Deep and abiding friendships are increasingly rare. The truth is, not only is the world filled with lonely people, but the church is too. And although we are surrounded by people whose faces we recognize, could we really count on them as true friends?
There is an Old Testament friendship that reveals the greatness and beauty of kindred spirits. It’s the friendship between Jonathan and David. I personally believe that without Jonathan, there may never have been a man like David, the greatest king and poet of ancient times. It was an unlikely friendship but one that helps us understand the true nature of forging a lasting friendship.
ACCEPT YOUR FRIEND UNCONDITIONALLY
Imagine Jonathan and David meeting for the first time. They met right after David successfully defeated Goliath (1 Samuel 18:1-5). Young David, fresh from the sheepfolds, likely wore hand-me-downs from his older brothers. Jonathan was dressed in royal splendor.
There isn’t anything about them that’s similar. Jonathan is a prince; he’s educated, trained, and equipped. He’s royalty. Young David has nothing for show-and-tell. He has nothing to offer a king’s son.
None of that mattered. Jonathan gave David the gift of unconditional acceptance. This gift of friendship had nothing to do with rank, appearance, style, or status.
The friendship between Jonathan and David was based on kindred faith; their hearts and their spirits were knit together.
Jonathan saw in David a young man who was willing to take on a giant with a simple slingshot, armed with faith in God’s power. The attraction was internal. It was based on a similar identity of faith and trust in God.
BE CONTENT WITH SECOND PLACE
David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. (1 Samuel 18:5)
King Saul’s promotion of David is easy for us to understand, but not so much for Jonathan. This leadership role normally would have been given to Jonathan. The king’s son was typically the commander of the troops, second in command only to the king.
What Saul did was very pragmatic. David had killed more Philistines than Jonathan ever did, so David was awarded the role. We’re told that all the people were pleased with David’s rise in prominence. And we know that behind all of it was the plan of God: “David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14).
We might expect to find someone in Jonathan’s position sulking under some palace stairwell. After all, he was the one groomed to be king; his popularity should be growing, not David’s. As we shall see, that was not the case with Jonathan.
How many of us are genuinely happy when God’s hand is on the other person?
BE WILLING TO SUFFER LOSS
It’s one thing to have a friend who succeeds, but it’s another thing entirely when your friend’s success comes at your own expense.
Jonathan had the perfect opportunity for payback when King Saul’s attitude toward David changed when the king wanted David put to death. Here was Jonathan’s opportunity—he would have been obeying the king and removing a rival with one plunge of a dagger.
Jonathan could have called a secret meeting with David and stuck a knife between his ribs. Instead, Samuel records, “But Jonathan, Saul's son, delighted much in David” (1 Samuel 19:1).
A friend is someone committed to helping you realize God’s purpose and potential for your life, even when it brings that person personal loss.
One of the most moving scenes in Scripture is played out in this dramatic friendship. David and Jonathan are about to part for the rest of their lives, as David goes into hiding. Jonathan doesn’t know it, of course, but he and his father will soon die in battle against the Philistines. In their final meeting, it almost seems that Jonathan knows something bad is about to happen.
And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field. And Jonathan said to David, “The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness! . . . do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” (1 Samuel 20:11-12, 15)
Whenever a new monarch rose to power, it was typical for him to put to death any potential rival. In particular, the family of the former king was put to death. Jonathan is asking David to allow his family to live, once David assumes the throne. He’s essentially asking David to show mercy to his family in the same way he has shown mercy and kindness to David.
And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David's enemies.” And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul. (1 Samuel 20:16-17)
Fast-forward in the biography of David, and you will discover that David keeps his word by protecting and providing for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth.
How are you at forging friendships? Are you ready to show kindness to those who grew up on the other side of the railroad tracks? Are you interested in their success at work, even if they end up taking your job? The question to ask is not “How many friends do you have?” but “What kind of friend are you?”