Covenant faithfulness is a continuous theme throughout the Bible. God binds himself to his people and remains faithful even when his people are unfaithful. God calls human beings to enter a covenant with him. We are to bind ourselves to God and not seek after other gods. This special relationship is often described in marital language. The church is the bride of Christ. God takes Israel to be his spouse. When Israel breaks their covenant with God, it is described as adultery. Passages like Exodus 6:7 sound similar to vows at a wedding ceremony.
“I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:7)
When a person is baptized, they enter into a covenant with God. In baptism, we make a lifelong commitment to serving the Lord. We are not to go after other gods or idols. We are to be passionately devoted to Yahweh. In the marriage covenant, the bride and groom make a promise to one another. This promise is until death do us part. They are to remain loyal to each other for their entire life.
Covenants are of great importance because they keep us focused on what is truly meaningful. They put us on the path that leads to blessing for ourselves and others. Without covenants in our life, we will be easily led astray by our whims and emotions. This is why in the marriage covenant we promise to be faithful in sickness and health and for richer or poorer. We bind ourselves to the greater good and refuse to be led away by temptation. We promise to stick by a human being created in the image of God even though things may not be as they should be. The covenant we make is greater than our feelings at the moment. If we have doubts concerning our faith, this doesn’t mean we should quit being a Christian each time these feelings arise. Instead, we should remember our baptism and keep pressing forward.
Since covenant faithfulness is one of the core qualities of God, this means it is something we should seek to embody and practice in our own life. We are to be faithful to God, to the church, and to our spouse, but is this all? No! We should be faithful in our business dealings and the contracts we make. What if someone breaks their end of the bargain? What would God do? Israel was continually unfaithful, and yet God remained true. There are times when we may need to walk away from a bad deal, but this should never be our first reaction. We should do what we can to make it work, even if it means we must make a sacrifice. By doing this, we bring the character and presence of God into our marriage, business dealings, etc.
The church and its leaders should lead the way in being examples of covenant faithfulness. One way they could do this is by having the church and the minister make a covenant. This way the elders and the minister could live out covenant faithfulness in an incarnational way that others could see.
What might this look like?
Although covenant faithfulness is a quality found throughout the Bible, many of the specifics are left up to us. Here are a few suggestions of what a covenant between a minister and the elders of a local congregation might look like.
A covenant shouldn’t be made on day one. When a minister is hired, he doesn’t know everything about the congregation and the congregation doesn’t know everything about him. There should be a period of time before the two parties enter into a covenant with one another. This could be as brief as three months or as long as one year.
The covenant should include some type of commitment where both parties promise to be faithful even in the midst of turmoil. Think about the vows spouses make to one another on their wedding day. They are promising to be true to each other in the midst of sickness, poverty, or any other unforeseen event. Ministers will sometimes start looking for other openings as trouble within the congregations arises. Elders might look to terminate a preacher if he is having personal problems. Practicing covenant faithfulness means that we are not going to walk away from our relationships so quickly. The minister is committed to helping the congregation, and the leadership of the congregation is concerned about the physical and spiritual health of the minister.
Unlike a marriage, this covenant does not have to be until death do us part. It can be reevaluated every five or ten years. This gives each party some freedom, but it also ensures that a minister is not going to walk away if a shiny new job falls in his lap, nor is a congregation going to abandon ship because they didn’t like a particular sermon series. These big decisions are made with patience and prayer. Both parties focus on where God is leading them rather than a gut emotional reaction.
As human beings, we sin. We try not to, but it happens. This means our relationships are not going to be perfect, but hopefully, through practicing covenant faithfulness, we can show others how God remains loyal even when our relationships are not what they should be.