People today are living more lonely and isolated lives than ever before. Nearly one in four people say that they haven't made a new friend in the last five years, and the same number say that they have absolutely no one to talk to. So why do we need friendships, what is friendship really, and how do we find true friends? This sermon explores the essentiality of friendship through the story of David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 18.

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    In 1966, the Beatles first sang these lines: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” I'm afraid that they would have even more to sing about today because we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. The number of people who say that they do not have a single close friend has quadrupled over the last 30 years. It's even worse among young men. The number of men who say that they do not have a single close friend has quintupled over the last 30 years. Nearly one in four people say that they haven't made a new friend in the last five years, and the same number (25% of people) say that they have absolutely no one to talk to. That's staggering. 

    Of course, there are all sorts of reasons for that. We could discuss the negative consequences of moving from place to place or the impact of social media. Young people text more than they talk—and we know that it’s a poor substitute for real interaction. But the upshot of all of this is that we're living lonelier, more isolated lives, and we know that can't be good. 

    Perhaps I could offer this thought experiment, and maybe this is true to your own experience. Imagine that you have no money, a horrible job, and a crummy apartment. I realize this might be hitting a little close to home for some of you, but bear with me. You have no money, a horrible job, and a crummy apartment, but if you have great friends, you’ll be happy. By contrast, if you have lots of money, a terrific job, and an amazing apartment, but no friends, you'll be miserable. The depth and the quality of your friendships determine the depth and the quality of your life. 

    We're in the midst of a series in which we are exploring the ancient and inescapable question: What is the good life? And how can it be live? And by way of answering that question, we're examining the story of David which is contained in the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel. The thing that we need to remember is that David was far from perfect. In many ways, he made an absolute mess of his life. And yet, in the midst of all of his successes, as well as failures, the story of David provides us with a window into many of the domains of life through which people do find the good life. Today, I'd like us to focus on the theme of friendship. As we turn to 1 Samuel chapter 18, I'd like us to consider, why do we need it, what is it, and how do we get it. Let me invite you to open the Bible to 1 Samuel 18. I'll be reading 1 Samuel 18:1-9.

    1As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. 3Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants.

    6As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

    “Saul has struck down his thousands,

          and David his ten thousands.”


    8And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9And Saul eyed David from that day on.

    This is God's word. It's trustworthy, and it's true, and it's given to us in love. 

    Why We Need It?

    Let's begin by considering this first question: Why do we need friends? The simple answer to that question is because life is hard. Or as my ninth grade English teacher used to tell us time and time again, life isn't fair. We clearly see that in David's own life. If we take a closer look, we see that conflict is the context out of which David's friendship with Jonathan grows. No sooner does David defeat Goliath, the Philistine, when Saul overhears the women of Israel singing David's praises, “‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’” This jingle was not intended to be derogatory towards Saul, but those words rankled him. They fed his incurable jealousy and poisoned his relationship with David. We read in verse 9, “Saul eyed David from that day on.” He eyed David with suspicion. 

    Part of what makes the life of David so utterly relatable, is that his life was filled with constant conflict. Over the next several chapters we read that Saul will try to kill David in a variety of different ways on multiple different occasions. 

    First, Saul tries the direct assault. We're told that one day Saul is holding a spear in his hand. Then all of a sudden, he decides that he's going to hurl the spear at David and try to pin David to the wall while he's playing music. Imagine I had a spear and all of a sudden, as Doori is playing the violin, I just decide I'm going to hurl this spear at him to see if I can pin him to the wall. Fortunately for David, he ducks and dodges this spear not once, but twice, which probably only added to Saul's fury. The direct assault doesn't work. 

    Then he approaches the murder of David indirectly. He tries to kill David by putting him in harm's way. He elevates him, makes him a commander of the army, and figures, “If I keep putting him in a dangerous position, then maybe the Philistines will be the ones who take David out on the battlefield.” Then he tries to lure David into battle by offering first one daughter, and then a second daughter, as a prize—which just so you know, is not a good idea.

    After trying to pin David to the wall with a spear a third time, Saul sends in the assassins. He sends a group of men to David's home who are going to try to murder him in his sleep, but his wife, one of Saul's daughters, catches wind of this plot. She warns David in advance, helps him escape through a window, and then covers for him. But that is at least six different murder attempts within two chapters in 1 and 2 Samuel. What does that say? Whatever you may be dealing with in life, at least you don't have someone who's out there trying to kill you—at least I hope not. 

    Here's why this matters. The Bible doesn't present life through rose colored glasses. It's not all sunshine and rainbows. No, there's a tell-it-like-it-is quality to the Scriptures. In an odd sort of way that can be encouraging because the Scriptures are dealing with reality. The Bible doesn't paper over the cracks and tell us that everything is just fine. No, it acknowledges that life is filled with struggle and with pain. If you're having a hard time right now, guess what? You're normal! That's the kind of world in which we live.

    David learns an important life lesson rather early in his life. David learns that some people may just not like you even though you haven't done anything wrong. Saul is filled with hatred towards David, really for no other reason than because at least up until this point, David is good. He hates David because he's good. He's a good shepherd. He's a good musician. He's a good leader. So far in the story, this will change, but so far in the story, David has been doing everything right. If that's true, then you should expect it. You shouldn't be surprised if people criticize you, if they tease you, if they snub you, if they exclude you, if they look at you with an evil eye, or an eye of suspicion. You may not have someone out there who's trying to pin you to the wall with a spear, but you might have someone who tries to stab you in the back. That is to be expected. 

    That is why we need friends. Life is hard. Life isn't fair. And that's why we can't go it alone. We need friends who can help us navigate the stresses and the strains of life. Part of the problem is that many of the difficulties we face in our lives are self-inflicted. I'll give you an example. Some of you have heard the story that after I graduated from seminary, my first position as a pastor was serving as a Campus Minister at Northwestern University outside of Chicago. One of my primary responsibilities was to deliver a message to the college students on a weekly basis. But right from the get go, I started dealing with an issue that I'm sure is relatable to many New Yorkers: Perfectionism. I pinned all of my identity and my sense of worth to my performance, specifically as it related to public speaking. It got so bad that at times I couldn't sleep the night before because I'd be worried about how I would perform the next day, or I couldn't sleep the night after I had just spoken because I'd be letting all those words play back through my mind. At that point in time, my wife tried to encourage me, and she said, “You're being too hard on yourself. You always do a good job. Don't worry.” But as much as Ashley tried to encourage me, it didn't really help—because she's my wife. She has to love me! She has to be nice. So I always found a way to discount her words. Then Ashley decided she needed to take a different approach. She did two things. 

    First of all, she got tough. She said to me one day, “You know what your problem is, Jason. You just don't believe the gospel.” She wasn't saying you're not a Christian. What she meant by that was that I wasn't applying the gospel to myself, to my own heart. Here's the irony. Week in week out, I was telling the college students, God accepts you on the basis of grace, which means that your identity, your value, your worth, as a human being is not based on what you do, but rather, it's based on God’s love for you. And you need to rest in that. And yet, I wasn't applying that truth to myself. I was trying to prove my worth to God, to win the respect and admiration of other people through my performance. What was so twisted about it is that it was specifically through my spiritual performance of delivering a sermon. Ashley's advice helped and went right to the heart. Things got a little bit better. 

    Then there's a second thing that Ashley did. She said, “I love you. I'm always here for you. I'm always happy to talk through your struggles with you, but it is a little exasperating to talk about the same thing over and over again, and you're not making any progress. You're not working on anything. I can't be the only one who's processing these things with you. You need to get some friends.” She even picked one out for me. She said, “I think you should reach out to Alec, this person we know from church, and open up to him. Tell him what you're dealing with.” I did, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made because he became a close friend. He was someone who could not only encourage me, but also challenge me, and do the same thing: Help me apply the gospel to my own heart and life. That's when things really began to change. 

    This is why we need friends. Life is hard. Life is not fair. Some of the struggles we face are self-inflicted. But whether they come from the inside or from outside, we need friends to help us navigate the stress and the strain of life.

    What Is It?

    If that's why we need it, what is friendship really? In 1960, C.S. Lewis wrote a famous little book called The Four Loves, based on four Greek words that describe four different kinds of love. You could translate those four words in English as affection, friendship, eros, and charity. The chapter on friendship might be the very best that is out there. Here's one of the things that Lewis says. He says that,

    Ancient people considered friendship to be the highest and the best, the happiest and the most fully human of all the loves. And yet we modern people tend to ignore it, which means that friendship is the one love that you are least likely to experience. 

    Perhaps we see that being born out within our culture right now. Friendship is not only rare, but it's also exceedingly difficult to define. But if we want to understand what true friendship entails, there's no better place for us to go than to look at the friendship between David and Jonathan in the Scriptures. 

    Let me offer this definition. Friendship is a shared bond that arises from a deep unity of spirit and a common purpose. Friends see the same truth. They travel the same road toward the same destination. Or, to put it differently, you could say that friends share a common spirit, a common commitment, and a common vision. We see all those aspects of friendship in the dynamic between Jonathan and David. 

    Common Spirit

    First of all, they shared a common spirit. The first thing we're told about Jonathan is that, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” C.S. Lewis said that friendship is born, the moment one person says to another, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” Friends see the same truth, and that cultivates this deep unity of spirit. Jonathan recognized a kindred spirit in David, and then he struck up a friendship with him. Friends, therefore, are not afraid to share their innermost thoughts or feelings because they know that the other person, even if they don't see things exactly the same way, will understand. Friends share their secrets. They're willing to be completely open because they do not fear that the other person will hold anything they say against them. Jonathan and David experienced this knitting together of their souls. Jonathan loved David as his very own soul. 

    Let me address one common question that comes up when we read this text before we move on. Some people read a passage like this, and a description of friendship like that, and they assume that this relationship must be a sexual one. But let me just say that would be to impose a modern reading on a very ancient text. The thing that you need to remember is that the Old Testament Scriptures lay out a very definitive view about how human beings should conduct themselves sexually. It lays out a very clear view on sexual relationships. You can be sure that if there was anything inappropriate about the relationship between Jonathan and David, then the very same narrator of 1 and 2 Samuel—who in just a few chapters later will blast David for his affair with Bathsheba—would be sure to tell us if anything was amiss in this relationship as well. But he doesn't, and he doesn't for a reason. The fact that some modern readers tend to assume that this relationship was sexual, probably just goes to show how little modern people value and how few modern people experience true friendship, especially perhaps friendship among men. With that said, it's clear that Jonathan and David share a common spirit. 

    Common Commitment

    Secondly, they share a common commitment. We may not like it, but friendship often entails obligations. That is explicitly the case with Jonathan and David. Verse 3 tells us that "Jonathan made a covenant with David." But what is a covenant? Very simply, a covenant is a relationship based on promises. That entails both privileges and responsibilities. Jonathan and David make a covenant with one another because of that deep unity of spirit. 

    Some people assume that a covenant is the same thing as a contract, but while they are very similar, there are some important differences between the two. A contract is an agreement that two or more parties enter into out of their own self-interest in order to pursue some mutually agreed upon objective. Think about a real estate contract. Let's say I want an apartment and you want money, so we enter into a contract. I promise to pay you money, and you promise to hand me the keys to your apartment. If either one of us fails to keep our end of the bargain, then the contract is null and void. A lot of people think that's what a covenant is, a covenant is a specific kind of contract. But no. In a contract two or more parties enter into an agreement with one another out of their own self-interest in order to pursue a mutually agreed upon objective. But in a covenant, two or more people make binding promises of love and loyalty to one another in order to accomplish something together that they could never do on their own. Do you see the difference? 

    Marriage is a covenant. It's not a contract. Church membership is based on a covenantal relationship, not a contractual one. When you become a member of a church, you're making binding promises of love and loyalty to other members of the congregation so that together, we might build something that we could never do on our own. We build a community of faith in Jesus Christ. A contract is inherently transactional, but a covenant is inherently relational. The covenant simply puts form and structure around a relationship of love and loyalty. If you understand that, then you understand why Jonathan and David enter into this covenant in the first place. 

    Look at the hostility that Saul is demonstrating towards David. You can see why the covenant was necessary. David and Jonathan are now caught in the clash of competing dynasties: The dynasty of Saul and the promised future dynasty of David. Even though Jonathan is Saul's son, he gives his loyalty to David. So they enter into this covenant, promising their love and loyalty to one another no matter what might happen. They promise to protect one another as families, even after one or the other dies. The essence of the covenant is faithfulness. It's a pledge to be loyal to the other person, no matter what. 

    A Common Vision

    Why would Jonathan enter into such a covenant? Why would he sacrifice so much? If friends are people who see the same truth and travel the same road toward the same destination, then it means that true friends share not only a common spirit, and not only a common commitment, but a common vision. What was the vision of the future that Jonathan and David shared? It was God's vision that David, rather than Jonathan, would become the king. That's why in verse 4, Jonathan strips himself of his royal robe, and he takes off his royal armor, and he gives away his royal weapons—his bow, his sword, and his belt—he gives them all to David. 

    This was not just a spontaneous act of generosity on Jonathan's part to meet the need of a newfound friend. Why does Jonathan do this? Because by giving David his royal robe, his royal armor, and his royal weapons, he is relinquishing his claim to be the king. Jonathan was the son of Saul. He was the crown prince. He was the heir to the throne, but he gave it all away. He gives up his rights, and he aligns himself with David, no matter what. What would possess someone to do that? Only if you share God's vision for the future. 

    C.S. Lewis said that, “If all you want are friends, then you’ll never make any because friendship has to be about something.” Those who have nothing can share nothing. Those who are going nowhere, have no fellow travelers. But a true friend is someone who shares a common spirit, a common commitment, and a common vision. There is no greater journey than traveling down the same road with others towards the new heavens and the new earth that God has promised and to help prepare others to appear before the throne of God. 

    How Do We Get It?

    But if that's all true, how do we find friends like that? It's important to see that friends share much in common but unity does not mean uniformity. If you are exactly like your friends in every conceivable way, then how could your friends ever challenge you, or pushback, call you out, help you see things differently? Unity is not uniformity. In fact, through friendship, what we need is unity in diversity. 

    One of my proudest moments as a campus minister at Northwestern years ago was when one student in our ministry turned to another and said, “You know what, we are really different from one another, but we can still be friends.” That is the key. Proverbs 27:17, says that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man [one person, one friend] sharpens another.” That's an important corrective to our modern conception of friendship. As modern people, we tend to think that the essence of friendship is nonjudgmental acceptance. We should just accept our friends as they are and affirm all of their desires. But what if there's something wrong with my desires? I need friends in my life, who do not merely accept me just as I am, I need friends who care so much for me, that they refuse to allow me to remain just as I am. And they're willing to speak truth into my life in order to make me better, in order to help me become the truest version of myself. That's why Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” 

    How is a friend supposed to wound you? I don't need friends clobbering me over the head with a baseball bat. I've got enemies who can do that for me. What I need are friends, who don't take a bat to my head, but rather a scalpel to my heart. I need friends who are willing to thoughtfully, carefully, precisely, surgically remove that which is harmful within me, so that I could become my true self. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. You need friends that wound you in order to heal you by speaking the truth in love. 

    If that's the case, where do we find friends like that? I would suggest the answer to that question is, right here. This is the very best place for you to find friends who share a common spirit, a common commitment, and a common vision. You're not going to find it anywhere else like you'll find it right here. 

    I want you to do me a favor, the next time we pass the peace or at the conclusion of the service today, go out of your way to greet someone whom you've never met before. Stay after the service, go up to the sixth floor and share a meal with people. Sit down at a table with people whom you've never met. The single best way to make new friends is to get involved in a Community Group or one of our Bible studies. There's no better way to get connected, to grow in your faith, to serve the city, and to make some friends. Perhaps you might choose to volunteer with one of our many ministries. A lot of people become friends by working together and doing something together, so you'll become friends by volunteering with our Sunday Service team, our Children's Ministry, or our Hospitality team. Perhaps you might consider joining the church. You might become part of this covenant community by making binding promises of love and loyalty so that together we might build something that you could never do on your own—a community of faith in Jesus Christ. 

    One of the beautiful things about this church is that Central draws people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. This is one of the few places in New York where you can cultivate a multigenerational friendship, which is in fact, the kind of friendship that Jonathan and David shared. Most of us think that Jonathan was a peer of David's but no, he was 10 years, perhaps 20 years older. He was more of a mentor to David, and that's why it's so astonishing that Jonathan willingly decreases so that David might increase. But that's what we need in our lives—multigenerational friendships. 

    The fact of the matter is that it is the more senior members of our congregation who often feel most lonely because they may not necessarily be able to get out to join us for a worship service or to attend the Community Group. So in response to this sermon, you might want to reach out to [Executive Pastor] Chris Hildebrand and say that you want to be a part of the senior care team and want to proactively pursue friendships with the more senior members of our congregation. There are so many things that you could do, so I'd encourage you to take at least one step. 

    The problem that most of us have is that we assume that everybody else is happy, that everybody else has their group of friends, and we are the one person who's left out. We’re waiting for someone to reach out to us and to befriend us. But what if we all made the first move? What if we all took the first step to seek a friendship with someone else? That might just change the trajectory of your time in New York City. That might change the whole trajectory of your life. 

    Of course, the reality is that no matter how strong our friendships are, we're only human. Even the best of friends will let us down. That's why Proverbs 18:24 tells us that, “Though a man with many companions may still come to ruin, there is one friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The purpose of the Scriptures is to reveal to us that there is a friend even greater than Jonathan. Remember, the Bible isn't about you and what you're supposed to do for God. The Bible is ultimately about God and what he has done for you by his grace. This friendship, this covenantal friendship, between David and Jonathan is not an end in itself. It's meant to prepare you for the ultimate friendship that you can enjoy with God in and through Jesus Christ. Everything about David's friendship with Jonathan is meant to point us ultimately to Jesus. 


    Consider Jonathan's covenant. Jonathan enters into this covenant with David and he says, “I promise to be loyal to you, no matter what happens, and I look to the Lord as my witness.” Many people—ancient and modern—are familiar with the idea that two people could enter into a treaty or a covenant with one another, and the Lord would serve as a witness to those promises. But no one—no one ancient or modern—would have expected God, the God of the universe, to actually enter into a treaty or a covenant or an agreement with human beings. And yet, that's what the God of the Bible has done. That is the central theme—the underlying motif that runs all the way through Scripture. God comes to us. He makes promises of love and loyalty to you. The essence of the covenant is, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Even though we often prove to be faithless—we are covenant breakers—God remains faithful. 


    Consider Jonathan's sacrifice. This has to be one of the most moving scenes in all of Scripture when Jonathan removes his royal robe and his armor and his weapons, and hands them over to David as he relinquishes his claim to the throne. But Jesus has done far more for you. "He left his Father's throne above—so free, so infinite, his grace—and emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam's helpless race." Jesus gave up his royal rights, his royal status, his royal position, as God's one and only Son. He came to us not only as a human being, but in the form of a servant and was willing to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. 


    Consider his loyalty in contrast to Jonathan's. Jonathan promised that he would be loyal to David come what may, but Jesus shows us an even greater depth of commitment. On the night before his death, Jesus gathers together with his disciples one last time. Even though he knows that moments after this, Judas is going to betray him with a kiss, Peter is going to deny ever knowing him, the rest of the disciples are going to abandon him and desert him in his greatest hour of need, even though he knows that's coming, Jesus says to them, and to all of us by extension: “I'm not going to call you servants any longer because servants don't know what their master is doing. From now on, I'm calling you my friends because everything that I've heard from the Father I've made known to you.” Jesus opens his own heart to us. He shares his innermost thoughts and feelings. He doesn't hold anything back. We were on the outside, and he brings us into the inside, into the very heart of things. He tells us that there is no greater love than that one person should give up his life for his friend. Jonathan was willing to risk his life for David, but Jesus actually lost his life for you on the cross. 

    Aristotle once said that it would be impossible for a god to be friends with human beings because they're too dissimilar. He said for a god to become a friend of a human being would be like a man becoming friends with his tools. But that's not the message of Christianity. No, the message of the gospel is that the God of the universe has gone to extraordinary lengths in order to transform you, a stranger to his promises, into a friend. The whole message of the gospel is about what God has done to make you his friend. Even though you have failed, Jesus bears those failures. Even though you are faithless, he remains faithful. And if you have Jesus now as your friend, then you go out into the world with strength. And with that strength, you can proactively seek to be a friend to others, rather than waiting for them to be a friend to you. If we all did that, then I think we'd all be a little bit less lonely. 

    Let me pray for us. 

    Father, we thank you that this table enables us to renew our friendship with you. This is a covenant renewal ceremony, so we pray that as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we would be reminded of the promises that you have made to us as you have bound yourself to us with love and loyalty. Help us therefore to renew our commitment to you as we receive your friendship, and then with the strength that your friendship provides, we strive to become ever better friends to one another. Give us the grace to do that. Through the strong and powerful name of Jesus we pray. Amen.