One of the greatest examples of spiritual friendship is the relationship between David and Jonathan. Their friendship reveals the wonder of two souls being knit together. God continues to knit souls together in spiritual friendships today. We may not have a lot of spiritual friendships, and they may not always last a lifetime, but God marks us when we develop them. They’re something worth giving our lives to.
Today I want to look with you at a story of one of the great friendships in human history. We’ll look at what made it great; and think about what it means for you and me.
The story starts in
1 Samuel 18:1
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.
The next few chapters are about two of David’s relationships. One of them is the relationship with Saul which we looked at last week.
David had been hired by King Saul, and we learned that he became envious of David and tried to kill him.
And in the midst of that kind of hatred, David was given a gift, maybe the gift that human beings prize more than any other – he was given the gift of a friend.
“Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as much as himself.” Another translation says, “The soul of Jonathan was bound together with David.”
Think about that. These two men by all rights should have been rivals. They should have been at each other’s throats… because they were both warriors.
We know David was a warrior.
But Jonathan was also a warrior.
In 1 Samuel 14 – we won’t take the time to read it today – but Jonathan took on a whole outpost of Philistines virtually single-handedly, just him and his armor-bearer, and defeated them entirely. Both of them were warriors. Both were quite strong-willed.
Jonathan was the son of the king and the heir to the throne. He had been raised in a position to become king.
David was going to block Jonathan from his right and dream to be king. What are the odds of a close relationship forming there?
Not likely, but God gives the two of these men this wonderful gift. These two men that everyone would have been pushing to be enemies against each other are instead connected at the soul.
And Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.
I’ll tell you what I think. I think that friendship became an anchor for David’s soul, kind of a spiritual lifeline.
Think about a passionate, strong man like David enduring what he did and not giving in to revenge or running away.
Then we’re told Jonathan made a covenant with David.
A covenant is a binding agreement, a statement of commitment. “I promise that whatever happens, whatever my father does, whoever the people cheer for, regardless of which one of us is up or which one of us is down, you can count on me. I am for you. I am your friend. This is my solemn covenant and vow.”
This is what the writer of Scripture says:
1 Samuel 18:3-4
And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 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.
Now we don’t do that kind of thing. I don’t go up to my friend and say, “You’re a loyal trusted friend. Here, have my pants.”
We don’t do that. But they did.
Some scholars say that this was Jonathan’s way of recognizing that God was calling David to be the king.
So being the son of the king, Jonathan takes off his royal robe and gives it to David. And Jonathan takes off his sword, which is the sign of authority, and freely gives it to David.
I think in this verse Jonathan is saying something like this: “David, when I look at you, I see a king, God’s anointed one. And as my best friend, I want you always to remember who God made you to be so every time you wear this robe, and every time you hold this sword, I want you to remember what I see in you, remember what God sees in you. Don’t settle for anything less.”
Can you imagine how that impacted David?
The commitment Jonathan had for David was remarkable.
I had coffee with a friend before making the decision to start Blue Oaks Church. And towards the end of that meeting, my friend reached into his bag and pulled out a gift. It was a paper weight with a single sentence written on it.
The statement was, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
And of all the sentences in the world, this one was the one I needed to hear the most because I knew God was calling me to start a church, but I wasn’t sure I was willing to risk failing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, but just this one sentence touched such a deep place in me at just the right time.
And then this friend said to me, “I want to give this to you because I believe God is calling you to something that would be easy to shrink back from for fear of failure.” He said, “You have gifts that God can use to make a big difference.”
It was just a paper weight.
I took that paper weight and put it where I could see it every day. I still see it today… and I wonder what is the next thing I would attempt to do if I knew I could not fail? What would I attempt to do this year if I knew I could not fail?
When a friend does that for a friend, it gets way down into your soul.
And that’s what Jonathan did for David.
Now, their friendship was never easy or convenient. It doesn’t fit the model for the way a lot of people in our day talk about friendships.
To sum it up:
King Saul remained tremendously angry, and continued to try to kill David. And Saul hid his plans from Jonathan.
So David talks to Jonathan, and Jonathan is in a difficult place. He’s loyal to David, but he wants to honor his father.
David said, “Jonathan, your dad is trying to kill me.”
Jonathan said, “Surely that’s not the case or I’d know.” But Jonathan promises to find out the truth and let David know.
And they make another covenant with one another:
1 Samuel 20:16-17
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
And then Jonathan went home to his father, and he stood up for David before his dad as he found out the level of his dad’s hatred against David.
Jonathan was willing to risk everything – future throne, his place in his family, his father’s hatred, even his life – for his friend. There’s no wonder like friendship.
Then David and Jonathan were separated for some time. They would meet only once more as far as we know from Scripture.
1 Samuel 23, King Saul one more time comes out to take David’s life.
1 Samuel 23:16-18
And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”
Saul wouldn’t admit it, not even to himself, but Jonathan says, “My father knows in his heart of hearts this shall be so.”
The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.
And they would never see each other again.
Jonathan died soon after that in battle by his father’s side. And that dream of David being king and Jonathan sitting on his right and being second in the country would never come true. David would go on through a long life without his friend.
But that friendship marked David to his dying day.
And I wonder how often through the years David went back and pulled out that sword that Jonathan gave him. I wonder how often, just in his private moments, David went back and pulled out that robe.
Was it when he was alone and on the run, or when he won a great victory?
Maybe when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and he was dancing with all of his might, or maybe when he was broken by his sin with Bathsheba.
I wonder how often he went into the room and pulled out the box where he kept what he’d been given – the royal robe and the sword of the king – that were now his, but at what a price!
I wonder how often he did that and remembered his friend, and remembered what his friend called him to.
Many, many years later when David was an old man, he said in
2 Samuel 9:1
David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
And we’re going to look at this next week because he finds Mephibosheth, who is Jonathan’s crippled, frightened son. David seats him at his own table and treats him like his own son. It’s an incredible story.
Every time David looks at that boy, he remembers his friend, and he remembers the covenant that nothing could break – not rivalry, not ambition, not families, not war, not geographic separation, not political factions, not death itself.
There is no wonder like the wonder of two souls knit together in a covenant of God.
There is no wonder like spiritual friendship.
Well, that’s the story. It’s an amazing story.
And of course it leads to the question: Can such friendships exist today? Are they meant for you and for me? Is this just an ancient story, or is such a relationship available for ordinary people? Well, that’s what we’ll talk about in the rest of our time today.
Alright, in the time we have left I want to pose some key questions about spiritual friendship… because I believe it’s God’s desire for us to go through life with these kinds of relationships that have a huge impact us.
The first question is this:
What exactly is a spiritual friend?
What’s the difference between a good friend that happens to be a Christian, and a spiritual friend?
I’ll give you a quick definition.
A spiritual friend is an intimate, life giving friend who helps me pay attention to God.
A spiritual friend is an intimate, life-giving friend – I have joy when I’m with them. And someone who helps me pay attention to God.
And I’ll tell you why I believe we need this so much.
Because we suffer from something that might be called spiritual mindlessness, kind of a spiritual attention deficit disorder.
The Apostle Paul wrote about spiritual mindlessness when he wrote to the church of Rome that people live in ignorance of the existence and presence of God.
Mindlessness has to do with living without awareness, and we do it at many different levels.
For example, have you ever been reading something, and you get to the bottom of the page and realize you have no idea what you just read?
Or have you been listening to a teaching, and all of a sudden your mind snaps to attention and you realize you have no idea what the teacher has been saying? Have you ever done that? Do you want me to repeat the question?
A spiritual friend helps you pay attention to God.
We have different kinds of relationships. This may help to illustrate for you what spiritual friends do.
Let’s say you have a problem at work.
*A mentor might give some advice, “Here’s what you can do to solve the problem.”
*An emotionally supportive friend might give you sympathy and understanding, listen to you, and maybe make you feel better.
*A therapist might help you diagnose what your pathology is in the whole deal.
And these can all be good things.
*A spiritual friend will say to you, “How is God speaking to you in this? How does God want to be at work in your life through this? And how are you responding to him?” It’s a connection of one soul to another that helps a brother or a sister pay attention to God.
Now, a second question is: if that’s what spiritual friendship is, and if it’s such a good thing,
How can I find a spiritual friend?
And I have some bad news for you. This is not something that is completely under my control, or yours either.
There is no spiritual drive-thru window out there where you can just pull up in your car and say, “I’ll take a spiritual friend please. Super-size him.”
There is no spiritualfriendship.com with next day delivery at the front door.
There is an element of mystery wherever two people become friends.
Jonathan and David discovered there was this sense of oneness; there was a joy of being together. The relationship had a deep “want to” factor. And they had a way of bringing out the best in each other. Their souls were knit together.
Friendship, when it happens, is a gift. You can’t just make it happen.
It’s a little like going to sleep. Have you ever tried really, really hard to go to sleep? If and when sleep comes, it’s a gift.
But there are some things you can do to open yourself up to receiving it.
You can lay down on a comfortable surface, turn off the lights, close your eyes, put on a Blue Oaks podcast, and sooner or later if you open yourself up to it, sleep will come. But it comes as a gift.
Well, spiritual friendship is like that. You can’t make it happen. There’s an element of mystery to it.
But there are some things you can do to open yourself up to it.
There are certain phases in the development of spiritual friends that I’d like to walk you through.
The first phase is the
And this involves prayer.
Maybe you need to start by telling God about your desire, and asking, “God, would you send me a spiritual friend?”
Also, put yourself in a place where you will meet likely candidates for spiritual friendship.
I would say the best place is serving on a team or in a small group.
If you’re not serving on a team or participating in a small group, it’s going to be difficult to find a spiritual friend.
We need to put ourselves in a place where we’ll meet likely candidates for spiritual friendship.
And then phase two is:
Take A Risk
If you find someone that you think might be a good spiritual friend, spend some time testing the water.
Don’t schedule a meeting with that person and say, “I want you to be my spiritual friend. I want to meet with you and be shaped by you and be committed to you every day for the rest of my life.”
Because if that person is healthy at all, they will run out of the meeting. And if they’re not, you’re going to end up in worse shape than they are.
So go slow, be patient. Test the relationship by taking little relational risks.
For example, if there’s someone that you think could be a potential spiritual friend, begin by disclosing some area of struggle, not the deepest one in your life, but a significant one.
And then watch how that person responds.
*Is there a level of empathy there?
*Do they listen well?
*Or do they only want to focus on talking about themselves?
*Are they wise and discerning in their response?
*Or is there a judgmental spirit attached to them?
*Do they honor confidentiality?
You need to have these kinds of questions in mind as you take little relational risks.
And be in conversation with God, saying, “God, help me discern whether this risk and the response is such that we could take a next step?”
If you’re in this phase, the testing the water phase, if there are some people in your life that you think might be good spiritual friendships, you need to start taking some spiritual risks.
Schedule a time to get together. And again, don’t ask for a long-term commitment at this point. Just begin to open up some about your life, and see how the person responds.
And then as you find that person trustworthy, share at a deeper level.
But then there’s a third phase in developing a spiritual friendship, and this phase is marked by what the writers of Scripture call
Our word for it might just be commitment. A covenant is a statement of commitment.
All relationships have covenants.
We all have expectations and assumptions about how the relationship will work. Some covenants are implicit and unspoken, other covenants are explicit – they’re agreed upon like Jonathan did with David.
There’s great value in making covenants explicit. When you make a covenant explicit, that can save hurt and help people become more intentional and deepen a relationship.
*It can help with conflict-resolution.
*It can clarify expectations.
*It can be real important in marriages to have explicit covenants.
If you lead a small group at Blue Oaks, I want to encourage you that a covenant is very important for your group.
You ought to make a covenant with your group, if you haven’t yet, to make it explicit.
*How often will you meet?
*How are you going to honor confidentiality?
*How will you be in touch with people outside of the meetings and so on.
Now, a small group doesn’t guarantee spiritual friendship will happen, but it’s one of those settings that will make it possible.
I would say marriages, small groups, churches, organizations and spiritual friends need covenants to affirm their commitment to one another, and to clarify their expectations.
David and Jonathan make a covenant and reaffirmed it over and over again.
So, how do you get into a spiritual friendship?
Well, there’s a searching process. There’s a testing process. And there’s a covenant process.
If these are intimate, soul-connecting, deeply disclosing, heart-bonding spiritual friendships,
How many spiritual friendships can I expect to have?
Now, I’ve experienced times in life where several of these relationships developed in a very short time. They just kind of came as a gift, several of them, and that was a wonderful thing.
But I’ve also experienced times where for several years, not just one, but several years went by without having one spiritual friendship develop. And that was very painful.
And I’m at the point right now where I don’t think I’m going to be able to devote the kind of time or emotional presence that will be able to sustain more than maybe three or four of those in my life; not at that really deep covenantal level.
People wonder sometimes, “Can it occur between a husband and a wife, this kind of spiritual friendship?” I would say it can, and sometimes it does, but not always.
And I would just counsel you here to not force it. Pray about it and talk about it, but if you push too hard with a spouse that resists, the pressure can do more harm than good.
Another question about spiritual friendship:
Will spiritual friendships last a lifetime?
It’s kind of a sad answer.
Some do. Those are wonderful things when you look at two people that have walked through a whole lifetime together and invested in each other and shaped each other.
But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes someone moves away, and they’re not able to have the same kind of contact anymore. Sometimes there’s conflict or divergence for whatever reason.
And when that happens to you, when you’ve been in a really important spiritual friendship and for whatever reason it ceases, your response is real important.
Here’s what happens sometimes. Some people get so hurt they decide they never want to go through that hurt again, and they wall themselves off. That’s not a good thing.
When a spiritual friendship ends, you have to grieve it.
One of the most beautiful of David’s psalms is actually in the first chapter of 2 Samuel, and it’s after Saul and Jonathan die. David mourned for Saul and he commanded that the whole nation mourn. “Let all of Israel weep for Saul,” he said.
But his mourning for Jonathan was personal. He said in
2 Samuel 1:26
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear for me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.
David, of course, was married. But his marriages to a large extent were disasters.
But in this friendship, he found what covenantal love could be.
So I would encourage you to allow what is good about spiritual friendship to motivate you to find new ones.
Now, David never replaced Jonathan. That’s the really important thing about friends. You never replace a friend.
In our day, people talk about emotional support networks as if the people in them were just interchangeable spare parts – lose one, find another piece for your emotional support network.
A friend is not a spare part. A friend is irreplaceable. You don’t replace a friend. But you discover your need for friends.
And with David, for example, Nathan became a real crucial one. Because David understood from Jonathan he needed someone to speak truth into his life and Nathan did that.
Will they last a lifetime? Some do, but not all, and you may have more work to do.
That leads me to the last question:
Is spiritual friendship really worth the effort, time and pain involved?
Because I’ll just tell you – if you really are willing to do what David and Jonathan did, to go deeper and deeper with another human being, then you can just count on it, at certain points, your heart will get broken. It will.
But I want you to know that if you don’t do that, your heart will get really hard. It may be real safe, but it will get real hard.
I wish I could sit down and talk to you about this one-on-one.
*Maybe you’ve never had something like this in your life, and you haven’t even been missing it because you’re just not aware of what it can be. It hasn’t even been on the radar screen.
*Maybe you’ve had one, and for whatever reason, it’s gone. And you feel so lonely, but you’re afraid of getting hurt.
*Maybe you’re searching for a spiritual friend right now, and for whatever reason, you can’t find one. And you’re tempted to give up because it just hurts so much to think about searching more.
I want you to know it’s worth it. It’s worth the search.
You know, Jonathan was a great warrior, he was an heir to the throne. I think he would have made a good king. He probably wanted to be king.
But more than he wanted to be the king, he wanted to be a friend. And in God’s kingdom, that’s greatness.
More than Jonathan wanted to be called king, he wanted to be called friend.
And you know what, so did Jesus.
People wanted to make Jesus king, to seize all power and destroy all their enemies.
But there was a title Jesus wanted more, and that title was “friend of sinners.”
He wanted to be your friend.
Jesus thinks so highly of friendship that he chose to reject earthly kingship and die on a cross so he could be your friend and mine.
And in the kingdom of God, it may be that there is no title greater than the title “friend.”
There is no wonder like the wonder of God-honoring, covenant-based spiritual friendship. It’s worth it.
Alright, let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church