Have you ever noticed how we stand before God during the most significant events in our lives? When we take oaths in court, altar, or even offices, we utter “So help me God” in our vows. Why so?
Covenant is more than just an agreement or a vow; it is a bond. A commitment. This is why we call unto God when we devote ourselves to something serious because we ask for God’s divinity to straighten the shortcomings of our humanity.
Apart from merely including God in our affairs, we ourselves are directly involved with Him in a personal relationship. As mentioned in our class last night, a covenant relationship with God is the highest form of relationship we can ever have. Well, I couldn’t agree more.
When we ask God to be involved in our lives, we can trust Him to be faithful to His promise even if we can’t. That’s the kind of love God has for us — unchanging.
What does a covenant relationship feel like anyway? This may not be the best example but imagine taking pity on a homeless puppy and deciding to keep it as your own. You promised to yourself that you would love and nurture this pup from now on, simply because you felt mercy and compassion towards it.
Even when the puppy causes you inconvenience, gives you minor injuries or breaks your most beloved item, because it was an initiative on your part to love and take responsibility for this pup, you will stand by it no matter what.
In this scenario, the covenant can’t be an agreement between you and the dog because the dog is in no position to decide. The puppy cannot say, “If you feed me, then fine, I will be good to you. Done deal.” Rather, the covenant here is the vow you made to yourself which in effect formed the bond between you and the puppy. (The pup naturally recognizes that you are its new home because of this bond.) It’s not because it earned your love that it was adopted, but because you voluntarily gave your mercy and kindness to it.
This illustration gives us a glimpse of how a covenant relationship looks like. It is a bond solely based on love, mercy, and grace, and never on our behavior or performance. The beautiful thing about it is that even when people change minds, get tempted, and make mistakes, God doesn’t. When we ask God to be involved in our lives, we can trust Him to be faithful to His promise even if we can’t. That’s the kind of love God has for us — unchanging.
Whoever said “promises are made to be broken” must’ve set their hopes on people instead of God. They mustn’t have perceived God’s loving-kindness yet.
The scars from your broken relationships with people shouldn’t hinder you from receiving God’s covenant relationship. Relationships, in general, are both refreshing and consuming because it’s a two-way thing: you give a part of yourself to them and you take a piece of them with you. You share the joys and lift the burdens together. We were designed by God like that, to be relational with others and also with Him.
It’s never too late. God is still offering a covenant relationship to His people. The promise of eternal life with God was sealed by the blood of His only son Jesus, so we may be adopted into His family.
Will you recognize Him when He invites you home?
A love that greets us from far away
The short story entitled the Parable of the Prodigal Son shows us a picture of God’s covenant love. In the story, the youngest son asked for his inheritance from his father, left home and wasted all the wealth he received in an extravagant lifestyle. One day, he became destitute and looked for work but nobody fed him. When the son realized that the pigs he fed where he worked had better food than him, he decided to return home to his father to work as a slave instead.
You would think when he comes home, his father would shoo him away but the story doesn’t go like that. His son, on the way home, was still far away yet the father already forgave him in his heart. Just the fact that he was coming back home gave him compassion. It may sound like a cliche story, but many of us don’t realize the depth of the son’s sin and the vastness of the father’s love. Let’s take a closer look.
Covenant love requires humility and repentance. It is conditional and it is divine. It is conditional not because it has to be “earned”, but that it needs to be received by the person before it prospers. Divine, because only God can give it.
An heir is only entitled to receive a share of the inheritance when the person is deceased. According to the Torah, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the firstborn son receives a double portion as his inheritance rights.
If there is anyone who should be first in line to receive the inheritance, that should be the eldest son. Yet the younger son was disrespectful to demand his father’s estate, claiming his wealth while his father is still very much alive. It was like saying “I can’t wait for you to be dead so I may enjoy my share already.”
That was how evil the intention of the younger son was. He was eager to get rich, shameless and had no regard for his father’s feelings. He lived a reckless life, wasting the wealth that he didn’t earn — every single dime was only given by his father.
In Luke 15:15, he may have thought of going back home but he didn’t just yet. Maybe pride or shame held him back from returning. But we see in Luke 15:17 that out of desperation, the younger son realized how he should arise and go back to his father. He no longer can endure hunger and poverty so he went and humbled himself. That decision took courage.
However, the hero of the story is the father. In Luke 15:20, the father greeted his son with tenderness and forgiveness while he was a long way off. There was still a significant gap but seeing his son’s face again softened his heart. Instead of hardening his heart before his son, despite the hurt, he loved his son even more.
Although this story wasn’t based on real-life events, I can’t help but wonder why Jesus didn’t give any reason as to why the father stood there just in time to catch his son running back to him. Maybe the father was waiting for his return every day? Nobody knows, but what amazes me is that the father didn’t only give his son mercy and kindness, but grace, too. He could’ve simply accepted his son back to his arms (mercy) and since his share in the inheritance was already gone, the father could’ve imposed a rule about limiting the resources for him (kindness). But in Luke 15:22-23, the father orders his servants to prepare a feast and celebrate his son’s return (grace).
We humans like to fantasize about a love that turns the other person into a martyr for our sake. We hope to be loved by someone who will see us as perfect. But isn’t it better to be seen as our real, imperfect selves yet still be deeply loved regardless? Isn’t it better that as we receive love, we grow in love, too?
“God gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…” James 4:6–8
The highest form of love doesn’t hinge on the perfection of its receiver, rather it depends on the perfection of the Giver. A covenant relationship isn’t focused on who we are, but on who God is. It anchors on a love that is based on the promise He gave to His people. Those promises are not hidden in codes but are spoken in the Bible.
When Jesus died on the cross, he died for everyone. Salvation was given to all and nobody was spared from the love of Christ. Jesus gave us a free gift of eternal life with him. We didn’t do anything to deserve it yet like any other gifts, we have to unwrap it before we can behold its benefits.
If the rebellious son has not returned, would the father have forgiven him? I suppose. But would their relationship be restored? Would their love continue to flourish if the prodigal son behaved wildly like before? No, because covenant love doesn’t equate to unconditional love. Covenant love requires humility and repentance. It is conditional and it is divine. It is conditional not because it has to be “earned”, but that it needs to be received by the person before it prospers. Divine, because only God can give it.
While God’s covenant love is unconditional, a covenant relationship isn’t. Let us not forget that a covenant relationship is still a relationship — it involves participation from at least two parties. Just like the prodigal son, we need to respond to our Father with humility and repentance before we can fully experience the richness of God’s covenant love for us.
Captivating, isn’t it?