In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we make frequent use of the word "covenant" although it is a word that most other Christian denomination rarely use. Yet, this word appears 147 times in the Bible and was at the heart of everything both the Jews and earliest Christians did. A covenant is not merely a contract made between two parties but rather is a special kind of relationship that people enter into with one another.
A contract is something that people make when they want something for themselves. For example, a bank enters into a contract with someone who wants to buy a house because the bank wants to make money while the home buyer enters into the same contract because they want a house. The fact that the other party is benefiting in some way has no relevance to the person entering into the contract. All they are concerned about is getting what they want and signifying they are willing to pay the price for it.
On the other hand, a covenant is an agreement which obligates all parties to work together for the common good. As such, a covenant is a solemn commitment, oath, pledge, duty, obligation, or responsibility that all parties make to one another to provide for their support, aid, and assistance. It is similar to the way in which the body works. Although there are many individual parts, such as arms, legs, eyes, mouth, heart, lungs, liver, bones, muscles, and ligaments, they all work together as though they were one unit. Thus, a covenant is an agreement people enter into as a means of dedicating themselves to becoming one with all those who have entered into the same covenant with the ultimate goal of establishing a more perfect union between them and God.
We see this kind of covenant most frequently in marriages where a man and a woman make a solemn oath to dedicate themselves to one another, working together to become one flesh. Thus a covenant is a special relationship where people change their behavior from being concerned with self to being concerned for others.
When we think of a covenant, we usually think of it in terms of our personal relationship to God, or what some people refer to as, the vertical relationship, extending vertically between heaven and earth. But a covenant isn't just an individual commitment. Notice, that when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt He made a covenant with the entire nation. Although each individual had to commit themselves to God and God committed Himself to each individual, He also committed Himself to the Israelites as a nation.
This doesn't mean there were two different covenants - one for individuals and another for the nation. There was only one covenant that applied equally to everyone, both individually and collectively. God wanted to have a nation of priests not a group of individuals each offering their own sacrifices to Him. What God wanted was for His people to be united with one another as well as with Him and the only way that can happen is if everyone in the covenant not only seeks to serve God but to serve all those who serve God. Thus, we not only enter into a vertical covenant with God but, at the same time we also make a horizontal covenant with each other.
The reason why this is important is because, while God saves us individually, He is also adopting us into His family which makes us all part of His household. Therefore, even though we are one of many members, we are all one in Christ, united in Spirit and one in purpose. That is why we are not only responsible for our relationship with God but with all those who belong to His family.
When we understand this concept our life becomes enormously significant because we are no longer concerned just with ourselves, our needs, and our desires but now we have a duty to care for others. God cared enough about us that He gave His only begotten Son to die. Christ suffered so that we might be spared from suffering. He forgives us of our sins, comforts us when we are beset with worry, helps us when we go through difficult times, fills our heart with joy, and gives peace to our soul.
When we enter into a covenant with God we are pledging to help Him in His work. That not only means bringing people to Christ, but helping relieve the suffering of others, provide comfort and solace, become peacemakers and spread joy wherever we go. And nowhere is this more important than within the family of God.
There is no peace or joy living in a contentious household and, since not even Christians are perfect, the covenant we make with God includes watching over and strengthening God's family of children by helping our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow stronger in the faith, lead them to do what is right, assist them in overcoming their weaknesses, and strengthening them to endure their problems. In this way we strengthen God's kingdom by increasing unity, love, peace, and joy within His household.
The reason why this aspect of the covenant is so important is because we cannot love God without loving His children (1 John 4:20,21). That means if there is something not right in our relationship with others then there is also something not right in our relationship with God. Therefore, in order for us to be united with Christ, we must also be united with one another.
But the covenant we make with God goes beyond those in the covenant relationship. It also extends even to those who are not part of Christ's kingdom. God sent His Son to die for everyone which clearly implies that everyone is precious and important to God, not just the believers. It was Jesus who taught that God sends the rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) and those who have entered in a covenant with God have the same responsibility to care for not only the just but the unjust as well. Jesus explained this principle when He said that in the last day only those who have done good to others will be gathered to Christ (Matthew 25:31-35) and the good deeds He mentioned included visiting those who are in prison. In most cases that is the abode of the unrighteous.
Although the concept of loving one's neighbor is a well know doctrine of Christianity, the idea that such behavior is required of us as part of the covenant we make with God is often overlooked or not clearly understood. At the time of our baptism is when we enter into a covenant to serve God and our neighbor, to build up Christ's kingdom here on earth and to keep His commandments. And based on that pledge of allegiance God then allows us to enter into His kingdom and become fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), having all the rights and privileges that citizens in God's kingdom are entitled to receive.
But there are also duties and obligations that go with our divine citizenship. For those who have entered into a baptismal covenant with God, the commandment to love our neighbor is not just a nice thing to do but is an obligation we have committed ourselves to fulfilling and that obligation is more important towards those in the covenant because, for us to be one with Christ, we need to be assisting, aiding, and supporting all members of God's kingdom so that together we all become one with God as well as with each other.
Although that is what we've pledged to do, it is not easily done because our allegiance to self often comes in conflict with our promise to God. When we are baptized we enter into a covenant with God with the greatest desire to serve Him, but almost immediately we find ourselves having to choose between doing what we want and what God wants.
The scriptures tell us, "what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8). To do justly means to deal fairly and honestly with others. To love mercy means to be patient and forgiving, but to walk humbly is not so easily defined because people have different concepts of what it means to be humble.
Perhaps the most popular concept is to be meek, timid, or self-effacing. To others the word is associated with being poor, lowly in station, or underprivileged. There are those who feel it means to debase, degrade, or demean oneself. But the scriptures give a different definition.
It has been said that Jesus was the most humble man who ever lived yet He certainly was not timid nor did He ever debase Himself. The scriptures describe Him as, "being found in fashion as a man, [yet] he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phillip 2:8). Here the word "humble" is associated with being obedient and, indeed, He was the most obedient man to God who ever lived.
The apostle Peter told the saints of his day, "ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5). Here again we see the word "humble" being used in association with submitting oneself to the authority of another or, in other words, being obedient. In fact, Peter goes so far as to say that all the saints should "be subject (e.g., obedient) [not just to those over us but also] to one another."
Peter preached that "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) and Paul taught that Jesus "became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). We are also told that children should obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1), wives are to submit to the authority of their husbands (1 Peter 3:1), and that we should obey those who have rule over us (Hebrews 13:17). In many of His parables, Jesus likened His followers to servants and, indeed, both Peter and Paul identified themselves as servants of God (Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1). By definition, a servant is someone who submits themselves to the authority of their master.
Jesus explained that it is the faithful servant who will enter into the joy of his lord (Matthew 25:21). That clearly implies it is possible for someone to be an unfaithful servant or, as the scriptures put it, to be an unprofitable servant. A faithful servant is one who does all that is asked of them while an unprofitable servant is one who does not fully or adequately perform their assigned duties or tasks.
What makes the difference between a faithful and unfaithful servant is the degree to which they submit their will to that of their master. Someone who is a slave has no choice but to do as they are told, unless they want to be subjected to some sort of cruel and harsh punishment that is deliberately designed to break the servant's will. But God does not force people to serve Him. Instead, we voluntarily choose to put ourselves under His authority and give our word that we will obey Him for the rest of our life. In return, God agrees to help us in every way possible to be worthy of inheriting all that He has.
Thus, we support Him and He supports us for a common goal. This is the definition of a covenant. But, because of the liberty which God grants us, this freedom often creates a problem in our life as we are forced to choose whether to fully serve God with all of our heart or share our loyalty to Him by sometimes choosing to serve our own wants and desires above His.
In the scriptures the word "proud" is shown to be the opposite of the word "humble" For example, we read, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). As used in this sense, the word "proud" means to esteem one's self above another, to have an overly high opinion of one's self, or despising others and treating them with contempt or scorn." A synonym for the word "proud" is the word "arrogant." It is hard, and almost impossible, for someone with this kind of attitude to be a servant or to willingly submit themselves to the authority of someone else. Thus, what prevents someone from fully submitting themselves to God's authority is pride.
When the scriptures talk about being "poor in spirit" they are referring to those who are lacking in pride and self-will. When the scriptures talk about being "lowly in heart" they are referring to having a heart that is willing to submit itself to God. Its imagery comes from a servant bowing, or lowering himself before his master.
There are some commandments we willingly obey but there are others we resist doing and the reason why is because of pride. As we look at the human race in general we see that all of us struggle with this problem to one extent or another. And it is precisely because of this human trait that we personally benefit from our covenant with God.
As baptized members of God's kingdom we are entitled to the gift of the Holy Ghost whose duty it is to help us grow closer to Christ. Sometimes He gently nudges us, reminding us to keep our baptismal promise. Other times He pricks our conscious, making us feel guilty for not doing what we know we should. Then there are times when His methods may be a little more painful but His goal is always to help us become one with Christ.
As members of the covenant we have the same responsibility. Our duty is to watch over and look out for one another. If the kingdom of God is to grow and be strong we have to learn how to work together as one and that happens when we encourage, guide, and help each other to put aside our ego and submit our will to God's. This is why Paul told the saints of his day, "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do" (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The prophet Alma told his people at the time of their baptism, that they should "mourn with those who mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9).
But when we do serve God and our fellowman, there is also a side benefit we enjoy. The only power Satan has over us is the force of his persuasion. Since he cannot compel us to do anything, he must therefore convince us to follow his ways by appealing to our ego, our self-interests, and our pride. In effect, he uses our own will against us, but if we don't act on his suggestions then he has no power over us.
By learning how to become submissive to God and willingly choosing to follow His ways we are taking away one of Satan's most important tools. And, because we are in a covenant relationship with God, when we support and aid His cause, he supports and aids us in our cause of resisting Satan and becoming prepared to live with Him forever.
This is why we enter into a covenant with God.