Session One | Life Together in Covenant Relationship
October 15, 2015
Life Together Retreat
Session 1: Life Together in Covenant Relationship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book called “Life Together” exploring what it means to do the Christian life and Christian community of the Church and He was someone who was radically devoted to this. I’m not going to talk about his book, I’m going to talk about the Bible because I think what he saw and the things he cared about were things that Jesus cared about, were things the Apostles cared about and are things that we need to care about. In practical terms, our hope as the Elders of the Church is that our Church this year is not that we would expand in numbers, though we always welcome more, but we really want to go deep and put our roots down deep and build our community together that is deeply rooted in Christ.
Three years ago, we did a ten week study where we went through different teachings about the Church on Sunday nights and has a Q&A after and people found it was really helpful and we found that it was a very unifying time. We just laid down the foundational things about what we believe about what the Scriptures say about Leadership, Membership, Baptism, and about all kinds of stuff. And I think we need to go back to some of the foundations.
So this weekend we are discussing the theme “Life Together” and I want to discuss it under one heading.I want us to walk about after this weekend having a very clear understanding and heart level conviction of our covenant relationship with one another and with Jesus Christ. And if you say “I have no idea what you mean”, stick around because that’s the whole point of the weekend. I want you to understand deeply what covenant relationship is; what it means to be in covenant relationship with one another and a covenant relationship with Jesus.
Why have Christians, across every culture and over 2000 years, through trial and persecution, comfort and ease, always done ‘life together’? Have you thought about that? There are definitely things that we do that are cultural, right? We haven't always had P.A systems and these songs haven't always been sung, and we haven't always had guitars but people have always gathered together as the Church to sing God’s praises, to sit under instruction, and to encourage one another. No matter where you go in the world, no matter what time you find yourself, where the gospel is preached and where the true Church exists, these things happen. Why is that? It is not because it’s just a cultural thing. It’s not just because it’s just a thing to do. In fact, the Church coming together across ethnicities, across racial divides, across class divides is something that is very counter cultural. Today the word “community” is a huge buzzword. Everyone wants community. It is something we are seeking and it is something that in the Church we can find.What I want to suggest to you and work through this evening and flesh out the rest of the weekend, is that the reason this can happen is that God has called us into his family, called us into the community of faith, called us into His body by making a covenant with us and that means that we also have covenant relationships with one another.
What do I mean by covenant?
Bruce Waltke defines a covenant as, “a solemn commitment of oneself to undertake an obligation”. If you open your Bible and you look in the back and look for the word “covenant” you are going to see that covenant can be many different things. There are many different covenants that people make. The most obvious one is marriage. In Ephesians 5, Jesus says that the picture of marriage is the picture of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. In other words, the union that we share as husband and wife is a picture of the covenant union between Christ and His Church.That is one of the most well know covenants. If you trace the story line, the Bible actually ends in a marriage, doesn't it? The wedding feast, the Bridegroom coming for the bride, the Church. So the Bible, as you work your way through, ends up in the marriage between God and his people. It ends up with the uniting of a covenant.
“A solemn commitment of oneself to undertake an obligation”. There is a commitment saying “I am going to submit myself to this kind of a relationship and here are the obligations”. Why is this important today? Our world today does not understand covenant relationships. We don't understand relationships in a covenantal sense. We do not understand relationships primarily as “What is my obligation to you?”. We understand our relationships primarily in a contractual way. As a contract and not a covenant. “What do I get from you? What do you owe me? What do I deserve in this? What can we negotiate, or how can we meet half way?”. This is how people talk about marriage these days isn’t it? You find someone who has a mutual interest with you, who you negotiate with one another, you will probably live together for a while to work things out so that your contract can be good. But the terms of the contract can be violated at any point. There is no real life long obligation. This is how a lot of people view marriage. If that is how you view marriage which is a very obvious covenant, think of how we view all of our other relationships. We don't tend to view relationships as a covenant, we view them as a contract.
My definition of a covenant is “an agreement that creates and clarifies the nature of a family relationship where each member has the obligation of faithful, loyal love towards the other.” The obligation of a covenant relationship is steadfast, faithful and loyal love. We see this over and over in the Scriptures that God is describes as a God of steadfast love and faithfulness.
The Difference between Covenant and Contract:You have a contract because there is an expected benefit. So one makes a contract because they are expecting something in return. Instead of someone taking initiative, it is a mutual agreement- two sides sit down and come to an agreement.
A covenant is born out of a desire for intimacy and relationship. The reason professional athletes sign contracts and not covenants is because they are not signing out of a desire for intimacy with the owner; actually the opposite. They are signing for expected benefit to them (often including in the contract protection from relationship). It is not simply for the benefit of some product or service, but for a relationship with the other party. It is not just a handshake by two parties in mutual agreement, but a gift from a stronger party to a weaker party. There is not a negotiation, since it is a gift. The obligation of the covenant is loyalty to one another, and faithfulness, not simply some surface level performance. A covenant lasts forever, not like an athletic contract that is re-negotiated. The similarity is that a covenant can be broken by lack of loyalty, love, and faithfulness.
Why did God call Israel out of Egypt? He said, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all people” Deut 7:9
“…The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Deut 7:6
Why did God make a covenant with Israel? Because he wanted a covenant with Israel His Son. The occasion for a covenant is relationship.
The initiative in a covenant is the stronger party. A covenant is someone coming and saying “this is what I will do for you”. In marriage we see the as the husband is to do this by laying down his life. This is our covenant formed in marriage. Our covenant formed in marriage is formed in his blood. The strongest party comes and in his grace and mercy initiates a relationship. It is not that the two parties happen to have a common interest but the stronger part comes and says “I desire you”, “I want to be in a relationship with you”. That is what covenant is. It is not something that is negotiated, it is a gift.
A covenant is that you want a relationship with something, the terms of covenant is that you would be loyal to one another. This is why the only way in the Bible to break a marriage covenant is through adultery, because it is unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant. It doesn't mean you have to break the covenant, but it is a covenant violation. I really want you to understand this because we see relationships as performance but a covenant is entirely different.
In a covenant, the expectations are not less, they are way higher. It means that we aren't just required to do certain things; he requires us to be loyal faithful people. We will go on to see this. He says “I am going to have to make a new covenant with you because you broke my covenant, though I was like a husband to you”, and this is the problem all through the Bible. God is saying “I want to enter a relationship with you”, “I want to make a covenant with you. The terms of this is that you would be faithful and loyal, love me with all your heart, soul and strength, and don't go after false gods.”
There is an obligation we have towards one another as members of Jesus’ body as his covenant partner towards him and each other. We don’t like to think in terms of obligations in our relationships do we? We don’t like to think “I owe you something” or “You deserve something from me”. Instead we like to think that everyone else owes something to us. We like to take our relationships easy, light and just surface and when we don't like something then we are out. That is not a covenant relationship. That is not love as the Bible defines it.
The clearest covenant in the Bible is marriage,
“So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God;” (Proverbs 2:16–17, ESV)
The Covenant determines the relational obligations. Think about this: Have you ever thought about sex being wrong outside but sex is not wrong inside of marriage even though it is the same thing? The exact same act,before your wedding day, is called sexual immorality and fornication in the Bible, but you get married and the exact same thing we are commanded to do. The same thing goes from something we should not engage in, to something we are suppose to engage in. Why is that? Why do our obligations change? Because of the covenant. All of a sudden something that is suppose to exist in a relationship; steadfast faithfulness and loyalty, we now have in marriage. Sex is given as a gift to function in a relationship of steadfast, love and faithfulness.
In our culture, everyone is having so much sex and yet everyone is totally still unsatisfied. The magazine Playboy just announced that they are not going to have any nude images in their magazines any more. This is a very strange thing at one hand. Do you know why they are not going to have nice images? Pornography is so readily available and free that is make no sense to publish a magazine for people to buy pictures of naked women. What has happened is Playboy has won their battle for the sexual revolution. They have so normalized Pornography that they can’t even make business out of it any more. This is the culture that we live in and this is the state of our relationships right now. Sex is not meant to function outside of a covenant relationship which is why it’s not working.
A covenant is characterized by faithful, loyal love:
“Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117)
That’s an entire psalm. Some people say that Psalm 117 is the summary of the entire psalter, the entire book of psalms. That’s the message of the book. God is a God of steadfast love and faithfulness. He is a God of covenant relationship. His obligation he always fulfills.
“And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.”” (Genesis 47:29–30)
The father asks the son, and uses the word “kindly” and “truly”. It is the same words for faithfulness and steadfast love. He is saying “deal with me as a father and a son in steadfast love and faithfulness”. The other kind of covenant relationship is a family relationship.
God’s story in the Scriptures begin with a covenant between a father and a son. God in the beginning made a covenant with Adam. God made man and woman in his image. He made msn in His image and likeness. It says in Genesis 5 that Adams son was born in his fathers image. So God made Adam in his image and likeness, and Adam had a son in his image and likeness. This terminology image and likeness, among other things is describing a Father-Son relationship. Ones likeness is their likeness to the Father, and the images is how one portrays the Father to the world. So God gives him obligations, “Be fruitful and multiply and take dominion”. There is a covenant made between the father and His son. “I am going to make you, you are going to bear my likeness, you're going to do my work and represent me in the world”. This is the first covenant that is made.So we see that God’s creation with the world was a covenantal relationship where Adam is to show love and faithfulness as a son. But what happens?Does the son live up to his obligations? Does he keep steadfast, faithful and loyal love? No. Not even three chapters in and the first covenant ever made was broken. The son refused to be faithful. He failed his obligation to provide and protect. But God immediately comes and makes a promise, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
So he says that someone is going to come who is going to crush the serpent. This is the first gospel. After this things only get worse, but God continues to enter into covenant relationship because God is a God of covenant love even though we are not. God pursued his people, entering into various covenants with them: He enters into a covenant with Noah promising to never totally wipe out the earth again by a flood. Then he enters into a covenant with Abraham and promises that the nations will be blessed through him. He then enters into a covenant with Moses and creates a nation who is suppose to live in faithfulness and loyalty and to love him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. He laws down the obligations, the law, which is a way that they are to demonstrate their love for him. Then he makes a covenant with David and promises through David a ruler who will come, a king is going to come.All of these people, one by one fail.
We see two things:the promises of God and making covenant with his people saying “I want to have a relationship with you, I’m going to have a relationship with you, my purposes are going to be fulfilled in you” and we have this tension. All of these people failed. Every single one of them.
Noah comes our of the boat and he is drunk and naked in two seconds. Noah was just as bad as everyone who died, and then some. Abraham wasn’t much better. Look what happened to David. Moses didn’t even make it into the promise land.
All through the Scriptures, God is coming and saying “I want to related to you in this way, I want a relationship with you” and the human partners keep failing. So the prophets come along and say “Hey look, you're not living up to your promises and you obligations to God.” And Judgement comes and God says “every I promised you would happen if you didn't obey, is coming to pass. There goes your land, there goes your nation, there goes everything.” But then the prophets come in and there is a little seed in the Bible that continues. The promise keeps going on. We have this problem; all of the human partners are broken and sinful and cannot live as they ought to.
So Jeremiah says,“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…”
So he is saying I am going to have a relationship with these people, I am going to make a new covenant where we can actually have a relationship and the way I am going to do it is I am going to write my law on your heart- the obligations you didn't live up to- I am going to change you to someone who can be loyal, I am going to change you to be someone who can be faithful
“…And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord….” (Jeremiah 31:31–34)
One of the problems with the Old Covenant is that not everyone was actually born again. Not everyone actually knew God. God made a covenant with the nation. So if you were an Israelite, you were part of the covenant. If you were born as a Jew, you are part of the covenant. That doesn’t mean you know God.
So what he is saying is “One day I am going to make a covenant with you guys, and in this relationship there won’t be one person who doesn’t actually know the LORD. Every person in this covenant will know the LORD. You wont have to go to your neighbour and be like “Hey, you should get to know Jesus” because all of your neighbours will know Jesus. You wont go “I wonder if this guy actually knows the LORD or if he is just part of this relationship because of his Dad.” Every person part of this relationship with God knows God.
He prophesies this again in Jeremiah 32:36-41
And then Jesus comes and says at the Passover meal. “This is the blood of my covenant.This is the blood of my covenant.”
The prophets are silent the people are forsaken and Jesus comes on the scene and at the Passover meal that they all celebrate, he all the sudden says “This bread is my body that is broken for you, this cup that you take is the blood of my covenant”. Jesus is marking this new covenant. This new thing that God would do. Not like an of the old covenants that always failed-why? because we failed. We can’t live in a covenant relationship. We are sinful. We are unfaithful. Jesus comes and says “Here it is. Here is my new covenant.”
So how do we participate in this new covenant? We participate in this new covenant in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:11–22, It’s long but I want to read it all to you.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise…”
Is anyone here an ethnic Jew? No one is an ethnic Jew? Then you are all Gentiles according to the Bible. I am a Gentile. The question Paul is getting at was is “how in the world, if God made all these covenants with the Israelites, with the people, with Moses primarily, and before that his ancestors, How do we get into this relationship? Because I am not related to any of those guys. I have no relationship whatsoever” thats the question Paul is answering. He says “You gentiles were strangers to the covenants”, in other words, God didn't actually make those covenants with you but now..
“…having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…”
How does someone come into the new covenant? Is it that God stands up here and says “Alex, I am going to make a new covenant with you and I will be steadfast in love, and you will be steadfast in love.” That would be horrible news, if you know me. It would be horrible news for you too. So how do we come into this covenant if everyone else has failed? Jesus himself is the human partner in the covenant. Do you see that? Jesus himself.
So God made a covenant with Adam, Adam failed. God made a covenant with Noah, Noah failed. God made a covenant with Abraham, with Moses, with David and it didn't work. But all that was leading to the one Man who showed up one day and all of a sudden says “This is the new covenant I am making and the way that I am making it is in my blood.” So you see this human man show up (this is why we need to say Jesus is a man), he dies for the sin of covenant unfaithfulness, and he is also at the same time the faithful covenant partner. See those two things? Jesus died for all the unfaithfulness of his people and he also in his dying Philippians says “he learned obedience” through his suffering. Obedient even to the point of death. You know that if Jesus didn't die, he wouldn't have exercised the obedience he needed to? Jesus’ obedience wasn't like a twelve year old and he was always the same obedience, but he grew, he learned, he demonstrated more and more obedience. What does obedience remind you of? Covenant relationship! Obedience to the fathers will, obedience as a son. Jesus is the perfect son. Adam failed, Moses failed, Noah, You failed, I failed, we need someone who won’t fail; so Jesus came and he didn't fail. He went right to the cross to die for our unfaithfulness and at the same time be like “you can make that covenant with me.” That’s why the book of Hebrews says “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” (Hebrews 7:22). We have a better mediator. How do we come into the new covenant? Only in and only through Jesus. God has been seeking relationship and he will have it with his people. He wont have it though us, he will have it through his son. So we come into the covenant in His Son.
“…For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”
What is the household of God? Its family home. Some translations say “members of God’s family”, thats what this is. You are now a member of God’s family. You're not an alien, you're not an outside citizen, you are a son or daughter in Jesus. So covenants begin with a desire for a relationship, they are characterized by steadfast love and loyalty, it’s a family relationship. That is what God is building. That is what Jesus died for to create. That is what the Church is. The way we get in is through Jesus. That’s the first thing. Jesus is our mediator.
We are “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3:6 says.
How do we come to get all these promises that God made all throughout the ages? In Jesus Christ. Through the gospel. This is what I want to close on and I want you to see. When we come into a covenant relationship with God, when he becomes our Father, we we no longer have to feel the failure of living up to our obligations because the perfect Son has come and given us his Spirit so that the first time in our life, we can actually be faithful to our Father. The blessing of the new covenant is that for the first time, Yes we are forgiven and yes it’s through Jesus, but do you know what is different between us and Israel? We can actually be faithful though the gift of his Holy Spirit; that’s Jeremiah’s promise. Everyone will know the LORD and the law will be written on our hearts. “I am going to make a people, I am going to make a family and create children who don’t hate me. I am going to create children who, when I discipline them they go ‘You’re a great Dad; that sucked but I needed that. That is for my good.’I am going to create children that when they look at me and they see how I want them to live they wont say ‘this is a burden’ but rather ‘your yoke is light’ and ‘The obligation to be loving and faithful and loyal to you is the least I can do for you’” This is what he means when he says “We love because he first loved us”. Everywhere you see the command to love in the New Testament, I hope after this week you are thinking “covenantally”, with obligation and steadfast love and faithfulness. That is the only kind of love that the Bible knows. So once we have this relationship with God, we have this relationship with each other too. That is what we want to drive home this weekend. I’ll close on this and well flesh this out for the rest of our sessions.
Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Covenant union between the church and Jesus, we all get that.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31–32)
The human relationships in the church are meant to demonstrate the relationship between Jesus and the church. Profoundly in marriage but not only in marriage. Being in Christ, means that we also have an obligation to steadfast love, to loyalty, to faithfulness, to one another. And that is something that the church has massively missed out on, not just our church, all churches and our culture. We do not live in a culture that understands relationships Biblically and we treat church members and we treat our brothers and sisters in that same way. What would change in our church if we viewed our relationships with one another as a covenant relationship where what I owe each of you and what you owe me as a privilege and a joy is love and loyalty and faithfulness. Where your relationship with your brothers and sisters is not take what you can get or whatever works for you or whenever it is convenient. And what if it was a lifelong thing? Sure, there are good reasons to move away. There are people in this room who have moved away, it’s great to see you. But what if we viewed our relationships with one another like that? What if we understood the nature of a covenant and didn't view each other in terms of a contract? What if we view each other as Christ viewed us? Jesus says “As I have love you, so you are to love one another.” This is what he means. We pour our own meaning into this. Whatever we think that kind of love is, that’s what we do, But what he means is the kind of love that is faithful, and steadfast. It is the kind of love that dies, that goes to the end. The kind of love that doesn't say “you owe me” but “what can I give to you?”, the kind of love that doesn't say “what is my right?” but “I will give up my rights”. What would happen to our church if that is the way we viewed one another? I have yet to see that church, I have yet to see that in me. So this weekend we are going to flesh out in practical detail what does it look like for us as God’s new covenant people.
Our Father in heaven, we thank you that you have made a covenant with us through Jesus Christ. You have sent your Son to be the mediator, the guarantor of a better covenant. One that can not be broken because it cannot fail. We thank you that you are a God of steadfast love, You are a God of faithfulness, you are loyal, you forgive. We thank you that you did not simply destroy us when we ought to but you saved, that you did not lead us in our own way but you said “I am going to bless the nations”.You have done that in Christ. You have sent us a King in Jesus. All of your promises have come to fruition in Christ. We ask this weekend, as we consider your great love, as we consider the beauty of the gospel, that you would help us to learn on a ground level, what it means live this out to one another. Let us know life together in a covenant community looks like. Lord, we cannot do this. Only you can do this and we ask that you would. In Jesus name, Amen.
More in Life Together
October 2, 2016Everyday Life Together: Prayer (Session 4)
October 1, 2016Everyday Life Together: The Word of God (Session 2)
October 1, 2016Everyday Life Together: Christian Fellowship (Session 3)