Examining God’s way with His people and the way of a man with a maid.
With the earth’s billions all having their opinions and peculiarities, we should be grateful for agreeable people. Thank heaven for any agreement that adds to the total tonnage of precious peace on earth. Celebrate those folks who agree to disagree and who find grace to do it without being disagreeable.
More important than people’s position is their disposition. And no station in life is better suited to prove our disposition than matrimony. If we humble ourselves at home first, we get more grace to avoid offense in other venues too. In this way, Jabez’ prayer “that I may not cause pain!” (1 Chronicles 4:10) is answered in us.
A wise and long-wed wife gave away the secret of her marital bliss like this: “When we got married, I settled on ten things that I’d always forgive my husband for — no fuss and no spite on any of those ten.”
The women present eagerly asked about the items on the list, and she replied: “To tell the truth, I never got around to writing them down. But every time he did something I didn’t like, I just said to myself, Lucky for him, that’s one of the ten.”
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. This can happen when a man and woman wed based on the agreement “to love and to cherish, so help us God.” On the contrary, when two people marry with a contract in mind and a set of rules in hand, bliss is unlikely. Marriage ordained and blessed by God is rarely a contractual agreement. It is rather a covenantal link of enduring love and forgiveness, bringing horizontal happiness to the home that has it.
Links of faith
As with a man and his maid, covenants between Yahweh God and His people are not much like a business contract either. Instead, they are faith agreements in which God says He will be our God and we will be His people. Those who hear and agree respond in kind: “Yes, Lord, You are our God, and we will be Your people.” This is relationship. Several such covenants between humans and their Creator are found in the Bible.
Prominent among these early in the Book are His agreements with Noah, Abraham, and the nation of Israel through Moses. In each case, these covenants were not negotiated treaties between two parties, as if God and man were equals. Instead, they originated with the greater Party and were revealed to the lesser.
With Noah and Abraham, God’s covenant consisted largely of His spoken vows: I will never again destroy the earth with a flood (to Noah, in Genesis 9); I will bless you and make your name great; I will give you land and a seed; I will bless all families of the earth through you (to Abraham, in Genesis 12, 15, 17). This is promise, and covenants like these are promissory covenants.
In God’s agreement with national Israel, much more emphasis was given to obligations and expectations — the laws that God and Moses announced and that the people agreed to obey. This is obligation, and the Mosaic covenant is largely an obligatory covenant.
With this background, we can better appreciate the Bible’s premier agreement: the new covenant. It was prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-34), mentioned by the Lord Jesus and sealed by His blood (Matthew 26:27, 28), and repeated and explained in the New Testament letters of 2 Corinthians (3), Galatians (4:21-31), and Hebrews.
The core link of Bible covenants — “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” — punctuates our faith songs like a refrain (Exodus 6:7; et al.). What a sweet sound it is to those who know the precious promises, the divine oaths, the “I wills” of the promissory new covenant! They are two:
Oath #1: I will write My laws, My ways, on your hearts so you will know Me and want to please Me in all your ways (Hebrews 8:7-11; 10:16).
Oath #2: I will forgive your sins (8:12; 10:17).
The first oath tells the truth of this and any other agreement worth its salt: It has substance, character, and obligation. Rather than written on stone, the “laws” and “ways” of this oath are grafted into our very souls through the Spirit. Living in spiritual harmony with them is not just obligatory; it is our deepest desire. An obedient life raises the level of present blessings promised through the covenant.
The second oath tells the grace of this agreement. If the “laws” and “ways” of Oath #1 are violated, bringing conviction of sin, the mercy of the Lord endures forever to those who fear Him in obedient trust. When we fail to please the Lord in all our ways (Oath #1), we have only to confess it and reassure ourselves with His promise of pardon (Oath #2; see also 1 John 1:8—2:2).
This is the new covenant in Christ! Its beauty lies in its unbroken good favor and in its agreeable simplicity. Consider what we have in the three full paragraphs above: a mind-and-heart relationship with God, a high faith standard to live for, and a loving, accepting forgiveness when we fail.
Links of love
Bred, born, and brought up in a household of faith, I enjoyed advantages and benefits that exceed my count. Chief among them are, first, that Christ drew me to the Father’s bosom by cords of covenantal faith and baptism while I was a teenager, and second, that my wife drew me to hers by cords of covenantal love and marriage a few years later. Both these blessings are forms of intimate relationship too wonderful to tell.
One of these is living by faith; the other is living in love. Neither relationship began through the letter of a signed contract but through the promise of a shared spirit. Since that spring day in 1966 when Barbara and I agreed and vowed before God and witnesses, I have been her husband and she has been my wife — the essence of our covenant. No list of rules established our union. Rather, we promised a love-pact: to have and to hold in every circumstance until death ends the agreement. And we soon learned what pleased the other and what didn’t — the “laws” and “ways” of a happy home.
Can two walk together except they be agreed? Over the years, my essentially agreeable wife has grown in expressing her own views and desires openly and confidently, even when they differ from mine. That’s been good for both of us! When we’ve disagreed on a dozen details, we’ve always agreed to keep on walking.
Similarly, I’ve learned that walking with other Christians doesn’t require us to agree on all points. At home and at church, what’s needed most is common, new covenant faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord and agreement to walk together. The diversity this allows is, for me, more wonderful than if our thoughts and opinions were carbon copies.
Too wonderful it is that we are God’s beloved and that He is ours — one faith; that he who finds an excellent, prudent wife gets favor from the Lord, that she becomes the crown and glory of her husband; that I am my beloved’s and my beloved — a good forgiver — is mine (Proverbs 12:4; 18:22; 19:14b; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Song of Solomon 6:3); and that by new covenant faith in Jesus’ blood, we come to know the one great Forgiver and Lover of our souls.
On these, may we all agree!