There is a lot to cover this week. So if you are new to this series on the local church I want to encourage you to visit our website and catch. But for now I am just going to get after it. So here is our big idea today…
A covenant community is fueled by grace to fulfill all of God’s “one another” commands in the NT.
What are the “one another” commands of the NT?
The New Testament tells us 17 times to love one another. It tells us five times to serve one another. Accept one another. Strengthen one another. Help one another. Encourage one another. Care for one another. Forgive one another. Submit to one another. Commit to one another. Build trust with one another. Be devoted to one another. Be patient with one another. Be interested in one another. Be accountable to one another. Confess to one another. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be conceited to one another. Do not pass judgment to one another. Do not slander one another. Instruct one another. Greet one another. Admonish one another. Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Meet with one another. Agree with one another. Be concerned for one another. Be humble to love one another. Be compassionate to one another. Do not be consumed by one another. Do not be angry with one another. Do not lie to one another. Do not grumble to one another. Give preference to one another. Be at peace with one another. Sing to one another. Be of the same mind to one another. Comfort one another. Be kind to one another. Live in peace with one another. Carry one another’s burdens.
If any of you are like me, then you like at this list and your heart says, “No way. Not going to be able to do all of that.” Well friend, that is what we are going to talk about.
1. Contractual Relationships.
If you are in the room today and are over he age of 18, then you realize the majority of your relationships are what we might call “contractual” relationships. These are relationships established around “goods and services.” Mortgages, leases for apartments, cell phone contracts are all based on a certain relationship—you pay them and they provide a service. You serve your employer and they pay you. If you don’t pay these people or if your employer didn’t pay you what will happen? The relationship is over—the contract is voided. Let’s face it, all of us are not calling up our cell phone provider to have a meaningful conversation about our day. We are not heading over to the leasing office to hang out with our landlords. We are not chilling with the CEO of our employers.
Now here’s the thing, when the majority of our relationships are like this then it becomes our default. We will come into a church and in our hearts the relationship will be built around “goods and services.” We may never say it aloud but our hearts say, “They better have this type of music, a certain kind of preaching and pastor. I better like their discipleship model.” And what ends up happening is our churches are full of people who are passionate about personal preferences and not Jesus. This is a relationship built on works and not grace. In these types of relationships we remain like all the kingdoms of the world. Then we wonder why our children are walking away from Christianity when they go off to college or marriages are falling apart. The foundation of our relationships are not fueled by grace, but works. Christ ceases to be the he cornerstone of the church, and then our relationships in the church begin crumbling.
2. Covenantal Relationships.
Therefore, what type of relationship does want us to have? The Bible describes God’s relationship with us as “COVENANTAL,” and I believe He wants us to have the same type of relationship with one another. Let’s explore this by asking 3 questions: What is a Covenant? What is the church’s Covenant? How does a covenant shape our relationships with one another?
What is a Covenant?
One key text always helps me understand God’s desire for covenant—Genesis 15. So, let’s briefly examine it together.
Here’s the thing, back in Genesis 12 God told Abraham He would give a huge family that would become a nation, but by this time he has not even had one child. Abraham is struggling, let’s look at Genesis 15.2-3 together. Abraham is stressed out. He is getting up there in years, he can’t move around as well, he is loosing energy, probably some testosterone and everything else that comes with old age. His life drawing near and everything God has blessed him with is going to go to another family. It seems like God is not delivering on His promises—the covenant He made with Abraham.
God reassures him of His promise in Genesis 15.4-6. But the interesting thing is in Genesis 15.7-21 we have a covenant ceremony. God has Abraham gather some animals, cut them in 2 pieces to make a pathway. Abram falls into a deep sleep and has a nightmare. God explains the nightmare to Him. He says your future family will suffer greatly, but God assures him He will rescue them and they will come out better for it. Finally a smoking fire pot and torch floats between the animals cut in half. Read any commentary and they will tell you the symbolism of this ceremony means God is saying, “If I do not keep my promises may I be torn apart like these animals.” Anyone who passes through them is making this vow. But notice Abraham does not enter through them only God does. What this means is the vow, the promise, the covenant is on God. If God does not keep His promises He will be torn apart.
Friends, a covenant is when we freely give ourselves to another person. We promise our end of the relationship is on us NOT the other person. Anyone who enters a covenantal relationship is NOT saying, “I will love you if…”. If you go to a wedding and the vows are, “I will love if you mow the grass,” or “I will love if you do the dishes,” then would not think it is romantic at all. In your mind you would say, “I don’t think this relationship is going to last.” We don’t dream about people who will love us around an exchange of goods and services. This is not a covenantal relationship but a contractual one.
Covenantal relationships have boundaries like any good relationship, but the vow or promise is not easily broken. But the truth is many of us have come into churches ready to break our vows or avoid them altogether. Why is that? Simply put, we want a way out or at least an easy one. We wanna keep our options open. Can you imagine if God dealt with us that way? What if God said to us, “You are good, but I don’t want to freely give myself to you because something better might come along”? Thankfully God does not deal with us that way. No, He enters into a covenant with us freely giving Himself to us. God fully knows we will not keep our end of the covenant, but He remains faithful.
What is the church’s Covenant?
We know from Genesis 15.12-16 that this is a description of what happened in the Exodus. After the Exodus God revised His covenant with the offspring of Abraham. This revised covenant was called the Mosaic covenant. When we think through this covenant we must remember God was establishing an entire nation that would be a light to the nations. People were supposed to come there and think, “This nation is awesome. Who’s your king? Who taught you how to live like this?” Nations have many rules and standards that protect their citizens and hopefully lead to general human flourishing. This is what God was doing with Israel.
But there was no one could fulfill this Mosaic covenant. As God sees Israel fail time and time again. Therefore, God revises the covenant, and listen to what Jeremiah tells us:
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. 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. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jeremiah 31.31-34
God has never given up on the promises He has made Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, but has progressively made the covenant better. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says:
For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he [CHRIST] were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.—Hebrews 8.3-7
What these two text tell us is God enacted a better covenant through His Son. Christ fulfilled the law God required, and then God freely gave us the Holy Spirit to write the law of God on our hearts. Clearly this is fully accomplished yet, because Jeremiah says, “And no longer shall each one say teach his neighbor…’Know the LORD’.” We are still teaching each other to know the LORD. We are still learning what it looks like to turn from sin and live for God’s glory. This leads us to our final question.
How does a covenants shape our relationships with one another?
God uses the local church as a means of our sanctification. The 59 “one another” commands in the NT are accomplished through the Holy Spirit and our desires to as covenantal relationships.
Let me break down one “one another” command. Galatians 5.15 says, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” What this tells us is we are gonna fight—every family does. But God wants us to fight like mature Christians. Kids bite and devour each other when they fight. But those who are mature will not consume the other person. They have learned that will not accomplish anything. What does mature fighting look like? It looks like the Cross. If we wanna consume something then consume the Gospel, consume the Cross. We must never forget the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15 He did even though He was fulfilling His end of the covenant. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to literally be torn apart. He was torn apart physically, emotionally, and mentally. God allowed Himself to be torn apart so we don’t have to be.
We are to lead in our fights with grace, mercy, love, compassion, and self-sacrifice. The heartbeat of our lives becomes, “How can I out serve the other person? How I can forgo my personal preferences or comfort for the joy of my brothers and sisters in Christ, for my neighbor, co-worker, children, friends or roommates?” Can you imagine if our churches, marriages, parenting, neighborhoods, were like this?
Dear friends, this is just one example of many that help us understand what a grace filled covenant community looks like. May this church and local churches across the globe truly live like covenantal communities. We take this so seriously here, we write out our covenant based on the NT, sign it, and renew it regularly with one another. I pray more and more people join us in covenant.