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What it means to be in covenant

“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:8 I’ll begin with a confession. A year and a half ago, my own hypocrisy finally got to me. I talk about intimacy in groups – that thing in the Greek translation known as koinonea – but somehow, I struggl…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:8

I’ll begin with a confession. A year and a half ago, my own hypocrisy finally got to me. I talk about intimacy in groups – that thing in the Greek translation known as
koinonea – but somehow, I struggled to make it work in my own life. Our family tried, but in eleven years here in Georgia, we couldn’t find the deep ongoing fellowship we hungered for. God made us covenantal in our bones, but we felt like fish out of water.

So we decided to begin with the good friends God had already given us and we started Friday Soup Night. It’s taken all this time, but I think it’s starting to work. In the last month or two, we are really starting to connect with one another in deep ways.
Finally, we are beginning to experientially understand what it means to be in covenant.

People in covenant relationships are risk takers. They have taken a corporate “trust fall.” They have chosen to together create an atmosphere of safety, where secrets can be shared and intimacy can grow. It is doubly risky because those looking on from outside will brand the endeavor “exclusive.” In doing so, they may be among a group that wants the benefit of covenant without paying the price.

People in covenant
are exclusive. They promise to be there for one another. In a culture that prizes independence, they commit to interdependence.

People in covenant recognize that life is difficult, many times even impossible for lone rangers. They have plumbed the depths of their shortcomings and failures and recognize that only the radical response of commitment to others will save them from themselves. Mothers have a refuge from the craziness of raising babies. Children have a model of adults who love them and give them perspective on their parents. Husbands know their wives have a safe harbor if hell should break loose against their family while they are away.

And it costs. It costs in the discomfort and even awkwardness of sharing pain or struggle. It costs in the time required. It costs in the new habits of sharing life together that trust-building demands. It costs in the perseverance needed when expectations aren’t met. It costs in the counter-culture commitment of something that may feel slightly cultish.

But independent of the rewards of intimacy and a safe place to run to, there is the simple fact of obedience – obedience to a biblical model. Obedience to a command to love one another deeply. Jesus had a lot of disciples. He was in covenant with just a few.

The American Church knows the word covenant, but it understands little of its depths. To go beyond that norm is to go to a place that at first may feel dangerous, but is ultimately home.

Comments (2)

  • Seth,

    Good thoughts here, but I would like to challenge it with the following adage, namely: “covenant” groups need to be heterogeneous in nature. Referring back to the biblical model, it is important to recognize that Jesus’ disciples came from many different backgrounds with different ideological beliefs, ranging from fisherman to anti-roman occupation zealots (Simon) and even Tax collectors. Having said this, it is important that we surround ourselves with people who think, look and act differently. That is one of the biggest problems with the contemporary evangelicals. They are xenophobic to the greatest degree. If you are not white, conservative and a republican you are out of the group. I think if Jesus were to create such a modern “covenant” group it would be very diversified. Lastly, the groups cannot myopically focus on their personal struggles, etc, but rather need to communally look outward, seeking their role in serve those who live at the margins of society. If not, they simply become a social medium that promotes narcissism, which is on the greatest plagues facing the contemporary church. It is true that God cares about the internal relations of a family, but more importantly God is concerned with how these familial interactions affect the greater community outside the household.

  • Hi Seth,

    Thank you for your honesty concerning covenants. I am not surprised that it has taken 11 years for you guys to have a covenant group. I grew up hearing and believing the great expectation of Christians: to be strong and independent. There are so many expectations within the church that are crazy. I am reminded of David and Jonathon. What a covenant! They were truly committed to one another despite how Saul felt about David. Then it says…Jonathon loved David as much as he loved himself. He lived out his love for him costing him everything- culture, beliefs, family, etc. I am concerned about what you said and give special importance to thiswhere are those who had and have amazing families…the nurture of a mother, the care of parents, the love within family? I have rarely seen this happen. I have seen the church keep the love inside too. Outreach is an action word. I agree with what Kevin Rubottom said about covenants being diversified and how love must flow out reaching others. When this happens communities will change the world.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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