When I was first born again, my sheer amazement at the reality of being filled with Christ produced an indescribable exuberance within me. Joy bubbled over in my heart like champagne exploding out of a rapidly uncorked bottle. What a wonderful, life-changing experience! Yet, my newly found joy was also overwhelming in some ways. For example, the salvation encounter with God was so all-consuming it overshadowed my severe lack of biblical knowledge. Of course, I was hungry to know as much about God and His word as possible. However, I didn’t have a clue as to the extreme depth of my lack of general Bible awareness. I was almost completely ignorant of even the most rudimentary facts of the Bible. For example, I did not know that the Bible was organized into books, chapters and verses. In addition, there was a void in the area of my knowledge of particular topics that needed to be addressed.
One of those subjects was the relationship between loving and giving. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but in later years I would look back and realize I had no understanding of God’s concept of giving and why it is so important to Him. Even after I had read John 3:16 many times, and frequently heard it quoted, the words didn’t translate to me on a personal level. The way I understood it was that giving was something God did, and it seemed as if our part was to receive. Yes, I knew with my mind that we were to emulate God, but quite honestly, I didn’t see how ordinary people could possibly give at a level of unselfishness such as sacrificing a son so someone who hates you would have the blessing of eternal life. I had received God’s love-gift of salvation, and yet I was unable to comprehend the depth of such a love.
Receiving seemed to be easier to deal with than giving. I knew I had received something great and wonderful when I was born again, and I understood that what I had received was the result of God’s gracious gift of His Son. What I didn’t do then was make the connection that nothing is ever received that hasn’t first been given. I would later learn that receiving has very little to do with God’s concept of giving, and I would understand that John 3:16 had far more meaning than I had imagined.
Giving Surpasses Receiving
The God-created order of the universe is that there is relationship between the parts. You see this in nature where scientists have discovered the delicate balance in ecosystems. If one part is disturbed, destroyed or removed, the remainder of the system is effected, sometimes to the extent of the elimination of the system. Relationships are clearly evident among people. Even a hermit living in the backwoods will often develop relationships with birds, or butterflies or even bears. And in the absence of any other possibilities for relationship, people will sometimes develop imaginary friends. So strong is the need to be connected, we can barely live outside of relationships. In fact, we can even say that we, whether as individuals or a group of any size, are defined by our relationships. Whether you are aware of it or not, you exist in relationships. Your grandparents were right, your friends say a lot about who you are.
One type of relationship that has special significance in the Bible is covenant, especially blood covenant. This is the first article of an in-depth review of Biblical blood covenant. As you go through the following articles, you will see that covenant and relationship are synonymous. All covenants are relationships and vice versa. Relationships are bound together when each party gives something of themselves to the other. That which is given acts as a bond of the relationship. In the case of Biblical blood covenant, as will be shown in later articles, that which is given is everything … all … the totality of your possessions as well as all of who and what you are. Since that which is given is the total of who you are, the bond is also a total bond.
The art of relationship building, i. e., covenant making, is founded on the idea of mutual giving. Parties focused on receiving will never have a successful relationship, and strife will be their master. Division will ultimately be followed by dissolution of the relationship. When one gives, another receives, but receiving is never the end game. As covenant relationships become more solemn and of a higher order, the requirement for giving increases. As the required level of giving increases, the covenant relationship climbs to a higher level while the importance and value of receiving decreases. Covenants are entered only by giving, never on the basis of what will be received. The level of required giving defines the level of the covenant.
All relationships, i.e., covenants, whether small or great, are defined by the degree of giving necessary to establish and maintain the relationship. Receiving, though it happens of necessity, is merely a byproduct of giving; it is not a factor in the human relationship ecosystem. In fact, entering a relationship solely for personal gain is considered to be disingenuous and deceitful. This is true no matter how casual the relationship. Of course, when one person gives, someone also receives; but receiving is never in the driver’s seat. Relationships are formed when two or more people give something of value to each other. No relationship exists between you and a person you pass on the street, neither are you in covenant with the thousands of people you happen to be with at a football game, because nothing has been given. In short, if nothing is given by the covenanting parties, no relationship exists. And if the covenant is a true relationship, one founded on respect and free of ulterior motives, the giving will be mutual and considered by each party to be of equal value.
In legal contracts (a type of covenant relationship), the amount of giving is often defined in writing. Less formal relationships such as friends usually define the necessary giving in an unwritten and sometimes unspoken agreement. In these cases, expectations can cause friction, but after a while both parties understand the boundaries. The idea is that if less is given by one party, the other feels slighted, and they may complain that they are being taken advantage of. However, peace and harmony will exist if each party believes their giving has been matched by their covenant partner.
Relationship Equals Covenant
In the broadest sense, a relationship is a covenant. We can imagine an endless variety of relationships in a seamless hierarchy from lesser to greater significance. In this arrangement the lower level covenants require a small amount of giving while higher levels place greater and greater demands on the giving required. As the necessary giving level increases so does the strength of the bond between the covenanting partners. Additionally, covenants are not restricted to relationships between individuals. Covenant relationships exist between companies as well as between companies and outside entities such as customers and suppliers. Covenants also exist between countries in agreements called treaties, and countries also covenant with people in the form of citizenship. Often times parties enter into covenant relationships by means of a legal contract. The terms and conditions of these contracts are often called the covenants of the contract.
Biblical Covenant Is Hidden In Commonality.
Covenant is common to life. Even when evidence of covenant is limited to human relationships, covenants abound. Actually, they more than abound and the number is constantly shifting as some relationships are ended while others are begun. The commonality principle tells us the best hiding place for something is among many similar objects. A corresponding feature of commonality is this: As the desire to hide something increases, the number of objects needed to make a suitable hiding place also increases. With that in mind, consider that there are now more than 7 billion people populating the earth. That’s a staggering number, and it is constantly increasing. Now consider the number of relationships that exist between those 7 billion people. The number is staggering, and as enormous as that number must be, it, too, is constantly growing. The sheer number of biblical blood covenant relationships are extremely important to God, and as you should expect, they are beautifully hidden among a superabundance of covenants. Biblical blood covenants are even hidden in the Bible, which are hidden among hundreds of millions of books. Biblical covenant must truly be exceptionally valuable since God has gone to such extensive measures to hide it. Covenant relationships are so common, we hardly ever pay any attention to them. Finding those that are important to God, such as blood covenant requires they be sought with great diligence.
Levels Of Covenant
Covenants between people can be found in an infinite range of seriousness or importance. Some of these include the following:
- Acquaintances — You undoubtedly have many acquaintances. These relationships do not demand much in the way of giving by either party. Often no more than a greeting, a smile and some harmless chitchat is required to establish and maintain the relationship. “Hi! How are you? It’s going to be a beautiful day! See you.” Acquaintances come in and out of your life, with little effect on you … sometimes you are not even aware they are gone.
- Friends — This group can be subdivided into three categories: casual, comfortable and close. A casual friend might be a coworker you talk with in the lunch room. You might share an interest such as sewing or sports. Comfortable friends are people you enjoy being around, often for different reasons. You are free to share confidential information, but within limits, and some degree of trustworthiness is expected. A close friend is a person with whom you share much of your life. Here the requirement is much greater than for the other lesser friendships. Intimacy and loyalty come into play. Secrets are shared and confidentiality is expected. A break in a close friendship, or the loss of a close friend, can result in a wounding of spirit which can take a very long time to heal.
- Family — We’re all part of a family, whether large or small. The family you are part of is not a matter of your choosing, and you cannot get out of it; your DNA is tied to your parents and siblings, and there is no changing that fact. Even though you did not have to give anything to get into your family, maintaining family relationships often demand a high level of sacrifice.
- Marriage — This covenant between a man and a woman is the most solemn and the most binding of all covenants in common practice today. Marriage covenants are usually established in a church, before God and witnesses, and are recognized by civil governments. The vows made by husband and wife declare that the only means of dissolution of the covenant is the death of one of the partners. Government statutes stipulate certain grounds for divorce, the Bible does as well.
- Blood Covenant — A covenant where the parties give their all (their possessions, desires and even their lives if necessary) to each other. The bond of this type of covenant is total and complete. It cannot be broken even by death. Blood covenants live on even after the death of the covenant partners. Blood covenants are made before God and He is the mediator of the covenant. This form of covenant is the highest order of covenant that can be made between people. It is mostly little known today especially in the Western world.
Giving Is A Sacrifice
Sacrifice is a common thread in making and keeping a covenant. The sacrifices are made in the form of giving, one to the other. It is giving, making sacrifices, that forms the bond of the covenant. The greater the sacrifices, the stronger the bond. A bond is formed between two parties when each party agrees, either formally or informally, to certain conditions of performance. Keeping them will require making sacrifices. In other words, it is necessary that covenant partners give up their own interests in favor of the desires and well-being of their covenant friend. Wedding vows bind a man and a woman with their declaration that each will stand by and not desert the other in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, through good times and bad until they are separated by death. Clearly these vows should not be entered into lightly, since keeping them will no doubt stretch to the max each person’s ability and willingness to give.
With each level of covenant, there are consequences for either keeping or not living up to the covenant’s terms and conditions. And dissolving or breaking the relationship all together can carry severe penalties. Loss of rights and privileges or a break in intimacy can result, and in the case of divorce, financial loss is often incurred, and sometimes even parental rights can be suspended for one or the other parent. In the case of a blood covenant which is made before God, the consequences are administered by God.
During the discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus spoke of spiritual realities which Nicodemus did not understand. Included among Jesus’ instruction are the widely known words of John 3:16 which states:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
In this one sentence, Jesus capsulizes the covenant relationships I’ve been describing. Here we see giving by God. This was the highest level of giving … He gave all … by giving His Son, Jesus, the Messiah … the exact representation of His nature. In other words, all that God is, Jesus is. Therefore, God gave all when He gave Jesus.
Next, John 3:16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish. The word believe in this passage speaks of much more that mental agreement. The Greek word is pisteuō (pist-yoo’-o). It means to commit one’s trust in, to believe, rely upon, trust, or put confidence in. These definitions speak of commitments based on belief and trust, i.e., faith, what the New Covenant portrays as a fully convinced acknowledgment and a fully assured and unswerving confidence. Belief in this context also conveys the idea of a self-surrendering fellowship. Self-surrendering speaks of giving while fellowship speaks of relationship. Thus, those who believe are givers of self. Remember we said that in covenant making the giving is mutual and considered to be of equal value. In the example under discussion, since God gave all, the believer’s sacrifice of self must also be all. When each gives all, the giving can be thought of as being equal. All equals all. So we see in John 3:16 an indication of mutual and equal giving, a definite indication of covenant making.
Next we learn that those who believe, i.e., those who make a self-surrendering sacrifice, will not parish. Rather, out of their total sacrifice, a death of self occurs and a new life emerges. With this, the final element of the covenant-making process is uncovered … new life out of death.
In this one verse we see all of the elements of Biblical covenant making: the mutual and equal giving of all, the total surrender, i.e., death of self, and the emergence of a new life. John 3:16 is all about making covenant with Jesus. And those who make the required self-surrendering sacrifice come into a new life in union with God through covenant with Jesus Christ.
You might feel like joining me in saying, “Amen!”