Blog Archives

Cherishing God’s Covenant (Genesis 17:9)

“And God said to Abraham, ‘Thus you shall cherish my covenant—you and your seed after you to the generations.”

(Genesis 17:9)

Do we really cherish the things that God has done for us? As I interact with Christians, sometimes I wonder. How often we will tell our neighbors about an award that one of our children might have received, but we will neglect to tell them about eternal life because it might be seen as socially awkward. It seems odd that we are often so silent about that which we profess to hold so dearly. Indeed, those things that we genuinely cherish are things that we seek to keep pure and preserve from outside influences. How often, though, we allow our theology to be polluted with non-Biblical but popular ideas. We often talk much about how God is love and how God forgives, but at the same time tend to downplay the fact that he is going to judge sin with eternal fire and how those who do not come to him in his Son, Jesus Christ, are guilty of the greatest offense imaginable before a holy God. How often truth becomes so watered down that its taste is barely recognizable.

Many of our English translations will render this word as “keep” and not “cherish.” The Hebrew verb used in this passage is rAmDv (shamar), which means, “to keep, to guard, to cherish, or to preserve.” It conveys the idea of protecting something that you treasure or hold dear. When this word is used to speak of commands, it usually reflects the idea of the people keeping them by doing them. Such is the same here. God is going to institute the sign of the covenant, that is circumcision. Yet, note that being circumcised is not how one fulfills the covenant—the covenant requires perfect obedience for it to be fulfilled—something that no mere human is able to perform.  Hence, we need a savior; hence God moved through the split animal pieces, not Abraham. Thus the tone here as this word is being used is not so much the actual fulfillment of the covenant, but whether or not Abraham is going to be faithful enough to the covenant to preserve the covenantal sign not only in his life but also in the lives of his children.

In the Christian church, we use the same language to refer to Baptism. As blood in its fullness has already been shed by Christ, the sign is a bloodless one and thus circumcision as a command has been done away with. Though many Christians still circumcise their sons, it is simply a matter of preference and family tradition at this point in history. Baptism is now the covenantal sign we place on the heads of our children. This sign is not necessary for salvation (as the thief on the cross could not have been baptized), but it is a matter of obedience and a reflection as to how seriously we cherish the covenant that God made with Abraham for us—which of course, was confirmed by Christ. If you cherish the things of God, your obedience to them should follow.

Loved ones, my prayer for you is that you take these words seriously. God has made a covenant with us as his people and he has always been fully and completely faithful to that covenant; are we being faithful to him? Do we really cherish the things that God is doing in our lives and do we raise our children to cherish those things as well? People say that children will hold dear the things that they see their parents holding dear. Do we cherish the covenant of God so dearly that our children and our grandchildren are also drawn to cherish those things as well?

Christian hearts, in love united,

Seek alone in Jesus rest;

Has He not your love excited?

Then let love inspire each breast;

Members on our Head depending

Lights reflecting Him, our Sun,

Brethren His commands attending,

We in Him, our Lord, are one.

-Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf

Your Word they have Guarded

“I have made your name known to the people whom you gave me out of this world; they were yours, even so, you gave them and they have guarded your word.”

(John 17:6)

Note the emphasis that is placed here on God’s having given the disciples to Jesus.  This, of course, is nothing new to Jesus’ teaching, as he has said:

“No one has the power to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; then I will raise him up on the last day.”

(John 6:44)

Yet, while this is not a new teaching for Jesus, in his prayer, Jesus is explicitly driving this point home.  Jesus has not made the name of the Father known to all mankind, but only to those whom the Father has drawn to the Son—and those who have been given to the Son have guarded the Word of God.  God has elected people to himself from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4) for the purpose of presenting us to the Son and then for the purpose of conforming us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) to be presented holy and upright as the bride of our great redeemer (Revelation 19:6-8).  From beginning to end, we are not our own, but belong to our mighty and glorious God—praise be to God Almighty, Amen!

Also, note the logical progression of this line of thought.  God gave people out of the world to Jesus—it is to them that Jesus has revealed the name of God.  Then, the ones whom the Father has given the Son have guarded, or cherished, God’s word.  There is a pretty straight forward linear progression that is being reflected in this language—those whom the Father has given have guarded the Word.  In turn, those who the Father has not given, have not done so.  There does not seem to be any gap between the giving and the guarding—all who have been given will guard—it is a mark of genuine faith that we cherish God’s word and it is a reminder that the fact that we may genuinely cherish God’s word is given to us as a sign of our assurance of salvation.

But what does it mean to cherish or to guard God’s word?  The word that Jesus uses here is thre/w(tereo), which reflects the care of one who has been charged to protect something—in our case, to protect the integrity of God’s word in our lives and in the lives of those of our family, church, community, and world.   Just like a guard charged with protecting a famous painting from a thief, it is an active job in which we must not fall asleep.  We must also protect the integrity of the whole—it does the curator of the Museum if the guard only protects part of the contents, and not the whole—“Sorry sir, they did get away with the painting, but I saved the picture frame it was in!”  Somehow, that does not cut it.

Yet, how often Christians pick and choose what they want to protect out of God’s word and what they willfully will cast aside.  Christians are often guilty of saying, I like this grace stuff, but you can have that language that calls me to put to death my pet sins.  Loved ones, if we are to guard the good deposit entrusted to us, we must guard the whole—and apply it to our lives as ones who cherish it.  We must not become lazy or fall off to sleep in our duty, but must stand upon the Word in truth and with boldness, not allowing a jot or tittle—a yod or a serif, as Jesus would have said—to fall away.  Such is what it means to guard the Word that God has delivered to us.

Yet, our failure to guard God’s word is a very old failure.  As the serpent approached Eve in the garden of God, we find that she and her husband have not been guarding the word that God has given them.  She adds to the command of God by saying that she must not touch, and she also takes away from God’s word by decreasing the intensity of the punishment—“You will surely die” (an emphatic statement) simply becomes, “You will die.”  And, given that Adam had the responsibility of teaching the command of God to his wife (she had not yet been created when God gave the command), it shows his lack of attention to the Word as well.  It is almost as if Adam said to his wife, “Oh, by the way, here is the rule, don’t break it” and then never went back to it.

We may criticize Adam for his failure to teach in this case, but is this not the same trap that we sometimes fall into as parents?  We pay lip service to the responsibility we have to teach and train up our children in the faith, yet do we actively pursue doing just that?  Our children will learn quickly those things that we are passionate about and they will typically pursue them.  They will also learn quickly what things in which you are just going through the motions and will discard them.  If statistics tell a story about how we cherish God’s word, then the story it is telling right now is that the majority of church-going Americans are simply going through the motions, and not cherishing what God has entrusted to us.

Loved ones, hear the words of Jesus.  Guard the word of God that has been given to you.  Love that word and cherish it in your life.  Keep it in tact and do not compromise it.  Then, instill it into the life of your children in such a way that they will see your own love and zeal for the word that God has sent down.  It is said that children can spot a phony a mile away, sometimes I am not so sure about that, but they will quickly realize what it is in your life that you are being phony about.  Beloved, be authentic in the guarding of the Word given to you so that your children will learn to guard it themselves and so that the world will know that Jesus Christ is alive in you and be drawn to Him because of that testimony.