1 Samuel 18:1-4; 20:1-17.
Cultivating True Friendship

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV

What is the difference between a close friend and an acquaintance?  Recently, I was asked, ďHow do you know if someone is a true friend?Ē  My answer was, ďA friend is someone who will come running to you at 2:00 AM if you call and say ĎI need you.í  All others are just acquaintances.Ē  True friendships are one of the greatest blessings of life, and their maintenance is consistent with Godís purpose for His people.[1]

What contributes to the forming of lasting friendships?  Spend a few moments to recall some examples of your own lasting friendships.  This scripture passage observes the appropriate expression of friendship, and like many of the circumstances in our lives, our relationships with other people range on a continuum from no relationship to casual acquaintance, to casual friend, to close friend, to ďsoulmate.Ē  Each of us can probably number our friends in the hundreds and our acquaintances in the thousands.  Friends are a consistent source of joy and strength.  We find we can share both our joys and our sorrows with our closest of friends. 

My wife, AnnMarie, and I have called many places home.  Since our marriage we have literally picked up our belongings and moved sixteen times.  We have established homes in places such as upstate New York, Maryland, Trippstadt Germany, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  During our years of travel we have made literally hundreds of friends and one of the greatest heartbreaks of moving is leaving those friends behind.  However, when enumerating our very closest friends, the numbers drop drastically.  Most of us can count our closest, trusted, and dearest friends on one hand and, hopefully for those who are married, our very closest friend is our spouse.  Spend a moment and recount some of the closest friendships you have had in your experience.  Are they still as close?  Have you cultivated those relationships, or have you let them wane and wither?  Even though we have traveled far and been long-separated from some of our closest friends, there are a few with whom we have been blessed to maintain our relationships.  These friends have encouraged us, sustained us, prayed for us and remain a source of stability and strength for us as I hope we have done the same for them.  Dear and close friends are a blessing that is worth developing, cultivating, and sustaining. 

There is a special bond of love that embraces such close friendships.  It is a powerful form of phileo love that, for those who love the LORD, has been additionally empowered by His agape love.  Conceptually, phileo love is usually meant to describe brotherly love with one from outside your family, though it is also this form of love that forms family bonds.  Those who do not know God can and do experience this powerful form of phileo love.  Since Christians are distinctive by the presence of agape love in their hearts, brotherly love goes a step further when founded on the power of God's unconditional love.  For the purposes of this study, let us refer to this form of love as agape:phileo, the product of phileo love and agape love.  God's Spirit gives people of faith the capacity to establish deep and abiding relationships with friends that are further maintained by the confluence, or interaction, of our spirits as well as our souls.  Agape is a love that looks beyond faults and loves unconditionally.  God created us as social beings, and we have a basic need for such relationships.  God has ordained these relationships, and has empowered us to bless one another through them.


The Bible contains several examples of close friendships, but probably none are as fully described as that between Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. 

1 Samuel 18:1-4.  And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.  2And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his fatherís house.  3Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.  4And Jonathan 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. 

When you look at your handful of closest friends, did those friendships start spontaneously, or were they developed and cultivated over time?  My wife and I have experienced a collection of both.  We have met people and established instant friendships that could only be explained through the power of the Holy Spirit who was meeting a need in our lives at the time.  Jonathan would have first known of David when Goliath the Philistine giant was killed on the field of battle.  Davidís defeat of the Philistine brought him immediate acclaim and respect.  David was brought to the king immediately after the battle, and it would have been in this context that David met Jonathan for the first time.

Consider the nature of the two young men at this time.  David was a late teenager, a ďlowlyĒ shepherd boy, but had already demonstrated respectable courage and skill.  Jonathan was already a leader in the army, so he would have been older than Jonathan.  Also, Jonathan, as the son of Saul, would be considered to be next in line for the throne.  So, the shepherd boy meets the prince.

The relationship between David and Jonathan began to develop quickly when David was brought to the court as Saul desired to make use of Davidís strategic skills as a military leader.  Jonathan and David immediately recognized in one another something that was greatly encouraging.  This ďfriends at first sightĒ is often the basis for the beginning of lasting friendships.

Friends are usually drawn together within the context of a common interest.  For Christians, that common interest can simply be their shared love of the LORD; a love that breaks down all barriers to relationships.  Jonathan and David were both men of great faith, so they shared that love for the LORD, something that Saul could never know.  Such faith was rare in ancient near-eastern culture, and their common faith developed a love and trust between them that God intends for all Christians to know and to share.

David and Jonathan would have been an odd-couple.  David, the lowly son of a shepherd, and Jonathan, the heir to the throne of Israel, who had little to nothing in common from societyís viewpoint, shared a bond that went far beyond culture.  Have you ever met someone whose spirit agreed with yours so closely that you become close friends quickly?  Have you met someone who you found that, given the opportunity, such a friendship could have easily developed?  It appears that the initiation of David and Johnathanís friendship was of this nature. 

Jonathan also had a great respect for David, indicated by the gifts that he gave to him, signifying his personal, civil, and military authority.  He outfitted David for battle with the best that the kingdom had to offer:  his own closest personal possessions.  The gift of the sword is significant since Israel did not work with iron, and their history of vassalage to the Philistines made the possession of iron weapons rare.  The wearing of Jonathanís military tunic would show to all Davidís acceptance by Jonathan and by the throne of Israel.

There was never such a positive and edifying relationship between David and Saul.  David's success over Goliath and then over the armies of the Philistines served as a major blow to Saul's pride and self-image.  Saul despised David for the accolades that he was receiving from the people.  Davidís successes that were accomplished only through his loyalty to God and his loyalty to the king, made Saul exceedingly jealous, so much so, that he saw David as a serious rival to his throne that would also someday rightfully belong to Jonathan.

If anyone in Israel had real reason to feel threatened by David, it would have been Jonathan.  However, Jonathan had such a true love and respect for David that he knew that David was the one who would and should become the king when Saulís reign ends.  He never expressed any form of regret or jealousy towards David, but rather celebrated what the LORD was doing in Israel through David.

Devoid of a relationship with the LORD, Saulís jealousy grew to a violent rage as Saul repeatedly attempted to take Davidís life.  David left Jerusalem and the kingís court, retreating into exile in order to preserve his own life.  Jonathan found himself in a dilemma, torn between his loyalty to his dear friend David who he knew to be innocent and honorable, and his loyalty to his father who he knew to have ultimate authority over both of them.  Jonathanís first thought was to find a way to reconcile this conflict between David and Saul.  Showing considerable courage, Jonathan went directly to Saul.

1 Samuel 19:4-7.  And Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father, and said unto him, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee-ward very good: 5For he did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine, and the LORD wrought a great salvation for all Israel: thou sawest it, and didst rejoice: wherefore then wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause? 6And Saul hearkened unto the voice of Jonathan: and Saul sware, As the LORD liveth, he shall not be slain.  7And Jonathan called David, and Jonathan showed him all those things.  And Jonathan brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence, as in times past.

Jonathanís defense of David before his father would restore David to the court of the king.  However, Davidís status would be short-lived.  Saulís jealousy and rage far exceed his ability to honor his promise to Jonathan, and Saul again attacked David.  David fled to Ramah, not coincidentally the village that was home to the prophet, Samuel.  David found that even Ramah was not safe when Saul learned of where he was.  The remainder of Saul's career was characterized as a cat-and-mouse attempt by Saul to destroy David. 


1 Samuel 20:1  And David fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before thy father, that he seeketh my life?

One of the blessings of close friendships is trust.  Even though Jonathan is the son of the king, and the traditional heir to the throne, David sought out Jonathanís counsel in what had become one of the most difficult times of his life.  David found his experience filled with unanswered questions.  The power of their friendship is clearly demonstrated by Jonathanís faithfulness to that friendship even when it came between himself and the relationship he had with his own father.  A true agape:phileo friendship will stand up to this form of testing. 

1 Samuel 20:2-4.  And he said unto him, God forbid; thou shalt not die: behold, my father will do nothing either great or small, but that he will show it me: and why should my father hide this thing from me? it is not so.  3And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.  4Then said Jonathan unto David, Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee.

We have already seen that the relationship between David and Jonathan developed quickly.  When David first approached Jonathan with the story of his continued persecution, Jonathan was astonished and disbelieving.  Though he had trouble believing David, notice that Jonathan fully trusted David.  One of the first characteristics of a agape:phileo relationship is complete trust in one another.

How is such a trust initiated?  (By faith.)

How is such a trust maintained?  (By love.)

How does a friend respond when a trust is broken?  (By forgiveness.)

Another characteristic of a agape:phileo relationship is the selfless and instantaneous willingness to help one another.  Once Jonathan understood David's plight, he offered to do anything in his power to help him, even when doing so could bring conflict between himself and his father.  When one has such a relationship, the cost of addressing the needs of the other is never a concern.

David set in place a plan to verify his theory that Saul was trying to kill him in a way that would clearly reveal it to Jonathan.


1 Samuel 20:5-12  And David said unto Jonathan, Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat: but let me go, that I may hide myself in the field unto the third day at even.  6If thy father at all miss me, then say, David earnestly asked leave of me that he might run to Bethlehem his city: for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the family.  7If he say thus, It is well; thy servant shall have peace: but if he be very wroth, then be sure that evil is determined by him.  8Therefore thou shalt deal kindly with thy servant; for thou hast brought thy servant into a covenant of the LORD with thee: notwithstanding, if there be in me iniquity, slay me thyself; for why shouldest thou bring me to thy father?  9And Jonathan said, Far be it from thee: for if I knew certainly that evil were determined by my father to come upon thee, then would not I tell it thee? 10Then said David to Jonathan, Who shall tell me? or what if thy father answer thee roughly? 11And Jonathan said unto David, Come, and let us go out into the field.  And they went out both of them into the field.  12And Jonathan said unto David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about tomorrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not unto thee, and show it thee;  13The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do thee evil, then I will show it thee, and send thee away, that thou mayest go in peace: and the LORD be with thee, as he hath been with my father. 

Another characteristic of agape:phileo love is loyalty.  Jonathan found himself in a moral and ethical dilemma that tested his loyalty between David, a son of a shepherd, and his father, the king.  Jonathan was considered by their culture to be the legitimate heir to the throne, and he was likely aware of Davidís anointing by Samuel at this time, so this was not a trivial issue.  David and Jonathan conspired to find out Saul's true disposition towards David through the use of a lie.  Though the Bible describes the use of a lie by two honorable men, that does not justify the use of untruth.  David and Jonathan were human as we, and acted much in the way we would.  They chose to use deceit to attain their goal.

Jonathan established his loyalty in an oath to David in verse 13, where he calls upon the Lord to deal with him severely if he is ever disloyal to David. 

1 Samuel 20:14-17  And thou shalt not only while yet I live show me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not: 15But also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.  16So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of Davidís enemies.  17And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. 

David and Jonathan promised loyalty to one another, not only personally, but through their progeny.  The Israelites were a tribal community and rivalry between the families was always a problem.  David and Jonathan promised one another that their relationship would continue, and they would teach their children to maintain this closeness.  Even if David were right, and Saul was David's enemy, Jonathan vowed to support David at the risk of his own ascendancy to the throne.  That is certainly a loyalty based upon trust.  Jonathan knew his father well, and was able to discern where his loyalties should truly lie.  Jonathan understood that his fatherís motives were not godly, and though he loved his father, he could not support his actions.  Jonathan chose to honor his friendship with David, demonstrating his intent though the reaffirmation of their oath of friendship.


We see in the responses of both David and Jonathan a proactive approach to the maintenance of their friendship, one that could be more easily allowed to fade.  They understood the value of their relationship and sought ways to defend it against the forces that would separate them.

1 Samuel 23:16-18  And Jonathan Saulís son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.  17And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.  18And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.

Though David was again in hiding, he had a means to maintain communication with Jonathan who came to him in Horesh (the wood).  Since Saul considered David and enemy, Jonathanís act could be considered by the court as treasonous.  Jonathan was taking a tremendous risk going to David.  Jonathanís purpose in the visit was simply to encourage David, and testifying to his own agreement with Samuelís anointing of David to succeed Saul as king.  Jonathan, rather than vie with his friend for the position of king, was very satisfied to serve under him.  Furthermore, Jonathan told David that even Saul knew this to be true.

Neither David nor Jonathan could have any idea of how long it would be before David would ascend to the throne of Israel.  Knowing the nature of their separation, they again affirmed their friendship and departed.

Another characteristic of phileo:agape love, is that it lasts through separation.  Recall Michael W.  Smith's spontaneous writing of the words "Friends are friends forever, when the Lord's the Lord of them."[2]  If you have lived in one area all of your life you may not realize this as much as those of you who have moved several times, leaving best friends behind.  The importance of those friendships is emphasized when you lose regular fellowship.  Still, however distant, those relationships are still there and opportunities to fellowship together result in the re-establishing of those friendships as if separation never took place.

Indeed, the close friendships we have with another are a blessing from God.  In our lifetime we will probably have only a handful of close friends.  We would be wise to develop, maintain, and protect them.  We see in the example of Jonathan and David that they cultivated this friendship through the years that they knew each other.  Deep friendships require cultivation.  When my son was young he questioned why my wife and I would travel long distances to meet with friends and then only sit and talk during our entire visit.  Now as he has grown older he has testified to how he recognizes the value of cultivating those friendships as he finds himself doing the same.  A friendship is worth defending against the forces that would destroy it.  We find just about every reason for David and Jonathan to let their friendship fade, yet they worked actively against significant forces that would separate them.  If we spend the time and energy to identify those godly friendships that we have in our lives and work to develop and maintain them, we will find ourselves blessed with the joy and peace that God promises to those who serve Him and Him alone.


[1] Proverbs 17:17, 18:24, 22:24-25, 27:9-10, 17; Amos 3:3; John 15:13.

[2] Friends lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group