READ : Proverbs 3:3-4
“Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you. Bind them about your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.”
Proverbs 3:3-4, RSV
What about that? Someone is speaking for loyalty. Someone is praising faithfulness. It’s a voice from the past, from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 3, verses 3 and 4. It’s the counsel of a wise man, but it’s even more. It’s the word of the living God. Anyone for loyalty? The Lord surely is.
He seems to say to all of us: Don’t let loyalty and faithfulness get away from you. Tie them around your neck so that you won’t forget them or lose them. More than that, inscribe them on your heart. Internalize them as your meat and drink. Make them the law of your inner being. Prize loyalty. Treasure faithfulness.
What about us today? When it comes to loyalty, we are strangely double-minded. On the one hand, we expect other people to be loyal. Just this week the newspapers in Michigan have been full of reports about a college football coach and a professional baseball player. The coach is being praised for his loyalty. He had a lucrative offer to coach a professional football team and he turned it down. The baseball player, on the other hand, is being scorned. He’s going to play for another team in a distant city because they’ll pay him a lot more money. The articles I read were wishing the loyal coach all the best and the departing ball player all the worst.
But when it comes to our own lives and our personal choices, we don’t seem sure that loyalty is the best policy. It runs counter to another drive which is very powerful in our culture and in our hearts: the drive for what we call “self-fulfillment.” We regard it as a kind of inalienable right of ours that we should get the most we can for ourselves, that we should maximize our potential, that we should, as we say, “have it all.” “Let’s realize all our ambitions; let’s fulfill all our desires; let’s taste life to the full!”
When that becomes our dominant aim, loyalty and faithfulness can easily get crowded out. Self-pleasing seems better to us than denying ourselves for the sake of others. Having our fling looks like more fun than old fashioned fidelity.
So we’re inwardly divided on this one. We approve of loyalty in theory and we may applaud it in other people, but for ourselves we prefer a more free-wheeling life-style. One prominent writer on ethical questions has said that two persons strive for mastery in each of us – a self-maximizer and a covenant keeper. As in all such conflicts, one of those is going to win out in us, but we’re not always sure which we want it to be. Let me try to make a case today for the covenant-keeper. Let’s hear it one time for loyalty.
IN A FRIENDSHIP
See how loyalty looks first in a friendship. Do you remember the remarkable bond in ancient Israel between Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and the young hero David? This Jonathan, recall, is the heir to Israel’s throne but he befriends the man who is his chief rival. He loves David, the Scripture says, “as his own soul.” He makes with him a covenant of friendship, sealing it by giving away to David his armor, his sword, his bow, and even his princely robe. Jonathan is loyal to friend David even when it means the sacrifice of his own ambitions and the certain loss of his father’s approval. He warns David of impending danger, intercedes for him with the king, encourages him when he’s down, prays for him to God, and risks his own life to help him. Jonathan, the heir apparent, wants only to be second in command to David his friend.
That covenant, that pledge of loyalty, was renewed on several occasions. Both men from time to time appealed to it and reminded each other about it. David could say, “Deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a sacred covenant with you.” And Jonathan made request: “If I am still alive, show me the loyal love of the Lord, that I may not die, and do not cut off your loyalty from my house forever.”
David was faithful to that friendship even after Jonathan’s death. When the dust of war had settled, he sought far and wide for anyone who might be left of Jonathan’s family, that he might “show him loyal love for the sake of Jonathan.” The boy Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, was to have his father’s land and eat at David’s table for life – all because of the covenant that had been made.
Now that’s impressive, isn’t it? It’s moving to me. Do you have a friend like that? Have you ever been to someone else such a friend? Or perhaps more importantly, do you want to be, do you aim to be, a loyal friend?
Most of us don’t make formal pacts with our friends, do we? You probably never gave a buddy your athletic equipment or your new sweater to seal a bond between you. But every friendship is a kind of covenant. Something passes between us. We’ve sensed a kinship, shared a vision, rejoiced in each other’s companionship. Or perhaps we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder in a common task. Nothing was ever ratified between us in so many words, by a solemn ceremony, but we know who those persons are whom we consider friends and who would call us so. We count on them for companionship, for support, to be there when we need them. We say to them and they to us, “Show me the loyal love of the Lord.”
IN A MARRIAGE
How does loyalty look in a marriage? For most of us, that is a formal covenant. We make our vows: “I John, take you Mary, to be my wedded wife, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”
At a wedding, we often exchange rings, “This ring I give you in token and pledge of our constant faith and abiding love.” That’s how a marriage gets started: a covenant promise and a symbolic gift.
What is it to be faithful as a spouse, to be a loyal husband or wife? It means surely being faithful to the vow we have taken. Forsaking all others, we will cleave to this one. We say to him, to her, “You will be the one to whom I uniquely give myself. I promise you that there won’t be another woman . . . there won’t be another man. You are my one and only.”
But faithfulness is more than that, more than keeping ourselves from adulterous relationships. Covenant loyalty is a positive commitment to a person, to do her good, to do him good, all the days of our lives. It’s a promise to prize another’s happiness, security and fulfillment at least as much as our own. My Mom and Dad lived that out before me and my sister when we were growing up. The only arguments I can remember between them were those in which each seemed to be defending the interests of the other. My father was intensely devoted to my mother’s well being, and she to his.
But there’s even more. Loyalty in a marriage means being faithful also to a relationship. It’s not just a promise that there’ll be no one else and that we’ll do what we can for each other. It’s also a pledge that what lies at the heart of the marriage – an intimate relationship between two human beings – is something we’re going to keep working at, keep enriching and deepening as long as God gives us life together. That means a willingness, for example, to talk things out, even when that may take us far into the night. It means a stubborn refusal to let anything create distance between us, a purpose to make the love between us keep on growing.
Now that’s a large order. Commitment to a friendship, and especially to a marriage, is a great adventure and a considerable risk. The bond between us makes possible all kinds of new joys and sorrows. The one with whom we covenant has special power now either to bless us or to wound. In that kind of relationship, we both take on enormous responsibility for each other’s lives.
Maybe that’s why we sometimes shrink back from covenant, from loyalty. It seems too much for us. Maybe we’ve been badly hurt before and don’t feel we can risk opening ourselves again. Or maybe we feel that we don’t have what it takes to follow through. Our past relationships and experiences haven’t provided us with resources for this long-term faithfulness. We’re desperately afraid we’ll fail.
THE GOD OF COVENANT
That’s when we need to remember what lies at the foundation of all this: what Jonathan calls “the loyal love of the Lord.” The covenant is His idea, God’s special thing. The greatest of covenants is that of the Lord with His people. He is the loyal friend of whom Jonathan gives us a beautiful human glimpse. He is the Husband, the Bridegroom of His people, that we begin to see in a Hosea, or in a dad like mine.
Jesus gave His friends something to seal the covenant, didn’t He – broken bread and poured-out wine? He made them a promise to be their Savior, and said He’d always keep it. He would be committed to them to do them good, whatever it cost Him. Even when they failed Him, grieved Him, forsook Him, He’d be there, forgiving, restoring, giving them new hearts. His would be a new covenant for those who fail. He was committed to His relationship with them, to treasure it, to make it grow, and through it to bless all the families of the earth. And when there was no other way to accomplish all that, He gave Himself up to die. That is the loyal love of the Lord. As one of the apostles put it, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
When you put your trust in this Jesus, when you believe in Him as the One who died for your sins and rose again, you enter into covenant with God. Your sins are forgiven. You are accepted as one of His beloved children. He sends His Spirit to dwell within you and write His law upon your heart. He gives you not only the pattern but also the power to become a covenant-keeper. Because of His grace, you can be a faithful follower, a loyal spouse, a true friend.
Don’t sell loyalty short. It’s the cement, as it were, that holds any society together. It’s your unique glory as a human being, this capacity to make and keep your promises. It’s the way you show your likeness to the Lord Himself and so glorify Him on the earth.
The Word says that those who prize loyalty “will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” If God makes of you a faithful man or woman, fellow or girl, the people who know you best will appreciate you most. And best of all, you will have the smile of God over your life.
That’s worth a lot, isn’t it? The hard, costly, sometimes painful road of covenant-keeping turns out to be a way to fullness of life. Let me encourage you, through faith in Jesus Christ, to take that road, that road of loyalty – and start out today!
PRAYER:O God of covenant, we bless You for Your faithful love. We praise You that in Christ You have given Yourself to us and made us Your people. Help us to respond with grateful faith, with a surrender of our whole lives, and help us to prize being faithful people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.