September 24-25, 2005
Well, today I’m continuing this series called “Love Affair,” so let’s bow for a word of prayer. [Ed leads in prayer.]
A covenant is a blood bond of life and death. In our modern day vernacular we might call a covenant a commitment on steroids. So, a covenant is a blood bond of life and death. Our culture would say it’s a commitment on steroids. The word “covenant” is used throughout the Bible. All you have to do is thumb through the Scriptures and you’ll see this word. It’s mentioned 286 times. A covenant, a covenant, a covenant.
God was always making covenants with his people. I want to draw your attention to one of the covenants that God made to a guy named Abram. God made this covenant with Abram and they got together. It’s a very interesting situation how it plays out.
Genesis 12:1-3, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go the land I’ll show you….”
Abram was a squillioniare. Don’t think about a mom and a dad and 2.3 kids and maybe a dog and a cat just moving from one area to another. Abram, who lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, was commissioned by God to move to this new tract of land, this ultimate piece of real estate, Canaan. Think Bill Gates. Think of a Fortune 500 company moving from one area to another area. That’s the picture.
Let’s continue reading. In Verse 2 God says, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
What does this word “blessing” mean? Blessing means to be on the receiving end of the supernatural favor of God.
In Genesis 15:8 Abram asks a question that we’d all ask. Here God is telling him to move, he’s on the move and he says in Genesis 15:8, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” He’s asking, “God, how can I know for sure?”
What does God do? God responds to Abram with a covenant. Look at Genesis Chapter 15:18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” (What’s a covenant? A blood bond of life and death. The root word “covenant” comes from this phrase meaning “to cut.”) “On that day God made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendents I give this land.’”
So Abram brought a heifer, a goat, and a ram (and this is going to be kind of gross) and he took the animals and split them into. He arranged the bloody halves opposite each other. Then God walked through the bloody pieces of the animals taking the initiative in the covenant. God said, “Abraham, I’m going to pour out my supernatural favor on your life. I’m going to bless you. I love you unconditionally. I’m going to make your name great and you’re going to be just a huge difference maker. I’m going to keep,” God said, “my end of the deal. I’m in covenant with you.”
And then Abraham went into covenant with God. God cut a covenant with Abraham. He was the initiator.
Now, did you notice what I did? First, I called him Abram. And if you were paying attention you said, “Hey, wait a minute. You first called him Abram and now, Ed, you are calling him Abraham?”
Say Abraham with me. Abraham. Before the covenant his name was Abram. After the covenant, Abraham. What happened? Well, if you know anything about the Hebrew language, the word, the phrase “ha” symbolizes the breath of God. Thus, after Abram had this covenant going on with God, he had the “ha,” breath of God on his life. Be careful how you pronounce that, because you might spit on your neighbor’s back. But Abraham had the touch of God was on his life. He was in covenant with God. A covenant means a blood bond of life and death. It means “to cut.”
Now fast forward, if you would, over to 1 Samuel Chapter 18:3-4. We’re going to talk about another covenant. “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.”
Well that’s interesting. Back in this day, covenants occurred often. David and Jonathan exchanged robes. That illustrated the fact that they were becoming one. They exchanged belts. That illustrated the fact that they were helping one another with their weaknesses. They exchanged weapons. That paralleled the fact that they were going to fight each other’s enemies.
Then they took an animal, you guessed it, cut the animal down the middle, arranged the parts of the animal opposite one another, got back to back and they walked through the bloody halves of the animal in a figure eight—illustrating the eternal nature of the covenant. They were also saying to God, “God, if we break this covenant you do to us what we did to these animals.” It was called the “walk of death.” Put that in your frontal lobe. The walk of death.
Then, after they did the walk of death, they took one another’s names. And then on top of that, they made a public pronouncement, “Hey, we’re in covenant together, a blood bond of life and death.” Then they shared a covenant meal.
A covenant, don’t miss it, is a blood bond of life and death.
[A video is played on the side screens of a wedding interspersed with future scenes of how the newly married couple broke their vows and each had an affair.]
We live in a contract crazy culture, don’t we? You have to sign a contract to do anything. If you want a cell phone, sign a contract. If you want Direct TV, sign a contract. If you want to lease a car, sign a contract. If you want to get married, sign a contract.
How good are contracts? How good are they? Contracts are unique because, basically, they say, “If you keep your end of the deal, I’ll keep mine. The moment, though, I don’t feel like you’re doing what you need to do, I’m out. I’ll rip the contract up.”
We live a contract crazy culture surrounded by affidavits and stipulations and fine print and pre-nuptial agreements. If you keep going on down the food chain you find a bunch of lawyers. I love lawyers, but the reason we have lawyers is because we don’t keep our word. We have a hard time with that. We see everything as a contract. What is a contract? Let me read you the definition. There are three of them:
- An agreement between two or more parties, especially one that’s written and is enforceable by law.
- The writing or document containing such an agreement.
- Marriage as a formal agreement.
How good was their marital contract on the short film? The recent stats are out; 67% of all marriages end up as relational wreckage. What if your cell phone did not work 67% of the time? What if your TV didn’t work 67% of the time? What if your car didn’t start 67% of the time?
We go into marriage planning for failure. We go into marriage planning for divorce. I think it’s great that we’ve finally understood that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. It’s great that we can speak those love languages and know about his needs and her needs and watch episodes of Dr. Phil and Oprah.
But, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s not working. This contract mentality is not doing the deal. “You keep your end, I’ll keep my end and if I feel good about it then I’ll stay in the deal. But the moment you do something that I don’t like, or I feel this way or that way, I’m out. I’m bailing! I’ll throw in the towel!” We live in a contract crazy culture.
Is marriage really about a contract? No. Marriage is about something else. Marriage is about something deeper, more profound. And it’s been my prayer over the last several days that when all of us exit from this worship center we would understand the foundation of marriage, that we’d understand what marriage is built upon and that we would understand that marriage is not about a contract; it’s about a covenant.
Because once we grasp the richness of the covenant, then that will give us the energy and the octane and the power to be the kind of husband or the kind of wife that God wants us to become. So, keep the covenant. Keep the covenant.
A contract is all about loop holes. A covenant is all about loyalty. In a contract we’re always looking for a way out. In a covenant we’re looking for a way through. A contract is about feelings. A covenant is about faith. A contract is selfish. A covenant is selfless.
Just for a second, let’s use our imaginations. Now, for the men here it will be tough, because I want us to picture a wedding ceremony. Just for a second think of a wedding ceremony, guys, a wedding ceremony. Think back, way back to when you got married. For me it was almost 24 years ago in Columbia, South Carolina. Think about that whole wedding deal.
I’ve had the opportunity to officiate hundreds of weddings. One day I’m going to write another book and I’m going to write this book about crazy wedding stories. I’ve got some of the craziest wedding stories you’ve ever heard about.
When most of us go to a wedding, what do we do? What are we thinking? We’re sitting there watching everything and here’s what we’re thinking: “Man, she’s gained about 15 pounds, hasn’t she?” “Can you believe she tried to get into that dress?” “I wonder how much this thing cost.” “I wonder where they are going on their honeymoon.” “Have you heard about her ring?” “Oh, girl, I would never use those colors! Those are hideous!”
That’s what we’re thinking about during a wedding. But let’s think deeper. A wedding is not just a ceremony. A wedding is a covenant. It’s a ceremony that symbolizes a covenant. It’s also a ceremony that’s all about a covenant, because when a man and a woman become husband and wife before God and some friends, they are cutting a covenant. It’s a blood bond of life and death.
Some of you are saying, “Whoa, dude! You mean, I did that when I got married? I didn’t realize I was doing that!” But you did it! I did it. We made a covenant, a blood bond of life and death.
So, again, picture a wedding. Do you have a picture of the chapel, the sanctuary where your wedding took place? Why do we have an aisle, usually, in a wedding? Have you ever thought about that? Why does the bride walk down the aisle? That’s the walk of death. That’s what it symbolizes.
Have you ever seen a wedding runner? Those things are cool. Why do we have those? They symbolize… Well, I’ll tell you what they symbolize.
Do you remember when Moses was in the very presence of God? God said, “Moses, take off your shoes, take off your Tevas. You’re standing on holy ground.”
That’s what the wedding runner illustrates. This is a covenant, a blood bond of life and death. The man and woman, the bride and groom, are standing on holy ground.
Why do the parents have a prominent position in the wedding ceremony, this covenant ceremony? Is it because they pay for the deal? No! They have a prominent place because they’re giving their blessing to this covenant. They’re saying, “We’re not going to manipulate; we’re not going to stick our nose in this marriage. The cord has been cut. This is a new home. We are agreeing together with this commitment on steroids.”
Why does the father of the bride walk the bride down the aisle during this walk of death? That’s a pretty good question. Well, go back to the book of Genesis. God walked down the aisle, literally, and gave Adam his bride, Eve.
The hands are joined together in a covenant ceremony. That shows that you’ve got oneness going on. It’s two becoming one.
The pastor represents God, because a covenant is a three way deal. It’s a man, a woman and God.
You know, the groom usually walks into the chapel first. He just walks in and just stands there. Why does he do that? Well, go back to what I talked about earlier. Who initiated the covenant with Abram who later became Abraham? God did. God initiated the covenant. He did the walk through the bloody parts of the animal. He stepped up and stepped out.
And the man is the one who popped the question. The man was the one who romanced and finally said, “Will you marry me?” The man stands and waits for his bride. What happens when there’s an argument, a fight, or a disagreement? It’s the man’s responsibility to take the initiative and reconcile the relationship, because he took the initiative in this covenant process.
You’ve got the vows. They repeat the vows one to another, back and forth. You know sometimes during the wedding there’s laughter and tears. And that’s cool. But the vows should reflect Scripture. The vows should reflect our covenant God. They should reflect his character, his nature. They shouldn’t be stupid or silly.
Sometimes I’ve done weddings and people have said, “Do you mind if we write our own vows?” “I don’t mind it,” I say, “but it better reflect Scripture in the nature and character of God. And if it doesn’t, I’m not going to do it.”
I think back to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Do you remember their vows? “I promise to make you a milk shake every day.” Let’s all vomit together, shall we? You see where it got them? The vows are important.
And then, as the vows are recited in this public venue, you’ve got the rings. I love the exchanging of the rings and this is my wedding ring. It’s from James Avery. And it has a little bit of silver. It’s a circle. No beginning, no ending. It’s made of pure stuff, the real deal. And my love for Lisa is pure. It’s the real deal. When I take it off, am I still married? “Yes,” some are saying. “Well, I don’t know.” Yes, I’m still married! It’s an outward symbol of an inward commitment. It’s the covenant symbol.
How many husbands are sitting next to your wives? Husbands, are you next to your wives? Okay. If you are, look at your wife’s ring finger on her left hand. Look at that diamond for a second. [Ed breaks out singing “Diamonds are Forever” and “Diamond Girl.”] Who did that song? Seals and Croft. I saw them in concert a long time ago. They’re a little bit strange, but I enjoyed the concert.
A diamond has seven colors to it. Seven! I wonder why? I wonder why a diamond has seven colors? Well, if you go back and think about the covenant, go way, way back to when God made a covenant with Noah after the worldwide flood. God said, “I’m never going to do the worldwide flood thing again. And I’m going to put a rainbow in the sky to mark this covenant.”
Take a wild stab at how many colors are in the rainbow. Seven! I hope you’re connecting the dots now. Do you see the power here? Do you see the covenant? Do you see the blood bond of life and death?
“Well, man, I was doing all that when I got married, man? The walk of death, and I came into the chapel first, and we joined hands, and the vows, and the rings….”
Well, maybe you had a unity candle in your wedding ceremony, which is a covenant before God. Maybe you did that. With a unity candle you usually have three candles on this candelabra—two on the outside and then one in the middle. The one in the middle is not lit. The two on either side are lit and then the bride and groom take the lit candles and light the one in the middle. And then the bride and groom blow out their own candle. What are they saying here? They’re saying, “I surrender my stuff, my feelings, my desires, my needs; and we become one.”
And that’s the beautiful thing of the covenant. The covenant is not like, “Well, I need this,” or, “I need that,” or, “Man, what about this or that?” In a covenant we’re thinking about the other party’s need. Unconditional love. Commitment on steroids.
One time I did this wedding—I’m going to put this in my book—and this wedding was full of body builders. The wedding party was full of men and women body builders. And I love body builders, but these people were huge!
(Do you know how many body builders it takes to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to screw the bulb in and the other one to say, “Man, you look big!”)
So these body builders were standing there dwarfing me, and I went through the vows and the rings. The rings were this big! They were unbelievable. Then I said, “Okay, now I want you to go and light the unity candle.” So they turned and they grabbed their respective candles. For some reason, this candelabra in our church had malfunctioned and they could not get the candles out of the candelabra. So, the big groom said, “Honey, excuse me,” and she kind of backed away. I’ll never forget this. He grabbed both candles and bent them in to the middle to light the unity candle! You talk about becoming one flesh! Only body builders.
But those body builders taught me a lesson that day in that body building wedding. To have a great marriage, it takes a lot of strength, doesn’t it? It takes a lot of work, a lot of bending. It takes that. That’s the MWE—the marital work ethic. Marriage is not the easiest thing. It’s the hardest thing. But it’s the greatest thing. It’s the greatest thing. The unity candle. That’s some powerful stuff.
And of course, you do the pronouncement thing, the kiss and then names are exchanged, aren’t they? It’s a covenant. And then, as the bride and groom leave, they do, again, the walk of death up the aisle now to a new life. And it’s preferably a life of covenant, not contract.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger (or the pastor), ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?”
Some people right now, I know in a crowd this size, are sleeping in the wrong bed. Others here are walking on the edge and the ledge of compromise. You’re on that ledge of lust. One false move, one change in the direction of the wind, and you’re over the ledge. Maybe you have your eye on someone at work, around the neighborhood or at the health club, and you’re cultivating that relationship. And the next move is to jump in the wrong bed.
Maybe you were saying, when you saw that film, “Ed, that’s me.” Maybe no one knows but the other party. God knows.
Or maybe, just maybe, you have just come clean and you’re just trying to process this. You think because you’ve slept in the wrong bed that it’s over. You’re saying, “Is there help for me? Is there hope for me? Can I reconcile? Is redemption possible for me?”
Or maybe you’re saying, “There’s no way I could ever end up in the wrong bed. Not me. Not with the feelings I have for my spouse! No, no, no. Not me.”
It doesn’t matter where you are; it doesn’t matter what you’re involved in; it doesn’t matter how deep you are in the weeds; it doesn’t matter how far you’ve fallen off the edge and the ledge of lust; it doesn’t matter how many wrong beds you’ve slept in. The good news is this: God wants to move you from the contract to the covenant. He wants to move you from the wrong bed into the right bed. He wants to move you from the ledge to making wise choices and decisions about covenant marriage.
And over the next several weeks, that is what we’re going to talk about. How do I move to real redemption and reconciliation? How do I move to a true purpose-driven relationship with my spouse. How do I do that?
Jesus has romanced you and me. He’s dated us. He’s popped the question, “Will you marry me?” He’s done the covenant work. He spilled his blood on that rugged cross for your sins and mine.
In Mark Chapter 14:24 he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
Once I get in the covenant with Jesus Christ by simply saying, “I turn from my junk and my sin and turn to you”…. Once I respond by saying, “I do,” what happens? I’m adopted into the family of God? I’m connected with Christ. I have a new name. My name is Ed Young. But because I’m a Christ follower, it’s really Ed Young Christian. If you said, “I do,” to Jesus, the same is true in your life. We serve a covenant God who is all about covenant relationships.
So, as we leave this place I challenge you to think about the implications of the covenant. Marriage is a decision followed by a process.
When we say, “I do,” we don’t realize the implications of it until later on. I’ve been married almost 24 years and I’m still realizing the implications of that decision. And the same is true about Jesus Christ. We say, “I do,” to Jesus Christ. It’s a decision followed by a process. And we realize as we grow closer to him the implications of that decisions.
Eighty percent, eighty percent of all marriages will deal with adultery, if we believe the numbers. Eighty percent! As I told you, over the next several weeks we’re going to talk about some powerful stuff. We’re going to talk about reconciliation and redemption and making stuff right. Some people from Fellowship Church are going to spill their guts about adultery, about reconciliation and redemption. If you don’t believe me, just watch this, because this is where we’re going.
[A video montage is played on the side screens of several people talking about dealing with an affair, the effects of an affair and the results of the affair. The video is a preview of the coming weeks of this series.]