Human Life:


Value, Cherish, and Work for its Flourishing

I. Genesis 9:1-7 –

A. Noah and his family are responsible for beginning anew the peopling of the earth. This is a renewal of a command given to Adam and Eve. The earth is made for man, for his sustenance, for his rule, for his benefit, and for his dominion. (Genesis 1:28; 9:1).

B. Verses 2, 3, 4 – Humans are superior to all other forms of life and may use all of them for food.

1. All other forms of life will have an instinctual fear of man. There are differing levels of this and some of the non-human life can be domesticated for human purposes and human flourishing. Human are not just a more sophisticated form of animal life, with no intrinsic superiority over other living things. We are made in the image of God for the purpose of having dominion for good over other created things.

2. All non-human forms of life, both plant and animal, may be used (after the flood) for food. Only plant life was permitted for food prior to the flood (Genesis 1:29). This, of course, is to be limited by knowledge of the poisonous effects of some kinds of plants and animals, should be prepared for consumption in ways that are healthy and pleasing. Dietary laws for Israel were given as part of a larger code to make them distinct from other nations of the earth.

3. Verse 4 – the prohibition of eating the flesh with its blood arises from a two-fold cause possibly. One, preparation that minimizes blood content is much healthier for the human being. Two, there seems to be the spiritual effect of creating insensitivity to life, the development of a rapacious outlook, when a desire for blood characterizes the appetite. Avoiding this tendency moves naturally into the next requirement.

C. Every human life that is taken while innocent shall be avenged

1. The killing of a human being, whether by man or animal requires reckoning. No person shall take the prerogative of life over another human being but must do all that can be done to preserve human life, and cause it to flourish and be abundant on the earth.

2. An animal that kills a human being must be put down. This is so that the superior value of human life is to be maintained in society. An animal does not have moral intent in its actions, and so in that sense is neither guilty nor innocent. This requirement of death for an animal is designed purely to show that human life is superior to all other forms of created life on the earth.

3. Society has the God-ordained responsibility to highlight the value of human life by requiring an exact reckoning for murder. If a person sheds man’s blood—that is, if he intends to do such harm to a person that he kills him—his life is forfeit. A person that does not embrace the inviolably precious nature of the image of God (6b) is not to be kept in human society. He works opposite of God’s intention for this world and thus must not be allowed to stay in it. He has taken life and he should be producing life.

D. Verse 7 – The earth is designed to support human life in abundance. The command of God has three words that indicate exponential growth of the number of people in the world as God’s purpose—“be fruitful,” “multiply,” “teem,” that is, let the earth be swarming with human life. Then, again, in order to emphasize God’s delight in the flourishing of human life, the word multiply is repeated.

II. Psalm 8:4-8

A. verses 3, 4 – A consideration of the greatness and infinite perfection of God’s glory and power makes a finite, but rational, creature marvel at the position that he is given. He is to have fellowship with God, upon whom he is dependent for existence, who has given all things their existence, form, order, specific excellence, and has made them that man might see and contemplate the wonderful beauty of God. In seeing the wonder of all other things we are led to conclude that we “are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

B. verse 5 – By divine revelation, we should understand that humans are above all created things that inhabit the earth and that we are fit to inhabit heaven. As sinners, of course, we have been banned from Eden, been consigned to hell, and are in need of redemption. That a redemptive plan has been made, however, in the grace of God, that such sinners can be forgiven and restored is a marvel of wisdom in itself. That this plan includes the condition of increasing in godlikeness throughout eternity presents a powerful testimony to all that is contained in the truth, present from creation, that we are made in the image of God.

C. verses 6-8 –  The Psalmist sees that the earth is made for us and is designed to sustain us. The reality presented to Noah informs both the poetic power and the metaphysical conviction of the Psalmist. He knows and is deeply moved by the position assigned by God to man.

III. Proverbs 24:10-12  – God has made us capable of extraordinary effort and responsible for exhibiting it for a just cause.

A. verse 10 – A day of adversity should not make us shrink but rise to the demands of the occasion. If we fail to answer a righteous cause, it is not because of the lack of natural abilities to do so, but because of the lack of moral resolve. Heeding the call when truth is on the scaffold and injustice has risen to oppress calls for a clear perception of what is right, sufficient faith in the purpose of God to drive us to do his will, and a willingness to suffer loss for truth.

B. verse 11 – Particularly in cases that involve the loss of human life should God’s covenant people be ready to intervene

1. When we see those that are condemned unjustly our influence and strength should be used to intervene. The world today (and indeed in virtually every generation) is filled with examples: regimes that systematically purge their nations of unwanted ethnic groups; unjust laws that cause the execution of those whose “crimes” are of conscience or ideological persuasion; abortion of the human person anywhere, anytime, on any occasion, for any reason. In my opinion, even if continuing the pregnancy or the birth holds dangers for the mother, the child is not to be treated as a willful invader seeking to do harm.

2. We should seek to intervene in someway in the lives of those who are “stumbling to the slaughter.”

This might involve some reflection on how to intervene in the lives of those that have established life-destroying and soul-destroying habits—from drug use to the dangerous consumption of alcohol and the killing-effects of tobacco.

The sex industry that involves the destruction of human life both physically and psychologically arises in a culture that encourages a constant assault on the human libido with ever-increasing sexual images and enticement.

Seeking ways to end the abortion industry surely comes in this category. Many are involved who have never considered the possibility that they are involved in a legalized, systematized, and sanitized form of murder. The slaughter of the innocents in the days of Herod was even less horrific than this slaughter.

We must not fail to preach the gospel faithfully in our churches and work at intervening in society in as many ways as possible with the gospel message, for the most dangerous stumbling is one that ends in falling into the eternal fire of the wrath of God.

C. We cannot plead ignorance of the destructive dangers that are present in this world.

1. We are not ignorant because divine revelation establishes the context and content of right and wrong. The human conscience also accuses us in matters of this magnitude.

2. God, above us in his rights and his knowledge of all that we should perceive and understand, weighs the heart and has already answered that we are guilty:  “So that they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. . . . And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” Romans 1:20-29.

3. God keeps “watch over your soul.” Every trick that our sinful natures play on us in an effort to justify our overwhelming sense of self-preservation and our lack of love for our neighbors, God knows fully. When we are willing to let others suffer, or even be killed, as long as our own comfort is not disturbed, we are complicit in the destruction of human life.

4. While we may preserve our comforts and achieve some degree of detachment from the ills that others experience, we will not escape a complete  exposure in the day of judgment (Luke 12:2, 3; Romans 2:3, 16).

IV. Philippians 2:12-16a

A. verses 12, 13 – Paul admonishes the Philippians on the basis of apostolic authority, but he does not give a command concerning a specific issue of right and wrong, but points out a principle that relates to all of conduct in light of the nature of salvation.

1. The salvation that God gives is for the complete restoration of holiness in the human person. As one grows in grace, he will grasp more and more about what constitutes holiness in a fallen world. Salvation with all its attendant purposes must work itself out in one’s attitudes and actions.

2. “With fear and trembling” indicates the each saved person approaches his life in a sense of reverence recognizing both the holy purpose of God and the consistent hostility of the world.

3. Though we might not be immediately aware of divine operation in our minds and hearts, the reality is that, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God works both on our will, and in consequence, in the direction of our actions for good in this world.

B. He draws a contrast between the moral direction of the saint and the moral condition of the world.

1. Although we might find ourselves in oppressive and unpleasant conditions, we should do that which is right without murmuring against the providence of God or the opportunity to be set apart from the world. “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” The world passes away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” (1 John 2:16, 17)

2. “crooked and twisted generation” – We know that the world is hostile to the moral standards of Christianity, even on the issue of the value of human life from conception to death. Much of the present world order, the concepts of ethics, the evaluation of human life, economics, etc. is governed by an evolutionary world view, a godless materialism that has no sense of the intrinsic worth of human life as created in the image of God. Many of the intellectual leaders and ethical theorists tend to see humanity as dispensable for the sake of a delicately balanced eco-system, in which a commitment to evolution has flattened all living things to a level of relatively equal value. This has tremendous implications for the way the concept of human flourishing is viewed.

3. “as lights in the world etc.” – Christians have access to an understanding of the world built on divine revelation and, to the degree that they reflect that view, they are lights in the world. Light leads the way to truth and those that walk in the light do not stumble.

4. “Holding out the word of life” – primarily this refers to the message of eternal life through the gospel message of Christ’s completed redemption and his present mediation and intercession in the presence of the Father. By implication, from the fact that we will dwell with God eternally, we have a message that relates to the value of human life from creation to conception to death to the eternal destiny of each person, born and unborn.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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