The Pledge of Covenant Care and Provision
(Reading time: 12 minutes) In the covenant he makes with us, God specifies the covenant terms identifying him as our Father and describes the relationship’s purpose, specific rights and privileges, including each partner’s specific responsibilities. The covenant legally changes our identity by making us God’s children and members of his kingdom, and enables us to become increasingly like Jesus. Our new identity also authorizes us to use covenant authority as needed and act in God’s name. As with other covenants, ours includes a pledge to sacrifice our independence and care for our covenant partner by focusing on his needs, well-being and success, and conscientiously serve and provide for him.
Most covenant ceremonies include the partners exchanging food, either by preparing a meal or simply sharing a piece of bread and feeding each other, which represents their pledge of care and provision. They then typically drink wine from the same cup or from separate cups brought together like a toast. The wine represents their blood and drinking it symbolizes sharing each other’s life.
When God made covenant with Adam and Eve, he did more than pledge his care and provision for them. He literally provided a wide variety of foods for them and all their descendants, including us. He told them, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:29).
God took care of Noah by telling him to build an ark that would protect him and his family during the pending flood (Gen. 6:13-21). After the flood, God provided for them by making living creatures available as food in addition to plants (Gen. 9:3).
Before God made covenant with Abram and changed his name to Abraham, God pledged his care and provision. God directed him to leave his homeland then led him to another land (Gen. 12:1). Landownership was essential to most people because they raised their own crops, flocks and herds on it, so giving Abram land was a major blessing preceding covenant. After he settled in the land, Abram rescued his nephew Lot from captivity by an invading army, then refused to accept any of the captured booty as a reward. He had made an oath to God not to accept anything so no one could claim they made him rich (Gen. 14:22-24). After that, God pledged to be his “very great reward” (Gen. 15:1); the Hebrew language in that verse indicates the reward was for Abram’s loyalty to God. That is, God would give him great wealth, in contrast to the booty he declined for recovering the captives. Later, when God made covenant with Abram, he included the land as “an everlasting possession” to him and his descendants (Gen. 17:2).
Hundreds of years later, Abraham’s descendants had become a large population of slaves in Egypt and God used Moses to lead them to the land he originally gave Abraham and his descendants. On the way, God met with Moses on a mountain and made a covenant with the people (Exod. 19:3-6). Moses, other leaders of Israel and 70 elders officially represented the people in a covenant meal with God (24:9-11). Afterward, in addition to the ten commandments, God dictated the covenant terms – collectively known as “the law” – to Moses, who recorded them and presented them to the people. The terms included God’s pledges of care and provision for the people, and included descriptions of mandatory feasts. Most of the major Jewish holiday celebrations are feasts and only have meaning within the covenant.
As Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, God reaffirmed the covenant with the younger generation. Again, the covenant terms or law included detailed descriptions of the mandatory feasts (Deut. 16:16) and references to “fellowship offerings” which they were to eat (Deut. 27:7). The term “fellowship” refers to the covenant and the fellowship offerings they ate represented the covenant meal.
God’s future covenant with Israel includes his pledges of astounding care and provision. He said they’ll possess the land forever (Isa. 60:21). The land will produce a bounty of grain, new wine, oil, flocks and herds (Jer. 31:12). There will be rain in season, producing fruit and crops (Eze. 34:26-27) and they’ll never hunger or thirst (Isa. 49:10). The wealth of nations will be theirs (Isa. 60:5-7; 61:6). They’ll rebuild the ruined cities (Isa. 61:4) and God will rebuild Jerusalem with precious stones, as evidence of his blessing (Isa. 54:11-12). Foreigners will serve them (Isa. 61:5). God will turn their mourning into gladness, give them comfort and joy, and they’ll dance and be glad (Jer. 31:13). That is divine covenantal care and provision!
Many marriage ceremonies include specific acts that symbolize a covenant meal between the bride and groom. Taking communion together or sharing a drink, especially drinking from the same cup, represents sharing each other’s life in covenant. Also, feeding each other wedding cake represents their pledge to care and provide for the other. Unfortunately, very few couples realize the significance of these acts; we just think they’re fun things to do and a great photo opportunity.
The New Covenant
In a previous article, we saw that covenant requires us to surrender our personal rights and focus instead on our covenant partner’s well-being and success, including what they deserve, need or want. The covenant meal represents each partner’s pledge to do that by taking care of and providing for the other. The meal in the new covenant is the Lord’s Supper, communion or Eucharist.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
None of the disciples asked why Jesus did these things because people in that era fully understood covenants. His disciples usually had questions or misunderstood what Jesus was doing, but not this time. That meal happened at Passover and everything he did was typical of the Passover Seder. However, he reinterpreted the elements’ meanings. The bread represented his body, which was about to be crucified, and the wine represented his blood, which was about to be poured out. Notice he specifically referred to the cup as “the new covenant in my blood”; he clearly was using the Seder of the old covenant to represent entrance into the new. This was the ultimate form of covenant, the absolute gift of one’s entire self to serve the needs of those who would become his covenant partners.
By taking the Lord’s Supper, we remind ourselves of God’s gift, which allows us to enter covenant relationship with him. We also pledge our selfless commitment to him and proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns (v 26).
The great importance of the Lord’s Supper, and the covenant it represents, deserves a warning against eating and drinking the elements in “an unworthy manner.” Because anyone who does so “will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” and brings judgment on themselves (vv 27, 29). The word translated “unworthy manner” refers to something done improperly or inappropriately; in this case, failing to acknowledge the elements represent the Lord’s body and blood. It also might refer to taking communion without repenting of one’s sin, since the text says everyone first ought to examine themselves (v 28). We must make sure we’re honoring the covenant instead of serving ourselves.
If we fail to honor the new covenant appropriately, we’ll not receive its blessings but instead become subject to its curses, such as weakness, sickness and even “falling asleep” in death (v 30; also see John 11:11-14). We often think of these as coming from our spiritual enemy and rebuke Satan for them. However, this passage clearly states they also can be the result of participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27). We might think such judgment is severe for not having a proper attitude while eating a cracker or drinking grape juice, but it can be the result of a casual or indifferent attitude about the covenant. Such an attitude dishonors the covenant by violating its terms; specifically our pledge to focus on God instead of ourselves. If we dishonor our covenant, we bring God’s judgment on ourselves as his discipline or training so we won’t be condemned with the world (vv 29, 31-32).
The covenant meal represents each partner’s pledge to care and provide for the other. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration and reaffirmation of our covenant relationship and a reminder of God’s and our pledges to each other. It’s something we can do corporately with other believers or privately by ourselves.
God’s Care and Provision for Us
From God’s perspective, what did humanity need the most? Forgiveness of sin. How did he provide what we needed? By sending his Son to become a sinless human to receive the punishment we deserved.
As we’ve seen, when Jesus shared that last supper with his disciples, he explained the new meaning of the Seder elements. The communion elements reflect aspects of God’s provision. The bread or wafer we eat represents Jesus’ body, as we saw earlier (Matt. 26:26). It reminds us of the severe physical abuse he suffered before and during his crucifixion which secured our healing: “by his wounds [we] have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).
The juice or wine reminds us of the blood he lost which secured our salvation. Matthew adds a point not included in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matt. 26:28; also see 1 John 1:7). That forgiveness applies to everyone who accepts Jesus as Savior, which also brings them into covenant relationship with God. It met our greatest need by restoring the relationship God had with humanity before Adam and Eve sinned.
When we entered covenant with him, God pledged to continue taking care of us and providing for our needs. Jesus assured us by explaining the extent of God’s care and provision.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matt. 6:25-32).
God begins by providing for our eternal, spiritual need when we accept Jesus and enter the covenant. Then he provides for our temporal, natural needs: food, drink, clothing; and by extension housing, transportation and everything else we need.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him” (2 Pet. 1:3). This means we can cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us by providing what we need (1 Pet. 5:7). Why does God commit himself like this? Primarily, because it’s his nature; secondly, because we’re his covenant family.
There’s an important word most of us fail to fully understand: “grace.” The Greek word translated “grace” refers to one’s favor, good will, free benevolence or gift. Grace benefits the recipient by providing what they need or want. For example, God’s grace was so powerfully at work in the first century believers that there were no needy people among them (Acts 4:33-34). One way he did that was enabling some to become wealthy enough they could give financial support to the needy. God’s grace and power enabled Stephen to perform “great wonders and signs” (Acts 6:8). That same grace enabled Paul and Barnabas to perform signs and wonders (Acts 14:3). When Paul asked God to take away what was tormenting him, God replied that his grace was sufficient for Paul and his power was made perfect in human weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Everything we receive from God in covenant is an expression of his grace. He provides whatever we need, often by giving us the skills and abilities we need to take care of ourselves, serve others and work effectively in his kingdom. That even includes what we call spiritual gifts. These are covenant expressions of God’s grace to care for us and provide what we need.
Our Care and Provision for God
It seems almost ridiculous to think we could possibly take care of God and provide for him. He’s Almighty God, the Creator, the all-sufficient one. He’s omniscient and omnipotent. Yet, there are ways for us to care and provide for him in covenant.
Covenant is a bidirectional relationship, in which each partner cares for the other with practical action, not just feelings. It’s easy to focus on what he does for us, but that self-centeredness originated with our old sinful nature and it violates covenant. We defined covenant as a loving, enduring, legal relationship in which each partner focuses on the other’s well-being and success, including what they deserve, need or want.
What does God deserve from us? He clearly deserves our worship. Two Greek words are translated most frequently as “worship” in the New Testament. One means to kneel or bow down in worship or reverence (for example, Matt. 2:2; Rev. 10:10); the other refers to performing religious service out of duty, love or reverence (for example, Php. 3:3, “serve”; Heb; 12:28, “worship”). One characteristic of worship is a preoccupation in which we gladly focus our attention on the object or person of our worship, even to the point of ignoring other important things. Jesus said we’re to “seek first” God’s kingdom – the full expression of who he is and what he’s doing – and his righteousness – total compatibility with his nature and ways – which means they should be our top priorities (Matt. 6:33). We must radically change our priorities to give our heavenly Father what he deserves.
What does God want from us? He already had multitudes of spiritual beings before he created humanity, so he obviously wanted someone different. He created humans in his own image (Gen. 1:27), crowned them with glory (Ps. 8:5) and gave them their own domain to subdue and rule over (Gen. 1:28). He clearly wanted a family of human beings like himself who had abilities and responsibilities similar to his own, and could relate to him personally. Sin destroyed that relationship, but he already had a plan. Before the beginning of time, he knew what would happen and chose to send his Son to earth as a human to offer us salvation from the penalty for sin (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2-3).
What does God now want from us? He wants us to spread that good news to the world (Matt. 28:19-20) so others also can enter his royal family. He also wants us to become increasingly like his firstborn Son, our older brother, Jesus. We do that by developing Christlike, godly character traits: humility, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Php. 2:8; Gal. 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit figuratively plants the seeds of these traits in our human spirits and we nurture them by practicing them. As we do, they grow, become more natural to us, and influence our thoughts and behavior. He does his part and we do ours.
He also wants us to obey his commands for our own benefit, and our love for him motivates us to do so (2 John 6). We should long for our Father to say about us what he did about Jesus, “These are my children, whom I love; with them I am well pleased” (see Matt. 3:17).
As members of his family, God wants us to have a loving, intimate relationship with him as our “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Abba is an affectionate Aramaic term a child would call their father, which probably reflects childlike intimacy and trust; maybe similar to “Daddy.” That’s the type of relationship God wants to have with us. And it’s up to us in covenant relationship to give him what he deserves and wants.
The kingdom and the covenant are interdependent, inseparable topics. God uses the new covenant to bring us into intimate relationship with himself as members of his royal kingdom family. And one of his kingdom’s major functions is to provide everything we need to live and serve him within his kingdom.
Our spiritual authority enables us to draw confidently on God’s resources or request his help; a right or privilege we have as a result of our covenant relationship. Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22). Elsewhere he said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14). In each of these verses, the Greek word translated “ask” means to request expectantly or in some contexts even demand something from somebody. Because of our covenant relationship, we can have a confident expectation that he’ll respond to our requests, and even deliver extraordinary results.
The Lord’s Supper (communion or Eucharist) celebrates and reaffirms our covenant relationship with God. The communion elements represent God’s pledge to care for us and provide what we need and want, and our pledge to do the same for him.