“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, 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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
“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.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”
So you work outward from your point of origin to the end of the world, taking dominion.
Or is it that simple?
Maybe there was another element of Adam’s and Eve’s commission. Consider the language that James uses:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
I have quoted all of chapter 3 because I want to point out that the reference to wisdom is important and rooted in Proverbs. But for now look at the references to animal domestication. Dominion over the body is described as the ability to “bridle.” And then dominion over speech is described as being “tamed” and compared to taming animals. Adam’s charge to rule the animals applies to his own body. Here is a similar concept from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Again, the quest to take control of the world translates into a quest to take control of one’s own body as a part of that larger quest. In fact, the more literal reading would be “I pummel my body and make it my slave.” That is a pretty violent way to take dominion.
But that is part of what wisdom is about. The Commandments tell you what kind of speech is sinful, but Wisdom tells you it is best to train your mouth to be quiet. They are about going beyond simply a list of what it right and what is wrong and cultivating a kind of disciplined character.
The Great Commission includes in discipleship: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Any time you teach your children or any other Christians what God commands, you are participating in the Great Commission. Any time you read the Bible yourself you are teaching yourself more about what Jesus has commanded. Your job is not just to witness to others; your job is to witness to your hands and feet.
The Bible aims at a glorious city. But to help build that city your own body needs to become a better ordered civilization.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16.32).
A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls (Proverbs 25.28).
You already know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (First Corinthians 6.19). You can think of your habits of work and speech as your construction project. God has made you a king with a grander commission than Solomon’s mandate for mere gold, cedar, and stones. Build wisely and create your tower or be complacent and build a ruin:
Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin (Proverbs 13.3).
Whoever keeps [i.e. guards; perhaps even “bridles”] his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself out of trouble (Proverbs 21.23).
So when the Proverbs exhort you to diligence in work, they haven’t failed if you don’t build wealth or extend your dominion in an obvious public way. If you master yourself, God will glory in your work and will say “Well done.”
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied (Proverbs 13.4).
The New Testament authors exhorted their readers to be diligent–and it wasn’t about becoming wealthy. I’ve already quoted the apostle Paul, so here is Peter from his second epistle:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Do you want to change the world? Then change yourself. Do I think you have to wait until you are perfect? Of course not. But I do think that God will give you opportunities to master if he sees that you are mastering yourself. He who is faithful over a little will be set over much (Matthew 25.21). And even if he does not, you are still better off.
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
than a rich man who is crooked in his ways (Proverbs 28.6).