New Covenant ‘Hesed’ part 1


            You will remember the word hesed from our discussion of the Old Testament.  It is the word used most often to describe God in the Old Testament.  You will also recall that it has two elements: keeping covenant, and aiding your covenant partner to keep his part of the covenant.  We will continue to use this word because it is so expressive, and because it has no counterpart in the English language.  When translated into English, words such as faithfulness and covenant keeping are used. Jesus used four words in parallel with this concept: service, love, rule and submit.  Paul used the expression “one another” frequently to describe the same thing, which is to take care of the best interests of the other person.  The exact nature of those best interests were determined by the relationship circumstances of the two; i.e. their covenant. Taking care of the best interests of your relationship partner is an example of hesed.


Jesus told a parable about a master and his three servants, the Parable of the Talents (Luke 19:11 ff.) is what we call it.  In this parable, a master gives his three servants a sum of money to care for in his absence.  His instruction is to put the money to work until he returns. Two of the three invest the money and receive a return by the time the master comes home, the third buries it in the ground to keep it safe.  The first two are rewarded upon the master’s return: they are called faithful and trustworthy. The third is punished, for he has not realized any return for the master.  The point of the story is that the first two servants cared about and acted in the best interests of the master, while the third acted in his own best interests.  The first two servants demonstrated hesed, the third did not.

Initiative and Stewardship

Jesus told another parable to demonstrate the role that human initiative should play in stewardship. In Luke 16:1 ff. Jesus tells a story about a manger who was called to account by his master.  Knowing that his situation was in peril, he called in several of the master’s debtors and forgave their debts, thus earning their appreciation and friendship. He then left his master’s service with the probability of gaining new employment.  While Christ doesn’t endorse the dishonesty of the move, he commends the initiative shown by the manager in looking out for his interests saying that Christians must likewise use their creativity and initiative in the Lord’s service, less the dishonesty.

In many examples, Jesus instructed us that it is insufficient to simply do one’s duty.  To get ahead, to gain true appreciation, we must put the Master’s interests ahead of our own, and use initiative in advancing those interests: this was true stewardship. See Luke 12, 16, 17; 1Cor. 4, 2Cor. 4. True hesed is being a faithful and true servant, one who uses his ingenuity and initiative to advance the interests of the covenant partner.

Rule and Serve

When the disciples were talking amongst themselves about who would be great in the coming Kingdom, they each saw themselves in powerful and important positions. Jesus, upon hearing this gave them a new definition of what it meant to rule:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matt. 20:25 ff.

            Jesus indicated that there are two ways to rule: first, one could rule by the exercise of power, and second, one could rule by serving others.  It was service to others that he had in mind.  Consider this: Jesus came to earth to die for our sins. By doing this, he came to serve his covenant partners: us. Just as he came to serve, so also should we serve our covenant partner: Christ. In English, there are two possible definitions of the word “rule”. One is someone who exercises power, such as a king or president. The other is a standard of measure.  It is the second that Christ expects of us, that we should be ones whose service to the Lord provides the standard for others to follow: that is Biblical leadership.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

1Peter 5:1-4

            In this passage, Peter has taken directly from the teaching of Christ to define rule and leadership as a Christian: it is about setting an example of humility and service, not about power in the earthly sense.

Rule and Love

Jesus defined service and rule both as putting the interests of the other person ahead of your own. Love was also defined the same way: the three are in parallel.  In the New Testament, love is not simply an emotion, it is a manner of behavior towards others.  (John 15:15; 15:12) Paul linked the concepts of love and service just as Jesus had:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Gal. 5:16

John wrote on this subject often:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

1John 3:16

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

1John 3:10

But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him

1John 2:5

            Paul defined love with a series of words…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

1Cor. 13:4-6

            Doing what was right for the other person was “love”. The ultimate “right thing” for others was to be reconciled to God through Christ, that they too might be Christ like. Thus, Jesus defined three words with the same meaning as hesed: serving, ruling and loving. In each case, the meaning is keeping covenant… like Christ. Serve like Christ. Rule like Christ. Love like Christ.

Love and Submit

            Obedience and submission were not simply  to follow instructions without question. Submission became another action that was meant to be in putting the interests of others first.  Christ submitted Himself to the cross willingly. This was the ultimate action of putting the best interests of others first, for his death on the cross was done to promote the best interests of his covenant partner: mankind. Christian submission is not about letting anyone exercise raw power over you; it is all about putting the interests of your covenant partner first.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Eph. 5:21 

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Heb. 13:17

            The standard for all of this is Jesus. To serve one another as Jesus would serve is to be like Him.  Jesus was held as the perfect example for our behavior:

Jesus cited as example:

Courtesy 1 Peter 3:8
Doing right 1John 3:7
Walking in the light 1John 1:7
Knowing God 1John 2:3
Living in Him 1John 2:6
True light 1John 2:8
Being perfected 1John 3:2
Purity 1John 3:3
Sinless life 1John 3:4-6
Love of brothers 1John 3:16
Assurance of the Spirit 1John 3:24-25
Assurance of God’s love 1John 4:7-11
Being born again 1John 5:1-5
For treating others Matt. 25:40
Standard of suffering 1Peter 2:21
Giving 2Cor. 8:9
Leadership 1Cor. 11:1

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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