Article by Brandt Van Roekel
In my Bible reading this year, I’ve been struck by the concept of loyalty. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, or because I’m reacting to my very loyal, Dutch heritage—but I’ve struggled to appreciate loyalty as a virtue in my life. When people describe themselves as a loyal person, I tend to translate “I’m a boring person” or, “I’m a person who purposefully blinds myself to other’s faults.” What I’m realizing, however, is that loyalty isn’t boring, or blind. And my lack of appreciation for it doesn’t signal those things in others, but a lack of biblical character in me.
Loyalty is a word often used in the Bible. But depending on the translation you use, you may not see it clearly, because the frequent Hebrew word “Hesed” is often translated as other things, like “steadfast love,” “loving kindness” or “kindness.”
And yet Hesed can rightly and concretely be translated as “loyalty.” In fact, The Hebrew Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament provides “joint obligation between two parties” or “loyalty” as the primary definition for Hesed.
I like the translation “loyalty.” I like it because it captures the concrete essence of that phrase “steadfast love” in everyday language. Steadfast love is a loyal love. A love that’s committed to another person’s good through thick or thin. A love beautifully translated in the Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones as “God’s never-stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”
God’s love for us is a Hesed love—a loyal love.
On Mount Sinai, he declared about himself:
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love [loyalty] and faithfulness … (Exod. 34:6)
And, in Jeremiah 9:24, God says those who truly “get” him understand that he is fundamentally a loyal and loving God of steadfast love.
“…but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love [loyalty], justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Moreover, it’s the steadfast love of God revealed for us in the Bible, and chiefly in Jesus’s death on the cross to save sinners that leads the apostle John to write “God is love” in 1 John 4:8 and 4:16.
Who is God? At root, he is a loyal God.
And it’s when you read the narratives of the Bible that this loyalty strikes you! How many times would we have given up on Abraham (who keeps giving his wife away telling people she’s his sister), David (who commits adultery and covers it up with murder), the Jewish people (who are gifted with the word of God but are constantly led away to the worship of idols), Peter (who confesses Jesus is the Christ but then tells Jesus not to go to the cross, and denies Jesus three times during his trial), or ourselves (who are faithless again and again and again)?
But what we sometimes miss in our Bible reading—what I missed—is that God isn’t just loyal, he loves it when we are loyal too.
Solomon understood this. And in the beginning of the book of Proverbs, he instructs his sons that the path of true wisdom and goodness is not to live selfishly for our own gain, but to live generously and loyally to others, as God has been generous and loyal to us.
“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3)
Solomon is essentially telling his boys, “Do you want to live well in this world? Do you want your life to count and make a difference? Then receive God’s loyal love and be loyal toward others. This is the path of true life!”
God is loyal, and he loves loyalty in his people.
One of the texts that has been on my mind where we see this clearly is in Micah 6:8. It’s a passage where the prophet is rebuking the sinfulness of God’s people and calling them to embrace the fundamentals of biblical living that please God.
And what’s at the center of this instruction? No surprise—it’s loyalty.
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, (loyalty) and to walk humbly with your God?
I think God is showing us in this passage that loyalty is the glue at the center of the Christian life. Without it, we cannot live horizontally towards others in true justice. And without it, we cannot live vertically towards God in true humility.
On the horizontal level, in our relationships with other human beings, a disloyal person can pop in and serve here or there. They can give a little to a cause. But true change that makes a generational impact for good requires a radical loyalty to seek the good of those around you. Lasting change takes a loving loyalty that is displayed in sacrificial giving to sustain new churches. That’s how so many churches in Canada were built in the first place! The loyalty of the previous generations made them happen. The loyalty of previous generations sustained international missions, and local missions, and the betterment of our cities. Lasting change in our neighbourhoods will require a loyalty of people to place and neighbour to make a difference for the long haul. To use their bodies as seed to be sown for the advancement of the kingdom of God for their literal neighbours.
On the vertical level, in our relationship with God, a disloyal person can go through the motions of the Christian life. But the richness of life with God that he desires for us requires a loyalty that humbly listens to God’s word and obeys it, holds fast to it, and trusts it. This is exactly the sort of person God loves to be in relationship with! In fact, Isaiah 66:2 says that God looks, or shows favour to, humble repentant people who are deeply and loyally attentive to his word.
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
Summary of Loyalty
The bottom line here is that God is a loyal God. He’s the God of Hesed. But God’s plan of redemption for this world is to change us as we receive his Hesed, so that we would learn to live it.
In fact, I’m convinced that we won’t do much good in the world as followers of Jesus unless we are characterized by loyalty—first to God, and second towards others.
Need for Loyalty
As I’ve been reflecting on loyalty, I’ve been struck by how significant an opportunity the church has today to live differently in this world as loyal people. We will be powerful witnesses of the love we’ve received, in as much as grow in loyal love ourselves. And I don’t think I can overstate how desperately our culture needs loyalty. Because day by day, year by year, we aren’t becoming more loyal, but less.
- Technology moves us toward insulation and isolation as we are satisfied to live privately, entertained in our homes, interacting in our chosen echo-chambers.
- Global markets move us toward finding jobs that suit us best, pay us most, and allow us to live in what cities we find most desirable.
- Abandoning biblical sexual values combined with applying technology to our dating lives, leads us to think of human souls as commodities to be used up for my benefit, and discarded when I’m no longer satisfied.
We live profoundly for ourselves, and then wonder why we are lonely, anxious, depressed, and why our society is so fragmented.
I keep getting advertisements for “best places to live as a digital nomad.” But if everyone is a nomad, who is going to stay and build? Who will have the courage to plant themselves deeply and loyally in a community and in a place to live for the good of others?
In this culture, the loyalty of God for sinners, through the person and work of Jesus Christ is good news for us to receive. But it’s also good news that, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live.
What would it look like for us to lean into our churches, our neighbourhoods, our employers, our employees, our friendships, and our families with true loyalty? What would it look like to live loyally for the betterment of the lives of those around us? What would it look like if we, instead of complaining about how much we don’t like this or that aspect of our neighbourhood, committed in loyal love to make our neighbourhoods the best they could be?
As Christians, we have something incomparably good to offer to this world: the loyal love of God we’ve received. But our witness will be most powerful only when we embrace loyalty as a virtue we all must pursue.