Covenant Service and Protection
(Reading time: 5.9 minutes)
People entering covenant are fully committed to their partner’s well-being within the terms of the covenant, which includes pledging to serve them and protect them from harm. In ancient covenants, the partners typically made this dual pledge as they symbolically exchanged their belts and weapons.
The belts they wore were very functional. They held such items as money, tools, dagger sheath, sword or arrow quiver. So exchanging belts represented pledging all of one’s strength, support, skills and abilities to serve the other partner.
Exchanging weapons indicated that each partner’s enemies were now also the other’s enemies. When one partner was in danger, it was the other’s duty to come to their aid immediately. Each risked their own life for the other’s security and protection, so anyone who came against one partner would have to deal with them both.
Because we’re in covenant with God, if we need any help or protection, we can count on our partner to respond immediately. We no longer live independently, but consider our partner at least as important as ourselves and respond to his needs immediately.
Let’s consider a key word that’s typically translated “power” and relates to a person’s strength or ability to do what’s needed. The apostle Paul used this word when he wrote of God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:19 NIV). This describes the immeasurable, incredible or exceptional greatness of God’s power, which he delivers or makes available to us. God’s not just able to handle whatever troubles us, his power is incredibly superior to anything else that exists. He’s “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). Sometimes he’ll do extraordinarily more than we ask him to do, or even imagine that he might do. That’s just who he is and that’s his covenant commitment to us.
We don’t need to be strong enough to take care of ourselves; rather, we can “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). This is why Paul wrote, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). As long as we feel strong and capable, we don’t rely on our covenant partner or even make room for him. But when we recognize our weakness and rely on him, we become strong in his extraordinary power.
Another area in which God clearly intervened to meet our need is our slavery to sin, which produces spiritual death. God served us by sending Jesus to die in our behalf while we were still sinners, meeting what was without a doubt our greatest need (Rom. 5:8).
In covenant, we serve God both directly and indirectly. Obviously, obeying him or doing what he asks is serving him. Scripture states that God gives the Holy Spirit, a gift included in the covenant, to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). Also, obeying his commands is an expression of love for him, which clearly associates obedience with the covenant (1 John 5:3).
We also serve God indirectly by serving other people. For example, Jesus said that whatever we do for one of the least of his brothers and sisters — that is, his followers and possibly Jews — we do for him (Matt. 25:40).
Most of what the New Testament says to slaves is relevant to employees in today’s culture. So we’re to serve wholeheartedly on the job, as if we were serving the Lord, not people (Eph. 6:7; Col. 3:23). That should definitely affect our faithfulness and work performance.
When we look past the typical human perspective and see the spiritual forces and powers arrayed against us, it’s obvious we need our covenant partner to protect us. Through his death on the cross, Jesus protected us by defeating and disarming the spiritual powers and authorities that enslaved us (Col. 2:15). We don’t have to defeat the devil because Jesus already did that. Our task is to declare the terms of that victory by commanding the enemy to submit to God’s will.
This covenant protection God provides is the basis for some very unusual commands he gives us. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink’” (Rom. 12:19-20).
These commands only make sense within the context of covenant protection, because we can rely on God to protect us from those who would harm us. The natural (sinful) reaction is to defend ourselves, counterattack those who attack us, hate those who harm us, and seek revenge. Because God pledges to protect us, however, we’re to do two things: (1) rely on him to protect us, and (2) reject our self-centered motivation to protect ourselves. This is the only way we can love our enemies and provide for their needs.
God also protects us by giving us spiritual weapons we must use to defend ourselves from our common enemy, Satan. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Notice these weapons have divine power, so they aren’t weapons available from the world system we live in. We use these weapons to demolish strongholds such as entrenched false beliefs, plus arguments and everything else that opposes our knowledge of God, making all of our thoughts obedient to Christ. Our enemy, Satan, is already defeated so now the issue is overcoming our own sinful thinking, habits, attitudes and perspectives.
It seems absurd to think we might need to protect God because he’s infinitely superior to every other being and can take care of himself. Yet we see scriptural references to our protecting what he’s entrusted to us.
Specifically, he’s entrusted the gospel and the faith to the saints (Gal. 2:7; Jude 3). This means we’re to use and defend them both. The apostle Paul wrote that he defended the gospel, which means he spoke in its defense when others challenged it (Phil. 1:7). We, too, should always be prepared to give an answer or defense to anyone who asks about the hope we have (1 Pet. 3:15).
Though we can’t and don’t need to protect God himself, in covenant we protect and defend that which he entrusts to us — the gospel message and beliefs of the Christian faith.
God serves and protects us in his exceptional ways, and we serve him and protect what he entrusts to us.