Spiritual Friendship, 1 Samuel 18:1-9


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“Spiritual Friendship”

1 Samuel 18:1-9

July 7, 2019

Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service

Pr. Nicoletti

 

Our text this evening is First Samuel 18:1-9, though we will begin our reading a few verses earlier, in chapter seventeen, verse 57. David has just finished defeating Goliath, he has his initial conversation with Saul afterwards, and then, as David continues to succeed, we see how both Jonathan and Saul respond to David – and it is those two relationships we will especially be considering this evening.

 

So – with that in mind, First Samuel 17:57 through 18:9.

 

Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this evening:

 

17:57 And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58 And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

18:1 As 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.And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And 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. And 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.

As 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. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.”

And 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?”And Saul eyed David from that day on.

 

This is the Word of the Lord.

 

Let’s pray …

 

Lord, how can we keep our way pure?

By guarding it according to your Word.

Help us now to seek you with our whole hearts.

Keep us from wandering from your commandments.

Let us store up your word in our hearts,

so that we might not turn from you.

Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:9-11]

 

Tonight we are going to consider the nature of friendship. Our text presents us with two contrasting pictures – two contrasting responses to David. One from Saul, and one from Jonathan. And tonight we will try to dig down into what this passage is showing us about friendship in these two pictures, and along the way we will employ a little help from a 12th century monastic pastor from England.

 

But let’s begin with Saul.

 

For those of us familiar with the story of David and Saul, it is easy for us to miss the drama of the turn that happens in this chapter. By all outward appearances, and by what has come so far, Saul and David are and should be friends.

 

David has served Saul well, again and again. In chapter sixteen Saul was tormented by a harmful spirit and David came and brought him relief.

 

In chapter seventeen Saul was challenged by a giant Philistine, and again, David came and served, and rescued Saul and the people from Goliath, the Philistine.

 

And Saul acknowledged that, and he clearly cared for David in some way. In chapter sixteen the author tells us that Saul “loved” David “greatly” [1 Sam 16:21]. As a result, Saul wrote to Jesse, David’s father, and requested that David stay in Saul’s service, because, he said, David “has found favor in my sight.” [1 Sam 16:22]

 

When David offered to fight Goliath, Saul eventually encouraged him, offering his own armor and weapons for the fight. And as we read at the end of chapter seventeen, Saul formally inquired about David’s family so that he could reward them for what David had done.

 

Moreover, David was now serving faithfully in Saul’s army.

 

But then in verses seven and eight of our text, Saul begins to feel threatened by David’s popularity. And we read in verse nine that from that day on “Saul eyed David.” The affection and alliance that has been described up until this point is suddenly replaced with suspicion and rivalry.

 

That’s a fast turn. And if we are paying attention, we might wonder what kind of friendship did Saul have towards David before verse seven, that it could turn around so fast?

 

So on the one hand Saul’s friendship raises questions for us to consider.

 

But on the other hand, so does Jonathan’s friendship with David.

 

Jonathan’s acts, in verses one through four, carry a lot of meaning. Jonathan makes a covenant with David. And within that covenant, Jonathan acknowledges and accepts that David will succeed Saul to the throne, rather than Jonathan succeeding him himself. That’s the meaning of the transfer of Jonathan’s robe and armor in verse four [Alter, 112; Davis, 194; Firth, 208]. In other words, where Saul responded to the possibility of David’s success with anger and suspicion, Jonathan responded with acceptance and affectionate support. Why?

 

On the one hand, we might be tempted to treat Jonathan’s actions here as an act of duty – a stoic act of acceptance of his lot and allegiance to the Lord’s anointed. But the text tells us that Jonathan was also motivated by love and affection towards David – that Jonathan’s soul was knit to David’s, and that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.

 

Realizing that, we might be tempted to treat Jonathan’s actions as mere emotion in his love for David. But Jonathan’s actions are deliberate, thought-through, and a solemn commitment that Jonathan keeps to for the rest of his life.

 

What then is the nature of the friendship between Jonathan and David?

 

We can start by addressing what it’s not. Because of how some secular interpreters have treated the text, we need to begin by explaining why it’s not a homoerotic relationship [An argument addressed in: Firth, 208; Leithart, 110].

 

As acceptable as such a relationship might be in the eyes of some secular interpreters today, we need to acknowledge that if there was a sexual component to David and Jonathan’s relationship, the author would never have presented it as he does. Israel’s law condemned homosexual relationships. Which means that if David and Jonathan did have a sexual relationship, there are two ways we would expect the author of First Samuel to handle it. On the one hand he might have acknowledged it, but also acknowledged God’s judgment against it. We know from the author’s description of David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah that the author of First Samuel has no hesitations about naming David’s sins. So that would be one possibility. The other would be for the author to hide the sexual nature of David and Jonathan’s relationship – which would include scrubbing any hints of it. The one thing we would not expect for an author like the author of First Samuel to do, when writing to a people like ancient Israel, is for him to playfully allude to a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. [Leithart, 110]

 

David and Jonathan have an intense relationship … and so a number of modern commentators have interpreted it as being sexual in nature.

 

Because that reading does not make sense in the original context … we need to acknowledge that that interpretation … and the plausibility that many feel of that interpretation today … all of that says more about the interpreter then it does about the text itself.

 

What do I mean by that?

 

Well, first, the readiness with which many read a homosexual relationship into this passage says something about our culture’s acceptance of homosexual acts.

 

But even more significantly than that, I think … the plausibility of that interpretation to so many modern people says something about our culture’s flimsy and anemic understanding of friendship.

 

We live in a culture with an incredibly shallow understanding of friendship.

 

In part it’s experiential. Americans have fewer close friends now than they did in earlier decades.

 

A 2006 study from Duke University reported an almost 30% drop from 1985 to 2004 in the number of close confidantes Americans said they had. That’s a big drop in just 20 years. In that same survey one in four of those surveyed said they had no one at all to confide in. [NPR, “Social Isolation”]

 

And along with that, we’ve lost the categories of stable, deep friendship. Life has become more transient, and with it social connections have become more tenuous. And in a culture that values individualism and personal freedom as ours does, it is no surprise that deep, committed friendships are not valued.

 

One theologian reflecting on the subject points out that for most people today friendship is seen “as the least committed of relationships […], as the freest, most preference-driven, and most affection-dependent relationship that is possible for people to enjoy.” [Hill, Washed and Waiting, 194-195] In the eyes of many Christians even, friendship is also the most vaporous of relationships. “We may choose to end a friendship at any time – that’s the prerogative” of friendship. [Hill, Spiritual Friendship, xiv]

 

Of course … the problem is that that doesn’t seem to describe the kind of friendship we see between David and Jonathan in First Samuel 18.

 

It’s also not how Christians have always thought about Christian friendship. And so, as C. S. Lewis has said, sometimes when our culture has developed a blind spot across the board, for a correction we need to turn to old books – to people who had their own blind spots, to be sure … but different blind spots than we have.

 

And so tonight, as we consider First Samuel 18, we will turn to 12th century monastic pastor Aelred of Rievaulx for a little bit of insight.

 

Aelred of Rivaulx was born in 1110 in Hexham, England. Even into the twelfth century the church in England was resistant to Rome’s demands that pastors be celibate, and Aelred so was born to the married priest of Saint Andrew’s church in Hexham.

 

In an attempt to enforce clerical celibacy, Pope Urban II forbade the ordination of priest’s sons except as ministers within monastic communities. And so when Aelred decided to pursue pastoral ministry, he had to find a calling within a monastery. Aelred entered the Cistercian Abby at Rievaulx, and in 1147 he was elected as Rievaulx’s abbot. Under his leadership and care the abbey grew from 300 inhabitants to about 650. And while directing and pastoring the community, Aelred also wrote. [Dutton, 13-18]

 

One such work was a dialogue titled Spiritual Friendship. It’s written as a conversation between Aelred and three other monks, on the nature of friendship.

 

And early on Aelred explains what true friendship –  genuine friendship, what he calls “spiritual friendship” – is, by distinguishing it from what it is not.

 

First, Aelred explains that while friendship includes love, friendship and love are not the same thing.

 

Love is something we are called to have for all – for friends, neighbors, and even enemies. What sets friendship apart from love is that in addition to love, in true friendship “we entrust our heart and all its contents” to another person, and they entrust the same to us. [Aelred, I.32]

 

True friendship, then, requires a solid foundation for such trust, and that foundation, Aelred says, is found in God. True friendship, he explains “must begin in Christ, continue with Christ, and be perfected by Christ.” [I.10]. And built on that foundation, true friendship includes a unity over human and divine truths, combined with an affectionate attachment, and a mutual trustworthy love and good will for one another. [I.11,15,47]

 

This is what spiritual friendship, what deep, Christian friendship, is like. But Aelred and his companions quickly identify that there are other lesser forms or even false forms of friendship that exist in the world as well.

 

One such lesser form of friendship is what Aelred calls “carnal friendship.” Carnal friendship is driven by desire and enjoyment, not by commitment or trustworthiness.

 

And depending on whether the Christian love we are called to have towards all is present, this carnal friendship could be sinful or innocent.  If the relationship is built around something like sexual sin, then it of course will be sinful and a form of false friendship. [I.39-40] But a “carnal friendship” can be carried out in Christian love in such a way that Christians enjoy acceptable pleasures together and have some genuine affection for one another, but since the friendship lacks depth, commitment, and deep trust, it is still something less than what Aelred calls “spiritual friendship” – though an innocent “carnal friendship” could possibly lead to a deeper spiritual friendship if such trust and depth develop. But without that depth, carnal friendship is more fickle and inconsistent. [III.85-87; II.57]

 

A second form of lesser friendship is what Aelred calls “worldly friendship.” This is friendship that is essentially a means to an end – an alliance towards the end of making money, or securing power, or achieving some other worldly goal. And like “carnal friendship” it can be sinful or innocent. It can be sinful and given to exploitation and betrayal if it lacks Christian love, and innocent if it is accompanied by Christian love. And in its innocent form it too can play a proper role in the world and in our lives, but it should not be mistaken for the depth and personal focus of “spiritual friendship.” [I.42-44]

 

In its more cynical forms, Aelred, quoting Ecclesiasticus and Ovid, describes worldly frienships like this – he writes: “‘There is a friend who is one when the time suits but will not stand by in your day of trouble.’ Remove his hope of reward, and at once he ceases to be your friend. Someone has satirized such a friendship in neat verse: ‘One who comes in good fortune and goes in misfortune / Loves not the person but the person’s purse.” [I.43]

 

So Aelred gives us these categories of carnal friendship and worldly friendship, and each can come in sinful or innocent forms.

 

And we can identify these in our lives … can’t we?

 

On this side of heaven we are often called to innocent forms of carnal and worldly friendships. They are not necessarily a bad thing, though Aelred would urge us to distinguish them in our mind from deeper forms of friendship.

 

And … sadly … in our lives we can also identify when others have approached us, or we have approached others, in pursuit of a sinful kind of carnal or worldly friendship. To greater or lesser extents, we have used others for our own ends, and we have been used by others for their ends, in ways that were not consistent with Christian love.

 

We see these categories around us, and we see them in our own lives.

 

And when we bring those categories to Saul’s relationship with David we can begin to see at a deeper level what is going on there.

 

Saul did indeed have a sort of affection for David. But it was a self-serving affection. He had a friendship with him … but what First Samuel 18 reveals is that it was a false friendship. It was the mere appearance of friendship cast over a sinful carnal and worldly approach that Saul took towards David.

 

The turn in Saul in our text tonight reveals what lay beneath appearances for Saul. When Saul hears that David is getting more glory than he is, Saul bursts forward in anger and suspicion.

 

Which reveals to us that under it all, Saul’s friendship to David was about Saul. It was not a “spiritual friendship” concerned with David’s soul, and it was not even a lesser form of friendship that was accompanied by Christian love. It was a sinful and self-serving kind of friendship.

 

And looking back we can see how it emerged. We see the elements of self-centered carnal friendship back in chapter sixteen, where Saul delighted in David so long as David’s music and presence brought emotional relief to Saul. But in its best forms such carnal friendship lacks depth, and in Saul’s case it also lacked Christian love. And so it easily turned to anger when David no longer pleased Saul.

 

In a similar way we can see worldly friendship in Saul’s approach to David in chapter seventeen, where Saul is pleased with David so long as David is defending Saul’s kingdom against the Philistines, but again, lacking deeper commitment and Christian love, such friendship quickly evaporates into anger and suspicion when Saul feels insecure over David’s popularity.

 

Saul gives us a picture of the temporal and more vaporous nature of carnal and worldly friendships … and he shows it to us in its worst, sinfully self-centered forms.

 

In Saul, Aelred would tell us that we see both lesser forms of friendship and false friendship on display.

 

If these are the lesser friendships, then we might ask, what does “spiritual friendship” look like?

 

As Aelred has said, the foundation for true and spiritual friendship is love for God. and we see just that in the relationship between David and Jonathan.

 

We need to remember that both David and Jonathan have taken on and won seemingly impossible battles with the Philistines, and both have done it based on their faith in the Lord – their faith in Yahweh. Jonathan did it when he attacked the Philistine garrison back in chapter fourteen, when he stepped out for battle saying to his armor bearer “Nothing can hinder Yahweh from saving by many or by few.” [1 Sam 14:6]. And in chapter seventeen, David stepped into battle before Goliath and declared to him: “Yahweh saves not with sword or spear. For the battle is Yahweh’s, and he will give you into our hand.” [1 Sam 17:47]

 

In spiritual friendship reason and affection come together [III.3] – and again we see that in David and Jonathan. We see both affection described, as well as thoughtful and intentional decisions as they commit themselves to this relationship in a covenant. Their relationship is neither cold nor capricious.

 

And along with affection, deliberate decision and wise consideration are important as you pursue deeper friendship. Trust is so central to spiritual friendship, and so ensuring that the one you are developing this friendship with is trustworthy, is important. Aelred spends a great deal of time encouraging us to make thoughtful choices in this area [III.14-59], especially regarding the issue of trust [III.23,45,46].

 

And so, as we base such friendships on mutual love for God, and as we pursue them in both affection and reason, Aelred tells us that four qualities should be present in spiritual friendship.

 

The first, which should be obvious, is Christian love. Which means sacrificial love – love that is willing to lay down one’s rights and comforts and possessions for the good of the other – love that looks like Christ’s love. [III.51,98-100]

 

Second, spiritual friendship should include affection – that inner delight in the other person, the natural attachment and enjoyment of them. Which reminds us again that part of what sets spiritual friendship apart from the kind of love Christians owe to all people is that affection and delight in the other. [III.51]

 

Third, spiritual friendship is to have reassurance and trust. A true friend in this sense is one we can trust with our secrets, with our inner thoughts, with our hopes and fears and plans – and we can trust a true friend with those things without fear or suspicion that they will misuse that information or betray our confidence. [III.51]

 

Fourth, spiritual friendship is characterized by joyfulness and the blessings that come with sharing both joys and sorrows with another. As Aelred says, true friends in this sense “can be concerned with each other, pray for each other, feel shame at each other’s failures, rejoice in each other’s successes, grieve over the other’s fall as they would over their own, and appreciate the other’s progress as they would their own.” [III.51,101]

 

And with this sharing and delight and love comes a genuine concern with the spiritual progress of one another. So that such friends really do build one another up spiritually.

 

Taken all together then, spiritual friendship is friendship that is rooted in mutual love for God, it is chosen both on the basis of affection and careful and wise thought, and it is characterized by sacrificial loving service, by affectionate delight in the other person, by an assured trust in them without fear or suspicion, and with the joy that comes as you share joys and griefs together. And in all of that it delights in helping the other grow in their relationship with God.

 

We have spoken then of sinful forms of friendship – false forms of friendship – whether carnal or worldly.

 

We have also spoken of innocent forms of carnal friendships, based on affection and enjoyment, but lacking in depth, trust, and commitment.

 

We have spoken of innocent worldly friendships, which serve a goal outside of themselves, and may be beneficial, but are not primarily concerned with or focused on the other person in the friendship.

 

And then we have identified spiritual friendship, which is rooted in mutual love for God and each other, where we entrust ourselves to a friend with affection and intentionality, and where the goal of this mutual trusting is the friendship itself – not any other end, other than encouraging each other towards Christ.

 

The question that remains for each of us is to consider which categories each of our closest relationships fall into.

 

We might start by thinking of our marriages.

 

For those who are married: What does you marriage look like? Is it a relationship with enjoyment, but not much depth – a sort of carnal friendship in marriage? Is it a friendship aimed mainly at shared goals but not a relationship that is really an end in itself – in other words, is it a form of worldly friendship? Or is it a friendship of affection, commitment, and depth, aimed and knowing and trusting one another, at sharing joys and sorrows, and at spurring one another on towards Christ?

 

If there is any friendship we can say with confidence should be a spiritual friendship, it is that between husband and wife.

 

And if you look at you marriage and see that, then you should give thanks to God for it, and you should value it, and you should not take it for granted but be intentional about how you can continue to cultivate it – how you can continue, more and more, to entrust your heart and its contents to one another, in Christ.

 

But we also know that not every marriage is like that. And different phases of life can tempt us towards different lesser friendships. In some seasons of life it is possible to build your marriage around enjoyable experiences together, and you delight in time together, but things stay on the surface level. You avoid the depths of each other’s hearts.

 

Or in other phases of life, when life gets busy, you can slip into a friendship that is only focused on the shared projects of your lives together. And such tasks crowd out a real focus on one another.

 

If that is you, then how might you pursue a deeper spiritual friendship with your spouse? How might you change your patterns, to grow in the depth of your relationship, to share your hearts with one another, and to walk in your faith with one another?

 

Growing in such ways is a process. It takes time. You need not dive in all at once. But where might you start?

 

Of course there are some marriages where one spouse is resisting such depths, or such agreement, or such mutual delight with the other. If you are that spouse, if you are the one who has withdrawn, then your call is to re-engage. And if you are the spouse who is longing for such a connection, but it is being withheld by you husband or wife, that is something to mourn … but it is not the end of the story, for two reasons: First, because you do not know what God may do in your marriage and in your spouse. And second, because marriage is not the only place God provides such friendship. More on that in a minute.

 

If you are not married, let me, as an aside, say that this, again, is why the Scriptures and the Church have maintained that Christians must marry other Christians. It is not because we are overly narrow. It is because we recognize that, among other things, there is a depth of friendship God intended in marriage for his people. And it is a depth based on a shared love for and commitment to the Lord. And without that shared love and commitment, you can never have this kind of spiritual friendship in your marriage. It will always be something less than that.

 

We should pursue spiritual friendships in our marriages.

 

But as Christians, we also need to cultivate deeper, spiritual friendships with others – especially with same-sex peers. We all need that kind of friendship. You need it if you are single. You need it if you are married and have a great marriage – because God did not make us to have all of our relational needs met in one person, but he gave us other friendships in the Body of Christ. You also need it if you have a disappointing marriage, because your marriage is not the only community the Lord has given you. We all need these kind of peer friendships in the Body of Christ, because in the Body of Christ God knits his people’s hearts together, just as he did David and Jonathan.

 

Do you have a spiritual friend? Do you have a friend, beyond your spouse, whom you are committed to, who really knows you, whom you delight to be with, and who is committed to pointing you to the Lord?

 

Again if you do, let this text tonight and this sermon be a reminder to continue to nurture and pursue and value that friendship.

And if you don’t, let it be a challenge to begin to try to pursue it – to start asking which relationship, which friendship in your life, needs to grow beyond the shallows. Which surface-level friend might be trustworthy enough to begin to let them into your life a bit more? Who might have a heart to encourage you in your faith? Who could you see yourself rejoicing and grieving with?

 

And if there is no one you can see at this point, our text calls you not to acceptance of that reality, but to prayer. In our culture we have made far too much peace with isolation and loneliness. If you do not know where to find this kind of friendship right now, I think our text calls you to prayer. Because we should note that for all the intentionality involved, it was still God who brought David and Jonathan together. They did not cross paths because of a nationwide friend search they each carried out … they initially crossed paths because God sovereignly brought them together. So pray for God’s sovereign provision, and pray that when he provides you would have eyes to see it.

 

As we think about all of this, the prospect of pursuing such friendships can be daunting. It can be scary. And that response is not new.

 

Aelred himself was familiar with it. In his dialogue, after Aelred paints this grand picture of spiritual friendship and what it is like and why it is valuable and what it calls us to, Walter, one of the monks talking with him replies: “I admit that I am still swayed by the opinion of those who think it safer to live without friends of this kind.”

 

And maybe you feel the same way. Maybe isolation, as lonely as it may be, seems safer, and therefore seems better, in the end. What does Aelred have to say to that?

 

Aelred replies to Walter, saying: “Imagine the entire human race [is] banished from the world and you [are] the lone survivor. Now behold before you all the world’s delights and riches – gold, silver, precious stones, walled cities, turreted castles, spacious homes, sculptures, and paintings. But also imagine yourself restored to your original state, with things subject to you [as before the fall]. Tell me in turn whether all of these can be pleasing to you without a companion.”

 

“Not in the least.” replied Walter

 

“What if,” says Aelred, “you had one companion, whose language you did not know, whose customs you did not understand, whose loving spirit eluded you?”

 

“If I could not succeed in making him a friend by signs, I should prefer none at all to such a friend.” Walter replies.

 

Aelred gives one more option: “If one were present, however, whom you loved as yourself and by whom you would not hesitate to be equally loved, would not everything that previously seemed bitter turn sweet and delicious?”

 

“Undoubtedly.” Walter replied. [III.76-78]

 

In other words, when we are tempted to withdraw – whether from peers or a spouse – when we are tempted to avoid truly deep friendships, spiritual friendships, then we need to remember what God said back in Genesis 2, that even in paradise, even before the fall of mankind, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

 

On the other hand, Aelred tells us that “Friendship so cushions adversity and chastens prosperity that among mortals almost nothing can be enjoyed without a friend.” [II.10] And then, quoting Cicero, he says that “‘those who banish friendship from life seem to pluck the sun from the universe, for we have no better, no more delightful blessing from God.’” He goes on: “What kind of wisdom is it to loathe friendship in order to avoid anxiety and to be carefree and absolved of fear?” [II.49]

 

We need deep and spiritual friendships because we were made for deep and spiritual friendships.

 

But along with that we need deep and spiritual friendships because they point us to something greater.

 

As we look on the friendship and love between Jonathan and David, it is hard not to see something of a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his people – in several different ways. In Jonathan’s submission to David’s kingship we see something of a picture of the Christian’s proper response to Christ. Though at the same time, in Jonathan’s self-emptying service, we see something of Christ’s self-emptying love for us. Why is that?

 

Well, it’s not wholly unique to Jonathan and David. Because, as Aelred points out, there is a kind of likeness between true human friendship and friendship with God that makes the ascent from one to the other easier. [III.87] True “friendship,” he writes, “is a step toward the love and knowledge of God.” [II.18]

 

So as we love one another and delight in one another, we in some sense love and delight in Christ, who is present among his people. And as the people of God love and care for us, we in some way, are being cared for by Christ himself, through his body, the Church.

 

And as we live before a watching world, Jesus tells us that all people will know that we are his disciples if we love one another. [John 13:35]

 

In the sacrificial love combined with affection, depth, and commitment, deep Christian friendship points us, and those around us, to Christ.

 

It shines forth in David and Jonathan. And it can shine forth in our lives as well.

 

Finally, pursuing and living in deep, meaningful, spiritual friendships prepares us for the world to come.

 

The world that we await, at Christ’s return, is a world of friendship between God and all of his creatures [III.79] – that is the kind of world and those are the kinds of relationships we will spend eternity in – relationships that combine affection and loving service, and depth, and trust, and delight.

 

In fact, in the new heaven and the new earth, the kind of friendship that we struggle to find and establish with just a few people in this life will be the kind of friendship that covers the earth. It will, Aelred writes, be “pour[ed] out over all and flow back to God from all, for God will be all in all.” [III.134]

 

Deep friendship, then, is a taste of how we will spend eternity in the City of God.

 

We’ve looked at the topic of friendship from a number of angles tonight … and I hope that that has overall enhanced our reflections on deep Christian friendship, rather than distracting from it, or confusing it.

 

But if in the text of Jonathan and David, or in the categories of Aelred of Rievaulx, or in the examples or reflections I’ve given you tonight, if in any of those things you have caught a glimpse of the beauty of deep Christian spiritual friendship, then I urge you not to let it slip away from your mind, but grab hold of it. Consider it. Long for it. Because you were made for it. And you are destined for it for eternity. And to pursue and live it out now is a picture of the gospel.

 

So ask yourself: Where do you already see this in your life, and how can you intentionally nurture and grow in it in that relationship? And if you don’t see much of it, where can you pursue it? Who might you begin to reach out to, to see if it might grow into this kind of friendship? And if you don’t know the answer to that question, how can you pray for God’s provision?

 

Such thoughts can be scary – I know. They make us feel vulnerable. When we dare to hope we may be disappointed, for these things are not guaranteed in this life. But that is true of many good things God has made us for.

 

It is increasingly common in our culture for groups and institutions to be just a collection of individuals – individuals who may work together or enjoy spending time together, but who at a heart-level keep each other at arm’s length.

 

But God has not called his Church to be such a people. He has called us to have people in our lives, in his Body, whom our souls are knit to, like Jonathan’s soul to David’s – those whom we love as our own soul.

 

He tells us that we are to be the family of God the Father. We are to be the body of Christ, the Son. We are to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are to be a people intimately connected to one another.

 

Christ has knit his heart to ours. Let us walk in his footsteps and knit our hearts to one another.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This sermon draws on material from:

 

Alter, Robert. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.

Davis, Dale Ralph. I Samuel: Looking on the Heart. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.

Firth, David G. 1 & 2 Samuel. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Updated and Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, 2016.

Hill, Wesley. Spiritual Friendship. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2015.

Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.

NPR. “Social Isolation: Americans Have Fewer Close Confidantes.” June 24, 2006. All Things Considered. (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5509381)