Living In Covenant Community
This has been a great day for the church. We have rejoiced in what God has done and we have celebrated the warmth of community. Last Sunday as we met to hear the testimonies of the baptismal candidates, there was a sense of God’s presence in our midst and a warmth because of the love we were able to express for each other. Last week I told you that my favorite word for the relationship we have in the church is “covenant community.” This morning, we observed 8 people make a covenant to enter this community. This evening, we will engage in some of the celebrations of covenant community with communion and foot washing. An occasion like this is a chance to remind ourselves of what our participation in covenant community means. One passage that teaches us how to live in covenant community is Romans 12:9-16. There is a long list here of what it means and we won’t look at all of these things, but I would like to take a few things from this passage to remind us. I would like to raise a few concerns about the family.
Let us read Romans 12:9-16.
I. Un-hypocritical Love vs. 9
The first verse says, “love must be sincere.” The Greek word for “sincere” is actually “un-hypocritical.” In other words, love must have no hypocrisy in it.
I Corinthians 13 is the chapter on love in the Bible. We have looked at it many times, but I wonder if we have noticed one phrase that helps us understand what “un-hypocritical love means? I Corinthians 13:6 says, “love…rejoices with the truth.” I believe that there is a connection between “un-hypocritical” love and love that rejoices with the truth and that this kind of love is important in the context of covenant community.
We sometimes have the idea that if we hide things from each other we are being nice. We don’t want to hurt another persons feelings so we don’t tell them the truth. But is that really love? What are the dangers in this way of responding? If we are not truthful with each other, we run the risk of inauthentic relationships. I sometimes am afraid of people who are always so nice. I wonder if that is the way they are when I am not around. I have met such people. I hear the way they talk about others and yet they are nice to me. I wonder how they talk about me when I am not around? I would suggest that that is hypocritical love. Of course that does not mean that we should be rude and blunt with each other. We need to speak the truth in love, but avoiding the truth when it needs to be spoken is not love.
There are two specific times when it is important to show love by speaking the truth. One is when someone else is in danger because they are engaging in a sin that could be destructive to them. If we truly love people, we will need to be courageous and love them enough to warn them when they are in spiritual danger.
Another time when honest love is important is when we are doing the work of the church together. When issues are being discussed in a church meeting and we have an opinion, and we don’t let it be known, but instead we talk about it at the coffee shop or to our friends after the meeting, that also sets up a false relationship. That also is hypocritical love.
Un-hypocritical love is important to covenant community. The commitment we have to each other requires an honest and open relationship. Part of covenant community is a commitment to love each other without any pretences, lies or hypocrisy.
II. Holy Living vs. 9
A second area in which we need to be aware of covenant community is in holy living. Verse 9 says, “hate what is evil, cling to what is good.”
There is some evil we agree is evil and we hate it. I am not concerned to speak to this because when we hate evil, we are doing what this passage says. I am concerned, however, that there are some things which are evil which we don’t think are all that bad or which we even come to love. Living in a world that is filled with evil, we can be tempted to become comfortable with evil. Some evil is part of the culture around us to such an extent that we don’t even recognize it as evil. I am very afraid of what we allow in the name of freedom.
The reason I am concerned about it is precisely because of covenant community. Have you heard the saying, “one bad apple spoils the bunch?” I suspect that this comes from the day when apples were kept for a long time in a barrel. If one apple spoiled, it introduced spoilage to all those around it as well. Jesus raised this to a serious level when he said in Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” What a serious thing to miss this point in the covenant community.
We have said that covenant community means that we are accountable to each other. But how do we hold each other accountable? At one time, evil was very clearly defined and we kept a close eye on each other and if anyone stepped over the line, they were often severely dealt with. The Bible tells us we are free from the law and tells us not to judge one another, with that in mind and given our current church culture, how do we hold each other accountable? Today, we allow individuals to make up their own minds about what is evil and we are afraid to talk to each other about the evil or potential evil we see in one another’s life. We don’t teach our children and young people how to define what is evil without getting into legalism and we don’t teach one another how to be accountable to each other. How is that covenant community?
Hating what is evil means that we have the attitude of God towards evil. That requires that we have our minds set to discern evil and our minds subject to God’s attitude towards it. A list of external rules will not lead us to hate what is evil. A love for God and a desire for His holy way will. We need the Holy Spirit to teach us to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. It means finding ways of discerning and living by what is good in the community.
III. Spiritually Hot vs. 11
Suppose you met someone who was having a bad day and when they spoke to you, pretty soon you were depressed too? Gloomy is catching, as is enthusiasm.
In verse 11, there is another interesting and important line. It says in NIV, “keep your spiritual fervour.” There are different ways of translating this and one is “in the Spirit, hot.” Whether the word should be “Spirit” or “spiritual” is hard to know, but the word zeal or fervour means “hot.” So the impression we are left with is quite clear. In our relationship to God, we must be on fire.
In Revelation 3:15-20, Jesus warns the church in Laodicea that they are lukewarm. The worst thing about this church was that they thought they had it all together. They thought they were rich and could see, but God’s judgement was that they were blind and poor. I am afraid that this describes the North American church as well. We think that both materially and spiritually we are doing OK yet I wonder what God’s assessment would be? Would he perhaps also accuse us of being lukewarm? Perhaps we too are blind and do not know how impoverished we are. Our poverty is revealed when we ask questions such as: Where do we see the power of God? or What is our life’s priority? I sometimes wonder if we have made being lukewarm normal. Where is our spiritual fervour? Lester spoke last week about a church in South America that was poor materially, but was diligent in reaching out. When I hear that I think we have much to learn.
Luke-warmness is contagious and that is why it is important as an element of covenant community. Coldness begets coldness, carelessness begets carelessness, heat warms. I would hate to have to admit that I am the cause of someone else losing spiritual fervour. So let us be hot, not only for ourselves, but for others as well.
A key element of being spiritually hot is prayer. If we are not in a regular relationship of prayer to the Father, how can we keep our spiritual fervour? We need to talk to God in order to keep our relationship to Him close and “hot.”
IV. All Embracing Love vs. 16
The final one that I want to talk about today is in verse 13 where it says “practice hospitality and verse 16 where it says, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”
Notice how these words have to do with our relationship with one another. These words encourage a love that embraces all others.
I’m glad that C&C have accepted Norm so that he wanted to join. I hope that it is an indication of what is normal.
I have come into new communities several times and have learned a few things about how that works. When I say the things I am saying, I am not talking about our experience here, but what I have observed over the years. When you have a group of friends you may be friendly with others who are not a part of your group, but how far does that friendliness go? They soon learn how much they are welcomed by what they are invited to. Covenant community must go beyond friendliness in the church foyer. I once read that a newcomer knows he is accepted when he is invited to a wedding. Until then, he is an outsider. Do we let people into our inner circles? Until we do, we are not really practicing the kind of all embracing love which this passage talks about. The church should be a place for all.
Where the Spirit of God is at work, the church can learn to be open to others. In fact, only the Spirit of God can build a church that welcomes. Are we ready to be built into such a church in our community?
Covenant community is a wonderful thing and one which we can always learn to build on. May God help us to be a true covenant community. Only His help will make that happen. Let us cry out to him to help us be a true covenant community.
For our part, if we practice sincere love, hate what is evil and cling to what is good, be spiritually hot and have an all embracing love, community will be sweet and will be attractive to the world. Then we will truly be the covenant community which has Jesus as its head and is empowered by the Spirit of God.