Big Idea: God uses friendships to as a way to bless others and to accomplish his purposes.
Journalist and author Bob Greene tells the following story in his book And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship:
When, during an already painful juncture in my life, my wife died, I was so numb that I felt dead myself. In the hours after her death, as our children and I tried in vain to figure out what to do next, how to get from hour to hour, the phone must have been ringing, but I have no recollection of it.
The next morning—one of those mornings when you awaken, blink to start the day, and then, a dispiriting second later, realize anew what has just happened and feel the boulder press you against the earth with such weight that you fear you will never be able to get up—the phone rang, and it was Jack.
I didn’t want to hear any voice—even his voice. I just wanted to cover myself with darkness. I knew he would be asking if there was anything he could do. But I should have known that he’d already done it.
“I’m in Chicago,” he said. I misunderstood him; I thought he was offering to come to Chicago.
“I took the first flight this morning,” he said. He had heard; he had flown in. “I know you probably don’t want to see anyone,” he said. “That’s all right. I’ve checked into a hotel, and I’ll just sit in the room in case you need me to do anything. I can do whatever you want, or I can do nothing.”
He meant it. He knew the best thing he could do was to be present in the same town; to tell me he was there. And he did just sit there—I assume he watched TV, or did some work, but he waited until I gathered the strength to say I needed him. He helped me with things no man ever wants to need help with; mostly he sat with me and knew I did not require conversation, did not welcome chatter, did not need anything beyond the knowledge he was there. He brought food for my children and, by sharing my silence, he got me through those days.
There are a handful of people, during your lifetime, who know you well enough to understand when the right thing to say is to say nothing at all. Those people—and there will be, at most, only a few of them—will be with you during your very worst times…
There is going to be a time in our lives that we need that kind of friend. In fact, I am going to guess that most of us have already been through times when we needed that kind of friend.
So as we continue this series on spiritual friendship, I want to look at one of the closest friendships in Scripture: the friendship between Israel’s greatest king, David, and the son of his enemy. It stands as one of the most beautiful friendships not just in the Bible but in all of history. We’re going to see the beauty of their friendship in the passage before us, but we also read about it elsewhere in Scripture. When Jonathan died, David said of him, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). That’s shocking language to us. We don’t even have a category for that kind of friendship. They made a binding, personal commitment to each other that lasted generations. It gives us a view of what friendship could be, and perhaps should be.
So let’s learn at the passage we just read so that we can learn and apply four truths about friendship.
We Need Friends
First, we need friends. Where do I get this from? Two places. First, from Genesis 2 when Adam was alone. Second, I get it from this passage.
Here’s the background from Genesis 2. God made Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden. Everything was absolutely perfect. When God made everything, he kept on repeating, “It is good.” Everything in creation was finely optimized for human flourishing. There was nothing that God made that needed to be improved. Everything was good — everything except for one thing.
In Genesis 2, we find the one flaw in paradise: Adam was alone. In Genesis 2:18 God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
There was no sickness, no death. He lived in paradise. And yet even there something was missing until he had relationship with another. God made us to need others. It’s because we’re made in God’s image. God is a relational God. He is a Triune God, and friendship is in the very nature of God. We can’t live without connection to others. We were made for friendship.
You also see it in this passage. The bigger picture is that God has rejected Saul as Israel’s king and is raising up David to take his place. There are big themes going on about God leading and providing for his people. But on the ground level, David is about to enter a period of struggle. And in this struggle, David needs friendship. Walter Chantry writes, ““As the trials began, God gave David the precious gift of a friend. A faithful friend is a strong defense in adversity, a soothing medicine when one is deeply wounded. Men need friends well chosen from the number who love the Lord. It is clear that Jesus wants to see our love for him worked out in love for the brethren.”
We need friends. We were made for friendship. Faced with challenges in life, it’s clear that we need friends. We were made for friendship.
But let’s go on and see something else.
Friendships Are Founded on Something More Than Friendship
What would cause Jonathan and David to become friends? They really had nothing in common. Jonathan was probably a lot older than David. Jonathan had been raised in a king’s house; David had a blue collar working-class job. Jonathan was heir to the throne; David was a clear and present threat to his future reign. And yet in this passage we see a radical commitment to each other, one that, as we’ll see in a moment, be very costly for Jonathan.
Why would Jonathan be willing to enter into this friendship? A commentator that I read this week explains why:
What was their common bond? They were bound together by their faith in the Lord. Jonathan’s heart was knit to David because David embodied the things most precious to his heart. David had stood before the giant in the name of the Lord, determined to silence his blasphemies and eager for Israel to know the truth of God’s power. These were themes that stoked the fires of Jonathan’s admiration and drew out his love for the shepherd-youth. (Richard D. Phillips)
Their friendship wasn’t just founded on personal interest or affinity. No doubt they felt an affinity, but that wasn’t strong enough to form the basis of their bond. It wouldn’t be enough for Jonathan to relinquish his kingship and to choose allegiance to David over allegiance to his own family. Their friendship was based on their faith in God and their awareness of what God was up to.
What does this mean for us? C.S. Lewis said we need a basis for friendship, not just a desire for friendship:
That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, ‘Do you see the same truth?’ would be, ‘I see nothing, and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a friend,” no real friendship can arise … There would be nothing for the friendship to be about … Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.
In other words, we don’t just form friendships because we want to have friends. We form friendships because we have a common bond based on something bigger. In David and Jonathan’s case the foundation of their friendship was God — which is exactly what God invites us to experience too. Right before Jesus died, he spoke of the radical love that should characterize our friendships with each other as we’re bound to him. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another,” Jesus said. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Biblical scholar D.A. Carson nails it when he says:
The church is … made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together … because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ …They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.
Many of us have almost nothing in common. We have different careers, different political viewpoints, different parenting philosophies, different economic status, and different cultural backgrounds. And yet we have something that can form the basis of the deepest of friendships: we’ve been saved by Jesus Christ. That will form the deepest relationships of your life.
Then we see the type of friendship that we’re called to experience.
Friendship Involves Sacrifice
What happens in this passage is costly. In verses 3 and 4 we read:
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
Listen to what happened:
The crown prince of Israel made a covenant with the shepherd. He gave his clothing and weapons to David as symbols of his devoted comradeship. One day Jonathan would even express agreement with God’s will that David should have the crown intended for him! It was a selfless, sacrificial, loyal love for David that would endure until death. Mutual fidelity was pledged that very day, and it proved to be a most satisfying fellowship to both men for a lifetime. (Richard D. Phillips)
This was a costly friendship. Jonathan gave up this throne for David. A few chapters later, David was on the run. Jonathan’s father Saul was pursuing him. Jonathan took a big risk, found him in hiding, and encouraged him. “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17)
It’s one thing to be friends when it costs nothing. It’s another thing to be friends when it comes at a great cost. True friendship is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the other, even when it means sacrificing one’s own welfare.
There’s a fake kind of friendship that goes around. It’s that if you get to know the right people, then you’ll be positioned to get ahead. Become friends with the influencers, and when you need a job you’ll be all set.
That’s really what you call a vendor/consumer relationship. It’s all about getting your needs met at a cost that’s accessible to you. If it doesn’t meet your needs, or the cost is too high, then you look for another way to get your needs met. But when you think about it, that’s not friendship at all. That’s using people.
That’s the very opposite of the friendship that we read about here. They made a covenant relationship. A covenant relationship is not a means to an end. It’s an end in itself. It isn’t based on circumstances or benefits. It’s based on the commitment made to each other. Your needs come in second. The commitment you make to each other comes first.
That’s what we see here. Jonathan strips himself of his rights and pledges his commitment to David. He puts aside his own self-interest and becomes committed to the wellbeing of the other.
There’s one more truth about friendship we see in this passage.
Friendships Plays a Role in God’s Purposes for Our Lives
Eugene Peterson, a pastor and commentator, says that during this most dangerous, evil chapter in all of David’s life, this deep friendship with Jonathan bracketed the evil. In the narrative, in the story, the friendship with Jonathan is the bracket at the beginning and at the end.
What is Peterson saying? He’s saying that friendship with Jonathan literally contained the evil. Friendship made the evil containable. It made it bearable. It made it survivable. He never would have made it without the friendship with Jonathan.
God used this friendship in David’s life. And here’s what we can learn from this friendship: God uses friendships to as a way to bless others and to accomplish his purposes. As one author says:
People who remain connected with their brothers and sisters in the local church almost invariably grow in self-understanding, and they mature in their ability to relate in healthy ways to God and to their fellow human beings … Long-term interpersonal relationships are the crucible of genuine progress in the Christian life. People who stay also grow. People who leave do not grow. (When the Church Was a Family)
You may be asking: how do you get a friendship like this? There are really no easy answers, but I can give you a direction. First is to experience this friendship with Jesus himself. We’ve seen what Jonathan did for David. Jesus has done the exact same for us. He’s called us friends. He’s based his friendship with us not on his affinity to us, or our worthiness, but on God’s eternal plan. He didn’t base his friendship on self-interest, but gave himself for us. And his friendship with us will change us and accomplish God’s purposes for our lives. You were made for this friendship. Don’t leave today without casting yourself on Jesus and the work that he did to make you his friend.
But based on that, let’s commit to becoming this friend for others.
In the end, friendship is the essence of ministry. One of my favorite writers on ministry says this: “What I do is be a friend. It doesn’t impress people, and frankly, it doesn’t impress me. But it’s what Jesus did” (David Hansen).