Here is my definition of a contract. A contract, in my view, is a law-based arrangement entered into by multiple parties that is designed to do two things for the participants:
- Guarantee maximum benefit for all parties.
- Limit the liability of all the parties, in other words, protect each party from harm.
That’s in an ideal world. That assumes both parties are knowledgeable about the nuances of the business at hand and are eager to make the deal a win-win proposition. If one “has the inside track,” however, that is so much the better for the more knowledgeable one in the arrangement. The “expert” can skillfully build in clauses that maximize the benefit to him at the expense of one the less informed—let the buyer beware. Once the contract is signed, if you didn’t outthink, or at least keep up with your opponent—contracts are by nature, adversarial—you’re toast. Complain later about the injustice you’ve been dealt in the contract, the response is a smug, “isn’t this your name on the dotted line here?”
The thing that makes a contract equitable or not is the “covenant consciousness” of the parties involved. Let me explain.
Covenant, by my definition, is a relationship mutually entered by multiple parties for the benefit of “the other.” It is understood by the participants that they are assuming responsibility for the prosperity (not necessarily just financial) of the other person, regardless of the benefit to him or her self. Furthermore, it is understood that the parties have assumed unlimited liability for “the other.”
Sounds crazy, right? Who would enter into that kind of arrangement? Well, Jesus, for one. That is the lynchpin of His new commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus’ business model was (and is) to secure the maximum benefit for others. Covenant is the system that invites us to lay down our lives for our friends, do good to our enemies, give to the poor, turn the other cheek and all the rest of the crazy things that Jesus invited to do.
Not that we’ve made that particularly clear when we’ve presented the gospel to the world. More often, we have presented the gospel in contractual terms: do A, B and C, and God will hold you harmless on judgment day and pour out blessings on you. Don’t do those things and there is this penalty clause. He needs you to love Him (maximum benefit to God) you need a get out of jail free card, personal prosperity and a wonderful plan for your life (maximum benefit to you and limited liability)—a contract signed in blood.
But God didn’t invite us into a contract; He invited us into a covenant, an other-focused relationship in which we willingly position ourselves to receive the benefits the Father wants to confer on His children; and to allow Him to assume, without limitation, our liabilities. For our part, we choose to discern what things benefit our Father and assume whatever liabilities may accrue to us as a result of our relationship with Him.
In the trans-culture of the kingdom,* covenant is the force-field in which the community exists. Enter the Kingdom of God, and you don’t find contract only covenant. If we find ourselves without covenant-consciousness we have stepped out of the transculture of the kingdom and into the world.
* Several years ago, 2005, I think, I began blogging about this concept of trans-culture as opposed to sub or counter culture. This link will take you to some of those posts. The fact is, this is a major theme of the ‘tween two worlds blog.