In order to understand the concept of covenant, we must begin at the proper starting place. We can not begin with Man. We must begin with God Himself. For it is in the relationship and structure of the Trinity that we find covenant in its purest form. Men are to follow the pattern shown them in the Triune Godhead. Man; even at his best, will “miss the mark” to some degree. Therefore, we must begin with God.
The Trinity exists as three related persons. God is one in His being or essence, but He is also one because the three persons are in covenant together. They form one ultimate society. Each lives in a “selfless” manner toward the others. They glorify each other, rather than glorify themselves (John 8:54; 12:28; 13:32; 16:14; 17:1,5). There is no competition within this relationship. All that belongs to one, belongs to the others (John 16:15). There is within the covenant of the Trinity equality. The Son is not “less” than the Father. The Spirit is not “less” than the Son, nor is He “less” than the Father. In their essence, or being, they are equal. This is sometimes referred to theologically as “ontological equality.”
But we also find within the relationship of the Trinity a structure. This structure is functional. There is a “distribution of labor.” The theologian James B. Jordan views the distribution of labor in this way: “Within the relationship of the Trinity the Father serves as the Source of personality in some sense. These persons live in a living bond with one another, with the Spirit who moves between Father and Son as the Source of life-bonding in some sense. They also exist in a structure, with the Father as Father to the Son, and the Spirit as sent by the Father to the Son, and by the Son back to the Father. The Son is the Source of this structure in some sense, as He is the Word ‘in whom all things are linked together’ (Col. 1:16-17).”
This structure requires a functional “chain of command.” The Son and the Spirit covenantally function in submission to the Father. This is sometimes referred to theologically as “economic subordination.” They do this, without losing their equality with God the Father. This shows us that in covenant, submission does not mean a loss of equality. For example, within the marriage covenant the wife submits to her husband, yet maintains an “equality” with her husband in “being.” In other words, she is not inferior to her husband, though she submits to his functional authority. Jesus submitted to the Father, yet remained equal with the Father (Phil 2:5-8).
On the basis of this covenantal relationship, God is a family. Notice I am not saying He is like a family. He is a family. From eternity, God alone possesses the essential attributes of family, and the Trinity alone possesses them in their perfection. Earthly households have these attributes, but only by analogy and imperfectly (Ephes. 3:14-15).