Translators sometimes say that one of the trickier words in the Bible to translate is the Hebrew word “chesed,” which is used almost 250 times throughout the Old Testament. The KJV and the NKJV renders the word as “mercy,” as in Psalm 136:1 – “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Scholars seem to concur that “mercy,” while not necessarily wrong, almost certainly falls short of the depth of meaning contained in the word. Other translations render “chesed” as “loving-kindness,” “steadfast-love,” “loyalty,” “faithful-love,” “loyal-love,” and even “grace;” and perhaps it is best to add all these various translations together as we try to get a picture of what the word really means.
One of the difficulties with the word “chesed” is that it has no direct equivalent in English, and the concept itself is a bit hard to replicate with a single word. It is a word that is used of individuals in some sort of relationship with other individuals, such as a covenant agreement, to indicate the kindness, love, and goodwill that should be maintained by both parties within such a relationship. Concerning God’s attitude towards men, it would seem to frequently indicate God’s willingness to hold up His side of any agreement, even when the recipients of such kindness are less than worthy. This does not free men from any obligations they have towards God, but it does indicate that in any sort of covenant God makes with man, if there is going to be a failing, it is going to be on the part of men, never God. In His affection, kindness, goodness and love, God will always do what He has agreed to do, because that is just who He is.
We mention all of this about “chesed” to make a point about Christ, for the attitude of God towards man is most perfectly manifested in Christ. When we think about God’s loyal-loving-merciful-faithful-kindness, and then we think about Christ, certain passages take on a much richer and fuller meaning. When Jesus said, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20b; ESV),” He was expressing “chesed,” towards His followers. When Paul wrote to Timothy, the words of that early Christian hymn, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13; ESV),” he was describing the faith of the early Christians in the “chesed” of Christ.
Jesus, who urged us, “let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me (John 14:1),” will be faithful to uphold His end of the bargain. He will not forsake His faithful followers. As the Bible teaches, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-38; ESV)”
Yet there are two parties in any covenant agreement, and the faithfulness of the Lord does not negate our responsibility to be properly focused on the demands of relationship we have with Him. Thus the writer of Hebrews uses the “chesed” of Christ as a reminder to his readers of their duty: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5; ESV)’” In the hymn Paul records in 2 Timothy, though Christ cannot be faithless to who He is, that does not eliminate our responsibility to hold fast to Him, “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Timothy 2:11-12; ESV; cf. Matthew 10:33).”
There is sure salvation in Christ, but only if we cling to Him, standing fast in His faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23). Repeatedly in the Scriptures, Christians are encouraged to remain steadfast, knowing that Jesus is an anchor, a rock, that can be trusted and relied on, come what may. His faithfulness to His word and to His duty has always been one of His chief characteristics. And that faithfulness gives us good reason to not give up in our duty to Him.
“Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son. And we are His house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Hebrews 3:6; ESV).”
The church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.