Discipleship is about friendship. Jesus has chosen me to be his friend. As a discipler I am a friend to my disciple. Jesus said to his men: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that the lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made know to you” (John 15: 12-15).
Chicago Tribune writer Marla Paul took a risk when she wrote a self-revealing column confessing her sadness and frustration over her own inability to build and sustain friendships. She wrote this column expecting little, if any, response. However, she was inundated with letters from others experiencing the same kind of isolation.
One person wrote, “I’ve often felt that I’m standing outside looking through the window of a party to which I was not invited.” What a vivid picture! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever have a sense of being on the outside looking in?
Marla Paul ended her column about loneliness with these words: “Sometimes it seems easier to just give up and accept disconnectedness as a dark and unshakable companion; but, that’s not the companion I want.” She writes, “So I will persevere.” She is going to keep longing, searching, trying, and hoping that someday she will be able to discover and develop community.
Shows About Nothing
One problem is that we have patterned our friendships after the world. Consider the television shows Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace and The Simpsons.
“…most contemporary sitcoms specialize in detached, ironic humor that portrays genuine suffering as funny. The Simpsons, for example, treats the arbitrary infliction of misery as a source of amusement, though even the Simpsons alternates between mocking cruelty and sentimental, familiar embraces. Seinfeld, on the other hand, drops the sentimentality. Its writers abide by two commandments: no hugs, no learning.” In the name of friendship they promote selfishness, immorality, betrayal, co-dependency and manipulation.
Watch an episode of Seinfeld from the perspective of cruelty. The characters are mean to each other and yet remain friends. The characters of the show Friends sleep with one another, degrade each other and at the end of each 30 minute episode every thing is made relationally OK. A human heart cannot endure such wounds, betrayals and slander as if nothing happened. Yet Americans have modeled their lives after these television characters and wonder why their relationships fail. The Lord brings us back into reality with the biblical story of Jonathan and David with a friendship as God intended.
Jonathan and David: A Discipling Friendship
Jonathan was the oldest son of Israel’s first king Saul and the crowned prince. Although setting dates in ancient history is difficult, we can approximate that Jonathan was 20 years older than David. Jonathan was a noted warrior when he met David as 17 year old sheep herder. Jonathan lived in palaces while David slept in fields. Jonathan was the oldest son; David the youngest. Jonathan was respected while David had lived with ridicule from his family.
Jonathan formed with David a covenant bond of trust, love and respect over a 13 year period. To understand their friendship we need to be aware of how a covenant worked in the eastern world. A covenant was an agreement between two parties that set the conditions of the relationship. A covenant was not between equals. Rather, it followed the pattern common to the ancient near east treaties. The victorious king would set the terms of the covenant with the conquered people.
Jonathan was the older of the two so he initiates the covenant. “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.” 1 Samuel 18:3. Later on David states that Jonathan brought David into a covenant friendship in I Samuel 20:8 “As for you (Jonathan), show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him (David) into a covenant with you, before the Lord.” The covenant implies relationship, promise and expectation. At this point of the friendship David is the recipient and makes no commitment to Jonathan.
A distinguishing factor between covenant friendship and a typical friendship is that a covenant friendship is triadic. A covenant friendship is a three-way agreement between God and me concerning my friend. “…for you have brought him (David) into a covenant with you, before the Lord.” I Samuel 20:8. “Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord is witness between you and me, and between our descendants and my descendants forever.”‘” I Samuel 23:18 There is a conscious awareness of God’s presence and purpose in the friendship. I relate to my friends through the person of Jesus. His presence protects me from the selfish manipulation of others and guards both of us from forming an unhealthy relationship.
Discipleship is a covenant friendship. In a discipling relationship the discipler takes the initiative to reach out to his disciple. As a discipler I cannot expect my disciple to understand biblical friendship. My purpose is to be their guide as Jesus guided his disciples. Jonathan guides David in the early years of their friendship and then later David in turn makes a covenant with Jonathan. 1 Samuel 20:42. “The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh.”
Jonathan is my hero. He lives counter to his surroundings and upbringing. His father was an angry, violent and irrational man. His siblings were products of their environment. Jonathan gives us hope that we are not fated to repeat our family’s dysfunction and self-destruction.
Paying the Price
As Jonathan and David’s story unfolds we see the heart of Jonathan. Jonathan is submissive to the purpose of God though it means a lesser role for him. But is it a lesser role? David could not have been the man the Lord intended without Jonathan’s friendship in his life. As David was running for his life from Saul, Jonathan was able to speak courage into the heart of David because of his faith in the purpose of God. 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.” 1 Samuel 23:16-18.
I follow Jesus by placing others ahead of myself. This is what Jesus taught and displayed by his life. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45. When I place the interests of my friends ahead of my own I am illustrating the story of Jesus for the world. My nature is to be protective and trust no one. Only by submitting to the will of God am I rescued from the gravitation pull of self-centeredness.
Organization for a common and concrete goal in peacetime organizations does not evoke anything like the degree of comradeship commonly known in war. At its height, this sense of comradeship is an ecstasy. Men are true comrades only when each is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss.
Jonathan embraced God’s purpose for David’s life. Jonathan understands the purpose for his own life which was to make David king and to serve him as the second man. It is when I recognize that there is a divine purpose for my friend and I am willing to join the Holy Spirit in fulfilling that purpose, no matter the cost, that I become a true friend-a true discipler. Many want a Jonathan and David friendship but are unwilling to pay the price. It is in losing my own life for the sake of a friend that I find my life.