis 4:8). This is the first reason why murder is wrong, it violates God’s command to fill, by reversing it. It is also the first reason why abortion is also morally wrong.
Throughout Genesis and on we see many lineages of man multiplying (filling), but they multiplied sin and exercised dominion in a way that offended and angered God. Eventually, God wiped out everyone except for Noah and his family.
Noah and his family had the renewed covenant (Genesis 8:20-9:17). And just like Adam and Eve they began the process of multiplying and fulfilling other commands in the Cultural Mandate. Noah offered a sacrifice (taking dominion). He planted a vineyard in Genesis 9:20 (subduing the earth). Noah’s children began to multiply.
Then there is the case of Babel. Man did not spread out, violating the filling aspect of the covenant, but kept in one place. Notice how the scripture puts it in Genesis 11:4. “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’” While man was multiplying he actually tried to keep in one place, violating the command to fill. This was a violation of the renewed covenant. Thus, God came down, and confused their language, which caused men to separate. “So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8).
But What About Me?
You might be wondering, what does all of this have to do with me? The answer is really quite simple. God’s first calling on our lives is the call of the Cultural Mandate. And its ultimate fulfillment is in the Great Commission.
Did you know that the average person lives within 20 minutes of mom? Even today our preference is to remain in one place and not spread out unless forced to do so by job or calling. This is why the Great Commission is the ultimate fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate.
God calls us to multiply, fill, subdue, and rule. These are the basic tasks we are called to do. And we do these things because God has called us to do what he does. When did God subdue? When he brought the undefined mass of the earth under his control to make it habitable. When did he take dominion? When he issued commands to his creation and Adam and Eve. When did he multiply? When he created living things that had the ability to do what God does, but in a creaturely way. Because God does these things he expects us to also do these things. We fulfill the Cultural Mandate when we do what God does.
Now, if you are childless, these commands still apply to you. If you are without a spouse, they still apply to you. How? To put it simply, by fulfilling the Great Commission. Notice how the principles of the Great Commission are the same as the Cultural Mandate.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (rule over). Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (multiply and fill), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (dominion). And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20).
When we bring others to Christ or disciple them, we are fulfilling the Cultural Mandate. All of us can have a role of some kind in fulfilling these covenants. This is your first calling, to fulfill the Cultural Mandate. And the Great Commission is its ultimate fulfillment.
If you wonder what God’s call on your life is, if you wonder what you can contribute to the kingdom, if you want purpose and meaning, you can find it in fulfilling the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission.