By Zdravko Plantak … The Challenge to Loyalty

In his last speech to the Israelites at Shechem, Joshua challenged the people to be loyal to God. “Choose today whom you will serve… as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD”( Joshua 24:15, NLT).

The challenge to loyalty is the same for us today. Who are we loyal to? How do we show our loyalty? Are we even loyal?

In today’s world there’s not much loyalty around. Business strategist Frederick R. Reichheld observes: “Loyalty is dead, the experts proclaim, and the statistics seem to bear them out. On average, U.S. corporations now lose half their customers in five years, half their employees in four, and half their investors in less than one. We seem to face a future in which the only business relationships will be opportunistic transactions between virtual strangers.”1

What a tragedy! There’s just no loyalty anymore. Not between retailers and customers, not between employers and employees, not even between husbands and wives. This situation reflects our time when loyalty is so undervalued . . .

So, we must ask ourselves, “Who are we loyal to?”

Maybe we think of our family. Or our country. Or our church. Yes, we should have such loyalty, though sometimes our loyalty is conflicted because of the way we may be treated, or by the way in which people act. When it comes to patriotism, one kind of loyalty, Mark Twain wryly commented, “Loyalty to the nation all the time, loyalty to the government when it deserves it.”

Loyalty Is Earned

Which brings up the concept of loyalty being earned and deserved. “A person who deserves my loyalty receives it,” says Joyce Maynard, while Jeffrey Gitomer states, “You don’t earn loyalty in a day. You earn loyalty day-by-day.”

That’s so true. You are loyal to those you believe in, those you trust. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build up an experience of trust. Trust is based on many positive experiences over a significant period of time.

The Experience of Israel

Back to Joshua. When he called the people of Israel to choose, to express their loyalty to God, he didn’t just ask the question. He gave them a history lesson! He took them back to their father Abraham and reminded them of how God led him to Canaan and gave him many descendants. Joshua talked to them about the Exodus—how God delivered them from slavery and took them to the Promised Land. Joshua recalled God’s incredible miracle at the Red Sea where the Israelites walked across on the seabed, but the Egyptian army was destroyed. He detailed their wanderings in the wilderness, and how God was with them at all times. He recounted how God went before them to drive out their enemies from Canaan so that they could settle down in their own land.

After such a set of wonderful, miraculous experiences, how could the Israelites say no? God realized that they had come out of slavery and had a very poor religious experience, especially having seen how the Egyptians worshiped their different gods. God recognized that “You cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds, and souls. You have to earn these things,” as Clarence Francis has said.

So, God gave them all this evidence to prove that He was trustworthy in order that His people would be loyal to Him. Sadly, they were not always loyal to Him, as much of the Old Testament reveals. In their disloyalty they misrepresented Him before the other nations. All too often they let God down. Both loyalty and the lack of it have definite consequences.

So, What About Us?

That’s the question! We said before that we may have many different loyalties—whether it be to our home or school or country or church and so on. But while these different aspects may be important, I want to affirm that the most important loyalty is to God. My loyalty to God takes precedence over all other loyalties. This leads to some challenges. Because if loyalties are in conflict, then I always want to choose God. This may even mean I oppose my church or my present government if I believe that I have to do so in order to defend my loyalty to God.

Sometimes people have to make very tough choices as to whether they will be loyal to God or their families. In some countries following Jesus means giving up your family. These decisions are incredibly painful, even dangerous— people have lost their lives by choosing God over family or country.

My own mother as a young child had to make appalling decisions in atrocious conditions as she experienced the ravages of the Second World War in Europe. Despite suffering a whole series of life-threatening diseases, she survived. But in the process, she was forced to bury her father and sister herself. Despite these multiple tragedies she committed her- self to God and became an Adventist after meeting my father. She gave her loyalty to God, and He rewarded her. All three of her children and four grandchildren work in Adventist ministry today.

When Jesus speaks of loyalty, He does so in terms of faithfulness and commitment and friendship. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13-15, NIV).

Notice that loyalty to Jesus comes from knowing Him as your friend. Your friendship with Jesus means you’re loyal to Him above everything else. Lauren Conrad explains it this way: “I think a good friend, to me, is all about trust and loyalty. You don’t ever want to second-guess whether you can tell your friend something.”

If you’re friends with Jesus, you can tell Him everything. You can share your deepest secrets with Him, for He is loyal and trustworthy. He won’t let you down. We may not always be loyal, but He will! “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV).

Consequently, we choose loyalty to God because he has proved He is always loyal: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23, NIV). There are times that loyalties are in conflict and must be prioritized. I identify with many things in my life and desire to be loyal and act with integrity to various entities and commitments. However, when my loyalties are stretched between those in church or in the society in which I live, I must choose to be loyal to God and His Kingdom first. And that means that I will side with God and what I understand is God’s heart and love for those who are too often marginalized and oppressed.

Therefore, my loyalties will need to be questioned and readjusted with that measurement stick of what I understand God’s character to be and what I see as His desires for the world. And I will even oppose all other otherwise necessary loyalties if they step into conflict with the loyalty to the Kingdom of God as expressed in Jesus’ life and calling.

I choose God always—for to do so is to be genuinely loyal in a disloyal age!

–Zdravko (Zack) Plantak, PhD, is professor of religion and ethics at the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. Email him at: [email protected]


1Frederick R. Reichheld , “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Loyalty,” from The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value. (Accessed September 1, 2020).
2As quoted in Robert Evans Wilson, “Who Deserves Our Loyalty?” Psychology Today (January 15, 2019). (Accessed September 1 2020).