A true friend is one of life’s most cherished treasures. Most of us have lots of people with whom we are friendly . . . we enjoy the company of these folks and enjoy the time we get to spend with them. But true friends, special friends, best friends, are different. These are people with whom we have a connection of the heart. These people know us, warts and all, and still love us. A true friend is a person with whom you don’t have to pretend. You can be “real”.
Because of the unique nature of such friendships they are uncommon. Henry Adams wrote, “One [true] friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible.
This morning we continue our study of David by looking at the friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. Jonathan was the son of King Saul. By all rights David and Jonathan should have been rivals for the throne. However, this was not the case. In 1 Samuel 18, right after the defeat of Goliath, we are told David and Jonathan became friends.
When Saul, out of jealousy, set out to kill David, Jonathan came to David’s defense. The account in 1 Samuel 20 records how Jonathan became convinced that David had to leave or his father would kill him. It is an interesting narrative. We will not focus so much this morning on the details of the story as on the principles we can draw from the story. This morning I will show you four characteristics of friendship we find in this text and then I have three final observations.
A True Friend Sees Beyond His Own Interests
The first thing we notice about friendship is that a true friend is able to see beyond their own interests. In 1 Samuel 18 we are told,
Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:3-4)
The relationship between David and Jonathan began after the killing of Goliath when we are told Jonathan made a covenant with David. These two men entered into a formal and committed relationship. Think about boys in a club who prick themselves and then mix their blood to symbolize they are now one (this doesn’t happen much anymore because of health reasons).
When two people are married they enter into a marriage covenant. Vows are made, promises are declared. It is serious business. It is a commitment that should never be entered into lightly. David and Jonathan “took an oath” (v 3) and “made a covenant” (v. 16). They formally agreed that they would support, protect, and defend each other.
Most of our relationships are of a utilitarian nature (based on the usefulness of the person). We are friends with someone for awhile and then we lose interest and we move on to someone else. A sense of commitment and devotion is rare.
1 Samuel 18:4 tells us, “Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.” Jonathan was in essence dressing David as the next King! He was taking his “birthright” as the son of the King, and symbolically gave it to David. Jonathan recognized that David was going to be the next King.
When Jonathan discovered that Saul did indeed want David dead (near the end of chapter 20) he came out to warn David. They had set up a sign. Jonathan came out to the field to the archery range with his servant (to give him an alibi if he was accused of meeting with David). He shot several arrows and when the servant went to retrieve the arrows, Jonathan called out, “I believe the arrows are beyond you”. Unbeknown to the servant, these were code words to tell David he was in danger and needed to flee.
After Jonathan sent the servant home he met with his friend face to face (a risky proposition). We are told,
“David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground.” [20:41]
David (the heir apparent to the throne) bowed low to Jonathan out of respect for his position as the King’s son and certainly out of gratitude for his friendship. There is no ego involved in this relationship. This wasn’t about what the two could gain from each other; it was anchored in deep regard and love.
A True Friend Stands With You in Tough Times
Someone has pointed out that in the times of plenty we will have plenty of friends, but it is in the time of adversity that you discover who your true friends are.
- When you are convicted of a crime
- When you have a great and public failure
- When you have a lingering illness (the friend is the one who stands by you even when everyone else has grown tired of caring).
- When you have a devastating loss (the true friend is patient as you work through complicated issues)
- When you are in a bad mood. The true friend is the one who continues to be your friend even when you are no fun to be around.
When my father was in the throes of his Alzheimer’s disease it was hard to spend time with him. He had trouble communicating and often did things that were socially awkward. Because of this, people tended to stay away. However, my dad had some people who proved to be true friends. They took dad out to eat, they stopped by to visit. They offered transportation when needed. They continued to be his friend even when he could not give anything in return.
In 1 Samuel 20 we encounter one of these times of adversity. David is a wanted man. Being David’s friend at this time put your life at risk. Throughout this ordeal we see Jonathan’s loyalty to his friend. Jonathan defended David to his father in 1 Samuel 19:4 and 20:32. He risked and endured his father’s wrath because of his commitment to David.
True friendships are often inconvenient. It sometimes costs you in terms of your own reputation. A true friend is there when you need them. Someone has wisely said,
“Value a friend who, for you, finds time on his calendar—but cherish the friend who, for you, does not even consult his calendar.”
In the insightful book, Jack’s Life, Douglas Grisham writes about the friendships of his step father, C.S. Lewis (which included J.R.R. Tolkien).
Friendship in those days was a bit different from what it is today; friends did not have to agree on everything and often agreed on practically nothing. They were people with whom you could argue all day and yet never get irritated or angry at all. In today’s world we seem to have lost the real meaning of friendship. If someone disagrees with us, it is fashionable today to dislike them for it. This is silly and robs us of the best kind of friends we could find, for if we are always agreed with, we can never really have a serious conversation; we cannot learn from someone who agrees with what we say.
True friendship is a commitment to the well-being of the other person. Being a friend doesn’t mean you just support your friend in whatever they do. The true friend cares enough to speak up when they see their friend doing something destructive. It is easier to remain quiet but the true friend isn’t concerned about what is easiest, they are concerned about what is best for their friend.
A True Friend is Someone You Miss When You are Separated
The great thing about good friends is even though you may be separated for weeks or months at a time, when you are together, you pick right up where you left off. However, that doesn’t mean separation is not painful. In truth it is probably more painful.
When David and Jonathan had to say good-bye (David was going to have to live the life of a fugitive because of Saul’s jealousy) we are told, “they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.” When good friends have to part, it is painful.
There are some people today who in a revisionist move seek to turn this friendship into a homosexual relationship. That is nonsense. People who think men or women cannot have this kind of close relationship without it involving something sexual, have obviously never had this kind of a good friend.
We are told David wept the most. I think David understood that Jonathan had risked much to help him. David was grieved that he had put his friend in a position of having to go against his own father to help him. David’s tears were tears of love and gratitude. They were also tears of sadness because they did not know when they would see each other again. There is an intimacy you have with a good friend that is so special that you don’t want it to end.
A True Friend Can Be Counted On to Keep His Word
David and Jonathan entered into a covenant. Jonathan recognized David’s call to be the new King and David promised that Jonathan would reign with him. And . . . if Jonathan died before David became King (which he did) David promised to be kind to Jonathan’s family.
Jonathan certainly upheld his part of the bargain. He ate with his dad at the festival dinner and on the second night when his dad asked why David was absent (wouldn’t you have thought Saul might think he was absent because he had been using David for target practice?) Jonathan told him he had given permission for him to visit his family. Saul was furious and yelled,
“You son of a perverse and rebellious woman (yes, he is saying what you think he is saying)! Don’t I know you have sided with the son of Jesse (he can’t even say David’s name) to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you” (30-31 parenthesis added)
When Jonathan defended David Saul hurled his spear at him (do you see a pattern here?) You have to love the end of verse 33, “Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.” (Really? What was your first clue?)
The true nature of David’s devotion is seen a number of years later. In 2 Samuel 9 David has finally become the king. One of his first acts is to find out if any member of Saul’s family (especially Jonathan’s family) was still alive. David found out that Jonathan had a son who was crippled in both feet. His name was Mephibosheth. David immediately had Mephibosheth come to him and he ate at David’s table. He in essence became a member of his family from that day forward. David kept his word.
True friends are people you can count on. They say they are going to do something and you can be sure they will do it. If you care about your friend, you also care about their family. You have surely read or seen stories of how one friend stepped in to help raise the children of a friend who died. Death does not sever the obligations of friendship.
Let me make three final observations. First, it is certainly true that in order to have a good friend you need to be a good friend. If we want to have good friends in our lives we need to work at being the kind of people who see beyond what someone “can do for us”. We need to be people who give of ourselves freely to others.
We live in a world where people are naturally guarded. They must see loyalty in us before they will dare to be loyal to us. We can’t wait for others to make the first move if we want some of these friends. We must dare to love and care. Some people will take advantage of our vulnerability. Some will toss us aside when we are no longer of use to them. This is hurt. However, hopefully, one of two of the people will dare to love us back. They become our friends . . . and that true and deep friendship will overshadow any pain suffered in the process.
Second, we need to be discerning, and we need to be patient as we look for friendships. The Bible reminds us that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). You might have heard it another way, “If you lie with the dogs, you’ll get up with fleas”. True friendships are rare so we should be diligent and careful in choosing these friends. If we get deeply involved with people of questionable character, our character will be negatively affected.
The first thing we must look for in a committed friendship is a common commitment to Jesus Christ. If we don’t share this relationship with Christ, we will have little else in common. Our values, our outlook, our goals will be different. When die we will be separated from these friends for all eternity.
Paul told us not to be unequally joined with unbelievers. This isn’t just about marriage, it is about all relationships. He doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be friendly to unbelievers; we should by all means be friendly. We should do all we can to show these people the love of Christ. However, Paul is telling us we should not be in a covenant relationship with those who do not share our love for Christ.
Third, we must remember that there is no greater privilege than to be called a friend of God. The Bible reminds us that there is a friend who “sticks closer than a brother”. Jesus said to His disciples,
13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 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. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. (Jn. 15:13-16)
There is no greater honor and privilege than to be called a “friend of God”. Many have an insatiable desire to be accepted by their peer group. They change the way they look, they compromise their values, and they sometimes make absolute fools of themselves in order to be in the “in crowd”. We should have that kind of desire (Multiplied many times) to be a friend of God. Our hunger should be to know Him and to be known by Him. It is the greatest of blessings to be in relationship with Him.
It is a staggering thing that Jesus showed His willingness to make us his friends with the most profound demonstration of love that has ever taken place. There is no greater love than for a person to give their life for a friend. The amazing thing about the sacrifice of Jesus was that at the time of His death the friendship only went in one direction. Jesus treated us as a friend; we treated Him as an enemy. Jesus said he “chose us”. He chose to befriend us. He chose to seek our good. He chose to stand with us in our alienation. He chose to demonstrate his faithfulness. We had nothing to offer Him yet He chose us anyway.
In the various “Online Communities” such as MySpace and Facebook, you have to make a “friend request” before you are given access to a person’s page and become a part of their online “community”. If the other person denies the request, you are excluded. Jesus requests to be our friend. He invites you to be part of His eternal community. You must decide whether or not to be in a relationship with Him.
You accept His request by entering into a covenant with Him. In this covenant you acknowledge your sinfulness and your need for His sacrifice for your sin. You agree that you will commit yourself to following Him. The Lord promises that He will never leave you or forsake you. He promises to guide and strengthen you. And He promises to take you into His home when you die. So here’s the question: have you embraced Jesus as your Savior and friend?
When you are willing to make Jesus your dearest friend, when you are willing to seek Him and be thrilled by Him above all others that won’t mean you will no longer want or need any earthly friends. These friends are still great. However, when you become one of God’s friends you will understand friendship in a new way. You will have the capacity to be a better friend and you will cherish your true friends all the more because you will realize they are precious gifts from a loving Savior.