Covenant Expressions in the Kingdom of God
© 2018 Philip M Spence
Many believers are aware and appreciative of the covenants that God has established with humankind but consider covenant between one another to be an Old Testament or archaic concept. Often the fact that the word covenant is not used in the New Testament is cited as evidence that covenant between believers is not a part of the New Covenant that God has established between Himself and His people.
However, a full understanding of the New Testament concept of ‘Koinonia’ points directly to covenantal relationships as the foundation of Kingdom connections. Koinonia is not simply a casual connection with fellow church members. It is an intimate, committed relationship that is voluntarily entered into and binds the participants together on a Kingdom journey (Acts 2:42-47).
The New Testament strongly encourages bonds between the people of God. The Greek word used means a band that unifies. It is used to describe the function of a ligament which is permanently connected and is essential to the function of the muscles and bones to which it is connected. Without the bonds of ligaments, limbs are not able to fulfil the function for which God created them. The role of five-fold ministries is to bring the people of God to maturity so that they are all covenanted with each other in this way (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Two key scriptures help us to understand the bonds between us. Firstly, we are to endeavour to maintain unity in the Spirit, the ligament of peace being the agent for this unity (Ephesians 4:3). Secondly, we are exhorted to love one another above everything else. The Apostle Paul says that this is the ligament that binds mature believers together (Colossians 3:14).
Obviously, this is not simply a casual connection with fellow church members.
In addition to the above, the New Testament also contains many mentions of the ‘one another’ concept. While it is two words in English, it is one word in the original Greek New Testament. It combines two words to signify the bond between people. This word occurs one hundred times in the New Testament, and its use by the writers always deals with interpersonal relationships (Strong’s Concordance Reference G240).
I personally believe that we are destined for both vertical and horizontal covenant relationships. We have entered into the New Covenant established by Jesus between God and humankind. The Bible teaches that we are also to embrace our brothers and sisters in many ways that lead to being in covenant with each other. Jesus said that when His people ‘Agape’ one another, the world around us will come to know who we really are as Kingdom people (Matthew 13:35).
The word ‘Covenant’ seems to evoke many and varied responses and reactions. I believe this is because of ignorance regarding the true nature of covenant, and because of abuses of the concept over a long period of time. God has established covenants between Himself and humankind for the benefit of humankind. In the Old Testament we also see many covenants established between people. Covenant was the underlying relationship in family, business, war, and strategic alliances.
In the New Testament the covenant concept is one of a commitment, will, or testament. This concept is used in regard to God’s new covenant with His people. It involves the concept of bequeathing the inheritance to the sons. Therefore, the covenant the Father has made with us is the commitment to making us His sons and giving us the inheritance that He has stored up for us.
In the New Testament the word that is translated ‘Covenant’ is not used for a covenant between people. Instead there are other expressions including ‘Koinonia’ which is an intimate commitment to relationship with each other. There are also dozens of ‘one another’ statements and commands in the New Testament that point to covenantal relationships. In addition to all of this, I have found ten instances in the New Testament where we are covenanted together in a variety of ways.
To be co-yoked then means that a union has been established for the purpose of working together for mutually beneficial outcomes. To be co-yoked means that a
To be co-yoked means to be united together like a team of oxen that are yoked to pull a plow or a cart. In a team of oxen, a mature, experience animal will be teamed with an immature animal that needs to learn from the older, more experienced beast. Eventually the younger animal learns how to be fully and functionally co-yoked with the older beast (Philippians 4:3).
union has been established for the purpose of working together to produce Kingdom outcomes that bring glory to the King. Being co-yoked means that we have become colleagues together in Kingdom purpose.
To be co-yoked also means that we are co-joined in a covenant that is akin to the marriage covenant. It means we become joined together in a way that leads to completeness in God, and with one another. This is a clear picture of a very strong and lasting bond between Kingdom people. It is also very clear evidence that Koinonia is covenantal as is our working relationship in Kingdom endeavours.
If we are co-yoked, we are co-learners. We are learning together how to live and function as Kingdom people under the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we are co-yoked we are fellow disciples, living disciplined lives together, learning from the master together, and together becoming like the master.
Interestingly, the one mention of being co-learners is recorded as being spoken by Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus said that He was going to Judaea to raise Lazarus from the dead, however the disciples reminded Him that His life had previously been threatened there. Jesus said He was going regardless of the threats to His life, and Thomas said with an air of resignation that the disciples might as well go with Jesus and die there too (John 11:16).
It is in this context that John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit calls the disciples fellow learners. They had much to learn about Jesus’ heart attitude, perspective, and motivation. It was very important that they learned these things together so that they would be committed to the mission of Jesus in covenant with each other.
As we learn and grow together, we become established together in the Kingdom of God. To be established means to find our place with one another in Christ and be permanently set in it. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth about being co- established in Christ. This shows that our life in the Kingdom is not an individual journey but a corporate one in covenant with each other.
Paul also said that once established together, we are set apart and appointed together for God’s purposes. Being established together and anointed together are keys to being sealed together in Him. We are then promised that the Holy Spirit will be our guarantee of the fulfilment of what we have been anointed for (2 Corinthians 1:21).
The concept of being a co-servant or co-slave means together serving the same master. In Matthew’s gospel he records Jesus teaching a parable about an unforgiving servant. This parable has been much expounded regarding forgiveness, but it also contains some relevant insights in to the relationships of fellow servants. There were demands, accusations, violent behaviour, and unfair treatment.
There was grief amongst the other co-servants who then brought the issues to the master. He stated that love and compassion should prevail between co-servants. I would like to suggest that Jesus was showing that even among the co-yoked there needs to be interpersonal adjustments at times. However, if forgiveness flows there will be reconciliation, and if love and compassion prevail there will be less issues (Matthew 18:28-35; Colossians 1:7; 4:7; Revelation 6:11; 19:10; 22:9).
Co-workers are fellow workers. They are co-labourers and companions together in labouring for the King. The result of being co-labourers is a joy in serving the Lord together (2 Corinthians 1:24). This word occurs 13 times in the New Testament and is also translated ‘Fellow Helpers’.
This expression of covenant is used 12 times by the Apostle Paul who describes people working together, and also working with him, in this way. The final mention of this concept is by the Apostle John. He talks about how we are to receive strangers as well as those we know to be brethren. Our hospitality and fellowship with believing strangers causes us to become fellow workers (3 John 1:5-8).
(Also see the Apostle Paul’s use of this word in Romans 16:3, 9 and 21; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25; 4:3; Colossians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:2 Philemon 1:1, 24).
The concept of Co-Soldiers is that of warriors camping out together in the field as part of a military campaign. They are co-campaigners who are united in a common cause and prepared to fight for that cause and give their lives for it. The Apostle Paul first used this word when writing to the Philippian church, introducing Epaphroditus to them. He told them that Epaphroditus was like a brother to him, one who served him, a co-worker with him, and a fellow soldier in advancing the Kingdom. He then said that Epaphroditus was now an Apostle to them. (Philippians 2:25).
Paul also described Archippus as a fellow soldier (Philemon 1:2). When writing to the church at Colossae Paul asked them to give a message from him to Archippus. It was an exhortation to fulfil the ministry that the Lord had given him (Colossians 4:17). He had most likely done so after many battles and so Paul came to regard him as a fellow soldier.
I wonder if being a co-captive or fellow prisoner inspires many believers today. Our covenant with God means we are committed to being a bond slave of Christ, and we are also to understand what it means to be prisoners together of Christ. Also, in the first century many believers were literally imprisoned for their faith including the Apostle Paul who exclusively uses this terminology to describe some of his fellow workers and soldiers.
It is interesting to discover who it was that Paul called fellow prisoners. He sent a salutation to Epaphrus who he called a fellow prisoner. The name ‘Epaphrus’ means to be fully devoted, so fellow prisoners are fully devoted the Lord, their fellow believers, and to the calling on their lives (Philemon 1:23).
Paul also called Aristarchus his fellow prisoner. His name comes from a word that means to lift or weigh anchor. His name means best at ruling, so he was able to rise and rule. Interestingly, it was Aristarchus who accompanied Paul to Rome where he was placed under house arrest (Colossians 4:10).
Finally, Paul calls Andronicus, one of his relatives who came to Christ before Paul, his co-prisoner. His name means man of conquest. Andronicus was an Apostle but because of how he carried himself and functioned, he was a noted Apostle (Romans 16:7). So, fellow prisoners are people of calibre: they are fully devoted, know how to conquer and rule over what they have conquered.
The Bible teaches us that we are aliens and foreigners here on Planet Earth because we are citizens of Heaven. More than our citizenship, and our eternal destiny, we are fellow citizens of Heaven. The concept was used in the first century to describe the bond between people who hail from the same town. For Kingdom people it means that we are united in covenant with each other because we come from the same place; Heaven (Ephesians 2:19).
Heaven is not just our eternal destination; it is where our origins are to be found because we have been born from above (John 3:3-8). We are of our father who is in Heaven (Matthew 5:45; 10:20; Luke 12:30). It is said of Jesus that He knew where He had come from, what the Father had given Him, and that He was returning to the Father when His time here was done. So it is with us; we are fellow citizens of Heaven (John 13:3).
Co-heirs are participants in common in the Father’s inheritance because we contribute together to advance the Father’s name and business. Our rights and benefits are actually greater than that of citizens of Heaven because we are sons of God. Because we are sons of our Father in Heaven, we are joint heirs with Jesus who is God and also the Son of God (Romans 8:17). Finally, the Apostle Peter also taught that the marriage covenant is an environment in which we become joint heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). As sons of God we are heirs together of His inheritance because He has promised it to us (Hebrews 11:9). Not only are the descendants of Abraham co-heirs of their Father in heaven, but in this New Covenant the Gentiles are also joint heirs of the same promises (Ephesians 3:6).
Finally, elders are to be covenanted together. The first century church exemplified team leadership, not in a hierarchical way but a group of elders genuinely united and working together for the cause of the Kingdom. The church at Antioch was overseen by a group of Teachers and Prophets, two of whom became recognised as Apostles who came and went. The church at Jerusalem was overseen by a group of elders who happened to be the Apostles of the Lamb. Every church that Paul established was overseen by a group of elders either commissioned by Paul or a member of his apostolic team.
The concept of being a co-elder more literally means a co-presbyter. The Apostle Peter exhorted the elders of the church to which he wrote to oversee the flock, feed them sacrificially and unselfishly, and be an example to them (1 Peter 5:1-4). He affirmed his covenant relationship with them by describing himself as their co-elder even though he was very clearly an Apostle to them and was not always present with them. At every level of Kingdom life and function we see covenant expressed, and as elders model this covenant, those they lead will follow their example.
Phil Spence was commissioned as an apostle in 2010 as a recognition of the grace, function, and fruit of his life and ministry over many years. He leads Jabez International Mission, a relational network spanning eighteen nations, and is based in Kingdom Life Church, Brisbane, Australia. Phil may be contacted via email@example.com.