A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy 4:3-10. b. i) A theological test: creation (continued).
Thus marriage and food, and all God’s many other creation gifts, are consecrated twice over, first and foremost objectively in themselves, since God made or instituted them, gave them to us to enjoy, and has said so in Scripture. Then secondly they are consecrated to us subjectively when we recognize their divine origin and receive them from God with gratitude. If God made something, calling it into being by his word, and by the same word declared it to be good, and if, as a result of our knowledge of these things, we can thank God for it with a good conscience, then we have a double cause to receive it, enjoy it, and thankfully celebrate it. God’s creative word and our grateful prayer have together sanctified it to our use. Thus Fairbairn wrote of ‘God’s word to man warranting him to use the creation gift, and man’s word to God, acknowledging the gift, and asking his blessing on it’. So ‘the sanctification is complete both ways – objectively by the word of God, subjectively by prayer’.
Notice carefully, however, what Paul writes. It is not that ‘everything is good’, but that *everything created by God is good*. This is an indispensable qualification, since not everything that exists has come unsullied from the Creator’s hand. For the creation was followed by the fall, which introduced evil into the world and spoiled much of God’s good creation. Indeed the creation has been ‘subjected to frustration’ and is now ‘groaning’ in pain (Rom.8:20, 22). We therefore need discernment to know what in our human experience is attributable to the creation, and what to the fall. A flagrant current misuse of the creation argument is the claim that the practices of heterosexual and homosexual people are equally good because equally created. Homosexual Christians regularly say, ‘I’m gay because God made me that way, and so I intend to celebrate my homosexuality.’ But no, what God created was ‘male and female’, with heterosexual marriage as the intended consequence (See Gn.1:27; 2:24; Mt.19:4ff.). It is no more appropriate to celebrate homosexuality than other disordered human tendencies which are due to the fall, like our irrationality, covetousness or pride. So we must be careful not to confuse creation and fall, order and disorder, but rather to ensure that we celebrate only what God created, and thankfully receive only what he gives.
And more grateful celebration there should be among us, uninhibited by our lingering evangelical asceticism. For the truth is that a world-denying Gnosticism has not yet been altogether eradicated from our theology and practice. Instead, we pride ourselves on our super-spirituality, which is detached from the natural order, and we look forward to an ethereal heaven, forgetting the promise of a new earth. We tend to have a better doctrine of redemption than of creation, and so are more grateful for the blessings of grace than of nature and of art. Perhaps G.K.Chesterton can put us right:
You say grace before meals.
But I say grace before the play and opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in ink.
We should determine, then, to recognize and acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate, all the gifts of the Creator: the glory of the heavens and the earth, of mountain, river and sea, of forest and flowers, of birds, beasts and butterflies, and of the intricate balance of the natural environment; the unique privileges of our humanness (rational, moral, social and spiritual), as we were created in God’s image and appointed his stewards; the joys of gender, marriage, sex, children, parenthood and family life, and of our extended family and friends; the rhythm of work and rest, of daily work as a means to cooperate with God and serve the common good, and of the Lord’s day when we exchange work for worship; the blessings of peace, freedom, justice and good government, and of food and drink, clothing and shelter; and our human creativity expressed in music, literature, painting, sculpture and drama, and in the skills and strengths displayed in sport.
To reject these things is to *abandon the faith*, since it insults the Creator. To receive them thankfully and celebrate them joyfully is to glorify God, ‘who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (6:17).
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 4:6-10. ii). An ethical test: godliness.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.