Gospel-Patterned Friendship

Bert and Ernie. 

Woody and Buzz.

Lucy and Ethel. 

Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Anne Shirley and Diana Barry. 

Calvin and Hobbes. 

From Sesame Street to classic American literature, the stories of friendship fill our homes. However, what begins as easy and natural as kids somehow becomes murky and difficult with age. Sure, we have acquaintances all around us. Coworkers and neighbors, even fellow church members with whom we exchange pleasantries, inquire about the other’s kids, and talk about our vacation plans. But a true friendship—a relationship that goes deeper than any of that and takes on the form of true life-sharing—that’s rare. And it’s difficult. 

As with every other aspect of our lives, the gospel must shape our friendships; and it does so in a thousand little ways. Turn to Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 or study the life of Christ and you’ll learn what it means for a friend to love at all times (Prov. 17:17). But Scripture also provides a flesh-and-blood example of gospel-patterned friendship at work. 

The two young men are unlikely friends. One is the current crown prince, the other has been anointed as the next king of Israel—and they’re not brothers. David and Jonathan, by all counts, ought to be rivals. Instead, they form a deep friendship that foreshadows the gospel.

Gospel Pattern #1: Surrender Your Rights

Saul, Jonathan’s father and first king of Israel, preferred to do things his own way. As a result, he disobeyed the word of the Lord, and saw his dynasty stripped away (1 Sam. 13:13–14). This meant that Jonathan would never sit on his father’s throne. Surely that was not easy news to digest. However, Jonathan never seems to stumble over it. Instead, we learn that he and David—God’s choice to be the next king—become friends. And not just friends, but “bosom friends,” as Anne Shirley would put it. Scripture describes it this way:

When David had finished speaking with Saul, Jonathan was bound to David in close friendship, and loved him as much as he loved himself. (1 Samuel 18:1)

In loving David with this selfless love, Jonathan surrendered his “right” to be the next king. He didn’t fight God or turn David into a rival. Instead, he presents his friend with all his regal paraphernalia: 

Then Jonathan removed the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his military tunic, his sword, his bow, and his belt. (1 Samuel 18:4)

In this beautiful gospel picture, Jonathan clothes David in the robes of the king. He surrenders his own rights, gives up his own claim to glory, and gives it to another, likely realizing that in order for David to ascend to the throne, Jonathan would have to die. A thousand years later, the Friend of Sinners would sing the same song: 

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5–11)

All relationships involve surrender, and friendship is no exception. I don’t know what “right” you might be clinging to. Perhaps it’s the right to dictate what your friendship looks like. Perhaps it’s the right to do the talking instead of the listening for a change. Or maybe it’s the right to be reached out to instead of doing all the reaching. 

In some of these cases, you should have a conversation with your friend about your frustration. That’s part of the process too. But sometimes, as we incarnate the gospel with our friends, we simply have to “adopt the attitude of Christ” and put our rights aside and seek to love our friends the way that they are today, not how we wish they would be.

Gospel Pattern #2: Take a Risk When Necessary

Though Jonathan seems unfazed by the imminent end of his father’s dynasty, Saul loses his mind. Jealousy and murderous rage overtake him as he plans to execute his rival. David, of course, knows what’s going on, and wants to stay away from Saul. However, he doesn’t want to leave the kingdom if it’s not absolutely necessary. Doing so would mean leaving his family and his friends. 

Enter Jonathan. 

Jonathan volunteers to talk to his semi-psychotic father about David. The two friends work out a plan to discern the feasibility of David’s remaining in the palace. This may not seem like much of a risk. After all, Jonathan was Saul’s son and a leader in his army. However, when Saul figures out what’s going on, Jonathan’s life is very much at risk: 

Then Saul threw his spear at Jonathan to kill him, so he knew that his father was determined to kill David. (1 Samuel 20:33)

Does this seem extreme? After all, no friendship in my life has ever involved talking to my lunatic father about his plans to kill my friend. That’s just not a risk that I—or probably you—have ever had to face. 

But that doesn’t mean friendship doesn’t demand risks. Relationships of all kinds are risky affairs.

We risk being hurt. 

We risk being betrayed. 

We risk being exposed. 

We risk being ashamed.

We risk being left. 

Yet these risks are exactly what the gospel calls us to. In the case of our Redeemer, His risk cost Him everything. 

He had been betrayed. 

He was naked and exposed in the most public way. 

He was put to shame. 

He was forsaken by the Father. 

When we take risk for love in our friendships, we follow the pattern set by the Savior Himself. 

Gospel Pattern #3: Demonstrate Faithfulness

As David and Jonathan hatch their plan to help David escape from Saul’s homicidal fury, they make a covenant with one another. Though they may never spend another minute together, these two friends pledge their steadfast love for one another. 

“If I continue to live, show me kindness from the Lord, but if I die, don't ever withdraw your kindness from my household—not even when the Lord cuts off every one of David's enemies from the face of the earth." (1 Samuel 20:14–15)

Even if you, like me, are no Hebrew scholar, you may be familiar with the term in these verses: hesed. We normally hear this word in relation to God’s covenant devotion to His chosen people. Because it’s hard to capture the full meaning of hesed in a single English word, Sally Lloyd-Jones had to use a few more in her definition found throughout The Jesus Storybook Bible. She puts it this way:“Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”1

This is the type of love that David pledges to show Jonathan. And when he finally becomes king, he will remember this moment with his dear friend (see 2 Sam. 9). 

Though we sinners will never show this type of faithful kindness to our friends in a perfect sense as our Father does to us every day in Christ, we still have the opportunity to incarnate the gospel through our feeble efforts. 

Undoubtedly, this will mean some difficult things: 

Hesed forgives when it would rather hold a grudge. 

Hesed moves in when it would rather run away. 

Hesed demonstrates patience when it would rather blow off steam. 

Hesed shows compassion when it would rather respond with sarcasm. 

Hesed listens when it would rather speak. 

I realize that the topic of friendship is nuanced and that there are times when friendships must come to an end and that people are sometimes in our lives only for a season. Even David and Jonathan, after their covenant promises, soon had to part company for the rest of their natural lives. However, it’s also possible that at times we’re too quick to let a friendship die or stay superficial. I believe that God would have us pursue friendships that look more like Christ and the gospel, even though it may come at a steep price. 

I think David and Jonathan would say that it was worth the cost. 

Was this article encouraging to you? If so, share it with a friend you’re thankful for. . . and then thank a monthly partner! Revive Partners provide for the ongoing needs of the ministry through prayer and monthly financial gifts that allow Revive Our Hearts to publish high-quality, trusted content like this on a daily basis. To learn more about how you can join Cindy, the author of today’s post, in becoming a Revive Partner, visit ReviveOurHearts.com/partner

 Sally Lloyd-Jones. The Jesus Storybook Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderkidz), 74.

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at biblestudynerd.com.

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