In worship, we represent God’s image more and more clearly, not only to subdue forces of evil but also to multiply these images of God to fill the earth:
And God blessed them. And 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 that moves on the earth. (Gen 1:28)
The command to “fill the earth” implies that the earth is not yet filled with images that reflect God’s glory. While the boundaries of the Garden are clearly delineated (Gen 2:10-14), the call to multiply images of God would expand the boundaries of that Garden sanctuary until it filled the whole earth. Our mission is to be used in God’s hand to bring about more worshipers in the image of God who might multiply and fill the earth with even more worshipers.
Outside of the Garden-sanctuary of Eden lay a chaotic inhospitable area. God calls Adam not only to “work and to keep” the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:15) but also to expand that Garden and “fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). Bible scholar John Walton notes that “people were gradually supposed to extend the Garden as they went about subduing and ruling” in order to “extend the food supply as well as extend sacred space (since that is what the Garden represented).” God wanted to expand that sacred space and dwelling place from the limited confines of the Garden-temple of Eden to fill the entire earth. As Adam multiplied children in his image, then they would expand God’s dwelling place of his presence into the chaos outside of Eden until it filled the earth, and the whole earth reflected God’s order and his glorious presence.
We are created to fill the whole earth with God’s glory. God formed the earth and made it . . . [and] did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited! (Is 45:18, emphasis added; see Ps 115:16)
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps 8:1, 9)
This majesty of the Lord is his “glory” (Ps 8:1), a glory reflected in humanity who is “crowned . . . with glory and honor” and given “dominion over the works of your hands” (Ps 8:5-6). God’s glory is to be spread “in all the earth” through humanity crowned “with glory and honor” and properly expressing their dominion in creation. We are created to glorify God by filling the earth with image bearers crowned with that glory.
What does it mean to glorify God? The Westminster Catechism reminds us that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” If we are created to glorify God, then we should know what that means. We glorify God by multiplying images of him who are crowned with his glory; we glorify God by multiplying disciples. Jesus himself glorified God in this way. Near the end of his life, he declared,
I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. . . . I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (Jn 17:4, 6)
Jesus glorified God by making disciples who kept God’s word. The mark of these disciples was obedience. Similarly, we glorify God by our mission in making disciples who keep God’s word.
How then do we multiply disciples? Disciples multiply only as the word of God bears fruit in and through our lives. In Acts, the Genesis 1:28 language of “be fruitful and multiply” marks the growth of the church:
And the word of God continued to be fruitful and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. (Acts 6:7; our translation)
But the word of God bore fruit and multiplied. (Acts 12:24; our translation)
So the word of the Lord continued to bear fruit and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:20; our literal translation)
Unlike Genesis 1:28, the word of God, not people, bears fruit and multiplies in Acts. Similarly, in Colossae the gospel “has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit (karpophoreō) and growing (auxanō)” (Col 1:6, our translation; see 1:10). Just as Adam and Eve were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28), so now the gospel is “bearing fruit and growing” and filling the earth (Col 1:6, 10). Spiritual progeny are multiplying to fill the earth through the gospel.
However, why does the word of God increase and multiply in Acts and Colossians through spiritual progeny instead of physical progeny, as in Genesis 1:28? In fact, Genesis 1:28 likely does not have in mind only physical children, but children who also were to be spiritual image bearers of God. We must recall that even in Genesis 1:28, the word of God is essential, since Adam and Eve were to subdue the earth through obedience to God’s word (see Gen 2:16-17). Adam and Eve fail to subdue the serpent because they do not remember and obey God’s word properly (Gen 3:1-7). The genealogy of Genesis 5 traces the initial stage of the proper fulfillment of Genesis 1:28, and the “likeness of God” in Adam is passed down to Seth, who is in Adam’s “likeness, after his image” (Gen 5:1, 3). Here, the image of God in Adam is passed down through Seth, who keeps God’s word, unlike the murderer Cain. Images of God multiply as a vanguard movement, beginning to spread out over the earth with the goal of filling it with divine glory bearers. Acts and Colossians focus now on the spiritual children of Christ, the Last Adam (see Col 1:15-18), who are multiplied (e.g., see Acts 6:7, “And the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem,” emphasis added).
Therefore, gospel growth is the key to true church growth. Church leaders can often seek programs and marketing processes to accelerate church growth, and such programs and processes may have a place. However, lasting church growth is essentially gospel growth. If church growth is based on programs that do not root people in the “living word” (see Acts 7:38) of God, then they will “in time of testing fall away” (Lk 8:13). We must get people to come to church, but we must also get the word of God to come to people. The only way to integrate people into the body of Christ is by the word of God growing in them. Our mission is to multiply disciples, image bearers of God who know and use God’s word to subdue the deceptive work of our enemy in the world. If Jesus Christ himself rides out in victory against the evil one with a “sharp sword” of God’s word coming “from his mouth” (Rev 19:15), so we must equip God’s people with this sharp sword of God’s word to come from their mouths, since we are in union with Jesus, and what is true of him in this respect is true of us.
G. K. Beale (PhD, University of Cambridge) holds the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.
Mitchell Kim (PhD, Wheaton College) is lead pastor of Living Water Alliance Church in the Chicago suburbs. Building on extensive experience in the immigrant church, he has helped found and guide Joshua Generation to equip youth workers to reach their generation for Christ. He also teaches Bible in the graduate school at Wheaton College and participated in the Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010. Of Korean descent, he was born in southern California, raised in Tokyo and lives in Naperville, IL with his wife Eunsil and their three children.
Taken from God Dwells Among Us by G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Copyright (c) 2014 by G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com