The Covenant of Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Today is our annual Covenant Service. As generations before us have done, we will renew our personal and corporate Covenant with God. So, what exactly are we renewing?

A. We are renewing our joyful acceptance of our sacred position as the beloved of God.

Throughout our worship service we have used the language of “covenant”. But what is that?

I believe a Covenant is best understood as a sacred relationship-commitment of love between God and people.

Throughout this week we have been reading Bible passages which highlight the fact that throughout human history God has invited us humans into relationship with Himself. He has committed Himself to be our God and has invited us to be His people.

Noah and his family … Moses and the Hebrews of the Exodus … King David … God time and again invited people into relationship, promised to be faithful to them … and called them to be faithful to Him. This was an invitation to Covenant … an invitation to a sacred relationship-commitment.

God put it very poignantly to the Hebrews in the wilderness after the Exodus. He spoke of His love for them and how He had carried them on eagle’s wings … He spoke a blessing to a thousand generations of those who responded to Him in love.

The Bible is the story of God’s relentless love for humanity. God creates us in love. When we rebel against His love and go our own way, God pursues us in love. When we return to God … He forgives us and receives us home in love. The Bible is the story of God’s relentless love for humanity.

The greatest example of this, of course, is Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Jesus Christ is the perfect missionary of God’s love. He came into our world to bring the message of God’s love to us. He came to invite us back into a sacred love relationship with God. He lived that message. He preached it. He taught it. And He got killed for it.

But even to this very day … anyone who receives Jesus’ message … believes it … and trusts Jesus enough to respond to Him by returning to God and asking God to allow them to come back home … into a sacred love relationship with God … such a person is freely forgiven of all their rebellion against God … cleansed of all their sin … and adopted into God’s family of love.

We are some such people. We have responded to Jesus, the missionary of God’s love … that’s why we’re here.

And when we renew our Covenant with God a little later … we are renewing our joyful acceptance of our sacred position as the beloved of God. We are accepting afresh that we are loved by God … and that we are His people.

B. We are renewing our joyful acceptance of our commitment to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength

In renewing our Covenant we are also confirming afresh that we are committed to loving God in return.

God has so perfectly loved us that the only appropriate response is to love Him in return. To the Hebrews in the wilderness, God not only spoke of His love for them but He called them to love Him back … with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

More than 1000 years later, when challenged by an expert in the Law, Jesus responded, that the greatest commandment in the Law is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength.”

When we renew our sacred commitment to a love relationship with God in a few minutes from now, we will be recommitting ourselves to:

  • Love God with all our minds – which implies
    • to work as hard as we can
    • on understanding as much as we can
    • of what God has revealed to us in His Word about Himself.
    • That’s loving God with all our minds!

 

  • Love God with all our heart – which implies
    • to work as hard as we can
    • on building a personal, love-relationship with God
    • through the means God has graciously given us
    • like prayer, fasting, worship, communion, silence, solitude, journaling.
    • That’s how we work on loving God with all our heart.

 

  • But we are also committing to loving God with all our strength!
    • It is my firm conviction that loving God with all our strength is about giving ourselves 100% to honouring God and pleasing God in the way we live our lives. We love God with all of our strength by:
  • Physically taking our bodies to the place of worship in obedience to His command to worship Him in community … and then giving ourselves 100% to the act of worship.
  • Honouring God’s Name by telling others about all the wonderful things we know of Him.
  • Giving generously and sacrificially to the work of the Kingdom of God.
  • Doing our everyday work and living our everyday lives with the express aim of bringing both pleasure and glory to God.
  • It is ALSO my firm conviction, however, that far-and-away the most important way in which we love God with all of our strength is by living out the instruction which Jesus said is the 2nd most important command: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Renewing our Covenant with God today is:

  • renewing our joyful acceptance of our sacred position as the beloved of God; and
  • renewing our joyful acceptance of our commitment to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength

 

3. We are renewing our joyful commitment to love others as we love ourselves.

The one characteristic by which all followers of Jesus should be recognisable is LOVE.

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples – if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Why would that be true?

May I point out the obvious. It is because we are followers of JESUS … the missionary of God’s love. The person we are following is the same Jesus of whom the Bible says: “This is how we know what love is … Jesus Christ laid down His life for us …”  (1 John 3:16)

Jesus Christ is the very definition of love … and if we are following Him … then it stands to reason that we will be characterised by love.

And that, friends, is where our main reading of the day comes in. It gives us possibly the most famous breakdown of what love truly is. This kind of love is not a feeling … it is a way of living … a lifestyle. It is an approach to each and every encounter we have with other human beings.

For the follower of Jesus this passage ought to be a Manifesto for living.

You’ll be relieved to know that it’s not my intention to unpack it or define words or do some deep life-application study. I just want to point out the simple truth that words in this passage like “envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, own way, irritable, resentful’ reek of self-indulgence, self-seeking and self-centredness. And having SELF at the centre is never the way of love.

On the other hand, words like patient, kind, truthful, protect, trust, hope, persevere … these are words that absolutely drip with the fragrance of putting others first … and seeking their highest best. And that … having OTHERS at the centre … is love.

When we renew our Covenant shortly …we will be renewing our joyful commitment to love God by loving others as we love ourselves. We will be renewing our commitment to the manifesto of LOVE.

As we prepare to do so, let us join in this beautiful prayer based on 1 Corinthians 13 which is written by Holley Gerth. The original can be found at her blog, One Step

Prayer of Commitment

Lord, because love is patient…

Help me to be slow to judge, but quick to listen,

hesitant to criticize, but eager to encourage,

remembering your endless patience with me.

Because love is kind…

Help my words to be gentle and my actions to be thoughtful.

Remind me to smile and to say “Please” and “Thank You”

because those little things still mean so much.

Because love does not envy or boast, and it is not proud…

Help me have a heart that is humble and sees the good in others.

May I celebrate and appreciate all that I have and all that I am,

as well as doing the same for those around me.

Because love is not rude or self-seeking…

Help me to speak words that are easy on the ear and on the heart.

When I’m tempted to get wrapped up in my own little world,

remind me there’s a great big world out there full of needs and hurts.

Because love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs…

Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me.

When I want to hold onto a grudge,

gently help me release it

so I can reach out with a hand of love instead.

Because love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth…

Help me stand up for what is right and good.

May I defend the defenseless, and help the helpless.

Show me how I can make a difference.

Because love always protects and always trusts…

Help me to be a refuge for those around me.

When the world outside is harsh and cold,

may my heart be a place of acceptance and warmth.

Finally, because love always perseveres…

Help my heart continually beat with love for You and others.

Thank you for showing us what the word love really means. Amen.

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