by Jeannette Haley
One of life’s greatest blessings is found in having a true friend. On the other hand, it is a sad thing for any person to go through life friendless.
While much has been written through the centuries about friendship, it’s good to step back and re-evaluate the true meaning of this wonderful relationship that we so often take for granted.
The biblical story of David and Jonathan, the son of King Saul, always comes to mind whenever I contemplate the priceless gift of a true friend. In 1 Samuel 18 we read that Jonathan (whose name means God-given) loved David as his own soul. Even though King Saul sought to destroy David out of fear and jealousy, Jonathan made a covenant with David and “…stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle” verse 4.
Jonathan’s selfless act demonstrates the purest form of friendship for there can be no real friendship as long as a person’s goal is self-serving. Jonathan supported the fact that David had been chosen by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. In other words, Jonathan was humble and did not think highly of himself as the king’s son, neither did he secretly long to follow in his father’s footsteps.
This is the basis of all true friendship-the desire to see the other person win regardless of the personal cost. Mistrust, jealousy, and competition have no place in such a relationship and neither do secret self-serving agendas, prejudice, or superiority.
Friends have a special kind of love-it is unconditional. In Proverbs 17:17 we read, “A friend loveth at all times.” At all times means your friend loves you when you are at your lowest low, or when you’ve blown it big time, or when you feel like you really just want to stop the world and get off. Unconditional love lets you be yourself and loves you no matter what you are going through. Unconditional love is consistent, steady, dependable, faithful, and unshakable.
On the other hand, the love of a true friend is strong and honest-it never flatters or plays games and it will confront when necessary. True love rejoices in truth and will not allow a dear friend to walk in delusion. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” Proverbs 27:6. Although “Open rebuke is better than secret love” (verse 5), let’s face it, rebuke is hard on our pride! But would a real friend allow you to walk the broad path of error or delusion without warning you?
This special kind of love is stimulating according to Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” While sparks may occasionally fly from such a friendship, this type of relationship fine tunes the people involved and helps them to develop as individuals. Solid friendships such as this are an investment that take initiative and do not come about by accident. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” This type of “sticking”, I might add, is not the kind of relationship that suffocates and smothers but rather one that gently expresses itself through commitment and respect.
When Jonathan stripped himself of his robe and gave it to David, he began an act of complete and utter self-denial. To me, his robe symbolizes the robe of righteousness that Christ bestows upon those who have been washed in His blood. Undoubtedly Jonathan, as the king’s son, wore a very special kind of robe yet he didn’t hesitate to bestow it upon his friend. Jonathan’s robe identified him as the son of the king, yet he gave up his identity out of love for his friend. This is a powerful picture of Christ who gave up His identity as God to humble Himself, becoming a servant of all in the likeness of men in order to identify with us! It is also a picture of John the Baptist who declared that he must decrease so that Christ could increase.
Like David, those who love Jesus thankfully accept this outpouring of love and grace. Once we have received the salvation that God has provided for us through His Son, we are then under His covering and obligated to share the Gospel with others. God’s love for us is not to be selfishly hoarded to ourselves-but rather to be freely shared.
We read that Jonathan then went deeper and gave David his garments. By contrast, Christ not only gives us a robe of righteousness, but He blesses us with the practical needs of our every day life-food, clothes, and drink. In turn, God expects us to care for the needs of those around us in practical ways. True Christianity is love for Christ that expresses itself by good works, not by giving lip service, playing church or being religious.
Next we read that Jonathan gave David his sword and his bow. Without his weapons Jonathan made himself vulnerable to enemy attack. Again, this is a portrayal of Jesus who became vulnerable to the temptations of the devil, being tempted in all ways as we are. Yet He was without sin, having resisted Satan’s attempts to cause Him to yield to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Consider how Jesus has given to His church the sword of His Word and the bow of His strength. In fact, we know that He has provided the Christian with power and authority. (See Ephesians 6; James 4:7; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, 1 John 4:4.)
Jonathan’s love for David was so strong that he was willing to lay down his life for him. Jesus told His disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” John 15:13, 14. Imagine how Jesus’ disciples felt after His crucifixion and resurrection when they remembered His words! Had He not laid down His life for them? Was that not proof of His love for them? And He had called them ‘friends’! Jesus had done His part, but to maintain that friendship with the risen Christ, they must prove their friendship to Him through obedience.
Just as friendship between people must be maintained through mutual respect, honor, submission, love, commitment, dedication, and love, so too, must our relationship with God be maintained. In our modern society, however, and even in much of the Church, self-centeredness is exalted through the worldly philosophies of self-esteem and pride. Heretical doctrines have convinced multitudes that faith in faith supercedes faith in God, His sovereignty, His will, and that we can become ‘little gods’ ourselves. Another extreme belief is that obedience to the Lord Jesus conflicts with God’s grace; therefore, obedience is discouraged. We see the results of this belief in unrealistic, self-centered, self-righteous, spiritually slothful people who have a false view of God and salvation. While they may convince themselves that they are God’s friends, just the opposite is true.
In the long run (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) Jesus’ disciples proved to be His friends. Their obedience to the death bears witness to the fact that friendship with God can be a reality providing we count the cost and pay the price. Jesus declared, “…whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:26. Bearing our cross is death to self. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind…put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” Ephesians 4:23-24. We cannot claim to be friends of God or expect Him to be our friend if we ignore Jesus’ commandments and insist on doing our own thing.
From reading the Gospel accounts of Christ’s earthly life, we know that John the Beloved had entered into an intimate and special friendship with Jesus. We see John, time and again, close to the Master, leaning his head on Jesus breast. John knew that Jesus loved him, and he accepted that love. Unlike many Christians today, John was confident and satisfied with his relationship with the Lord, although we do know that at one point he was in competition with the other disciples for a place of honor. Later in his life, however, he wrote, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” 1 John 2:15. John’s relationship with Jesus grew and matured, as any healthy relationship should.
James wrote, concerning friendship with God, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God,” James 4:4. The Bible makes it clear that in order to enter into a friendship with God we must separate our hearts from lusting after those things that are not of God.
Where is your heart today? As Jonathan recognized David as his king and denied himself, have you recognized Jesus as your King and denied yourself? Have you come to the place where, with John the Baptist, you desire to decrease so that Christ may increase in your life? Jesus wants to be your Friend. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” Revelation 3:20. Will you open the door and let Him in? He is a Friend that never fails!