Covenant Theology: Beginning a New Series

Derek Ouellette —  February 15, 2010 — 5 Comments

If you do a Google search for the words “Covenant of Love” the first thing you’ll notice are several sites devoted to marriage. You’ll see right away key words like Marriage, Purity, Sexuality, and Strengthening, among others. And for good reason too.

Covenant

Marriage is a binding agreement between two people, or at least that’s what it is supposed to be. Traditional wedding vows usually include the words, “until death do us part” and “through sickness and health“; so marriage is not a contract that can be severed if violated, it is a covenant sworn to death.

Rings, being circular and unending, are exchanged indicating the eternal value of the covenant being made, and – at least in the Judeo-Christian context – the deal is sealed by the act of consummation when, through a deeply spiritual blending (and bleeding), the two flesh literally become one. And that is the “covenant” side of “Covenant of Love”, but without the other side, without “Love”, the covenant aspect does not work, it remains broken and incomplete.

Love

But if words have worth value attached to them then no word in the English language has been devalued as the word “love”. It has been violated and raped, stripped of substance and definition. We might almost say it has become a word without meaning. Love is confused with “lust”, with “feelings”, with “infatuation”, with “sex”, with “looks”, and with “ego” (“I”).

Mildred Wynkoop writes:

But love is a weasel word… Love may mean anything – or nothing. It has lost its moorings and stands for “what I want” – a most deceptive concept and despotic tyrant.[1]

Love “stands for what I want“. That is a good way to sum it up.

Here is an interesting fact: in secular Greek before the New Testament was written the Greek word, agape was “a colorless word without any great depth of meaning, used frequently as a synonym”[2] of eros (sexual love – lust) and phileo (friendship). When the New Testament writers wrestled with how best to describe Gods loving act on the cross (John 3:16) it quickly became evident that eros and phileo failed to remotely express the love of God towards undeserving sinners. So they rescued the colorless and shallow word agape and gave it a depth greater than all the other words for love put together.

Agape can no longer be used as a synonym for sexual love because eros is a selfish love which seeks to gratify lustful passions, and cares nothing for its partner. Contrary to this, God’s love is sacrificial and everything it does it does out of concern for others. And phileo love also fails to express God’s love towards sinners expressed on the cross because phileo denotes the idea of affection or showing hospitality. God is full of phileo love, but phileo love could never hope to capture the depth of God’s love recorded in John 3:16.

Covenant of Love or Contract of Lust

Ironically, today, like in ancient secular Roman society, agape is used again as a synonym for eros and phileo. And this is why vows have no meaning anymore. Because the phrase, “until death do us part” really means, “until you no longer please me” or “until we stop becoming friends”. And the phrase, “through sickness and health” really means, “I’ll take care of you because I feel bad for you, but that doesn’t mean I have to be faithful to you”.

When agape becomes eros or phileo then a Covenant becomes a Contract.

The New Testament writers used the word agape whenever they wanted to convey God’s love for mankind expressed through the sacrificial obedience of Christ on the Cross (John 3:16, 1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Jesus defined agape as a love that is self-sacrificial:

Greater agape has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13

Then Paul applies this word to the type of love a husband and wife are to have for one another:

Husbands agape your wives, just as Christ agape the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25

If agape were put back into the vows, then the vows would become a Covenant. People would understand that marriage is a commitment which pledges itself to its partner “until death do us part”, meaning nothing but death can separate them.

Get to the Point

This is easy preaching, I’m not a marriage counselor and I know there are many difficult issues to consider (like what to do in the case of continued infidelity). My point with beginning here in discussing marriage between a man and a woman is to illustrate the relationship between Covenant and Love, and to point in the direction of something else:

This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. – Ephesians 5:31-32

This is the first blog in a series on the Covenant of God, or I could just as easily say on the Covenant of Love (1 John 4:16). I am going to trace the major themes of the Covenant throughout the scriptures beginning in the Garden, looking briefly at Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah and finally Christ himself who is the Climax of that Covenant.

My approach, if you are interested, is to treat the scriptures as divinely-spired (God Breathed), taking a literary approach which asks the question a) what is the original author communicating and b) what is the Divine author communicating. Therefore I work on the premise of “scripture interprets scripture” paying careful attention to how the New Testament interprets the Old and to the various genres found in each unique book of the bible.

Stick with me as we explore the workings of God in redemption history and uncover the relationship between faith, grace and works, predestination and election, land and exile, death and life and blessings and cursings and eschatology – leaving behind a shallow and superficial reading of these things and grappling with their true significance and depth.

Because if you were to do a Google search for the words “Covenant of Love“, you would discover in the midst of several articles written about the marriage relationship between a man and a woman, this very blog which is about the Covenant of Agape expressed so dramatically on a hill called Calvary.

Reflection Questions:

1. In Greek the three words agape, eros and phileo can all be translated into English as “love”. How is agape different from the other two and how is this significant in our culture today?

2. What is the relationship between the two words, “Covenant” and “Love”?

3. In what ways does the divinely instituted covenant marriage between a man and a woman illustrate the Covenant God enters with people?


[1] A Theology of Love, p.9

[2] Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, p.427

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://harrysheresy.wordpress.com Harry Heimann

    I think this will be very interesting series. Many today have indeed turned a covenant of love into a “whats best for me senerio”. I also understand why the biblical writers made a point of saying what happens at home is brought into the church. If the home life is chaotic and selfish then that comes right into your “church life” (1 Tim 3:1-10). I will be interested in reading your insights.

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  • http://dccon.wordpress.com/ John

    Derek,
    These 2 articles on the biblical covenant are excellent. If God’s people more fully understood the meaning of this key biblical word and more consistently put it into practice in our closest relationships, it would transform our marriages, local churches and our society. Looking forward to the rest of the series………

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Hi John, Thanks for leaving a comment! You and Harry bring up an interesting point: How does Covenant Theology play out in our practical everyday affairs?

    I think this series on Covenant Theology should be followed up by a short series on Covenant Community.

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