Stewardship: The First Great Commission

For centuries we have taken the “first great commission” in Gen 1.28 to be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion over the earth in ways that have failed to reflect true stewardship. It is not the purpose of this blog or Assurance to get into the business of Creation Care but, as noted in part one of this series, the right to life movement is, if nothing else, a subset of a movement that says, “We cannot and should not kill God’s creations.” The question before us is this: how exactly should one care for what God creates (and specifically in our case, for the creation of the pre-born child)?

It is my contention that Genesis 1.28—with its command to rule—cannot be fully understood without its conjoining command in Gen 2.15: “to work” and “to steward” the Garden. In fact, separating rule from stewardship has resulted in major global atrocities throughout the ages that infringe on human rights and personhood! We have assumed that “to rule” means we can put our will and rights over the will and the rights of others and this has led to centuries and longer of taking one particular people group and de-personalizing them for the benefit of others. But stewardship, if we understand it correctly, qualifies the kind of rule we should have: a rule not for me but for others. A rule that is not despotic but stewardship.

The Hebrew word for “steward” is the word “shamar.” It is one of the most common words in the Old Testament but we find it first in the opening pages of Genesis: “And the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep (shamar) it” (Gen 2.15). This word has many subtle connotations throughout Scripture, but it is never used without intimacy, never used to imply care that is transactional or divorced from relationship. It implies “keeping watch,” “preserving for the future”, and “protection.” It is used to describe shepherds “stewarding” their sheep on a hill or a ruling king protecting a city or country. It is further used to describe the relationship in covenant-keeping between God and man. In other words, shamar tells us that our dominion over created things is to steward them: it is our job to protect, preserve, and grow God’s creation.

This command to shamar, or steward, creation is central to our vocation. God established the Garden for man, to participate not in creation per se (that, of course, is His job!) but in the cultivation of his creation! We are made to be gardeners! This command then to rule (Gen 1) through stewardship (Gen 2) has implications for every area of life but its implications are salient when it comes to the life of the unborn! While we could speak of the self-termination of pregnancy as an act of destruction, we prefer to speak of carrying to term and the sustainment of life in a positive direction: an opportunity to steward a garden, to protect a life from outside threats, to promote the growth and cultivation of the unborn.

A mother who later chose to work for Assurance years ago told me that when facing her unplanned pregnancy part of the reason she chose to become a single parent was to protect her child from a physically and emotionally abusive partner: “Either he, or I, or both of us would wind up dead.” She knew abortion was an option on the table. She was a student without a career, insurance, or a reliable support network and the biological father was pushing hard for abortion. “But I saw myself as an ark,” she said. “I was to carry this baby through the flood waters.” This was nothing less than stewardship of the life inside her.

Our aim at Assurance is to help mothers and fathers become stewards of the child that grows inside the womb. This requires emotional and physical care, the establishment of support networks, skills training, tangible resources, education, and on and on we can go. The best way to do this is through compassionate care which our staff is committed to (ironically, the word ‘compassion’ in Hebrew means ‘womb-feeling’) and through our own stewarding of the relationships God brings through our doors so that we can help mothers and fathers steward the relationships that God brings through theirs.